Minds We Meet—Lianna Oddi

Interviewing Students Like You!

The Voice Magazine recently had a chance to chat with Lianna Oddi (she/her), a student from Southern Ontario currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program.  She stated, “My hope is to get my Master of Counselling degree, but I’m taking my time and trying not to be too rigid about when that will happen.  I want to be able to help people who are feeling lost and confused.  Plus, human behaviour is just a wild ride, so I might as well study it!”

On a personal note, Lianna has “lived in the same city I was born in for my entire life.”   She mentioned that her “grandparents from both sides of my family came to Canada from Italy, but my parents were born here.”  She continued, “I’m the middle child of three, but I’m the first disabled child!  We joke that my younger sister Jessica is my copycat.  Initially, doctors thought we had Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA for short) which is a genetic disease that causes weak muscles and a shorter lifespan.  My sister and I have never walked, not that it looks all that interesting anyway, and we’ve been driving wheelchairs since we were each four years old.  I have no idea why four is the starting age; is giving a three-year-old a 300-pound electric chair irresponsible?  Anyway, a little over ten years ago I happened to see a neuromuscular specialist for an unrelated issue.  He was convinced there was no way we could have SMA and we started the long journey of figuring out what’s going on.  Fast-forward years later and we still don’t have an answer, BUT we do know we don’t have SMA and we are still, in fact, disabled!”

Prior to attending AU, Lianna “was a freelance illustrator focused on preproduction work, like character designing and storyboarding.”  She explained, “I never worked on a project that went anywhere, but it was fun while it lasted.  Ultimately, I didn’t feel that career was fulfilling, even though my high school self was convinced no other career would suit me.  After a rough five years of depression and therapy I decided it was time for a change.  Funnily enough, being a therapist was the only other career I considered besides illustrator back in high school, but at that time going to university didn’t seem realistic with my disability and being told I’d be lucky to live into my 30s.  Now that I’m probably living into my 70s, based on some fancy-doctor-guess-work, I have more time to pursue that career.  And here we are!”

Lianna also had some great study tips for students, although she does not “have a set system for studying.”  She explained, “Sometimes I enjoy being surrounded by people, but the closer I get to exam dates the more I need to be alone.  Either way, I make sure to take breaks, because hunching over a computer hurts!”

She continued, “Motivation to study is something I struggle with!  When I was a kid, I kept studying because I assumed the finish line was college, in my case.  But now I’m past that finish line, which is a weird place to be in.  Anyway, I’m trying not to be so close-minded about the learning process and tell myself that it’s a life-long journey if you let it be.  Plus, I need to be kinder to myself when it comes to high expectations.  So instead of finding motivation I try to pay attention when my emotional battery is low, then I give myself permission to take a break day, remind myself that I can do things when I’m ready and at my own pace.  Soon enough, the motivation comes back naturally.  It’s not a perfect science though, but it’s working for me so far!”

She also had some advice for new students and/or prospective students.  “Download that AU student app once you’re enrolled!  I should have done it a long time ago.  Even if you’re more introverted, like yours truly, it’s still a nice reminder that there are other students out there working away like yourself!  We all know online learning can get lonely, and we all came to this school for different reasons, but that doesn’t mean we’re in this alone.”

When she is not busy studying, Lianna likes to watch movies, spend time with her family, and make “posts with my sister on the Disabled Life (a random thing we started years ago, it’s worth a Google).”  She has also recently began knitting once again.  She explained, “It’s becoming an obsession, actually.  I learned how to knit when my mom was going through chemo, before I enrolled at AU.  My aunt, who taught my mom how to knit when she was young, was coming by to help cook several days a week.  So, on those days she taught me as well.  Then once my Mom started feeling better she joined us.  I took a break once I started classes, but recently I was feeling emotionally drained and needed something to do while I took my breaks.  Since my mom is the knitting queen and is making practically every family member a sweater, I decided to make all of the newborns toys.”

Lianna had difficulty narrowing down the one person is her life that as had the greatest influence on her desire to learn.  She explained, “This is a tough one.  I’m lucky to have so much support and inspiration from friends and family; the list is basically never ending!  I’m going to have to go with my parents and grandmother though (sorry everyone else).  My Dad is an engineer; he’s the one who taught me to question everything, and I appreciate having an opinionated mind like his.  My Mom is the one who I get my open-minded side from (or my potential to be open-minded), which I find is important while learning.  No one person can know everything, and she taught me we’re always learning more from each other.  Plus, she’s the more philosophical parent, and I can always count on her to help me think outside the box.  But my grandmother, who is no longer with us, is someone I admire the most.  She was an immigrant, raised 7 kids, and was illiterate.  But she knew all the bus routes, roads, what to buy, how much it cost, how to knit.  As a kid I never knew she couldn’t read!  She was the wisest and most resourceful person I’ve known without a degree to show for it.  I hope I have some of her fighting spirit in me, even if it’s just one ounce.”

Lianna’s experience with online earning has been positive so far.  She stated, “Online learning is the schooling I wish I knew about years ago!  With my disability I get tired easily, so conventional in-class learning took a lot out of me.  That’s the main reason why I thought I’d never go to university, with long travel times to school, from class to class, sitting in lectures, and grueling schedules to keep; physically it would be too much to handle.  I really wish more students knew about AU, disabled or not, because it’s a game changer.  I can pace myself, put my physical needs first, and still make my education dreams a reality.  Like I said, it can be a lonely process, but I’m introverted anyway!  Haha, just kidding, but seriously I’d rather have the flexibility of AU than be in-person and stressed to the max somewhere else.”

Her most memorable AU course so far has been PSYC 304: Research Methods in Psychology, explaining that while she is still currently enrolled in this course, “I  feel like I’ve made the most progress here compared to other ones; both outside the class and in it.”  She continued, “This one didn’t start off great, and I was in a pretty dark place going into the course.  But I’m making my way out of that darkness, and I still improved my grade.  So this course is showing me that I’m able to make it through bad times while on my education journey, and I don’t need to be perfect instantly.  I have a feeling I’ll keep looking back to this moment as I get through more courses.”

The Voice Magazine also asked Lianna which famous person, past or present, she would like to have lunch with and why.  She chose “Christopher Nolan, hands down!”  She stated, “He’s my favourite director.  His movies make me use my brain more than school sometimes, haha!  But seriously, I’ve always found his work fascinating, and even though I no longer have a desire to make it into the movie business, I’d love to pick his brain,” she pauses, “not literally!”

As for her most valuable lesson learned in life?  “I think the most valuable lesson, one I keep re-learning, is asking for help from people I trust.  I tend to keep everything in and try to fix it all myself, but that never works.  You’d think I’d learn!  I always make it through hard times faster when I lean on my sister, mom, or friends.  But old habits are hard to break!  I’ll get there eventually, and I’m lucky that I have people there for me too.”

And her proudest moment?  “If I had to choose, I’d say my proudest moment was deciding to volunteer for a suicide hotline.  I still do when I’m between courses, but I spent most of the pandemic doing that.  I’ve been suicidal in the past, and it feels good to be there for someone who is in that same place.  Just having someone listen and validate without judgement can be life changing when you feel hopeless.  So being that person who listens to others is rewarding.”

As a final note, Lianna stated, “My experience at AU so far has been awesome!  It’s great to have an opportunity to wake my brain up.  It’s not always easy, but it is worth it.   And I just want to thank you Natalia for reaching out and asking me to be part of this amazing space!  Happy studying everyone!”  Best of luck Lianna!

At times, in an online learning environment, it can feel like you are all alone, but across the nation and around the globe, students just like you are also pursuing their Athabasca University (AU) studies!  Each week, The Voice Magazine will be bringing you some of these stories.  If you would like to be featured next, do not hesitate to get in touch!