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Two weeks in Canada: A different vision of a better life

PechaKucha Nanaimo

In this post, Dr. Marco Bevolo shares his experience as a visiting scholar at VIU.

As a seasoned veteran in business stages and corporate conferences, I have traveled all over the world, from Beijing to Caracas, typically spending two, maximum three nights out. With very rare exceptions, I would typically fly two or twelve hours, check into my hotel, meet the conference organizers, perform, attend speakers’ networking dinners or events, and fly back. When not on holidays in Italy or Japan, where my families reside, that would be my routine. When the standard call for a Visiting Scholar at Vancouver Island University (VIU), British Columbia (Canada), within the context of their World Leisure Center of Excellence (WLCE), came into my inbox, I was triggered by the opportunity to take a different kind of trip, with a different kind of scope. The Visiting Scholar program is coordinated by Joanne Schroeder, Co-Director of VIUs WLCE, and I was to spend my time attached to one of six courses required by the Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure Management, SLM 604 Influencing Change towards Sustainability. The program entailed two weeks in Canada, structured over 10 days at the campus in Nanaimo – a former mining town, turned sea resort, and traditional territory to the Snuneymuxw, Quw’utsun, and Tla’amin Indigenous people.

My main goal, on arrival in Nanaimo, was not instrumental. I am really not keen to travel for travel’s sake; therefore I was determined to invest all the possible time in connecting to the students and the faculty at VIU. The first impression of the downtown area, where I stayed for my 10 days, was surreal. Nanaimo is a former mining center with a clear focus of their young history, and of their reconciliation process with First Nation citizens, who have been on that land for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Nanaimo Downtown, in winter, does not look fancy: few streets, the typical structure of a resort economy, relatively few shops, lots of second-hand windows for retail running on consignment. If I stayed just a couple of nights, as usual, my impression would have been mixed. Instead, by taking two weeks, I could learn and appreciate the deep community bonding and participatory spirit of a highly socially driven local economy, where second-hand bookshops and vintage fashion stores act as supporting centers for underprivileged citizens, offering courses, spaces and sometimes just a cup of coffee and listening time, to make a difference. Through the evenings, a small but sophisticated selection of Asian restaurants and slow food cafes emerged, coupled with an excellent art space like the Nanaimo Art Gallery, with a focus, again, on First Nation themes and environmental sustainability. We hear, in The Netherlands, much talk about the “participation society” but business-as-usual, and the pursuit of profit in a neoliberalist economy, seem to still rely on the mainstream discourse and its associated overarching social life. In contrast, downtown Nanaimo offered to me a vivid image of an alternative hyperlocal economy; one that connects citizens to each other, through exchange, barter, and dialog.

An equivalent ethos, with a strong focus on social sustainability and Canada’s reconciliation process with the First Nation peoples, welcomed me at the VIU campus. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of smiling faculty members, and to address students and alumni of the institute, in a number of addresses, lectures, and within the SLM 604 course.  In particular, it was delightful to deliver a Pecha Kucha, a format invented by Klein and Dythem in Tokyo years ago, at their anniversary event, where I presented a forthcoming paper with the author, Filiberto Amati, MBA, my business associate, on leisure and work, and more specifically, on the blurring of both into a new digital continuum. Whereas my public address as part of the World VIU Points lecture series entailed a presentation and deep discussion on leisure and migration, as based on a paper I co-authored with Anique Gerrits, BA and BUAS alumni of vocational International Leisure Management, on Eritrean refugees in The Netherlands. I made contributions also to the international bachelor courses and another of VIUs graduate programs, the Master’s in Community Planning, which by means of attending a workshop on urban planning, gave me additional opportunities to bring to the table insights on Imagineering in “the BUAS way”; an approach that remains unique and therefore requires interpretation and explanation, and involving digital place-making, and urban futures.

My final takeaway from the Visiting Scholars program at Vancouver Island University and from the Vancouver Learning Lab is simply: “A better life is possible”, as the work by Suzanne and Joanne Schroeder (Co-Directors, WLCE), and their powerful ethical optimism, were truly inspirational. As enablers of this exchange, I would like to thank, besides Suzanne, Joanne and Ewout, also Yvonne Klerks, MSc, lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences and Member of the Board at the World Leisure Society, who approved and monitored this process, Kelly April, Department Assistant at VIU, who worked hard to organize everything in great detail, Vanessa Moraes, WLCE Program Assistant, and of course all the students, faculty members and friends that I have greatly enjoyed meeting in Nanaimo and Vancouver.

Dr. Marco Bevolo, PhD, is currently a Lecturer in International Leisure Management at Breda University of Applied Sciences, in the Netherlands.

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