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Weaving a Path to Cultural Understanding & the United Nations

Student lands coveted UN internship


This story is featured in the Fall 2016 edition of Showcase: The Experiential Learning IssueView the complete publication.

For Trent alumna Jennifer Boyce ‘10, a high school trip to teach spelling and math to children in Jamaica was a compelling prelude to her time at Trent in the International Development Studies and Indigenous Studies programs, and ultimately life-changing global expeditions.

Trent University’s study abroad program transported her from Peterborough to a remote Indigenous village in Thailand. From there, education, on-the-ground research, contacts and cultural immersion took her all the way to the United Nations.

From Trent to Thailand

Along with other students in the Trent University study abroad program, Ms. Boyce immersed herself in the study of Thai language, culture and Indigenous Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand at Chiang Mai University (CMU).

She then embarked on her placement in the Karen Hill Tribe village known as Mae Klang Luang, high upon Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s largest mountain, which became her distant home and research location for the next four months.

“It was truly a life changing experience,” Ms. Boyce recalls, adding that she was initially viewed as an outsider until she asked a woman to teach her to weave, a practice expected of all women in the village—and more importantly a path to acceptance and her research. “Soon every woman in the community was asking about my weaving and inviting me to their homes. Some came to keep me company while I weaved.”

Cultural tradition and modern necessities collide

Rapport established, she began her research within the village known for eco-tourism. “I looked at the struggle of the Mae Klang Luang community balancing the tourists’ traditional perceptions against their own modern-day development and growth that includes electricity and running water,” said Ms. Boyce.

After two months of training, she became a guide, leading tourists through the terrain and informing them of the practices, challenges and culture of the Indigenous community.

She feels the placement became more about making connections with the local people and understanding another culture. It also opened the door to unprecedented opportunity.

To the United Nations – and a better world

Thanks to her hands-on experience working in a foreign country during her undergraduate experience at Trent, Ms. Boyce was soon accepted as an intern at United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangkok. 

“I proved I had both qualitative and quantitative research knowledge,” she stated. “This was the other key element that helped me get ahead of the competition.”

At UNFPA, Ms. Boyce was responsible for donor profiling for maternal health care in ten priority countries across Southeast Asia through assessment of factors including economics, and international relationships. She was also the English language editor.

Crediting guidance from her Trent Economics professor who had his own first-hand UN experience, to key contacts made during her studies abroad, Ms. Boyce says that, “Beyond the connections that helped me to get a foot in the door, the education I received at Trent went well above and beyond preparing me for the role at the UN.”

Path to empowerment

Now back in Canada, the Trent graduate is working at WE, the well-known youth movement organization as a strategist for business development, finding ways to empower young people.

“I think pairing my professional skills with my background in international development is the best road for me,” she said. “I wake up excited and that is what matters to me.”  

Posted on Thursday, January 5, 2017.

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