Written by Ben McGuinness, Peak Associate
SFU international studies (IS) student Blake Farther dropped out of his program as the latest victim of a common downfall: he can only name countries that he has vacationed in.
Like many students of the best breeding, Farther was shown the wonders of the world from a young age by his worldly parents. As a child, he saw such exotic places as Disneyland and Hawaiian resorts. During his teen years, he spent two summers in Europe. After graduating, Farther used his humble trust-fund earnings to explore Southeast Asia and South America.
Having seen so many countries, however, he was under the impression he had been acquainted with most of them — or at least, “the ones that mattered.”
“I don’t really get where those other ones came from,” he said after we showed him a list of countries he had not posted about on Instagram, such as Myanmar and Bolivia. “No one in the hostels mentioned them at all. I think their search engine optimization must be terrible.”
Farther had believed his breadth of knowledge would suffice for his academic career. But he tells us that his professors were concerned about the limitations of his preferred approach: studying the political economy of only First World countries and developing countries with beach resorts.
“I wanted to write about the relationship of, like, the beaches of Vietnam, Brazil, and Spain. Like, how are the beaches connected? I bet there’s so much to learn from them.”
IS students concerned about situations like Farther’s have offered the department several proposals, including a pitched collaboration with Expedia.ca to help identify the countries most relevant for discussion or organize trips to see other countries before discussing them.
“My family owns properties in eight countries, but somehow my knowledge of the world is ‘still too limited’ — how is that even possible?” says Ryan, an IS student speaking under alias who believes himself to be at risk of being “pushed out” like Farther. “But collabing with Expedia would help so much. For one thing, I think if our professors actually visited these alleged . . . ‘other countries,’ they would take them off the syllabus for sure. ”
Farther also expressed support for the Expedia proposal.
“Yeah, that would only be fair,” he commented. “If we can all pay $10,000 or something to tour the more confusing places, that would make the discussions more accessible for everyone. SFU needs to make sure all students have a fair chance to participate.”
Farther’s situation joins an ongoing conversation about fairness and accessibility at SFU.