Laura Werbitsky

 
Teachers experience with curriculum change at an international education company in China
Anne Phelan
Collingwood
Canada
 
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I felt like it was a good time in my teaching career to pursue a graduate degree. I graduated with a B.A. and a B.Ed. in 2015 and taught internationally for 5 years, 2 years in England, and 2.5 years in China, and I was ready for a change. I had been involved with curriculum development at the international education company I worked for in China, which sparked my interest in Curriculum Studies (my current degree). Long term, I didn’t see myself living in China or England, and teaching was getting a bit repetitive so I decided to enroll in the M.A. program at UBC, with hopes of eventually getting a Ph.D. and a position as a teacher educator.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I wanted to live in Canada again, and I’d heard really good things about the city itself (Vancouver) and I knew that UBC had an excellent reputation internationally. I was originally interested in a different program that was canceled shortly before I applied but I knew I wanted to live in this part of Canada and study at this university. I wanted to have classmates and colleagues from all around the world and to work with experienced professors. I wanted to enjoy the lifestyle in Vancouver; ocean, beach, mountains, food, attractions, etc. I have family in this city and there are many, many reasons for my other family and friends to come to visit. Lifestyle and the university's reputation are what drew me to UBC.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

My program is not what I expected. I expected more practical elements of curriculum development, as I had experienced at my job in China. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised with the realities of my program. I am fortunate enough that I am able to study full-time, instead of teaching and studying simultaneously, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m able to fully invest in the reading, writing, and thinking aspects that are so central to a graduate degree. I have truly had my eyes opened to the who, what, when, where, why, and how of curriculum studies, through the readings and class discussions and I have grown as a person in the last 8 months. The personal and professional growth that I have experienced is not what I expected but I am enjoying every minute of it!

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

The weather! Joking, joking. I was born and raised in a small town in Ontario, and where I lived in England and China were both small cities, with some services, but nothing compared to Vancouver. Going for a walk along the sea wall, endless restaurant options, museums and art galleries, Stanley Park, the list goes on. I moved to Vancouver in January, so I’ve only just begun to explore the city and the surrounding area, but I am looking forward to what the summer and next academic year have in store!

I was pleasantly surprised with the realities of my program. I have truly had my eyes opened to the who, what, when, where, why, and how of curriculum studies, through the readings and class discussions and I have grown as a person in the last 8 months. The personal and professional growth that I have experienced is not what I expected but I am enjoying every minute of it!
 
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I am looking forward to meeting my classmates and professors in a few months (fingers crossed)! I realized recently, that I don’t know how tall any of my classmates are – I’m sure many of us are thinking the same thing, this is not how I expected my graduate degree to go. Fortunately, the different organizations at the university have done a pretty decent job managing life during a pandemic – with online conferences, weekly Zoom study groups, online sessions organized by the Library and the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. All things considered, this has been a very valuable experience, up to this point. But, I am looking forward to sitting in a classroom and having a live conversation with my classmates, without having to check if I’m muted when someone else is talking!

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

When I complete my Master’s degree, I’d like to move to South America and find a job at a university. I would then like to eventually get a Ph.D. and find a full-time teacher education position. Those things both seem like big, almost impossible dreams, as I know very little about what it would really take to do either of those things, but I’m looking forward to figuring it all out! So, the biggest challenge would be finding a university in a safe country in South America that is hiring teacher educators from Canada with only a MA, and then getting hired, getting a visa, moving, learning Spanish (or whichever language spoken in the country), etc. … sounds like fun to me!

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

For starters, in 18 months, or so, I will have a Master’s degree, so that’s step one in this plan! But, UBC has provided other opportunities – like the Graduate Student Ambassadors program, for example. Maybe I will meet a student from South America who can connect me to university life in their country – that’s a great place to start! Also, job opportunities like taking on Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) positions are one of the many ways I can gain university teaching experience. Finally, I have classmates from all over the world, which makes my classes a much richer experience and could lead to other international connections.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

Teaching, and teaching internationally, has absolutely prepared me for a graduate program at UBC. First, graduate studies have taken me out of my comfort zone, like living in a different country and speaking a different language. Some of the words and concepts in the readings are completely new to me, and the emphasis on thinking, critical thinking that you then have to try to clearly explain during a discussion, is like learning to navigate a brand-new transit system. Second, teachers are always doing fifty things at once, and the organization, time management and multi-tasking skills I learned in my teaching career have translated very well to my graduate studies. Finally, interacting with people has been the highlight of my job, my travels, and now my degree. I look forward to my classes each week, as it’s a chance to share my experiences and thoughts with my peers and hear their ideas and stories. I do miss teaching, but I’m enjoying applying those skills in this new world!

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I like to get outside and be active as much as possible. I recently registered for a triathlon in July, so I swim in UBC’s beautiful pool once or twice a week. There are endless trails in the Pacific Spirit Regional Park that is very close to campus and the sea wall runs around most of the city – I try to walk, bike, or run in one of these areas daily. And, actually, one of the most surprising benefits of being a graduate student, for me, is all of the book recommendations! I have read some really excellent books that my classmates have recommended, on topics that aren’t necessarily related to my degree but have contributed to the eye-opening experience that has been my graduate degree so far.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! And attend free seminars offered by your department or any department or sessions offered by the Library, the Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication (CWSC), etc. I attend talks by UBC Sustainability Reads every few months because I like to read and I’m interested in sustainability. I’ve been part of a weekly writing group, offered by the CWSC via Zoom, for the entire semester, and the two hours on Wednesdays can be some of my most productive time each week. My department offers fun Zoom activities, like a gingerbread house decorating contest in the winter and monthly wine tastings, which has been a great way to connect with my colleagues while we’re all working from home. I heard about most of these things from the emails sent by the Graduate Program Assistant for my department or signing up for newsletters and that’s been a really great way to stay connected.

 
 
 

Learn about our faculties, research and more than 300 programs in our 2022 Graduate Viewbook!