|Resource Specialization||Food Security and Rural Development|
|Region Specialization||Latin America|
|International Experience(s)||Exchange term in Wageningen University, The Netherlands; Exchange term in University of Copenhagen, Denmark; Fieldwork in Embu county, Kenya|
"GRS is not just a program. It's a community. And I am so proud to say in my last year that I can call it a family."
Why did you choose the GRS specialization that you did?
I’ve always been passionate about food, but it was not until the concept of Food Systems was introduced to me that I found exactly what I wanted to focus on food security. Food production is obviously an important component, but understanding why some people don’t have access to it, why unequal food distribution has not been successfully addressed and why does there continue to be food waste when there is a large part of the world population that remains malnourished, were themes that I was interested in exploring. Moreover, as my studies progressed, I was exposed to the inequalities and challenges that marginalized people and communities face, food insecurity being one of the main ones. The injustice in the food system and my desire to make a positive impact in the livelihoods of people helped me define the second part of my specialization: rural development.
What was your international experience and what did you learn from it?
In my 4th year, I decided to go on exchange for a year. I chose Wageningen University in the Netherlands and The University of Copenhagen (UC) in Denmark. I went to both knowing (or at least that’s what I thought at the moment) exactly what I would be getting out of them in terms of academics and skills. A minor called “Freedom from Hunger” in Wageningen, and graduate class experience in Copenhagen that will not only look good in my CV but also give me the practical experience I have been missing at UBC. What I never suspected was the immense challenges but also personal growth that were part of this package. A highlight of this experience was the opportunity to go to Kenya for 2 weeks as part of one of the courses I was taking at UC. Together with some students of the University of Nairobi, we developed a project around macadamia farmers and how this activity impacts their livelihoods. The two weeks in Kibugu were part of the data collection process we carried out through interviews, questionnaires and a focus group with farmers of the community. Living with a local family whom we ended up calling “mom” and “dad”, learning from their daily life activities and being able to take in the nature and beauty of this community reassured me that this is exactly what I want to be doing the rest of my life. Once the language barrier was overcome, realizing the similarities between our cultures, the dreams that my fellow Kenyan students and I shared, our same love for food and dance… it made me really question whether the distance between our home continents is at all significant and how meaningful connections can flourish within such a short period of time.
The assessment for this class was a big final report answering our research question, but how can the things I learnt, felt and experienced be ever quantified or fit under a rubric? I know that I will continue to search for experiences like this, and I am so glad that my exchange year was only the beginning.