When the world is your teacher – creating international opportunities for FASS students
By Jodi Reid
Tara Van Lunen’s timing couldn’t have been better.
After years of working in business, Van Lunen decided to enroll in Dalhousie’s Transition Year Program on her way to pursuing a career in social work. She had no idea at the time that she would soon have the opportunity to fulfill another dream, thanks to a study-tour to Colombia being offered by Dal for the first time in June 2022.
“I have always wanted to travel, so being chosen to attend this study-tour was a dream come true,” says Van Lunen. “I turned 40 this year and I had never travelled internationally until this Colombia trip.”
The study-tour was a two-week visit to the city of Manizales. In the heart of Colombia’s coffee-producing region in the Andes mountains, Manizales is known for its rich cultural and educational offerings as well as its natural and architectural beauty.
“An experience you could never learn in a classroom”
The trip gave Van Lunen and her classmates an opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of another culture. They visited schools and private homes to interact with Colombian children and Elders and attended several social and cultural projects and sites. The group took classes during the day at the Catholic University of Manizales, where they had lessons in “survival” Spanish and detailed lectures on Colombia’s history, politics and landscape.
“The teachers, staff and students at Catholic University of Manizales were amazing and welcomed us with open arms,” recalls Van Lunen. “They treated us with the utmost respect, and I will be forever grateful to the city of Manizales for living up to its slogan, ‘the city of open doors.’”
Building on the success of the Colombian tour, the Dal Fund will help the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences create more special initiatives like international opportunities for students from underserved populations. From field courses to study-tours like the Manizales trip, these programs aim to enhance learning, building deep and multidisciplinary understanding of communities through history, culture, language and politics. Through the Dal Fund, alumni donors will help nurture a global mindset, so students can go on to confront complex societal issues with confidence.
Expanding hope through expanded horizons
Born and raised in Dartmouth, Van Lunen is an Indigenous person descended from the Rosebud Reservation, Sioux tribe, and from the Omaha tribe in the western US. Now in her first year of Sociology, she is on track toward a career in social work where she hopes to help Indigenous and other marginalized people who face barriers or stigmas. Many students who complete the Transition Year Program go on to pursue undergraduate degrees in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences like Van Lunen has.
Van Lunen says the trip to Colombia was an invaluable experience that gave her a broader perspective of the world—an opportunity she hopes other students will have the chance to benefit from.
“For many Indigenous people, opportunities like the Transition Year Program and study-tours are rare,” she says. “This trip created memories that can be passed down to the next generation of children—we now have these wonderful stories we can share with other students.”
“I will always give back to my community and country, but this trip made me want to help even more,” adds Van Lunen. “I want to have an impact on societies around the world. This trip allowed me to dream bigger than ever before.”