September 4, 2013 - 6:59am

Vancouver Island University anthropology and global studies graduate Celia White won first prize for her submission to the annual Student Achievement Award sponsored by the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA), which recognizes student contributions in the area of practicing and applied anthropology. (See

White, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from VIU last June, will attend the NAPA meeting in Chicago in November to receive a certificate of recognition and $300 in prize money. There, she’ll mingle with several thousand anthropologists from the US, Canada and overseas.

White’s winning submission, a paper she wrote about volunteer tourism for a VIU anthropology class, will have the chance to be published in an academic journal.

“It’s exciting to receive this recognition from such an important anthropological organization, especially for an undergraduate paper into which I poured so much work, passion and self,” says White. “My hope is to get people thinking more critically about volunteer tourism.”

The paper arose from a negative experience White had working as a volunteer tourist at a biological station for turtles in Costa Rica.

Called “Questioning Voluntourism”, the paper discusses three case studies of how volunteer tourism projects can be beneficial or harmful to communities abroad.

“Often volunteer tourists travel to a community they think is marginalized or disenfranchised, inferior or under-developed,” she says. “They arrive in the host community believing that they are aiding or helping to develop the local people. In fact, volunteer tourists are usually unskilled, don’t speak the language and have no experience or education in what they are volunteering in.

“Their presence can disempower the local community and create a negative relationship where the local people’s insights, wisdom and experience aren’t valued. In reality, the local people’s knowledge and understanding of the complexities and history of their community are far greater.”

White concludes the paper by encouraging young adults to question volunteer tourism projects before jumping into them, and to be wary of all the possible detrimental outcomes of participating in these projects. “I don’t condemn volunteer tourism projects generally because they can be beneficial if managed properly, and controlled by the local people,” she says.

“My hope is to shed light on the often unseen or unquestioned aspects of volunteering abroad and to warn people to be more critical about signing up for projects. Really ask yourself if the project will be beneficial locally or internationally.”

White wrote the award-winning paper two years ago for an anthropology class taught by VIU professor Dr. Lynette Harper. “Lynette often met me outside of class time to discuss ideas and edit my work,” adds White. “Another anthropology professor, Dr. Imogene Lim, knew about my work and encouraged me to submit a paper to the NAPA contest.

“The fact I received first prize speaks to the quality of VIU’s educational experience,” she says. “Sometimes, as a student who attends a small, Canadian university like VIU, it may seem that other students have a greater chance of winning these awards simply because they attend a larger, more prestigious institution. Clearly VIU undergraduate students benefit from small class sizes and close relationships with professors who promote student success.”

White is excited about the prospect of having her award-winning paper published in an academic journal. She is already a published author – another VIU essay she wrote about mining practises of Canadian company Gold Corp was accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed undergraduate anthropological journal last year.

Lim says it’s a great honour for a VIU student to receive the NAPA Student Achievement Award.

“NAPA is one of the sections of the American Anthropological Association. Not only is this a national organization, there are many international members who will now know about VIU.

“The fact is that we have amazing undergraduate students at VIU,” adds Lim. “Celia has always been exceptional in terms of her community service and her academic work. She’s a very special student.”



Janina Stajic, Manager, Vancouver Island University

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