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2019 Peter T. Johnson Fund for LACS Recipient Reports on her Research in Costa Rica

August 27, 2019

“Here at Fundación Arias, I am on a research team investigating ammunition trafficking throughout Latin America. I’ve been creating a database of the quantity and caliber of ammunitions seized by police in each Latin American country with the goal to articulate which calibers are the most commonly used and trafficked. The Foundation, along with other organizations in the Control Arms coalition, plans to propose regional and domestic policies that are more strict and targeted in respect to arms and ammunitions. Being a part of this project has taught me a lot about the seeming broad and undefined world of social science research. Between the sometimes tedious and dull work, frustration with government transparency (or lack there of), and overall slow nature of research/progress, my work has not come without difficulties. However, there is also an overwhelming sense that this academic research will contribute to real change, which outweighs any of my personal, small complaints.

Furthermore, this experience in a professional, international workplace has challenged me to reflect on what I want out of a job, which sectors of international studies interest me most, and the weird sentiment of feeling like an adult. I’ve learned that the best parts about an office are the people in it and their stories. Because everything at the Arias Foundation is done in Spanish, I’ve been taught the power of listening. I can’t respond as fast or coherently as I would like to in Spanish, so I end up doing a lot of listening at meetings and lunch breaks. This has been a bit of a change from my usual, outgoing personality, but also a blessing in disguise. The people who work here are a mix of Costa Ricans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans: all are absolutely brilliant and are always willing to share pieces of their life with me. Working in this environment has made me eager to continue learning from people, books, and the world around me. Though I don’t think I’m cut out for another 40 hr/week job in front of a computer screen in the near future, it was necessary for me to deromanticize the notions of NGO work, research, and a ‘real job.’ At UW, I am hopeful to continue my research and get involved with more on campus, but am also excited to pick up my more carefree job of being a soccer ref at the IMA–something I never imagined myself saying!
Ultimately, working on my own in Costa Rica has been a wild experience. Being in San José has afforded me the opportunity to travel throughout the country on weekends, but live where the majority of Costa Ricans do and tourists do not. I’ve been surprised at which things effect me the most, like the pollution and constant rain, yet also at which things bring me joy, like navigating public transportation like a local and chatting with the same vendors every week at the market. In one summer I’ve been able to improve my Spanish, expand my perspective, recognize my privileges, and challenge myself in ways I’d never thought imaginable. It has made the scope of this world feel enormous and small simultaneously. I’m so very grateful to the Jackson School and LACS for making this possible and can’t wait to tap into even more resources at UW. ” – Caitlin Quirk