Globetrotting for the greater good

Globetrotting for the greater good McGill University

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McGill Reporter
May 17, 2007 - Volume 39 Number 17
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 39: 2006-2007 > May 17, 2007 > Globetrotting for the greater good

Globetrotting for the greater good

For most university students, thinking about a summer job conjures unpleasant images of sitting behind a video store counter or tethering a dozen day campers to a human leash. Not so for the 30 students from 17 universities across Canada who will be participating in Students Without Borders (SWB), a program that offers four-month placements for ambitious students who want to make a difference in a different part of the world, such as South America, Africa, or Asia.

SWB was launched in 2006 by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), a Canadian international development agency whose mission is to "foster human development and global understanding through education and training." Working with WUSC's local partner organizations and field offices across the globe, the SWB program connects post-secondary students to fascinating volunteer opportunities in a number of developing countries.

McGill leads the pack this summer, with an impressive five of our students having been selected to take part: Laurie Watson, Lindsay Parker, Talia Burwah-Brennan, Christopher Connolly, and Mina Park.

Watson recently completed her degree in education, but will have to take a pass on convocation. She is heading to Vietnam, to teach a little English and tourism (an industry that country is hoping to develop), but mostly to help train local teachers by sharing the skills and methods she has developed during her studies here.

"I was looking for a change and a chance to put what I've been learning into practice in a new context, and to test myself," Watson said. By the sound of things, it will be no small test of both her ability and her adaptability. Many of the details of her placement—such as the important question of Internet access—are still unknown. "I have a contact meeting me at the airport, and I don't know much beyond that."

The uncertainty that lies ahead is part of what makes this challenge exciting. Despite "feeling like a bit of a colonizer," Watson explains, "I'm looking forward to living in another culture and seeing if I can be of use. I'm curious." As for her thoughts on what might be her greatest challenge, she states plainly, "I don't speak Vietnamese."

Parker, for her part, is heading to Botswana to pursue her passion for helping animals by volunteering at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve. Some not-so-typical summer activities in store for her include researching cheetah conservation, monitoring white rhinos and giraffes, erecting game capture areas, and even organizing darting and transportation of the animals.

She will be traveling without friends or family for the fist time, but looks forward to the culture shock. "The independence factor will be off the charts," she notes. But any fear of the unknown quickly gives way to her eagerness to add this new element to a long-held interest. "I have had amazing experiences with whales, seals, and penguins, but what I am going to see will be completely out of my usual spectrum. Cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, rhinos: I'll be seeing all of them."

Parker is already thinking beyond this summer as well, and seems certain that this experience will help her effect positive change. "I'm looking forward not only to what may come during my placement," she said, "but also to what will come afterward. How will I use my new knowledge to benefit the greater good?"

Like all the participants, she knows she will encounter a number of challenges with respect to the work she will be doing, as well as with adapting to an environment distinctly foreign to her. But she expects it will all be worthwhile. "Sometimes, the greatest challenge is to challenge yourself," she said before adding unequivocally, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I refuse to waste."

The students will be posting regularly on a WUSC blog, where they will share their experiences and hopefully inspire others—young and old—to make a difference. It promises to provide snapshots of remarkable summer adventures, as well as discussions of topics far more interesting than the latest Hollywood DVD releases.

Follow their remarkable work on the SWBlog, at

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