2018 Christianson Grantee Helen Gutierrez heads to Uruguay to learn how complex science is translated to inform policy through a six-month internship with the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), which facilitates cross-cultural collaboration on pressing environmental issues.
Overcoming fear to start a new adventure in Latin America
As I travelled to Montevideo, Uruguay for a six-month internship in environmental policy, I felt totally overwhelmed. My hands shook while boarding the plane and my stomach knotted. I thought to myself, what are you doing?
This trip was the first time in my life where I had ever gone to a place without knowing a single person there and it was the first time that I ever felt truly alone. Don’t get me wrong, I was really excited for this trip, but in that moment, boarding the plane, I was overcome by the enormity of what I was doing. As soon as I landed in Montevideo and became more aware of my surroundings through the shuttle ride into the city, though, my excitement and curiosity about this new place took over. I did it! I overcame my fear, and here I was in this beautiful place ready to start a new adventure of learning and doing what I love to do!
City of Montevideo. Image courtesy of Helen G.
Connecting Policy and Real-World Needs
As a recent graduate, with a master’s degree in Environmental Justice under my belt, I wanted the opportunity to further develop my skills and learn more about how to address environmental change through policy in Latin America. Through my master’s thesis, I strove to highlight the fact that local and community needs are not always reflected in policies that dictate what work should be done and where resources are allocated.
My experiences witnessing the disconnect between policy and real-world problems, drove me to want to better understand how policies are created and enacted so that I could help bridge the two. With the help of a Christianson Grant from the Interexchange Foundation, I’m interning at the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) in Montevideo, Uruguay, where, as a science-policy intern, I’m learning how complex science is translated to inform policy.
Helen in front of Montevideo sign. Image courtesy of Helen G.
A Platform for International Collaboration
The IAI, as a multilateral, intergovernmental organization, provides a platform for countries to come together and work towards collective solutions that address pressing environmental change issues. Policies at higher levels often don’t reflect the needs and concerns of individuals and communities at the local levels, thus the IAI is tasked with providing impartial, concrete scientific evidence to help inform policy decisions.
The IAI works at the forefront of international, transdisciplinary research collaborations, and in their work engage with professionals and specialists of different disciplines and nationalities.
Trans-disciplinary research is a valuable tool for addressing complex issues that don’t have a single, simple solution because it brings together people with different perspectives and worldviews on how to address these issues.
Learning to Navigate Cultural Differences
In addition to learning about policy-making, working at the IAI has been a great opportunity to learn about navigating cultural differences, not only between people of different nationalities, but also between different disciplines and professions.
Furthermore, as part of my learning process here, I’ve had the chance to participate in meetings and trainings on transdisciplinary research and bridging science and policy. I recently attended a workshop on Science Diplomacy and learned from other professionals and decision-makers in Latin America about their experiences using science to inform policy.
Helen with her supervisor at a Science Diplomacy workshop. Image courtesy of Helen G.
Thus far, my experience at the IAI has been incredibly enriching and eye-opening, and I look forward to five more months of learning!
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