AN INTERVIEW WITH (1.) TEAH GOOSSEN, RESIDENCE LIFE DIRECTOR AND (2.) CLARK NACHTIGALL, STUDENT LIFE COORDINATOR
At the end of October (2020), we moved all our classes from a blended format to a fully online format due to provincial ‘code red’ restrictions. Also, our varsity sports seasons were cut short. In December, the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference (MCAC) officially cancelled the 2020-21 winter sports season for basketball, volleyball and futsal. At that time, many of our students opted to do their studies from home, but some remained on-campus in residence.
We thought it would be interesting to give you an up-close look at what campus life has been like this semester. Even though there have been some challenges, Residence Life Director, Teah Goossen says, “It’s been one of my favourite semesters so far which I know sounds a little bit odd. Everybody is going through something because it’s been a tough year, but seeing how people have come together in that, has been really special.”
As I sat down with Teah Goossen and Clark Nachtigall from our Student Development Department at the beginning of the month, they candidly shared about student life at Prov. Below is our conversation. Our Winter 2021 term started with a Week of Prayer in January…
Can you share some details about the ‘Week of Prayer’ events organized earlier this year?
CLARK: We were able to host these events in-person and online which has been (and will continue to be) the theme for this semester. Even after-COVID, we’d still like to explore the idea of having events available both face-to-face and virtually. For instance, it’s a great way to incorporate the Seminary students at our Calgary extension site. That’s something I’ve grown to appreciate from events like ‘Week of Prayer’ which have a rich history at Prov. We’re more than a school where 18 to 23-year-olds gather. Providence is a place where community (or family) gather. Our ‘Week of Prayer’ showed glimpses of that even though it’s tougher with COVID.
How does it feel right now on campus? Aside from it being quiet, how is everything going? What’s been happening?
TEAH: Right now, we have 35 students in residence. It’s not a whole lot, but it has been a cool experience in community both in the highs and the lows. For instance, the girls are doing ‘Secret Sisters’ where they’re exchanging little gifts and giving encouragement to each other.
Clark has organized a Guy’s Group that is kind of like a Bible Study every Thursday. We also hold Worship Nights where some of our students who aren’t Christians have asked if they can join in. Not just to watch. But to learn the music. To be part of it. So, I think that shows how our residence students, even though they’re such a small number, are genuinely connecting and working together.
Another beautiful part of residence is that students still gather in smaller groups to do classes. Even though classes are on the screen, they sit physically distanced in a classroom, discussing and figuring out what they’re learning together.
There have been other things happening such as bonfires and daily prayer times with our faculty in residence family. I hold a ‘Teatime with Teah’ where students come, have a cup of tea with me and talk about life.
CLARK: Our Student Council (STUCO) put together a game/challenge earlier this term where a handful of students committed multiple hours to sitting on a chair, and essentially the last one standing, or in this case the last one sitting, would win a PlayStation. The participants were only allowed to drink water. They had one bathroom break every five hours. They had no phones or devices to entertain them. A winner emerged after close to 23 hours had gone by.
TEAH: It illustrates the creativity of our students who are still abiding by the rules (regulations) but figuring out ways to have fun. It’s been cool to see. A lot of our girls are working out. They’re running up and down the stairwells. They’re doing fitness videos together. The creativity has gone up, I think.
CLARK: The word I’d use to describe what’s going on is ‘intentional.’ There are not as many large events happening where a student can go out and interactions occur naturally. You have to go ‘out of your way’ a little bit more this year; you have to be intentional about leaving your room and hanging out with somebody. We all know trying to communicate with masks on is different and (maybe) not as convenient. For these reasons, I think being intentional about our interactions is a common occurrence this year.
Are you seeing more friendships and bonds form this semester?
TEAH: Yes, 100%! During COVID, we’ve all experienced loss and we’re grieving in a lot of different ways. So, the most important thing is that students can walk with somebody who is going through a similar experience. You’re not alone. You have friends around you. There is a support system here.
How would you encourage students who are feeling cautious about living in residence?
CLARK: When I first moved into residence, I was pretty freaked out. I was scared. I wasn’t sure if I’d make any friends. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it. Looking back now, choosing to be in residence is among the top three best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
My advice would be: Sometimes you’re going to have to make tough decisions, and you’re not going to be able to see the outcome BUT taking that leap of faith can lead to such awesome things. When I look back at the friends I’ve made, …and the memories I’ve made at Prov, …they’re all attributed to my time in residence.
TEAH: I’d say you need “skin” in the game when you’re in residence. Residence can be like a hotel experience where you have your own room and you get your own food. You go to your classes, and then back to your room again. BUT TO GET THE MOST OUT OF RESIDENCE, you need “skin in the game” which means going and doing something uncomfortable like knocking on somebody’s door, spending time with a new friend, staying a little later at the campfire, playing Nerf gun fights, and talking deep into the night – even if it’s not the smartest thing because you have an exam at 9 am, and it’s 2 am but you’re bonding. I’m not saying that’s what students should do, but there is a time and place when you just need to get into the game. Otherwise, residence is just a decent place to live. And that’s alright, but it can be so much more!
How are you feeling about the start of our next academic year in September?
CLARK: I’m very optimistic. I’m excited. I’m on the Welcome Week Committee. We’re planning to have as regular a year as possible with a full and vibrant campus. So, I’m hopeful. I’m very hopeful.
TEAH: Both Clark and I live on-campus. We are surrounded everyday by an awesome group of students. When I sit down for meals, and when we talk together about theology or politics or life or morals or ethics, I can tell I’m sitting with difference-makers. As I listen, I hear and see so much potential.
When I look at next semester, and whatever COVID restrictions get lifted off, I think that it just means we can go about those things that we’ve been wanting to do for so long. I can’t really predict exactly what next semester will look like. I’d love our meal tables to be full of people again. I do believe in the creativity, endurance and perseverance of our students. Whatever amount of freedom we have within the restrictions, we’ll use it to the best of our abilities here at Prov.
FOOTNOTE: Recently our fitness centre re-opened to the on-campus Prov community, and since the time of this interview, “Return To Play” protocols have been re-introduced for our varsity sports teams so they can start up regular training and practice times again. We expect that there will be more opportunities for recreational and social gatherings as Manitoba Public Health continues to loosen its restrictions. We’re planning for a “near normal” return to campus life by September.