Wrapping up school in South America


For most students, taking a course means just sitting in a classroom listening to a professor lecture. However, for the students of GS 410, the senior field course in global studies, it involves much more.

This May, students of GS 410 will be going to the Bío Bío and Araucanía regions of Chile, visiting marginalized urban areas and researching alternative agriculture, as well as the indigenous people of Mapuche.

Students will also be visiting Santiago, the capital city of Chile, which has over seven million people in the same area of Toronto.

Wilfrid Laurier University professor Alex Latta, the course’s instructor, has been organizing the trip since last fall. He also has been reaching out to students for recruitment as well as preparing everything has been a big undertaking.

Latta is hopeful that other professors may use the course to link their research with teaching.

“It’s kind of scary, and I’m still scared even though I’m part way there. I’m not sure if other professors will take this up immediately but there have certainly been expressions of interest from my colleagues,” he said.

The trip will cost students around $3,000 and timing has made it difficult for some senior-level students to take part.

The class will be leaving the second week of May and returning the first week of June, so those starting summer jobs or looking to add on the course before graduating this year won’t be able to register.

Students in the global studies program who want to register but cannot afford the cost are welcome to apply for funding from the Global Studies Experience Abroad fund, said Latta.

“The first unit has to do with marginal urban neighbourhoods, environmental justice and public health related to the environment. We will be spending two days with a public health promotion organization. We’ll also be spending another day in an urban neighbourhood that has been started partly by the government and partly through its own initiatives,” added Latta.

Latta mentioned that for the second half of the course the students will be working with an NGO, CETSur, which stands for Centro de Educacion y Tecnologia para el desarrollo del sur, who will be providing guides and education for the students.

The second portion of the course will focus on alternative agriculture, a concept close to fourth-year global studies and political science student Zoe Sawchuk. Sawchuk participated last year in a three and a half month Global Studies Experience in Nicaragua.

“There was something I had said at the end of my GSE, which was supposed to be advice for those going, but I feel it applies to this course as well. Know why you want to go, know what your expectations are and then realize that on your first day all that will change,” Sawchuk said.

“We are going to be looking at alternative agriculture in a region where forestry has displaced a lot of people,” Latta continued.

“We’ll be looking at producer’s co-operatives, seed banks, some organizations that work on education around organic gardening; we will be rebuilding local markets for food, that sort of thing,” Latta explained.

“Agriculture in Chile has been thoroughly industrialized, and that process has put a lot of small farmers off the land. A lot of agricultural land in the south has been replaced with forestry, pine plantations and Eucalyptus plantations.”

The final piece of the course surrounds the indigenous community of Mapuche, the largest group in Chile.
The south of Chile is all ancestral Mapuche territory.

“They, like Canadian First Nations, are working from the context of small reserves and having their territories replaced by land use, trying to seek out new forms of livelihood to help them recuperate social and economic status,” Latta said. “Some of that is ethno-tourism, ecotourism and some of it is also agricultural production. Some of it is alternative forestry. Those communities are the focus of the third part of the course.“

The class will be in Chile during the fall season and though fall can be accompanied by lots of rain, Latta hopes the weather will be good for students to be outside and enjoy their time in Chile.

“They won’t be getting the beautiful Chilean summer,” Latta joked.

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