Student stories

Geography student combines travel and education with work term in Ghana

Trilby Buck

African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Ghana

After graduating high school in Nelson, B.C., Trilby Buck knew she wanted to travel, but getting an education was also a priority. When Trilby was researching universities, the University of Victoria (UVic) stood out because of Victoria’s small-town vibe and a program that combined her academic and international aspirations—UVic’s co-operative education program (co-op). “Co-op appealed to me as a way to gain experience and find opportunities across Canada and abroad,” she says.

After completing the second year of her geography degree, Trilby realized her dreams by travelling halfway around the world to work for the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Ghana. She was considering taking a year off from school to travel, but when Trilby found the posting for this co-op term in Ghana, she knew it was the right fit. “Doing this co-op seemed like a way to have the travel experience, but also work towards a co-op designation.”

Trilby’s work term was supported by the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (Queen Elizabeth Scholars) program, an initiative launched by the Governor General of Canada. The program is building a community of young leaders by awarding scholarships for work terms in Commonwealth countries. As part of the program requirements, Trilby participated in community outreach programs in Ghana and posted about her work term on Twitter. One of her tweets, about a local beach cleanup, had an outstanding response. “The Governor General actually tweeted a personal commendation on my outreach activity!” she says.

While in Ghana, Trilby assisted scholars from across Africa studying at AIMS. Because she was the first student in the AIMS-UVic partnership, Trilby had freedom in determining how to contribute meaningfully to the organization and its 48 students. Trilby often helped with writing and English skills, but her typical day changed daily depending on how she could best support the students. “My favorite part was interacting with the close-knit group of students who studied there,” she says. “They were top students from across Africa, representing 16 different cultures.”

Working outside of her own culture and having to navigate unfamiliar situations had a profound impact on Trilby. “A sense of community is the biggest thing I took away from my co-op,” she says, “I felt so included and supported by the people at AIMS that I want to foster a community in my own life in Canada.” Once she got home, Trilby started by volunteering at the Provost’s Diversity Research Forum at UVic, a 2-day conference exploring Indigenous reconciliation and resurgence, and increasing her involvement with her course union on-campus.

In addition to realizing her goals of local and global community engagement, Trilby also returned to UVic with a better sense of her academic goals. “After supporting graduate students in math and computer science,” she says, “I realized that there is a side of me that really enjoys those technical skills, coupled with my outdoorsy side from growing up in Nelson.” With newfound interests thanks to her international experience, Trilby looks forward to finishing her degree in geography and environmental studies, with a focus in geomatics, and seeing where it takes her next.

In June 2016, Trilby (second from left) joined other Queen Elizabeth Scholars for a dinner with his Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada at Rideau Hall.

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