Grad student working to impact experiential education overseas

Though she’s still in the midst of her own educational journey, Nathalie Jackson (BA ’21, BEd ’21) is doing her part to decolonize international experiential education for others.

The Brock University Master of Education student spent February’s Reading Week in rural Guatemala, where she worked on an ongoing research project focused on determining the challenges and benefits Indigenous communities encounter when hosting student visitors from northern countries. While there, she also dedicated her time to helping organize an upcoming undergraduate/graduate field experience course in Mayan territories.

Jackson worked on the research project, which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), alongside a research team including supervisor Michael O’Sullivan, Associate Professor and course instructor in Brock’s Faculty of Education, and Geraldine Balzer, Associate Professor of Curriculum Studies from the University of Saskatchewan.

A group of people sit down at an outdoor table to eat together

Geraldine Balzer and Michael O’Sullivan (on left of table) have lunch with Pablo Ceto, Rector of the Ixil University, and members of the local research team during a trip to Nebaj, Guatemala.

Using a collaborative methodology with Mayan research assistants, Jackson and the research team hope to communicate practical recommendations for Canadian international experiential education programs by identifying ways to include Mayan values in international experiential education programming through co-designing curricular documents with their global southern partners to ensure better relations, fostering trust and mutual benefit.

Jackson took trips abroad as a teen that left her passionate about experiential education.

“I tend to reflect on my previous experience with international service-learning trips in high school,” she said. “I know there is a lot of merit in international experiential education, but a process of decolonization has to occur, and I’m very interested in this process.”

This passion fuelled her undergraduate journey to Brock, where she got involved in experiential education opportunities, including the first iterations of the field experience course, where she exercised her leadership skills and fluency in Spanish.

When she began her graduate studies, Jackson’s demonstrated skills and determination made her a fitting choice for O’Sullivan’s SSHRC-funded team as a research assistant.

Master of Education student Nathalie Jackson (BA ’21, BEd ’21) and Mayor of Nebaj, Guatemala, Fely Herrera.

O’Sullivan has been impressed by Jackson’s commitment to the decolonization of international experiential education and critical stakeholders for their research and upcoming field experience.

“Nathalie is finding expression in decolonizing IEE through a number of ways, including her constant communication with the Rector of the Indigenous Ixil University, our partner organization; her involvement with Mayan research assistants who are gathering data in the local Indigenous communities; and her ongoing dialogue with mayor of the territory we will be visiting during the field course, Feliciana Herrera, or Fely as she is known,” he said.

Herrera, one of the youngest Mayan women to hold a mayoral position in Nebaj, Guatemala, will play a vital role in the upcoming student trip in October, as she will be organizing several activities for Brock students during their stay in her territory.

Jackson has been inspired by her ongoing collaboration with Herrera and her dedication to the Indigenous community.

“It is important to listen to and honour the stories of Ixil community members,” she said. “Fely demonstrates a high level of resilience in everything she does. This includes preserving values and traditions of her ancestors through historically accurate fire ceremonies, defending the Ixil territory against mega projects, including mines operated by Canadian companies, and fighting corruption.”

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