Student stories

Rowan Meredith (slavic studies) explores intercultural co-op opportunities at home and abroad

Rowan Meredith

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum; Civil Resolution Tribunal

For Slavic studies student Rowan Meredith, co-op was the perfect chance to test the far-flung reaches of her degree. As one of the first students to participate in a partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, she was able to tailor her very first co-op position to her own strengths and interests. “The newness of the museum work term and the way it was designed to enhance learning in a specific area inspired me to think about my own goals—and how I could best achieve them through a co-op,” she says.

At the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Rowan worked in the collections department, interacting with archival objects from the former concentration camps. She worked hands-on with the collections, measuring, describing and photographing artifacts belonging to former prisoners. This work was often emotional, as many of the items, including jewelry, coins, forks and knives, had been taken from inmates upon arrival and deposited in an area called “Kanada”. Rowan also gained insight into the inmates’ everyday lives in the concentration camp as she transcribed interviews with survivors. “Each of the survivors had unique stories, and I began to feel as though I had personally interviewed them,” she says. “I got a very strong image of what life was like for them.”

Working at Auschwitz-Birkenau immersed Rowan in the past, but it also exposed her to present culture in Poland. Her lodgings in former SS guard’s headquarters felt haunting at times, but the town she lived in made the difference. “The people were very friendly and helpful, even when there was a significant language barrier,” she says. Luckily, Rowan was already familiar with Russian and quickly learned some Polish. She was able to visit the urban centres of Krakow and Warsaw—and also saw Eric Clapton play in her host city. “I had quite the range of cultural experiences,” she says.

Her first work term in Poland helped Rowan gain confidence and piqued her interest in intercultural experiences. Knowing that she would be starting law school the next fall, she sought out her second co-op with BC-based online tribunal Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) to align with her career plans. “I’ve always been passionate about social justice issues in law—including access to justice, which the Tribunal is hoping to address,” she says. She contacted the organization, explained her strengths and personal education goals, and was able to customize a co-op position for herself that also aligned with the CRT’s objectives.

As a research assistant for the CRT, Rowan researched legal issues, designed infographics and drafted an internal social media policy. She used this opportunity to work in the BC justice system to explore the historical background of law in the province and analyze the accessibility of the legal system from multiple positions. Though she was working in her home province, Rowan found that her intercultural skills were fully engaged. “I hadn’t considered the many potential barriers to the justice system that affect huge segments of the population due to linguistic and cultural background, socio-economic status, ability and geographic location,” she says. The experience gave her a well-rounded view of BC and its communities, a perspective that she believes will pay off in the future.

In the fall, Rowan will be off to the United States to start law school at the University of California, Los Angeles. Social justice, human rights law and the ability to make a difference at home and abroad remain top priorities as she considers her future career. Once she has graduated in California, Rowan plans on completing transfer work so she can practice on either side of the border.

Reflecting back on her time at UVic, Rowan suggests that co-op students think outside the box. “I highly recommend researching options for creating your own custom work terms—you can explore all kinds of additional options,” she says. These other opportunities don’t need to be at home, either. “Some of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in both of my work terms have been cultural experiences,” she says. “I highly recommend looking into work terms that will allow you to go abroad!”

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