As the recipient of the Colleges’ International Internship/Travel Research Award, Meghan Gaucher ’14 recently had the opportunity to travel to Africa where she researched the indigenous Turkana people in Kenya. The newly established award allocates $5,000 in funding to support a student’s travel abroad experience for either a research opportunity or a “green” internship.
In Turkana, Gaucher was stationed at the Turkana Research Basin Institute, where she conducted an ethnographic field study, exploring the cultural perspectives of the Turkana and their way of life. A writing and rhetoric major, Gaucher’s research efforts are part of her Honors Thesis project, which examines how both the Turkana and human rights activists frame the identity of the Turkana, who traditionally raise livestock and are a nomadic people living in a semi-arid region.
“I can’t express enough the extent to what this grant is allowing me to do, including the privilege to travel to the country of origin of the Turkana people and see, speak, and experience the harsh climactic conditions the Turkana have so readily adjusted to over the years,” Gaucher said of winning the award.
In its inaugural offering this semester, the International Internship/Travel Research Award was made possible thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor.
“This is an example of the kind of opportunity that can help launch a student’s career, particularly as they are stand-out experiences with both employers and graduate schools,” said Brandi Ferrara, director of the Salisbury Center for Career Services and Professional Development. “This will no doubt be a life-changing experience for Meghan.”
As part of her research, Gaucher interviewed human rights activists, some of the leaders who represent indigenous groups of people on an international level. In addition, she investigated how the discourse of human rights organizations portray the Turkana. In doing so, she also examined human rights publications, testimonials and verbal accounts that characterize the Turkana, many of which leverage the environmental challenges of the region, including droughts and flood.
Gaucher said she is appreciative of the chance to engage with the Turkana, as well as the opportunity to understand “the consequences of life on the run” in Kenya. She said this is especially so because of the severity of drought and ensuing violence that has taken place in the aftermath.
“What I wish to prove is that this depiction of the Turkana and their relationship to the environment by human rights organizations fails to address the needs of the Turkana in the face of drought and flooding, because Turkana identify strongly with their livestock and pastoralist lifestyle,” Gaucher said. “Because there has been only about five field workers who have studied human rights discourse in relation to nomadic identity construction, I found it critical and honestly exhilarating to be able to bring to light human rights discourse on the issue of nomadism and identity in Turkana, Kenya.”
In light of her experience, Gaucher will prepare a paper about her experience with the Turkana and offer an informational presentation at HWS. Gaucher said her time at the Colleges has prepared her for the international research opportunity. She said she gained important global perspectives through previous study abroad programs.
“My opportunities to go abroad to both South Africa and Thailand have heightened my passion and interest in both international legal advocacy and human rights issues as I have come in more contact with special, cultural communities that exemplify a commitment and lifestyle full of value and meaning while also observably living sustainably and wholesomely,” Gaucher said. “I think these communities have intrigued me and brought me to the understanding that these types of cultural niches must be protected and sustained, for many of the practices and behaviors exemplified in said ‘marginalized or disenfranchised communities’ are worthy of exploration and to take from.”
Gaucher said the support she has received from the HWS community, particularly faculty has been significant for the encouragement of pursuing the Travel Research Award. She said that as a writing and rhetoric major, she has been able to establish a unique set of skills to understand language and to apply that to many different areas of study.
“I don’t think I would have even considered applying without the support and guidance of faculty and staff including William Smith Dean Susanne McNally, Professor of Economics Alan Frishman, and Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Hannah Dickinson who have pushed me to believe in myself enough to pursue goals that I didn’t, at the time, believe were possible in achieving,” she said. “These HWS faculty members and others have stored the confidence in me to pursue my interests without hesitancy, and to take every opportunity possible to get closer to my desire to help others, as idealistic as that sounds through the work of legal advocacy or international policy.”
In addition, Gaucher said she attended the Public Leadership Education Network’s (PLEN) Law and Legal Advocacy session in November, which also helped shape her career path objectives and understandings.
“I have solidified my goal to get involved in advocacy, whether this be through international policy on resource management or human rights law,” she said. “By meeting women leaders in government, policy work, the public sector and the non-profit sector, many of them having attended law school, I was able to ground my projects in my intended interests of following in paths similar to theirs. Without the PLEN experience I pursued, I don’t think I would have been as confident in my own believes, values, and ideas that I believe have shaped my Honors Project topic and methodology.”
Gaucher said she hopes she is able to share her experience in a significant way with at HWS.
“I wish to bring back some experience and knowledge that will help other students conduct their own research on topics that have barely been explored,” Gaucher said. “I think the grant captures the ability for future students at HWS to pursue a goal that is in dire need of travel and ethnographic study, allowing for such a unique, valuable experience of studying abroad in a more self-structured way.”