From Argentina to South Africa to Turkey & beyond..

December 5, 2019

Current 2nd-year MESPOM student, Josefina Achaval-Torre talks about her experiences along this journey 

Photo: Exploring different ecosystems after a week of intense fieldwork collecting data on invasive species control (Mariepskop, South Africa)

How did you find out about Mespom, and how has your experience living in 3 different locations been so far?

I found out about MESPOM when looking into different master’s programmes in Europe. With a background in Environmental Management, I had worked as a consultant in Argentina for over 3 years, acquiring experience in the private sector through different consultancy jobs, working with certification schemes, auditing and environmental management plans. I was able to implement forest conservation projects in my province, related to urban development and agricultural production. However I felt that I needed the tools to achieve a higher level of intervention and understanding of global environmental issues, and MESPOM seemed like the right program to deepen my knowledge on governance and policy issues.

Each location we have lived in has provided a unique experience. At CEU, the focus was on policy and governance, I had the opportunity to develop a podcast, and take courses on corruption control, environment and security, justice, and international environmental law. The University of Aegean gave us a deeper understanding of air and water pollution, tools for pollution control, and management of agri-systems. Now I am finishing my semester at Lund University in Sweden, focusing on policies for businesses and products that can help achieve a transition to a low-carbon economy. Apart from the academic depth I have been able to achieve, there is added value on the cultural exchange that happens in each of the locations and in going through all the experiences with a group of like-minded and challenging peers, who have become my family away from home.

How was your summer internship experience? Where did you go & what did you work on?

I had the opportunity to do an internship with the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), part of the National Research Fund (NRF) in the Lowveld area of South Africa. As an intern for the organization, I worked with data capturing, processing and analysis as well as field work for data collection. I participated in projects to collect data on erosion monitoring, community involvement for the application of Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG) practices, wildlife monitoring (including witnessing rhinoceroses dehorning operation), invasive species control, riparian trees monitoring for elephant damage, and management practices for nature and game reserves.

Working with SAEON was an incredibly fulfilling professional experience, but also a personal challenge and adventure. Even though I had previous work experience with forest conservation in Argentina, the SA environment was completely different. I did field research in an area where wildlife roams free, encountering elephants and be mindful to react accordingly to avoid getting charged; seeing the different types of biomes that exist within a province like Limpopo – from the savanna in Kruger National Park, to the tropical rainforest of the mountains. I had the opportunity to participate in community meetings of a small village, where the social reality is at a stark contrast to that of the cities and other countries of the world. I learnt about different methods for field research and got to work hand by hand with locals who had vast knowledge of the area and were willing to share their professional and personal experiences to enhance my learning.

What lies next for you?

I am preparing to choose my thesis topic, and narrowing down my interests to find a research question. I will be developing my thesis while doing an internship with the United Nations Development Program Eurasia, at the Istanbul Regional Hub. I will be working directly with the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction area, specifically looking into the connection between climate change and security. I will be looking at how natural resources contribute to or amplify armed conflicts and violence, how they can support peacebuilding, and the political feasibility of incorporating such measures to enhance climate adaptation.

On a fieldtrip in Lesvos, Greece learning about the olive-oil production environmental systems

The view from the study room at the University of the Aegean (Mytilini, Greece)

The MESPOM group at the main aula of the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE)

Witnessing a dehorning operation on a black rhino as part of a poaching prevention program (Manyeleti Game Reserve, South Africa)

Morning encounters on our way to do fieldwork measuring the impact of elephant populations on riverine ecosystems (Mapungubwe, South Africa)