A group of Indigenous students from the University of Waterloo were among a delegation who visited Cape Town, South Africa this spring to gain international perspectives on environmental issues. Tara Ryan, Samantha Terry and Jaden Mcgregor are Faculty of Environment students who had the opportunity to go on a field study course to study abroad with the support of the Global Skills Opportunity program, funded by Employment and Social Development Canada.  

This field course provided students with the opportunity to explore how social justice issues intersect with ongoing experiences of climate change and human-induced threats to some of the world’s most significant biodiversity resources. The students observed South Africa's unique ecosystems, engaged with local communities and gained hands-on experience.  Activities ranged from rock-pooling in the biodiversity-rich inter-tidal zone, participating in a cooking class in the historical Bo-Kaap neighbourhood of Cape Town and seeing first-hand the implications of climate-induced wildfire. 

Mcgregor, an Anishnaawbe and Jamaican student in the Geography and Aviation program, reflected on the trip and spoke to the personal impact of connecting with Indigenous Peoples of South Africa. 

“Hearing stories about the historical significance of fisheries during apartheid and the deep roots in the community reminded me of my own family's storytelling traditions. This connection underscores the universal nature of Indigenous resilience and community,” Mcgregor said. 

Field courses like this create valuable opportunities to foster collaboration and build partnerships that lead to interdisciplinary solutions for our sustainable future. An invaluable opportunity for the students, they were able to apply classroom knowledge in real-world settings as well as benefit from professional growth and cultural awareness. The trip even included a visit to the region’s popular wineries to understand how land grabs, social justice, and economic development create conflict. 

Samantha Terry in Cape Town, South Africa

Samantha Terry, an Anishinaabe student on a field course in Cape Town, South Africa.

Terry, an Anishinaabe student studying in the Environment, Resources and Sustainability program, said her key takeaway from the trip was just how complex problems can be when dealing with the intersections of climate change, biodiversity and social justice.  

“Local communities who have sustained themselves in the area for a long time are having to give up their traditional ways when they may not be the issue. These problems have intricate solutions and require an informed understanding of all positions to begin the process of unravelling,” Terry said.


Despite facing the complexities and challenges of climate change, biodiversity and social justice, this journey to South Africa also set the scene for fostering friendships and deepening self-reflection. 

Tara Ryan

Tara Ryan, an Inuk student on a field course in Cape Town, South Africa.

 “To be able to share this experience with so many different people in Environment — including people I already knew and alongside new friends — was really wonderful. Every day we were always doing something different, having thought-provoking conversations, and it always set the scene for good reflections,” said Ryan, an Inuk student studying in the Environment, Resources and Sustainability program. 

She also encourages future students who might be interested in studying environmental and sustainability issues to tackle global challenges without feeling that the burden lies with one individual to change the world.   


Students from various cultural backgrounds and eight unique programs across Environment participated in this field study course, adding diverse perspectives to activities and discussions. The Global Skills Opportunity fund is designed to encourage low-income students, students with disabilities and Indigenous students to participate in work abroad programming. Visit the Universities Canada website to learn more.  

Banner photo credit: Jaden McGregor, a student in the Geography and Aviation program, Ella-Kari Muhl (PhD '23), a lecturer at the University of Cape Town, and Derek Armitage, a professor at the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at Waterloo.