Student Life


Beyond border students posing for picture

Interested in hearing more about the Beyond Border's experience? Browse the testimonials below to catch a glimpse of why these students chose the "road less travelled" and what it looked like looked like for them. 

Lydia (Sexuality Marriage and Family Studies) - Petryky Internat, Ukraine
Why take the "road less travelled"?
I think that there is so much to be gained from an experience like this, which puts you out of your comfort zone and challenges you to grow. You learn so much about yourself, and the world, and your place in it, and I think you really understand what empathy means. These kinds of experiences change how you see the world - they humble you and connect you and show you what it really means to make a difference in the world. My time in Ukraine is foundational to who I am and how I interact with people now. I think I did a lot of growing up there, and a lot of learning who I want to be.
What was your journey like?
I worked at the Petryky Internat, a home for girls and young women with disabilities. We essentially spent our days doing whatever made the girls smile - dancing, making bracelets, colouring, playing cards, making lemonade, and having 'spa days'. We got to take them into the city centre to go on a boat ride and out for pizza, had a pyjama-party-movie day, and dressed up for a fancy dance, complete with a photo booth! I taught them how to play a little bit of ukulele, and they taught me how to make necklaces out of beads. I like to say that my job that summer was just loving the girls, giving them all the love in my heart that I could and bringing some happiness to their days.
What will stick with you as you venture forward?
Almost every day in class I feel the impact of my time in Ukraine. I am so much more aware of and passionate about supporting children and providing them with the resources they need, regardless of their ability. Being with the girls has made me more socially conscious and compassionate, and less anxious or awkward about who I am. It  has changed how I define love and taught me how important it is to not shrink yourself for anyone else's benefit. I always say that my job when I was with them was essentially just loving them, and in all honesty, I've realized that is my dream job. I can only hope I find a job one day that makes me as happy to go to 'work' as I felt every single morning in Ukraine.
I will never forget how it feels to be loved so unconditionally by these girls - how it feels to know you are making a difference in someone's life, how freeing it is to simply be yourself, and how happy they made me every single day. There isn't any way to talk about my love for these girls without sounding cheesy - they have taught me so much about being myself, and being there for others, and how healing loving with my whole heart can be.
Because of these girls, I know I walk through my life with more intention now. I am grateful for every day and opportunity I have, and I push myself always to be open with my heart and with who I am.
Sandeep - Petryky Internat
Why take the "road less travelled"?


You can't learn at home what you can learn abroad. You just can't.  There's something about venturing out of this little box, seeing the world as something bigger than what we know, that is absolutely mesmerizing.

What was your journey like?


Working at Petryky was extremely humbling. While you're busy worrying about being liked or not or how bad your Ukrainian might be, these girls show you what it means to truly be carefree and unselfconscious.  With them, the smallest gestures can truly mean the most.


What will stick with you as you venture forward?


I have finally felt what it's like to be one of the many international students, refugees, and newcomers that passionately work with. Understanding the experiences of cultural adjustment and learning has opened a newfound appreciation for anyone who has traveled and lived abroad and I now know how to better tailor my work to meet the needs of newcomers and immigrants to Canada.


Not a day goes by where I don't think of the people I met.
Why take the "road less travelled"?


If you have the opportunity to use the world as your classroom, do it! International service learning teaches you many things; not only will you gain an appreciation for different cultures and for humanity, but you’ll gain a better sense of who you are as an individual and the impact that your lifestyle has on a global scale. When abroad, you’re challenged to immerse yourself in a new culture, and when you return home, you’ll be challenged to think differently. I can’t think of a better experience to engage in your passions and learn from the people and environments around you.


What was your journey like?


In the Fall of 2014, I had the privilege of working with Isabel Uriarte Latorre, co-founder of the Café Femenino initiative and the executive director of PROASSA, a Fairtrade and Organic coffee exporter in Northern Peru. As a Planning student, I was able to work on rural planning projects both at the office in Chiclayo and in several rural coffee-producing communities. Some of the projects I worked on included a Community Centre design concept for the community of Penachí, a Community Development Plan for the village of Tallapampa, and a healthy homes research report. While in Peru, I also worked on my undergrad thesis which focused on planning for small-scale coffee tourism in the community of Agua Azul. I will forever be grateful for the people I met, the places I saw, and the overall lessons I learned.


What will stick with you as you venture forward?


While in Peru, I came to the conclusion that my two passions in life (urban planning and international development), are closely related. Having the opportunity to work with coffee producers on community projects really was a dream come true for me. It made me come to the realization that urban planning can have a huge impact on the quality of life in the developing world, and it became my career objective to find a job that would allow me to explore this relationship further.


“Las experiencias que tienes como estudiante son las que te van a formar por el resto de su vida."
“The experiences you have as a student are the ones that will influence you for the rest of your life."

Isabel Uriarte Latorre

Jess - Pura Vida
Why take the "road less travelled"?


The opportunity to experience the Beyond Borders program is an incredible one that teaches you about critical self-reflection, the journeys of others and navigating the world as an intentional global citizen. The program is a wonderful blend of academic coursework that challenges you while allowing for the opportunity to put learning in the classroom into practice. Through Beyond Borders I’ve learned about privilege, my social location and about the international impacts of these factors at both a micro and macro level. I believe these experiences are foundational for personal growth, professional development and expanding your academic experiences! If you are considering Beyond Borders, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to take a leap of faith and apply! 


What was your journey like?


I was fortunate to travel to the beautiful city of Cusco in Peru to volunteer with the Pura Vida Foundation for my Beyond Borders placement. I had travelled to Peru before through the SJU in Peru Initiative and fell in love with the language, culture and people I crossed paths with. Through Beyond Borders I walked alongside Nathan Beninger, the founder of Pura Vida, and the beautiful young women living at the shelter. My placement was a mosaic of opportunity that allowed me to sink my feet into many facets such as: one-on-one personal, social and academic support for the women, programming development and implementation, the Ricardo project, planning and fundraising initiatives for the foundation, facilitating an aspect of the SJU in Peru experience and managing the social media accounts. What I loved about my placement was Nathan’s willingness to allow me to be flexible with the projects I worked on. If I had an interest, Nathan was the first to encourage me to pursue it! Almost three years later, I am still involved with supporting Pura Vida initiatives!

What will stick with you as you venture forward?


My Beyond Borders placement has had an immense impact on my life. I am pursuing my Masters of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University and am constantly making connections between my time at Pura Vida and my passions as a social worker. I’ve learned about how important it is to be intentional about the work that I do and about walking with humility. My relationships with the women at the shelter have taught me about vulnerability, authenticity and strength.  I have learned more from these women than I ever expected. My role working with vulnerable populations is not about imposing what I can do for others but about the powerful nature of what can be accomplished through trust, consistency and accountability. Each day I discover new ways I am thankful for my time at Pura Vida and I will carry these moments with me always! 


Nothing has transformed the way I look at the world more than learning to walk in solidarity with others.

Why take the "road less travelled"?


I feel that international learning experiences provide a far greater perspective on life than can ever be learned within the confines of a classroom. Empathy is one of the greatest skills one can learn but one that can’t always be learned via conventional means.


What was your journey like?


My placement was at PROASSA working on the Café Femenino brand of coffee. My office was located in Chiclayo, Peru in the north of the country. I spend a good amount of my time in the city but also frequented the various communities in the Andes and Amazonas where the coffee was grown and harvested. I worked on branding of Café Femenino including photography, website, and product packaging in a Project Manager role.

What will stick with you as you venture forward?


I used a lot of what I learned during my summer in Peru when working at my next internship at Amazon the following summer as an UX Design Intern. I hope to work in an international role in the future thanks to the seeds that were planted through Beyond Borders.


When I committed to Beyond Borders at the end of my first year of University it changed how I approached my school and career by fusing my passions of people and technology together. I learned so much about myself through the process in class and in the field through my placement at Café Femenino in Peru.

Allison - The Esperanza Project
Why take the "road less travelled"?


International service learning experiences are so important because they expand your whole worldview. Your home is no longer just in one place, but in many different places with many different people to call family. You get to learn more about yourself and the new culture you are surrounded by, and use gifts and talents you may not have known existed.

What was your journey like?


My placement was in Cabrera, Dominican Republic with an organization called the Esperanza Project. The Esperanza Project is a school and summer camp that provides a curriculum for students from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and teaches them English, allows them to develop skills and to try extracurriculars they may not have had the opportunity to try otherwise.


Life is not about getting and having; it is about giving and being at Camp Esperanza.

Karen - The Esperanza Project
Why take the road less travelled?


I think experiences like these are so important for individual growth and learning. Although you travel with another person, you are challenged on an individual level. You are able to grow and learn from amazing people, people who have much more difficult circumstances than you can ever imagine, yet you would never know.  I think experiences like these allow you to grow without the pressures that exist here at home. You can become whoever you want to be and not have to worry about what other people think. This experience allows you the freedom to learn about the world without restrictions.


What was your journey like?


I was in Cabrera, D.R. working for an organization that runs a school and free summer day camp. During my placement I helped teach Geography, English and a reading group. On Wednesday afternoon we run clubs, so my partner Allison and I did a yoga/ Zumba club. I also worked at a Puentes which a local preschool. We helped organize the year end concerts and prom. Then we had 3 weeks of setting up for camp which was mostly manual labour. Followed by 8 weeks of being a camp counsellor, working 4 weeks on court sports and 4 weeks on field sports.

What will stick with you as you venture forward?


This experience has taught me a lot about myself. It helped to solidify my need for volunteer work with kids in my life. It helped me come to better terms with what I didn't want to do post grad. And it really helped to remind me to prioritize the important things in my life.  I have a tendency to do a lot of things and coming back from this experience really helped me realize that I need to make time for the important things in my life including volunteer work and physical activity. It is really hard to put into the words the things that I have learned as a result of this program. I will never forget the people I have met, the relationships I have built and the lessons I have learned as a result of the program.


Words cannot describe how the experience changed me. It taught me so much about what is important in life, things like family, friends and faith. I learned to look at time differently now, things that appeared so important before I left, mean nothing in comparison to how I saw them when I returned.

Michael - Haiti Partners
Why take the "road less travelled"?


These experiences are important because you are exposed to a different perspective, one where basic necessities are not taken for granted – like how we are so accustomed to in the Western world. Since the earthquake in 2010, people are working amongst themselves to make their communities more suitable places to live in. Despite government controversy and corruption, I witnessed how resilient and driven Haitians are to see change.


What was your journey like?


With the help of team members, I led a small group of Haitian students through an entrepreneurship pilot program in English during my stay in Haiti. I enjoyed the conversations that were made regarding the country’s business environment, entrepreneurship, as well as exchanging information about my experiences. As part of the program’s culminating activity, these students were required to formulate business plans in order to tackle needs within their community. I also helped out with physical education at Haiti Partner’s school!  


My experience in Haiti showcased the lengths parents will go through to care for their children.

Maria - Haiti Partners

From the University of Waterloo, online:


Monday, November 30, 2015


Extremely motivated and passionate, Maria Oliver found her way to the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) world after spending summers participating in NGO work. Now in her final year of PACS, Maria has a keen interest in continuing this international development work.


In high school, Maria spent her summers working with an organization called D.R.E.A.M.S. (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support) were she and a group of students would help build homes with the local community. Maria was shocked by the inequalities that she saw and was quickly frustrated about how it seemed like no one was helping. As a result she decided to dedicate her life to doing development work and she saw completing a PACS degree as a step towards this.  


Since starting her studies at Waterloo, Maria has been working with the New World Community, an Organization that connects University students with experiences in community development. Maria brought the initiative to the University of Waterloo Campus and has organized regular trips to the Dominican Republic for students. This kind of engagement is a way for Maria to stay connected to her global community, involve others in work close to her heart, and to make a positive and sustainable impact. This is just one of the numerous ways she is involved on the University of Waterloo community as Maria is currently working at St. Jerome’s as the Senior Assistant Activities Coordinator where she helps guide her co-workers in regards with training, mentorship, feedback, professional development and evaluations.


Maria has also recently participated in a PACS Field Study experience through the St. Jerome’s University Beyond Borders program, an international service-learning learning experience through St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo. In the summer of 2015, Maria made her way to Haiti where she worked with the Haiti Partners Children’s Academy and Learning center teaching English to students. Some of the most valuable lessons Maria took away from doing a PACS Field Study was that her experience really solidified her passion for doing development. She was and still is inspired to create real change in the community that surrounds her.


The Peace and Conflict Studies program has offered Maria with theoretical tools and experiences that have sharpened her view and perspectives of the world of development. Now that Maria is coming to the end of her PACS degree, Maria is beginning to carve out her path and continue to explore what the world of development has to offer.


Maria is also a recipient of the Lina Wohlgemut award, which is given to a peace and conflict studies student who is interested working in service in the developing world.