Luisa Vasquez always imagined that she would work for the United Nations. Her dream became a reality because of her education at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Luisa’s UBC journey began in her native Colombia and took her to Canada and then to Costa Rica as a UN intern. An international relations alumna of the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, Luisa embraced learning opportunities at UBC that propelled her towards her career goals. Luisa’s job is a challenging one and she knows that her UBC experiences gave her the academic and cultural knowledge the UN was looking for: “UBC opened many doors not only because of the education I received but also because of the work experience I had there. Without these two things, I don’t think I would have had so many open doors.”
Luisa is an intern with the Legal Protection Office in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Costa Rica. One of three people in the UNHCR office in Costa Rica, Luisa helps oversee protection aspects for people who have applied for asylum and for those who have been granted refugee status. “There are around 12,000 recognized refugees,” says Luisa. “Our office coordinates with local NGOs, government agencies and other international agencies to make sure that these applicants and refugees are being safeguarded.”
Student learning was essential for Luisa to prepare for her career. She acknowledges UBC professors, passionate about their work, which inspired her to continue learning. Political science courses with Dr. Adam Jones (consultant to the UN Office of the Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide) and history courses with Dr. Jessica Stites Mor gave Luisa the ability to examine world issues, skills relevant to her work at the UN. “With my courses, I was able to see and understand the root, or history, behind many of the problems that we face today. I was encouraged by these courses to gain more understanding and knowledge.”
Life-changing learning experiences also took place outside of the classroom and Luisa’s UBC education directed and strengthened her own set of values. She volunteered as a fundraiser for Project GROW (Ghana Rural Opportunities for Women), a UBC student-led project that supports economic opportunities for women in Ghana. As a fundraiser for the project, Luisa gained valuable skills and mentors. “This initiative,” she says, “allowed me to understand the importance of working for something that you believe in.” UBC’s Learning Centre gave Luisa opportunities to work with international students. These students introduced Luisa to new perspectives on world issues. Coordinator of the Learning Centre, Cindy Bourne, created a community amongst diverse cultures, a valuable life-skill Luisa transferred to the UN.
Enriched learning experiences at UBC enabled Luisa to make an impact in our global society—and she intends to lead by UBC’s example. After her internship with the UN, Luisa plans to work with immigrant youth and UN election missions. “UBC gave me the tools and knowledge to pursue a career in the international sector,” says Luisa. “I was really lucky to be given the opportunity to be a part of the UBC community and the people in this community have been essential in achieving my goals in life.”