KNOWN FOR ITS VAST NATIONAL PARKS and the imposing allure of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. While most travellers are lured to this East African nation for its stunning beauty, UBC Okanagan student Willa Holmwood chose to explore Tanzania through the lens of its writers and artists.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the continent of Africa,” explains Holmwood, who hopes to attend medical school after graduating from UBC Okanagan (UBCO) with an Honours degree in Biology. “I just feel so captivated by the diverse perspectives it has to offer.”
Holmwood was one of 14 UBC students to participate in Go Global’s six-week Community, Creativity and Communications program, four weeks of which were based in Tanzania. Originally, Holmwood never even considered a Go Global experience. It was only after she did some volunteer work for HOPE Outreach — an organization that supports homeless and exploited women — with course creator and UBCO lecturer Joanna Cockerline that she began to contemplate the opportunity.
“Now, I can’t imagine life without that experience,” says Holmwood.
The program brought together students from a variety of degree programs across both UBC campuses to explore the concepts of travel, travel writing, and local cultural productions, inspiring questions such as: how can creative and cultural production inspire social change and community building, both locally and interculturally?
It’s a question Holmwood never really considered before taking the program. “But with so many students from different programs on the trip, it was interesting to discover unique perspectives.”
“I was particularly inspired by my two roommates, who were into poetry and writing. They encouraged me to be creative on my own — which isn’t something I’m used to, being a science student. But I used my free time to write and reflect on all the things I experienced during my time in Tanzania.”
These experiences were diverse and eye-opening, from excursions to artisans’ collectives and local markets to visits at schools and conversations with East African educators. Numerous guest speakers from East Africa not only presented their work and ideas to the students, but also engaged in close-knit group discussions and one-on-one conversations, often visiting the students for multiple days.
Cockerline’s own experiences travelling through East Africa during her undergraduate studies inspired her to develop the course. For her, being exposed to different ideas, cultures and perspectives gave her a new outlook on life, and she was eager to share this greater sense of awareness with her students.
“There are different ways of learning about a place in order to understand it and the issues that happen there,” explains Cockerline, who jointly teaches in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies and the Faculty of Management. “Bringing writers and artists into the classroom to speak directly about their work gives students a unique perspective and first-hand ability to explore diverse ideas and ask questions alongside these artists.”
The program’s initial success has inspired a second offering that will also include time in Kenya.
Cockerline adds: “The learning experience is transformed from simply reading a work to being immersed in the language, culture, rhythm and ways of going about daily life – and that provides students with insights they otherwise couldn’t learn.”
The topics discussed in class were diverse and important reflections on the power of the arts: internationally-recognized human rights activist and musician Ndungi Githuku discussed grassroots strategies for “artivism,” or the power of art to inspire social justice and change.
Rukia Kurwa, an Arusha-based artist, TEDx speaker and founder of the artists’ collective The Annoyin’ Artist, emphasized the power of cultural productions to inspire social change, understanding and connectivity across borders.
Kenyan fiction writer and poet Munira Hussein shared her perspective on the increasing opportunities independent publishing can forge in government, economics and gender oppression, while novelist and journalist Charles Chanchori offered his insights into alternative publishing channels and the use of social media to increase accessibility to literature.
Throughout the program, Cockerline gave students numerous opportunities to delve into academic projects alongside creative pursuits like poetry, film, web design, photography or multi-media art.
“As a science student, I was grateful to be able to explore my artistic side while also diving into the world of photography,” Holmwood says. One of her final projects was a poetry photo essay of her travels and experiences in Tanzania, while another involved exploring the Tanzanian culture through a lens Holmwood was more familiar with: medicine.
“I connected with a local medical volunteer and toured four different hospitals. I was able to compare the medical systems that exist and what the city needs, and it gave me a new perspective on medicine and how patients are treated. I appreciated the flexibility to choose how I wanted to explore Tanzanian culture.”
Looking back on her time in the Go Global program, Holmwood not only made new friends and added several more countries to her travel bucket list, but she also took away valuable lessons about communication and cultural exchange.
“I never expected to have such an impactful experience. Go Global gave me more confidence in being independent, and I’ve made some incredible friends!” she smiles. “I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Go Global to anyone interested in expanding their horizons, both personally and academically.”
Cockerline agrees that the course is an experience like no other.
“The sense of community formed between students was tremendously exciting. They were immersing themselves in the course content, taking risks, and exposing themselves to new ways of thinking and experiences that were quite transformative. They experienced so much more than what could be experienced in the confines of the classroom.”