VIU Grad Advises Students to 'Step Out of Comfort Zone' and Study Overseas

VIU alumna Emily Hannah says a three month Global Studies Internship in Belize was a highlight of her educational experience.

February 13, 2015 - 12:45pm

Be courageous and step out of your comfort zone.

That’s Emily Hannah’s advice to high school and post-secondary students after she completed a three-month Global Studies internship in Belize as part of her Bachelor of Arts degree program at Vancouver Island University (VIU).

The overseas internship was a “highlight” of her undergraduate degree, says Hannah, who graduated with double majors in Geography and Global Studies in January.

In Belize, she lived with a host family and worked for an organization called Plenty Belize, a non-governmental organization that focuses on solar energy, sustainable farming and small business development.

“I think every student should study abroad, even for one semester,” says Hannah, born and raised in Nanaimo and a graduate of Dover Bay Secondary. 

“I had never travelled overseas before. Going to Belize on my own was nerve wracking at first and I was afraid. I almost pulled out of the internship but then it became really exciting. It was definitely a growth experience that made me realize what I’m capable of doing when pushed. I am more confident in my academic capabilities as well. Motivating myself, setting deadlines and getting things done used to be a challenge, but not anymore.”

A highlight for Hannah was travelling to a small village with her host mother to visit the family farm and learn about the traditional Mayan way of life. “I met so many people and appreciated the hands on learning experiences,” she says. “Living and studying in another country expands your view of the world and gives you a new way to learn.”

VIU alumna Taylor Jenks (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Geography and minor in Global Studies, January 2015) also completed a summer internship in Belize, working for the Ministry of Labour, Local government, Rural development, National Emergency Management Operations, and Immigration and Nationality. Her tasks focused on the rural development department: she undertook a boundary delineation study and helped three small villages qualify as official villages under their local government act.

“I conducted a household survey, consulted with community representatives as to where they perceive their geographical boundaries to be, and carried out other tasks,” says Jenks, originally from Cowichan. “It was great to put my skills and education to work in a real world environment.”

Jenks admits that culture shock was a factor when she first arrived in Belize “because it’s all overwhelming at first. However, you soon discover that what seem like the biggest challenges turn out to be the most rewarding experiences.

“You end up learning a lot, especially how to be creative when performing even the simplest of tasks from feeding yourself, to finding ways to commute when you don’t have a vehicle, to learning the norms of a workplace in a foreign country,” she adds. 

Diego Bustos, an international student from Mexico and now a fourth-year Global Studies student at VIU, also completed a summer internship.  He provided technical assistance to the Belize Rural Area-Based Development Strategy in 34 villages.  “The academic and personal gains of this experience are unbelievable,” says Bustos. “Just living in another country and trying to understand their language and culture is an education in itself. The friendships I’ve made will last a lifetime."

Global Studies professor Dr. Catherine Schittecatte says VIU students have pursued internships in places as far away as Geneva, India, Belize, Uganda and Brazil. “Many of them have had transformational experiences,” she says. “Studying abroad provides a tremendous opportunity for students to grow as individuals. Students learn in a completely foreign environment and get to practice on the ground what we learn in the classroom and from textbooks.”

Global Studies internships are open to students entering their 3rd or 4th year of the program. Certain criteria apply and some funding assistance is available. Internships count as three University credit courses toward a Major or Minor Degree in Global Studies. The deadline for internship applications for the next academic year (2015/16) and the summer of 2016 is Friday, March 13th, 2015. Interviews will take place in mid-April.

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Janina Stajic, Manager, Vancouver Island University

P: 250-740-6288 E: T: @viunews

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