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Guanajuato spotlight: Elizabeth Byrum

“In a lot of ways, my time in Guanajuato has cemented my desire to work with community-based interventions and to definitely center my future work around relationship building and meeting people where they are in the moment. ” Elizabeth Byrum, Guanajuato c/o 2013

APPLES Global Course Guanajuato (GLBL 382) is a three credit spring course that combines ethnographic methods, oral history, and service-learning to examine Latin American migrant perspectives. Students research and work with migrants in North Carolina and spend spring break in migrants’ home communities in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Through leadership development, experiential learning, and engaged service, Guanajuato alumni have had an incredible impact through our programs. We were pleased to sit down with Guanajuato alum and current UNC School of Social Work graduate student Elizabeth Byrum.

Q: Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining us. Tell us a little more about yourself.

A: I graduated from UNC in 2013 with a journalism and global studies (Latin America focus) double major and Hispanic studies minor. After graduating, I worked for almost three years in the nonprofit sector in Raleigh, NC around development and grant writing, first with the AJ Fletcher Foundation and then with the Autism Society of North Carolina. I’m originally from Raleigh and I’ve always had an interest in working in the nonprofit community in the Triangle, particularly in a human services field where I could use my passion for storytelling and writing, as well as my Spanish language skills.

I am currently a graduate student in the School of Social Work and I am interested in child welfare and abuse prevention, integrated healthcare, and supporting refugee and immigrant populations. I will begin my first field internship for my graduate program in August 2017 at an inpatient behavioral health center for children and adolescents.

Q: That sounds fascinating. Tell us how you were(/are!) involved with Guanajuato. What influenced you to participate as an undergraduate? How did the experience impact you?

A: I was extremely fortunate to be able to visit Guanajuato twice while at UNC for my undergraduate and I am so excited that I’ll be returning this summer for graduate research! In 2012, I was one of the interns for Project Guanajuato, a two-month community-based internship that partnered with small communities in Guanajuato and the Fundación Comunitaria del Bajío. I lived in El Gusano for two months that summer and it was an incredibly transformative experience. While we spent most of our days organizing English classes, art activities, and other community events, the opportunity to build intimate relationships with the community and to understand the stories and experiences of individuals who lived in rural Mexico (and who often had several family members living in the US) and who often had several family members living in the US was very meaningful. I was extremely excited about the opportunity to return to Guanajuato with the APPLES Global Course Guanajuato in spring 2013 and visit with my host family and the many other wonderful individuals I met the summer before. Overall, these experiences informed my interest in working with the Spanish-speaking community and furthered my learning about the immigration process in the United States and the many challenges that exist for families that reside in two separate countries.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I wanted to pursue opportunities to learn and explore the Spanish language and also participate in experiences locally that connected with Spanish-speaking immigrants. I was and still am particularly interested in community development work and the creation of a network of supportive resources for immigrants here (accessible, relevant health care, housing assistance, language classes, etc.), and it was a great opportunity to see the informal transnational relationship that exists between the Triangle community and Mexican communities of origin, many of which are in Guanajuato.

Byrum (far left) will return to Guanajuato for her graduate studies in 2017.

I’m excited to be returning to Guanajuato this summer for three weeks as part of a UNC research team that will be conducting a school-based psychosocial intervention for adolescents. The intervention will focus on stress and self-harming behavior and will be conducted in Juventino Rosas with middle and high school students. I’m also hoping to reconnect with the Fundacion and my former host families while I’m down there!

Q: That is so wonderful you are able to go back! What is your favorite memory from your experiences in Guanajuato thus far?

A: I would say that my favorite memories of my previous time in Guanajuato were the art activities that we planned for the kids in the El Gusano community. We created musical instruments, made a mosaic mural, created and painted piñatas, took photos and made photo frames, plus many more things. Every week, we would organize an art activity and so many kids and teens in the community would come out to participate. We were able to get to know them very well over the course of several weeks. I also just loved sitting with my fellow interns and our host families around meals and sharing stories or watching telenovelas. My entire experience was very relationship oriented and the moments that we spent together are what I remember most fondly. and each of the moments that we spent together are what I remember most fondly. Overall, it’s still often hard to explain to friends and family the impact of my experiences, particularly from the two months I was in the community. In a lot of ways, my time in Guanajuato has cemented my desire to work with community-based interventions and to definitely center my future work around relationship building and meeting people where they are in the moment.

Q: We love that. What does Guanajuato mean to you, and why should others get involved?

A: My Guanajuato experiences really provided an important cross-cultural perspective into the greater social issue of migration and community building. They have definitely helped me develop personally and have helped guide my interests professionally, including deciding to return to pursue a graduate degree.

I’ve consistently recommended the APPLES course to anyone who is interested in understanding in depth our growing global community. It’s a fantastic way to really connect with many issues that are hyper-relevant in Chapel Hill and the greater North Carolina community. The course provides a holistic perspective and tangible connections between our communities and those in Mexico.

Q: When you are not studying for your Master’s degree, what do you like to do for fun?

A: My partner and I love to go to local concerts at venues like the Cat’s Cradle, The Pinhook, and Kings. We try to go to at least a few a month. We also love traveling and try to plan domestic and international trips each year. I also enjoy practicing yoga and exploring the yoga community in the Triangle; in fact, I just completed my 200 hr yoga teacher training this year. I also spend a lot of time cooking, playing with my dachshund, and hanging out around Raleigh.

Wow, congratulations on completing 200 hour yoga training, Elizabeth! And thank you so much for sharing this with us, we look forward to the great things you will do!