We had a chance to sit down with Liz Willis, the Teaching Assistant for the upcoming spring break trip (just a few days away!) to Guanajuato, Mexico for APPLES Global Course Guanajuato. Despite the bustle of finishing off school work and making final preparations for the trip – Liz (now a Senior at UNC) took time to reflect on how she became interested in migration in the first place.
Liz’s first engagement with immigrant rights came through a fairly ubiquitous source: Spanish language class. Rather than restricting her participation in the classroom, Liz wanted to take her newly found Spanish skills and apply them, an opportunity that presented itself through study abroad experiences in Puebla, Mexico and Quito, Ecuador.
After getting back Liz was “looking to use newly acquired Spanish skills to contribute to [her] community.” Already drawn to community-based projects, she quickly connected with groups such as Alianza, LINC, and the Know Your Rights committee, getting involved in ESL tutoring and advocacy, in particular by raising awareness about the legal avenues available to immigrants and recruiting lawyers to speak communities in North Carolina.
With her background in community development, it was no surprise that Liz was drawn to the APPLES Global Course Guanajuato.
“I saw the application and thought it would be a good fit because it lets you work with a community here and also go and visit a community in Mexico…it gives you a deeper education, a community-based education.”
“[the trip] was incredible…I learned so much and really felt connected to the communities there.”
Liz cited the longstanding relationship between Dr. Hannah Gill, the Guanajuato course instructor, and the communities in the Bajío region as one of the most positive aspects of the trip. “I felt I was contributing to continuing the relationship and building a relationship between communities.”
Upon returning to the US, Liz continued seek opportunities to broaden and develop her understanding of US migration. Using oral histories, she partnered with the Human Rights Center to investigate topics deeply relevant to her community of Chapel Hill-Carrboro, such as day laborers and immigrant rights.
When the opportunity to join APPLES Global Course Guanajuato again as a Teaching Assistant presented itself, Liz applied right away. As teaching assistant, she is helping plan the logistics of the trip as well as helping students in the course develop their projects. Empowering students to learn more about the issue of immigration is something Liz has gotten more and more involved with the years, working across campus to raise student awareness about immigration issues and help them gain “a global perspective.”
In her words, this perspective allows students to “understand that migration story doesn’t start in the United States, that it starts in Mexico and it starts in these communities.”
This global perspective has a profound impact on how Liz views her work and future. After graduation, Liz is planning on returning to Quito, Ecuador to work with Columbian refugees and continue to develop a global perspective on immigration, asylum, and policy issues. Upon returning to the U.S., she plans to attend law school to pursue advocacy work with local immigrant communities.
We wish Liz all the best on her future work and look forward to meeting the next cohort of APPLES Global Guanajuato Course alumni!