Nov 09, 2017
Katharina Tiran
Former Exchange Student from Austria

I have often thought of possibilities how to come back to Canada to visit that place that has been my home for one year. Life, however, came in the way and planned things differently for me. So it has taken me 8 years to come back to you and send you my thoughts, love and wishes.

I still remember the day I left Austria for my one-year Rotary exchange to Canada to start the first big adventure of my life. It was one month after my 15th birthday and my best friends and family came to say goodbye to me at the airport. At that time, I had never been to Canada before nor had I met anyone in person of that place which would soon become my second home. Thinking back, this situation was really scary, but despite my shyness I was confident in my decision and eager to start this very first adventure of my own.

Throughout the year, I have learned a lot about intercultural (mis)understandings and after some time I grew more confident in my role as an Austrian “youth ambassador”. Whereas being called “Austria” on the hallway instead of my real name turned out to be a bit annoying, it also made me realise the potential it carries. Apart from “The Sound of Music” I was probably the first Austrian contact many kids in High School have had at that point and the impression I gave them would very much influence their view on Austria in general. As such the Canadian experience had a great impact on who I am and who I have become today. I experienced the multicultural encounter as a space for learning for both sides, as a mutual experience and benefit that arises through dissimilarity.

After my graduation in 2011 I moved to Vienna to study International Development at the University of Vienna. The wish to travel and to experience new cultures was sparked in Canada and has not let go of me ever since. To enhance the theoretical approach achieved at university I took one year off to volunteer at a little children's home in Guatemala City. Spending over 10 months abroad in a country in the Global South has not only taught me a lot about the culture and the people of an amazing country but has also confronted me directly with political, sociological and economic issues such as extreme poverty, crime and the conflicts persisting and arising in a post-civil war setting. Those experiences have also strengthened my will to get engaged in the fields of conflict transformation and pursuing human rights. Since my graduation from my BA degree in International Development  in October, I’ve been working as an intern at Oikodrom – the Vienna Institute of Urban Sustainability ( and next year I will start my MA degree in Peace, Development, Security and International Conflict Transformation an the University of Innsbruck (

Although I very much like and appreciate the scientific approach, enhancing practical experience in the field of peacebuilding and human rights is very important to me. This June I will return to Guatemala to participate in the project ACOGUATE, which provides accompaniment as protection and support for local organisations and individuals advocating human rights in Guatemala (

Checking my flight possibilities, I came across a connection passing Toronto and I wondered why not just stay there for a couple of days to visit old friends! The very power of international accompaniment lies in international awareness rising about the conflicts persisting in Guatemala and in that way signalling that the protection of human rights in Guatemala matter to the world.

For these and many more reasons I would like to come and visit Cambridge in November (approximately 5th-15th) on my way home from Guatemala. I wonder if you would be interested to give me the possibility to hold a presentation at the weekly Rotary meetings to talk about Guatemala, the conflicts that are persisting and the work of ACOGUATE. This would be a great opportunity to re-establish partnership ties of intercultural communication and to revitalise the Canadian-Austrian bond in connection with the Guatemalan context.