Students show passion to help others has no borders 

Wed, 11 Aug 2021 16:19:00 BST
Katie (left) and Emma (right) both have their own personal links to Fiji
Katie (left) and Emma (right) both have their own personal links to Fiji

Two GCU students are embarking on a once in a lifetime opportunity to help people on the other side of the world - thanks to an exciting virtual internship.  

MSc Climate Justice student, Emma Forrest and MSc Occupational Therapy student, Katie Ryujin are representing GCU as part of Think Pacific’s unique initiative, which is delivered in partnership with the Fijian government and major Fijian NGOs.  

Both students will complete a four-week, eight-week or 12-week placement from the comfort of their own homes. Emma and Katie will get the chance to build their work experience, while also positively impacting on Fiji through work at government level right down to local charities – depending on the project chosen.   

The programme, which is usually delivered in person, was forced to move online this year due to continued restrictions, however that didn’t stop over 300 students applying – with just 20 places up for grabs. Emma and Katie’s applications stood out and they’re now set to embark on their journey.  

We spoke with both to find out more about them, their personal links to Fiji and what they hope to achieve over the coming months:  

How did you come to study at GCU? 

Katie: “I’m actually from Vancouver in Canada. I’ve had a couple of friends come over to GCU to study MSc Physiotherapy and I’d just heard lots of good things about the University! When it came to applying to occupational therapy, I thought I would go out on a limb and apply to GCU. Thankfully, I got in and it’s been an amazing new adventure!  
I previously completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Global Development in Canada and I’ll now be finishing my MSc in December this year.” 

Emma: “I actually work for an insurance company that’s based in the USA and UK. My role is within social impact, so I look after all the environmental side of things, alongside the community and charity work we do as an organisation.  

The job got me thinking about what I wanted to do next and I always knew I wanted something that was associated with climate change. I then read about the MSc Climate Justice programme and realised it was for me. It also links in nicely with the Human Geography undergraduate degree I completed and just feels like a really nice next step. The distance learning aspect works for me as well, because I live in Brighton. 

I’ve absolutely loved it so far! I’m the sort of person who does all the extra reading - I’ve been totally nerding it out.” 

How did you first hear about this opportunity with Think Pacific? 

Katie: “Think Pacific was offered as one of our placement opportunities and right away I was interested in it but, because of the Canadian regulation for when I go back home, I wasn’t able to complete a fully virtual placement. I couldn’t take it but was keen to get involved somehow because it seemed like such an interesting opportunity. So, when the scholarship came around, it was a no-brainer for me – I just had to go for it! My past degree was about global development, so global health is something I’m really interested in. It’s also of personal interest because I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii and I’m really interested in the Pacific Islander way of living and was raised with the values of being connected to nature - it just ticked all the boxes!” 

Emma: “We get quite a few different opportunities sent out to us and I was just waiting for the perfect one! This one got sent out and I’ve not seen anything quite like it. There’s the completely remote/virtual aspect but the opportunity to work directly with different partners really stood out to me. It feels much more meaningful to be working with partners to create something amazing with them and for them. The idea you can have an impact beyond the internship is super exciting because of my social impact background. 

I also actually visited Fiji when I was 19 years old and this opportunity resonated with me because I’ve witnessed some of the challenges they face – it all just fits in really nicely.” 

How did you find out that you’d been rewarded the scholarship? 

Katie: “I actually reached out to them because they had set a date and I hadn’t heard anything. A couple of days later I got an email saying I was successful and with more instructions around what to do next. The amount of applications definitely made it feel more special that I had been chosen!” 

Emma: “It was about four weeks after I’d applied that I heard back. I’ll admit, I did actually burst into tears! At the time I had covid - I found out during my isolation. I’d been going from the sofa to the bed and feeling rubbish, then I got this email telling me I’d got it and I was so happy and so excited. Loads of people went for this opportunity, so to stand out and actually get the chance has made feel really good.” 

What will you be working on during your scholarship? 

Katie: “There are different topics that you can choose and I’m going with global health. From what I understand the first week is induction and you get the chance to learn about the culture in Fiji and Think Pacific and the work they do. From there I’ll get to choose a project that relates to global health, which aligns to the UN Global Sustainable Goals. You then work on that project with other people in Fiji over the four weeks and there’s also the opportunity to do a presentation.” 

Emma: “We get to pick the area we’re focusing on and I’m looking at focusing on environmental/conservation work during my twelve weeks. We’ll be working with partners to deliver a specific project  - it could be someone at local or even government level. It’s very much led by the local partners because they know what’s best for the local area and country. We’ll shortlist three of the projects we want to get stuck into and then there will be a decision on the final one.  

It’s a great chance to use my experience from University and work to deliver on what these partners are wanting. You could be putting together anything from funding proposals to a response to an environmental crisis. I know both the Ministry of Sport and Ministry of Education are involved, so there’s great opportunities there to work directly and provide support.” 

It must be nice knowing there’s another student from the University involved in this journey alongside you? 

Katie: “I think that’s really important! Even though we won’t have the same project, it’s nice to know that there’s another student there for peer support. It’s obviously an international project but it is also good to know there’s someone who is local and part of the same institution.” 

Emma: “It does feel like an added bonus that there’s another GCU student involved. I’m obviously a remote student so it’s not been easy to make connections during everything that’s been going on. I’d love to be able to get in touch and share our experiences. We’re probably going to be working on completely different things but it would be great to know what she’s focusing on!” 

How do you hope this experience will benefit your future career? 

Katie: “For me it’s really about growing professionally but also personally. I’ve always been passionate about helping other people and creating positive change in the world around me. I really carry those values with me and that’s what led me to occupational therapy in the first place. My main goal of this scholarship, even virtually, is just to create a positive impact on the local community.  

When I graduate I plan on going back to Hawaii to start my career. I think this opportunity with Think Pacific will provide me with a deeper understanding of the culture - global health can be an incredible asset for me.” 

Emma: “I think it offers the potential of a really nice stepping stone. I’m getting the chance to apply what I’m learning, while making a positive impact – that’s incredible!  

I’ve been in my career for a few years now and I was worried the fact I wasn’t a fresh graduate might hold me back but I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I’ve had a different experience but I hope I can put that to good use. It’ll be great to say that I’ve been involved in something that’s in a completely different part of the world and benefitting a lot of people.”  


Find out more about Think Pacific’s internship opportunities. 


By Ross Clark   
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