Reflections of an Inbound QE Scholar

Author: Fynn Adjei Kusi

I have had a slew of ups and downs since beginning my Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure Management (MA-SLM) program at Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo, BC, Canada.

I was excited about moving to Canada because of its advertised theme of being an open, inclusive society. Undoubtedly, I have enjoyed a greater degree of such hospitality and support. Canadians are generally amazing, affectionate people though I am yet to form meaningful connections outside my cohort, faculty, and staff at VIU.

The assimilation process at VIU was quite slow. Throughout my first year, I struggled with academic writing. Initially, I failed to appropriately utilize the facilities and support services at VIU, which cost me a poor grade. Maybe I was new and shy or not comfortable reaching out to them. However, I made two right decisions which changed the trajectory of my academic journey. Those choices are part of why I achieved the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (QES), a great personal success. First was the decision to honour an invitation from a professor to review my assignment and accept his in-person feedback. The professor was his usual self, calm, magnanimous, candid, and prophetic in acknowledging my abilities and my near flaws. He gave me a sense of hope, not despair.

Secondly, I took the advice of my professors to visit the Writing Center for support. I initially felt self-shame as I thought, 'My goodness, I have had all my education in English, so why the need for it?' Perhaps, the mannerism accompanying the wise advice I felt was condescending. Reluctantly, I overcame my pride after several postponements. At the Writing Center, I met some wonderful people and after a brief conversation with one of their experienced in-person tutors, she told me, "I think you have no problem." She gave me some resources - and I concede that the visit became a confidence booster. It rebuilt my self-belief, and from that moment, I committed myself to reading more academic articles to improve my writing skills. I also rescheduled and prioritized my leisure. This was important in order to manage the stress of academic reading and writing.

I had the opportunity to improve my academic writing skills by consistently writing assignments during the MA-SLM program and because of the ever-ready support of the professors. Although it was challenging, I enjoyed the sharp, critical lenses of our faculty members, which no below-par writings could escape. They do not want you to be ordinary and are there to support you - which was always a relief to me. Their detailed feedback always amazed my friends outside VIU. Additionally, the ease at which a student could access a faculty member, and the small number in the cohort, was a game-changer. My mates, especially the Canadians, were encouraging about how we could progress and write well in English while acknowledging that we have native languages other than English.

As a research assistant, I was privileged to join my professor in attending the 2022 IMPACT Sustainability Travel & Tourism Conference in Victoria, BC. I witnessed insightful conversations at the workshops and presentations which introduced me to regenerative tourism practices, particularly in British Columbia and other places in and outside Canada. Also, I had the opportunity to be involved in the work of the VIU Scholarship, Research, and Creative Activity (SRCA) Office as a co-op for two consecutive springs. I was supervised by two incredible human beings who continue to run that office. As a key CREATE team member, I assisted in organizing the 2022 and 2023 CREATE conferences by engaging and scheduling students’ entries in research posters, infographics, and oral presentations, among others. This has been an enriching experience and I hope to return one day to work for the SRCA team. Thankfully, I have been considered for the 2024 CREATE Conference as an alumni adjudimentor, such a rewarding honor. I will gain additional competence by interacting more closely with on-campus university students, and I am grateful for that.

For my MA-SLM thesis project, I am examining how voluntourism can be used as a well-planned tourism activity to achieve community and national sustainable development, particularly in the Global South. It is a qualitative case study that looks at how a British voluntourism organization reimagined itself by shifting from running one-time, short-term volunteer tourist projects to facilitating the construction and operations of two schools in an underserved Ghanaian rural community to increase access to quality education for out-of-school children living in poverty. I employed the Sustainable Livelihood Framework for Volunteer Tourism to investigate how the volunteer projects in the rural community enhance the livelihood sustainability of the host community and other communities served by the two schools. This project is dear to my heart because of my past involvement.

I look forward to how, through my dual lenses as a former volunteer tourist manager and now as a graduate student – and being cognizant of the extant literature on volunteer tourism - I can produce an insightful research outcome that encapsulates many views on this tourism sector without losing my lived experience. I have been concerned that Ghana may not be optimizing tourism's potential to enhance Ghanaians' sustainable livelihoods, particularly in less developed areas. I hope that by the end of this research, the result will be help tourism stakeholders, especially in the voluntourism sector, to improve the quality of their relationships in order to deliver volunteer projects that are co-created and continue to address the needs and wants of the communities. Such meaningful, responsible volunteering practices would increasingly give international volunteers value for money. Ghana has many volunteer tourism organizations, including some owned by my friends or former colleagues. I hope to share my insights with them and restart my career to be part of a movement of entrepreneurs with mindfulness to deliver well-planned voluntourism to achieve sustainable development in Ghana.  

The QES funding has given me relief to focus more on my thesis instead of working full-time to care for myself. The funds have paid for the remainder of my tuition fee, the labor of research assistants to help me with the transcription of the research interviews, and other miscellaneous expenses. It was a godsent gesture that came in at the appropriate time. It would have been extremely challenging without the QES funding to complete my research at this time. The experience has been more than enriching, and I am grateful for such an opportunity. Having received the scholarship has encouraged me to strive to produce high-quality work, with the support of my supervisor(s), to justify the funding and confidence reposed in me by the Department of Recreation and Tourism, the Education Abroad office, and the scholarship sponsors. I also look forward to the opportunities that the QES provides to network with other scholars to grow myself to serve the world as a better person, a researcher, and a global citizen.

VIU has been kind to me, albeit I did not participate as much as I had hoped in voluntary and other community service activities on the VIU campus. Involvement in departmental and social causes clubs and student union leadership could have enriched my graduate experience by taking full advantage of VIU's diverse student body from almost all continents. As I continue to regret this, I advise international students at VIU to get involved in on-campus, non-academic student activities to build their much-needed soft skills in their new country if they want to stay in Canada.

I will miss the chance to meet and network with graduates from other programs. VIU has a new office, Graduate Studies and Student Research, dedicated to graduate affairs. It brings graduate students much closer by hosting joint programs – both academic and non-academic. I wanted to benefit from such a bonding and networking platform for graduate students. This is because graduate students bring varied experiences into their programs, which can be available to each other to enrich post-graduate school experiences. It would have been an excellent way for me to connect with other graduates more meaningfully on campus. However, I had a great time meeting the growing African community, especially the younger ones, at VIU. I will dearly miss such engagements as well as my 2021 MA-SLM cohort.

To conclude, I will share a note about Vancouver Island, BC. Environmental sustainability interests me as much as social sustainability does. I have enjoyed Vancouver Island's natural beauty and the harmony between humans and nature. I love the Island's clean, scenic landscapes and rainforests. Growing up in Bibiani, a small town in western Ghana, the neighborhoods were interspersed with trees, and one could see green backyard gardens at every turn. My old neighborhoods look nothing like I had experienced as a little boy. Unfortunately, children and adults can no longer access recreational parks and other green spaces in my hometown. I always have mixed feelings while enjoying these experiences in Nanaimo and other parts of the island. I will greatly miss such experiences the island has offered me.


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