SIT Study Abroad alumna describes how her experience studying abroad in Argentina positioned her for future academic success, including receiving a Fulbright grant.
A graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Nicole Nejad participated in the Argentina: Regional Integration, Development, and Social Change program in the spring of 2006.
“I can still feel the lasting effects of this amazing experience rippling though my academic career where it opened doors for my senior thesis and later the opportunity to return to South America on a Fulbright. Studying with SIT in Argentina gave me the opportunity to understand development and social change at a personal level and provided me with links to real communities and people whose daily lives are deeply affected by global integration and development.
It wasn’t until I returned to my university to complete my final year and my senior thesis, however, that I realized just how much this experience changed my perspective of the world and had given me a solid base to continue research begun with SIT.
Remembering the Paraguayan peasant women I met during the program, I decided to focus my senior thesis on their struggle and analyze the Paraguayan agrarian land reform movement from a gendered perspective.
I quickly realized that there was little written information easily accessible from the US on the important issues I had studied with SIT, and much of the available information was very different from the perspective of researchers and activists I had interviewed in the region. This experience made me realize how crucial it is for researchers to have a delicate understanding of cultural realities and differences that ultimately resound in the work they produce.
I decided to pursue a Fulbright research grant to help me more fully explore unanswered questions and underdeveloped themes from my senior thesis. Based on the contacts and experience I had gathered studying with SIT, I was easily able to establish an affiliation in the region and well situated to earn a Fulbright.
I am now based in Asunción, affiliated with the Centro de Documentación y Estudios, and am doing participant observation as a volunteer for Coordinadora Nacional de Mujeres Rurales y Indigenas (CONAMURI). My project focuses on the role of CONAMURI within the national peasant movement as the only directive space for organized women and the connection between their interests and health and environmental issues associated with large scale soy production and the use of biotechnology in Paraguay.
Everything I had previously read about Paraguay and Latin America was very different from the realities I’ve experienced through the meaningful connections I’ve made with people and communities here.
As an American, I’ve also found it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that just because globalization has transferred much of American culture, that people outside the United States truly understand realities in the US. Just as I could have never truly understood the essence of what it meant to be a Paraguayan woman before coming here, many of the people I have met have been surprised by me and the things from my culture I have shared.
I continue learning how to navigate cultural differences and misunderstandings through my own research and experiences, and I see a new way of approaching the world that recognizes the importance of cross-cultural interaction and personal investigative research on the topics that are most important to the people whose realities they create. For me, the beginning was with SIT, and I am truly grateful for having this experience early in my academic career.”