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From the pandemic to now, and the joy in between — Corbett scholar Alexander Betz

Alexander and his mom on the University of Victoria campus. Photo credit: Alexander Betz

April 9, 2021

Hanging out on Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge. Photo credit: Alexander Betz

Of course it is hard to have one’s plans change. I recall sitting in front of the Ave’s Herkimer Coffee in Seattle when I found out I had been selected to participate in the 2020-2021 Corbett Exchange. I’ve never accepted an offer faster. Having spent my life growing up in the greater Seattle metropolitan area, the chance to spend a year as a student at the University of Victoria sounded like a dream. I love the idea that, through experiencing all that the Pacific Northwest region has to offer, I can build a new home and community with my neighbors up north while simultaneously deepening my connection to my place here in Washington. However, as we all know, COVID-19 ripped through everyone’s lives like a whirlwind, uprooting hopes and plans like trees and stop-signs caught in the fray. However, I am pleased to report that despite the setbacks and upheavals, the Corbett Exchange Program has remained a shining point of joy and connection in my life.

The weekend before the United States-Canada border closed, my mom and I hopped on the Victoria Clipper out of Elliot Bay to scope out what was to be my new home for the year. If you’ve never been out on the open waters of the Puget Sound, where the looming Olympics of the west triangulate themselves over white-crested waves with Mt. Baker to the north and preeminent Rainer in the south, I highly recommend it. Plus, if you get really lucky, you might even make some orca friends out where the deep waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca cleave the Olympic Peninsula from Vancouver Island.

Orcas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Photo credit: Alexander Betz

Landing in Victoria was wonderful, and I found myself walking through the streets feeling simultaneously at home and a foreigner. The combination was intoxicating. The Corbett scholarship’s value and intention shines in moments like this. To find that the cultures and histories of these two neighboring countries flow into one has painted my home region with a depth previously unknown to me. The campus of the University of Victoria was beautiful, and exploring it with my mom remains a precious memory to me.

However, due to COVID-19, the exchange program has shifted online, and while I approached this news with trepidation at first, rest assured that all of my expectations have been exceeded. For example, myself and the other 2020-2021 Corbett scholars had the chance to attend a presentation by Professor Lozar from the University of Victoria on the shared Indigeneity of the Pacific Northwest. Highlighting moments of unity and shared hardship within the Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest, this presentation painted a portrait of the impacts of colonialism on our region. Of particular interest to me was Professor’s Lozar’s comparison of the United States and Canada’s colonial policies and how both similar and different choices by these two governments have developed into the complex web of connections and conflicts that we see today. I give thanks to the Corbett Exchange, for it has given me the chance to make new friends and develop moments of understanding within a region that has always been my home. I can’t wait to see how this year continues to unfold, where together the Universities of Washington, Victoria, and British Columbia have worked in synchronicity with the generosity of the Corbett family to create a meaningful and unique experience for us scholars.

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.