Seeing the world differently

3 August 2018 15:28
Dan Jenkinson

Dan Jenkinson’s university experience was not what he or his family had planned. He was offered a place at Oxford to study Geography but just missed out on getting the grades.

So he took up his insurance choice, studying Geography at Lancaster University in a city he had never visited.

Three years later he has graduated with a first class degree and has won two of the top prizes at the Lancaster Environment Centre: the best BA degree in his year, and the best BA dissertation. He is delighted with how things have turned out.

When Dan arrived he thought he would focus on physical geography and geology, but he became increasingly fascinated by how societies work, and took advantage of Lancaster’s flexible modular programme to change direction and focus on human geography. He found the choice in the second year particularly exciting.

“It was hard choosing modules, not quite knowing what to expect. Fortunately, I chose the Paris module, experiencing culture through food, which allowed me to eat my way around Paris.”

He learnt about the politics embedded in cheese, and about exclusion while witnessing a stall holder being chased by police at a North African market located underneath the Paris metro.

Dan’s other favourite module - cultural geography - also involved consumption. “What was really exciting was doing an essay around a cultural artefact. We were encouraged to choose and use whatever we wanted.”

Dan chose Maté, an Argentinian green tea, applying the theory he’d learnt in the module to explore the cultural meaning of the drink.

“In my gap year I went to Argentina working with young people with addictions, Maté was really important, drinking it was a ritual, everyone shared it, passing it around the circle.”

He also did a special module on Communicating Geographies, which involved him spending an afternoon a week in a primary school, working alongside a teacher.

He involved the children in designing a participatory recycling scheme, calling on theories he had learned in his course.

“It was very exciting installing enthusiasm for geography into young people, getting them excited about the world in which they live and taking ownership of it.”

When it came to his final year dissertation, Dan, a committed Christian, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. His supervisor encouraged him to do something he was passionate about. So he decided to focus on an issue that combined his interest in social justice with his commitment to the church.

“Homelessness is a big issue in Lancashire, and a lot of churches make provision for the homeless such as drop-in centres. I wanted to talk to them about what they are doing, and whether as well as providing physical things like blankets and food, they were spending time with the homeless.”

He was particularly interested in whether the projects increased the homeless people’s sense of being loved and self esteem, and whether they did this better than council run projects. Using “theory of recognition” frameworks which he researched, he carried out interviews and participant observations with six homeless men and three people running homeless projects.

Today he feels how he views the world during his everyday existence has been fundamentally changed by his experience at Lancaster, and that he sees things of interest in mundane experiences.

“My studies have made me look at things differently. I sometimes annoy my fiancée by speaking about the social importance of street corners or the demographics of particular bus journeys.”

Having graduated Dan is torn between applying his learning to a career in either church youth work, teaching, or continuing his studies through a PhD.

For the moment he has a year’s contract with his local church doing youth work with 11-18 year olds and is settling down in the city with his fiancée, who he met during freshers week.

Find out more about studying for an undergraduate degree at the Lancaster Environment Centre.

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