Learning From Students

6 Feb

When I began campus ministry I expected to learn some things from students. After all you can learn something from everyone you meet. I expected to become slightly more “hip” about popular culture (Although by saying “hip” I just proved I’m not. But don’t blame my students. They try. It’s a tough job.) I expected to learn about what it is like to be a college student, because that experience has changed in significant ways since I was in college. I expected to learn how attending community college is different than attending a four year residential school. I expected working at an art school would also involve learning new things. There are entire majors that I never knew existed. But one of the most helpful and unexpected things I learned has to do with how we view the world.

About three years ago I went to see the movie “Fantastic Mr. Fox” with students from the art and design college. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a stop motion animated film. When we went for coffee after the movie, I discovered the students had had a completely different experience than I had. Their first comments had to do with the color palate and design choices in the movie. Why did the foxes’ house look the way it did? Why were the animals dressed in those clothes? I was ready to talk about the plot and discuss the ethical choices Mr. Fox made. Eventually we did, but first the art students needed to process what they had seen.

I have learned quite a bit from art students. I discovered that art students care much more about pencils than you might imagine is possible. I discovered some people see a lot more colors and shades of colors than I do. Medically speaking I am not color blind. Artistically speaking, I evidently am. There are also a lot more shapes to see. Shapes that make up trees. Shapes that make up chairs. Shapes that make up faces.

And art students aren’t the only ones I have learned from. The community college here has a culinary arts program with a national reputation. Now I have known for a long time that I eat to live rather than live to eat. And I have teen age sons at home so we are mostly concerned with quantity rather than quality. But I had no idea.

Culinary arts students apparently taste more than I do. They pick out spices and seasonings. There is, evidently, a correct way to chop things like onions. And plating? Who knew?

This is only a little of what I have learned. Now I don’t think I am particularly more sensory deprived than the average person. I hadn’t noticed any significant difference before. But many of the students I work with have a quite different way of encountering the world.

By listening and watching and tasting, my world has expanded. I find myself seeing more when I look at art than I used to. My cooking? Well let’s just say I recognize there is room for improvement.

The students I work with have taught me to appreciate our different ways of experiencing the world. They have helped me think more broadly about how I lead small groups and the sorts of events we do. I expected to learn things from my students,but my goodness what an interesting surprise it has been.

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Nancy JanischNancy Janisch is the ministry coordinator for True North Campus Ministry, a campus ministry of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan, PC (USA) for students in downtown Grand Rapids Michigan. After 20 years as a practicing veterinarian, in small animal and emergency medical practice, Nancy returned to seminary and received a Master of Divinity Degree. She is a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids. Nancy has a particular interested in the areas of vocation, spiritual formation, and science and religion.

 

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