Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Study tour is completed…so new questions arise!

Now that the study tour is completed, I’m in a position to reflect on some key moments in my learning.  These moments each said something; either about Sheffield and the UK; interdisciplinary work; or group dynamics.

The first week of the time in Sheffield was marked with uncertainty, especially as we had to start the group work.  I think almost everyone was a bit nervous about working with new people, and how it would all play out for them.  I felt at my most tense mid-way through the first week; the new-ness of everything – people as well as place – became a bit too much.  However, it’s important to understand when you feel at the end of your tether, it’s because you are challenging yourself and growing.  There is an easy way of doing things – to just go along with others’ ideas and not assert yourself – but of course this leads to frustration as one does not develop and grow.  So I knew that even when it was hard, I was doing a good thing.

The moment when a colleague and I started to ask each other what Sheffield residents do for work, was significant.  Apart from the universities, I’m yet to identify the key employing industries in contemporary Sheffield.  The cultural aspect is impressive, but without enough meaningful work, a locality is not secure and strong, in my view.  I am looking forward to doing more research on this aspect.

A third moment that sticks in my mind is from chatting with a long-time resident.  The resident had many observations on Sheffield, and a perspective on things that I generally agreed with.  At one point however, he referred back to the national government in discussion on Sheffield.  I asked what is the role of the national government in Sheffield’s operation, and he said, “they don’t do much for us”.  This caused me to ponder the possibility of an entitlement mentality in the UK. 

To place this in context, it’s been noted that the USA has a strong culture of volunteering: because the government provides relatively few services, people are used to making things happen through their own initiative.  Many people there have a strong Do-it-Yourself ethic, which could be contrasted with the UK (and Australia).  In the latter countries, more people seem to expect the government to make things happen.  I’m in danger of sounding simplistic here – especially given the brevity of this weblog format – but that moment with the resident did bring something home to me.  There seems to be a really embedded dynamic between people and the government here, that I don’t believe exists everywhere.    

One of the best moments in the trip was doing the final preparation work with my group members, to finalise our presentation.  It was great to see everything come together.  It is important to understand that some conflict is normal in any work environment.  My group did not have significant conflict but I sometimes feel we were so busy avoiding that, that we didn’t fully engage with each other.  Nonetheless, everyone was supportive and most importantly, made a significant contribution. 

There are some things I admire about Urban Planning and some things I have questions about.  I admire the ability to look at a city holistically and over time – with awareness of how its heritage and traditions shape it.  I feel that many of the planning students brought a professionalism to their work and the presentation of it, which marked them out as high-performing people.  I think it is important though, for any form of study to be grounded in academic rigour. 

What separates university students and graduates from other members of the community (even highly professional but non-qualified people) is our ability to think critically and synergise that thought into civilised, respectful contributions.  It is like harnessing a tiger.  You cannot have one thing (eg. a fierce intellect or impressive skills) without the other (eg. interpersonal awareness and a deep sense of humility in the world). 

Doing the site visits was a new type of learning for me – I was more comfortable with the lecture format.   This might be my own shortcoming but when placed in a locality for a couple of hours, free to ‘explore’ I find myself bereft and devoid of context.  If I had a specific mission, like a set of questions to answer, I would probably find it easier.  As it was I just relaxed; absorbing what insights I could in the circumstances.  Certainly, having been to a place gives one a sense of authority to write about it, with the aid of wide and critical reading.  

Going to Sheffield was a chance for me to do something meaningful overseas.  Know this: if I had just come here on a two-week jaunt, without the study tour program, I would feel in no position to write about the city.  As it is however, I have walked among Sheffield people.  I have done business here; had to get to places and tee things up.  To me, it is these latter factors that lend substance and authority to my time spent here.

One piece of advice for a future study tour student: be focused and resourceful, yet open to different types of learning.  I came with some research questions floating around in my mind, but mostly I just tried to take everything in.  At some moments I could have used greater initiative, to do on-site research related to my questions.  However I’m glad I had the mental space and patience to enjoy all of the site visits, even if I could not directly see their relevance to my questions.   Balancing a focused approach with tolerance and flexibility will ensure you benefit from all of the activities.
- Linda Hadley (Bachelor of Arts - Sociology and English)



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