posted on Jan. 29: Humanities student connects course work with teaching in Angola


[img_inline align=”right” src=”” caption=”Julia Hitchcock and friends”]A lot of people in Canada would have a hard time placing Lubango on a map.

But the southern Angolan city is where Julia Hitchcock, a final year peace studies and comparative literature student, has spent three out of the past four summers teaching English.

She first went to Angola – a country that has suffered years of devastating civil war – with a high school friend who had grown up there and who was organizing an English language summer program through a local church.

“Challenging!” is Hitchcock's verdict on her first teaching experience.

“The kids ranged in age from five to 13, and were all in the same class, so it was a pretty big mix. It was hard sometimes – some of them were illiterate, some of them weren't, and the really little kids didn't have the attention span that older kids had. But I met so many people who I felt taught me so much, that I really wanted to give a bit back and sort of made a promise to go back.”

Fresh from her experiences in Angola, and in the first year of humanities at McMaster, Hitchcock discovered that the discipline of peace studies matched her interests perfectly.

“I did a course on the theory and practice of non-violence that made a big impression on me. I was always thinking of the Angolan context, and the suffering I'd seen there and how could that be transformed. So I was always connecting peace studies and Angola in my mind.”

That connection made her want to try out some peace workshops when she was back in Angola teaching English.

And last summer, by taking an applied humanities course, she was able to use the project to gain credit towards her McMaster degree.

The idea of the course framework was appealing: “I wanted that, because if you've got a course you're accountable, someone else is watching your work, and I knew it would be really hard to do on my own.”

Using experience gained from peace studies classes at McMaster, and helped by her supervising professor, Graeme MacQueen, Hitchcock developed a course on non-violence for NGO and church leaders in Lubango.

Getting the word out to potential participants was a challenge in itself: “There are no nice e-mail lists that you can use, and no one's heard of peace studies as a discipline,” she explains. But once things were set up, great interest was shown.

Lectures focused on people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and the conflict transformation theories of Johan Galtung, but Hitchcock found the discussions that developed at the end of each class to be the most informative part of the process.

She also gave a lecture at Lubango University and was invited to teach several ethics classes in a high school for future teachers. Struck by the lack of resources available to teachers in Angola, she made an effort to give the students as much material as she could, in the hope that they will use it when they themselves are teaching.

Like most students who take an applied humanities course, Hitchcock has gained much more than a course credit from her experience. With each class taking a good 24 hours to prepare, and having to translate her course material into Portuguese (Angola's official language), the project was a lot of work, but hugely rewarding.

“I learned so much, hearing about the realities of Angola from Angolans,” Hitchcock says, adding that she'd like to go back and spend more time in Angola in the future: “If I can give anything, that's what I'd like to do.”

Applied humanities courses give upper-level students the chance to apply their knowledge in a practical way to a relevant project, that has been approved by the associate dean.

Applied Learning: Julia Hitchcock in Angola with some of the children she taught.