“There are many maps of one place, and many histories of one time.”

-Julie Freriekse


I’m the midst of applying for Teacher’s Assistant positions for next year, which I find really exciting. 

But how do you pick which ones you would be a good match for? I’ve had some great TAs throughout my undergraduate degree, and some not so great ones. I want to be a great TA – I want to connect with students and be approachable, I want to know enough about the subject to be able to give good advice. How do I pick a class and professor that will help me accomplish this? It’s pretty intimidating to write down this list of potential courses that I’d love to work with and hope to hear back from some of them. 

Any advice? On picking courses, choosing hours, and managing all of it?

Finding routine

I’ve been back in Timmins, Ontario for exactly six weeks now. I’ve visited family, enjoyed the great outdoors (including an unexpected snowstorm), spent many more hours than I’d hope on buses, and got back in the swing of a new job. I’ve graduated, said hello and goodbye to a great number of friends, begun an apartment hunt, and started to reflect on what the next year (or more) will bring.

The one thing about travelling that I think I had forgotten is how much it makes you appreciate home, makes you appreciate the familiar. And my familiar is different from that of many people. My familiar is hours on a highway surrounded by nothing but trees and the occasional lake or moose. There’s something beautiful and calming about forests, something I had forgotten or pushed from memory while living in the bustling craziness of Hanoi. I love the North, it’s beautiful, its refreshing – its home.

Despite all this, I’m still excited for another change – to experience Toronto, to begin writing and researching and to get back into the swing of academic life. I’m excited to be physically closer to a lot of my friends (as not many live in or return to the North anymore), and I’m excited to be challenged again.

My work has definitely kept me busy and as it’s a new position, it has also enabled me to learn a lot more about finances, credit, and access to funds. This summer has been like a waiting period – a time in between. I’m done a degree but not yet done being a student, I’m home, but not really home. I feel like I’m on the precipice of change when most of the people around me are finding some degree of permanence and I’m still surrounded by uncertainty. I guess that it would be uncomfortable to many people to have so much uncertainty in their lives, but I almost find it soothing. It’s soothing to know that my life is still changing, its soothing to know that things will continue to change as long as I like, and its soothing to know that challenge and adventure are still (and will continue to be) a major part of my life.

Over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to share some preliminary research and readings that I want to incorporate into my studies for next year as well as any preparatory work I do for the University of Toronto. I’m  looking to access as much information as possible about Belgium as a colonial power and Rwanda, Burundi, and DRC pre and during colonial time.  I’d also like to access any legitimate information regarding current laws and attitudes on domestic abuse.

I’m finding my routine and seeing where I fit in for the next few months – then the cycle will start all over again.

Grad School

I have finally submitted (and paid for) my graduate school applications after spending weeks reviewing and re-reading my applications. I came close to submitting them several times before but kept getting intense feelings of nervousness before I could hit ‘send’.

I believe that I am making the right decisions, that I will enjoy my Masters experience, and that I will contribute something new to my field with my thesis. But now it means I have to wait months until I hear back to determine if I will be one of the select few allowed in.

Now, I have to finalize my thesis proposal, proving that my research will be something new; this also pretty much determines what kind of work I will be doing for the remainder of my academic career and what I will be an ‘expert’ in.

Any words of wisdom from the wordpress world?

Something I promised I would never do

You heard it. I’m going to do something I promised would never happen (but at this current time do not understand why I was so against it).

I’m going to go for a research degree. When thinking of grad school while still in school, it makes sense to avoid writing papers when all you do in your spare time is write papers that you may or may not be interested in. But in the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to choose the topics of more of my research papers and this enabled me to understand my research interests. I’ve also found that during this internship I miss doing research, I miss writing, I miss essays and papers and research papers. Enough so that I’m applying to research degrees for grad school.

I’m looking at programs that allow me to overlay studies in differing geographical regions with issues pertaining to women’s experiences. This is proving to be quite difficult. But I believe I have found two Geography programs that either have specializations in gender or have supervisors with extensive experience in gender.

This also means that I have to develop my research interests. This summer I had the opportunity to write a paper on how sexual assault constitutes an act of genocide using the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m still interested in this, and would like to explore it further, but may look at other case studies and situations that have had internationally recognized genocides or instances where genocide is not ‘officially occuring’ but sexual violence/assaults against members of the population is rampant (sexual assault against women and men). I’m also interested in the ways in which the forced transmission of HIV is used as a weapon of war.

Any ideas or suggested reading material would be great. Tell me what you think, is this a good program idea? What were your experiences with doing a research degree (or why did you choose not to do one)? Any suggestions for choosing a research area?

Solution for Food Insecurity?

As I get closer and closer to my field placement in Vietnam, I’ve been doing more research and trying to find as much information on the Center for Sustainable Rural Development as possible. And I came across this site that discusses one of the projects that was implemented by SRD. I chose to use a lot of its information for a paper for one of my classes. So read on, and share your opinion. Is the System of Rice Intensification a potential solution for food insecurity?

Food Security in Vietnam

Food security is a global problem that plagues nations in the Global South and the Global North, it can be achieved when ‘all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life,’ as defined by the World Bank (Potter, Binns, Elliot, & Smith, 2008, p. 211). Achieving food security is a difficult task for many nations that may not have long enough growing seasons, may be affected by natural disasters or unseasonable weather, that are faced with balancing imports and exports, with unequal land ownership rights, and that may be affected by rising costs of production and food sales – all these factors can cause a larger ripple effect and can either make food unaffordable, or unavailable, thereby decreasing food security. Understanding food security goes beyond simple food production; it is about the availability and affordability of adequate food to each person regardless of their income or status. This concept has been best described by Amartya Sen, “Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat” (Potter, Binns, Elliot, & Smith, 2008, p. 211). Yet, food security is inherently linked to development as when people are food secure they are better able to increase productivity, perform better in school, and live longer, healthier lives.

Economic reform

Vietnam is a nation that has been affected by numerous factors changing national food security, but is also in a unique position to effectively combat national food insecurity through interventions done by the government, non-governmental organization, and grassroots organizations. Through national economic reform and the intensification of crops, Vietnam has been able to decrease food insecurity and drastically increase production. Currently, sixty-two percent of Vietnam’s population relies on agriculture (subsistence and otherwise) for their livelihoods, yet eleven percent of the population remains undernourished and twenty-five percent of children are malnourished (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2011). These are staggering statistics for a country that produces and exports some of the highest rice yields in the world and therefore has the capacity and resources to provide adequate food for its population. Since 1986, Vietnam has been under the ‘doi moi’ policy, or ‘renovation’ policy, which has been revamping their economic policies and structures for global competition and to aid in the economic and human development of the nation (Painter, 2003). This policy has been adapted and changed as the global economy has changed and has determined the patterns of imports and exports, which plays into how Vietnam has been adapting to the 2008 economic crisis and working towards improving food security for its population. Renovation policy has shifted Vietnam into a market-based economy that is becoming more and more diversified and stable.

Globally, 2008 was a critical year for food insecurity, causing widespread raises in food costs, declining employment rates, and damaging global economies – Vietnam was not immune. The 2008 economic crisis hit Vietnam at a critical time, damaging the economy that was previously growing at an unprecedented nine percent (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 1). During this time in Vietnam, inflation soared past twenty-five percent and food prices doubled (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 2)making food unaffordable and unavailable to much of Vietnam’s population. In response, the government decreased food exports and brought additional resources to state-owned agricultural businesses and community agricultural initiatives, this intervention allowed for the influx of resources in a key sector, ensured employment for the population, and ensured a surplus of food, which would drive prices down in turn (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 7). The government has also been focusing on increasing the rates of population attaining education which they believe will increase future production and decrease future food insecurity and poverty.

System of Rice Intensification

An intervention by non-governmental organizations and grassroots organizations has also aided in the battle against food insecurity – crop intensification. This intervention is often described as the System of Rice Intensification also Sustainable Rise Intensification or SRI and involves using ‘younger seedlings, single plant transplantation, wider spacing of plants, water drainage, and frequent weeding” (SRI in Vietnam, 2008)this process was developed to increase crop yields while decreasing crop inputs such as water, seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides/herbicides (SRI in Vietnam, 2008). In developing and rolling out SRI, organizations are also met with the challenges of providing additional inputs to rural farmers and small communities for initial input. These methods involve changing communities historical ways of thinking and farming and have a heavy reliance on education and continued workshops and follow-up. However, with consistent use they have been proven to increase annual incomes by seventy USD per farmer and cut hands-on time spent farming by fifty percent (srivietnam, 2010).

What is key about SRI is that crops are more resilient, rely on less resources, and are of a higher quality than crops grown in traditional methods, by adopting to a more sustainable practice farmers can decrease the costs associated with farming while simultaneously increasing their yields and profit (srivietnam, 2010). Grassroots organizations and non-governmental organizations are key as they often have the resources and community connections required to provide education and reach rural populations who would benefit the most from SRI. These are also the organizations that can receive and utilize international funds and support in the most effective and efficient ways. SRI is one of the most effective methods for combatting food insecurity in Vietnam as rice production accounts for eighty-seven percent of cultivated land in the country, by intensifying and making this process more sustainable yields can be dramatically increased (Trang Thi Huy Nhat, 2010, p. 43).

Areas of future concern

What is particularly challenging in Vietnam is the system of land ownership – current law dictates the government owns all agricultural land, allowing citizens and communities land use rights for twenty-year periods (vietnamsri, 2009). This law makes it extremely difficult to justify private investment in agricultural land, the investment of additional time and personal resources, and holds no guarantee of future subsistence or economic gain for farmers. Without land ownership reform, this could have negative consequences on food security and poverty in the years to come as many rural populations could removed from the land they call home and rely on to live (vietnamsri, 2009). With policy reformation, ideally there could be law reforms made to protect rural populations and populations reliant on agriculture in the years to come. This law would not only benefit the rural farming population, but would also benefit the entire nation as this would allow populations and communities to continue to farm the same land year after year, benefitting from their investments and learning. This could increase production and increase food security for the entire country. This would also allow for private ownership of land, allowing communities and smaller organizations to pool their efforts and develop larger scale production methods.

As a coastal nation, Vietnam is also challenged by seasonal natural disasters which run the risk of flooding agricultural regions (particularly in the central regions), and salt-water infusion of agricultural regions. Vietnam has been working towards improving their early warning systems and predicting the timing and intensity of natural disasters, however much work remains to be completed (Trang Thi Huy Nhat, 2010, p. 49). With adequate research, natural disasters can be predicted and better mitigated in the future, however with climate change these do present an area of risk in addition to coastal flooding.


As stated earlier, Vietnam is in a unique position with regards to food security, the nation has the ability and resources to more than meet the food needs of its population and can be used as an example for many other nations. The economic policies implemented by the government also provide an excellent example of successful economic adjustment programs as completed by the nation they affect. The innovations and use of SRI also show that often the most sustainable and productive agricultural programs require innovation and may move beyond traditional methods. SRI also demonstrates that expensive fertilizers and genetically modified seeds are not required for resilient, healthy crops. If Vietnam is able to curb food insecurity and develop additional sustainable agricultural practices to be implemented alongside SRI, they could also drastically reduce the percentage of the population living in poverty. Vietnam remains on track to more than halve the percentage of their population living on less than one USD per day and with additional inputs and resources towards food security this goal could be surpassed. In aiding a nation in becoming food secure, Vietnam’s population would in turn be more productive, and better able to meet the future needs of the growing economy. Additionally, if Vietnam were able to become food secure, it would also be able to increase its exports aiding other nations in meeting their food needs.


Das, S. B., & Shrestha, O. L. (2009). Vietnam: Further Challenges in 2009. ASEAN Economic Bulletin , 26 (1), 1-10.

FAO Global Information and Early Warning Service. (2009). Crop Prospects and Food Situation. Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture, Rome.

Food and Agriculture Organization. (2011, August). Viet Nam. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from Countries: http://www.fao.org/countries/55528/en/vnm/

IFPRI. (2012, May). Vietnam. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from Food Security Portal: http://www.foodsecurityportal.org/vietnam

Painter, M. (2003). The Politics of Economic Restructuring in Vietnam: The Case of State-owned Enterprise “Reform”. Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs , 25 (1), 20-43.

Potter, R., Binns, T., Elliot, J., & Smith, D. (2008). Geographies of Development: An Introduction to Development Studies (Third Edition ed.). Pearson: Prentice Hall.

SRI in Vietnam. (2008). SRI in Vietnam. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from What is SRI?: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/about/

SRI-RICE. (2012). System of Rice Intensification. (S. I. Center, Producer) Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/

srivietnam. (2010, November 5). A Simple Way to Grow More Rice in a Changing Climate. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from SRI in Vietnam: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/a-simple-way-to-grow-more-rice-in-a-changing-climate/

Trang Thi Huy Nhat. (2010). Tackling Household Food Insecurity: The Experience of Vietnam. Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development , 5 (2), 41-56.

vietnamsri. (2009, April 17). Land Accumulation: Opportunity or Threat for Small Farmers in Vietnam? Retrieved May 12, 2012, from SRI in Vietnam: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/2009/04/17/land-accumulation-opportunity-or-threat-for-small-farmers-in-vietnam/

SRI in Vietnam

Photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv/Creative Commons

This guest post was written by Le Ngoc Thach, president of the Dai Nghia cooperative and one of the first SRI farmers in Ha Noi province, courtesy of Oxfam America.

Watching my parents’ rice crop fail was a heartbreak I will never forget. It was 1984, and that growing season, stem borer grubs devoured our plants and destroyed our harvest. One little bug meant a lost year of rice for our family and community.

Our community in Dai Nghia, Vietnam, like countless others around the world relies on the work of small farmers like my parents to grow rice and other crops that help us feed our children and support our families’ livelihoods. For farmers like me, the tragedies of a lost harvest are a growing threat as climate change makes the search for scarce resources like water and fertile land increasingly dire…

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