The world is your classroom

Exploring Geography and Environmental Management

Throughout high school, Sam was interested in travel, culture and global issues. When deciding on what to study in university, Geography and Environmental Management (GEM) at Waterloo stood out as a great option for exploring all of these interests. 

"I wanted to learn how humans interact with the physical environment, while at the same time taking advantage of opportunities to fulfill my passion for traveling the world."

Sam chose GEM because of the strong reputation of Waterloo’s co-op program and the different opportunities geography offered to go abroad and experience other cultures. In addition to gaining work experience before graduating, Sam used co-op as a way to see the world, landing a co-op job in Switzerland for one of her work terms. She also found other international opportunities through her studies: she took a spring course in Spain and a capstone research course in Indonesia. 

Sam reading a Faculty of Environment brochure

"GEM allowed me to see the world, gain intercultural skills and broaden my horizons."

Not your high school geography class

When she first started her program, Sam wasn’t expecting to be out in the field, in a stream, or out in forests collecting environmental data. “Gaining hands-on experience to supplement everything else I love about geography was really great.”

Sam reading a travel book about Indonesia

"People have this perception that geography is just about maps and world capitals. There is a mapping component, but there really is so much more."

Sam enjoyed the flexibility of the GEM program. With so many different areas of geography to study and the freedom to choose from them, she was able to customize her degree to focus on the areas that interested her most: human geography, tourism and travel.

A classroom with no borders

In her fourth year, Sam participated in an international field course where she did her research capstone. She and her classmates travelled to Indonesia to explore how local communities adapt to living with frequent natural disasters, and how they address the challenges related to climate change, population expansion, and environmental degradation.

Mount Bromo at sunrise

Photo by Arielle Dalley

Sam focused her research on disaster tourism, learning how natural disasters, though devastating, can bring unexpected positive outcomes. Visiting Pangandaran Beach, she explored how media exposure from the recent tsunami boosted the community's tourism industry. These communities had lost their economic livelihood. I got to learn how these communities are using tourism as a way to get their livelihoods back, explains Sam. "I got to combine all of the different aspects I learned throughout my undergrad and field work and apply that to a real world setting."

Not only did Sam develop professionally in terms of fine-tuning her research skills, but she also challenged herself personally. "I climbed a volcano and explored world heritage sites. I talked to locals and heard their stories. I had these grand adventures that changed my perspectives and that will definitely last me a lifetime."

What's next for Sam

Now working at a research network dedicated to advancing flood resiliency in Canada, Sam is putting the breadth of experience and skills she gained in her undergraduate studies to work. “Part of my job requires knowledge of physical environmental processes, like how floods work. I also need the skills to go out into communities and talk to people,” says Sam. “Everything I learned from courses, field work and co-op terms has really helped me prepare for this job after graduating.”

Sam's advice to future GEM students is to get out there and explore the world.

"Challenge yourself: you are going to grow so much and meet so many people and explore so many places. And also have fun with it. It goes by really fast."