QES Blog Spotlight - My Research Journey

Author: Miriam Juarez

During the month of November, the Education Abroad Office is featuring blog posts that have been written by VIU’s Queen Elizabeth Scholars (QES) who were recipients of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship. This opportunity allows participants to actively engage, both academically and practically, in deeply linked issues relating to coastal resilience. Leadership and community engagement are woven throughout the project and students have unparalleled opportunities to connect with career-enhancing project opportunities. All scholar activities reinforce the importance of reaching the ultimate outcome of a strengthened global community of young leaders from across Canada and partner countries. Applications are now being accepted until Wednesday, November 28 for VIU undergraduate and graduate students looking to pursue an international internship. Apply now!

Being passionate about indigenous education in my community, I felt the urge to research about how curriculum can be augmented to be more engaging to indigenous students in high schools in Toledo, Belize. My journey began by meeting with community leaders and school administrators. So far, the people have been welcoming and I have learned many things about my culture and the educational system in Belize by listening to the incredible stories of the local educational community. Going for house visits has been challenging at times since I go on foot, but it has also been rewarding to meet kind and hospitable people.

path in jungle

Working as a researcher in one’s local community is not always an easy task. As a matter of fact, it might be a bit more challenging since everyone or almost everyone knows who you are. For me, this school year began with literally getting down and dirty in the rural areas of Belize and with the opportunity to apply some of the things that I had learned at Vancouver Island University. The picture above shows a pathway to one of the homes that I visited. Located about a quarter mile through the jungle and on a narrow and muddy road, it is traditionally called a “picado”. Because it had rained during the night, the path was inundated with water. Nevertheless, when I arrived at the house, I was greeted by the leader with a warm handshake and a hot cup of “cacoa”- a local Mayan drink. Then, I had a priceless conversation with him and he was more than happy to share stories and be part of my research. What a wonderful start to this inspiring journey! I felt reenergized and I trekked on.

In the photo below, I am getting ready for a focus group session with the elders at a local primary school. For about two hours, the elders shared richly about their involvement in the local high school and about the curriculum that is being taught in their communities. Although there are many challenges facing indigenous communities in Belize, the elders’ stories provided a sense of hope and they expressed a desire to help the younger generation to develop an authentic cultural identity. In the upcoming months, I am planning to have more of these sessions with teachers and students to gather their voices and present it the leaders in the community so that they can be heard.

Moreover, being part of the QES community and having the opportunity to experience Canadian culture has prepared me with many insights and skills to be open-minded to the various perspectives that I have gathered through this research journey. Some tips that I would like to share with fellow scholars in doing research in local communities that have worked for me include being open-minded to diverse perspectives, having a respect for the culture and traditions of the people, being a good listener and observer rather than a talker. Getting to know the locals through casual conversations is also a good way to start building relationships. Finally, being consistent and honest helps to build trust and to be respected in the community.

Although my research journey has just began, I am elated to be learning so many things and to meet wonderful people. I feel enthused and determined to continue my trek even through these muddy and inundated roads! Follow me on my next blog to see how it goes. For now, “Bantiox”- thanks- see you later!

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