The three final international participants of Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Queen Elizabeth Scholarship (QES) program will graduate this summer – marking the beginning of the final year of the program.
After graduating from the College of African Wildlife Management in Mweka, Tanzania, Brighton Mbilinyi, Patricia Kayaga and Whitney Lyimo heard through their mentors about an opportunity to study abroad at VIU. This marked the beginning of their journey to becoming QES recipients in 2019 and eventually becoming graduates of VIU’s master of arts in the sustainable leisure management program this year.
After arriving at VIU in 2019, each scholar decided on their own research topic within the broader VIU QES project theme of building resilience in coastal communities. Just a few months into their studies, COVID-19 forced students into remote learning and challenged them to reframe their research topics and methodology to complete their research completely online. This was no small task for the students, who were trying to conduct research in their home communities in Tanzania from afar.
Mbilinyi explored the role of safari tour guides in Tanzania; Lyimo studied the factors that helped women occupy tourism positions typically filled by men and Kayaga explored destination narratives created and shared by the Kenyan and Tanzanian tourism authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was important for each student to focus on Tanzania and something that impacts the tourism industry and the sustainability of tourism in Tanzania,” said Dr. Aggie Weighill, the scholars’ academic supervisor and a VIU recreation and tourism professor.
Mbilinyi, who plans to work on a PhD next, discovered that safari guides are an important element for advocating for sustainability in the tourism industry.
“My research explored the major roles and responsibilities of safari guides, but also explored the challenges hindering safari guides from acting in a responsible, sustainable way,” he said.
Mbilinyi said he appreciated the welcoming, interactive learning approach at VIU and the many supportive resources, including a full library and field trips for learning labs.
“My two years at VIU were not only an opportunity to learn, but they also contributed to my overall lifetime experience, which will never be forgotten,” he said.
Kayaga compared how the Kenyan and Tanzanian tourism authorities created and shared their narrative through social media during the pandemic. She said she appreciated the multicultural and supportive learning environment at VIU. She also learned how to ski while in Canada. After finishing her thesis, Kayaga hopes to explore some tourism opportunities in Kamloops, where she currently resides, before she returns home to Tanzania to share the knowledge she has gained while completing her master’s degree. “It’s all about giving back to the communities,” she said.
Lyimo also completed a thesis as part of the program.
“My thesis aims to reveal different facilitators for women’s careers, which are part of the social context,” she said. “I conducted research that I believe honours the women of Tanzania and influences radical changes in gender equality. I have been able to share my knowledge about sustainable tourism and support women’s initiatives within tourism in Tanzania.”
During her studies, Lyimo said she enjoyed the small class sizes at VIU because they allowed for more direct contact with professors.
When she returns to Tanzania, Lyimo will continue to share her knowledge about sustainability with women in different organizations. “I am looking forward to sharing my research with important tourism stakeholders in Tanzania who might have an impact on the demands within the tourism industry,” she said.
Weighill believes the research the QES scholars have been doing in Canada has the potential to impact academic teachings, tourism policy and the ways tourism operates in Tanzania. “These three are critical thinkers who wish to be change makers and I am sure that when they return to Tanzania, they will impact their communities greatly.”
While graduation is on the horizon, the path to success for the Tanzanian scholars has been far from smooth. In addition to the anticipated highs and lows and stressors of any graduate program, COVID-19 has had a particularly profound impact on the scholars.
“Their success is quite remarkable when you consider the challenges they have overcome over the past year,” said Jennifer Sills, manager of education abroad and the QES program at VIU. “They have truly embodied our theme of building resilience. They have been challenged to reframe their research due to COVID-19, adapt to remote learning and have been separated from their families and loved ones far longer than anticipated due to the complexities of the global pandemic. Their success is a beautiful testament to their dedication and passion in their academic pursuits, but also to their home communities in Tanzania.”
With Mbilinyi, Kayaga, and Lyimo preparing to graduate this summer, QES opportunities for international students at VIU are now complete. However, Queen Elizabeth scholarship opportunities for Canadian students from VIU have been extended to 2022.