During the summer of 2019, International Studies graduate student Juan Bustillo spent a month in Washington, DC, interning with the Venezuelan NGO, Plan País. Bustillo worked on a virtual reality (VR) 360° documentary short called Walking for Freedom: A Venezuelan Story in partnership with the Global Shapers and Mycrom Films.
The project, which was showcased at the One Journey Festival in DC, puts viewers in the virtual shoes of Venezuelan refugees who were forced to flee their country on foot, following their journey across the Simón Bolívar International Bridge that links Venezuela and Colombia, through the dangerous and illegal border passing known as “la trocha,” to their final destinations.
Bustillo’s primary roles were co-writer and co-editor, building the documentary’s storyline and editing together the trailer. The internship was a required part of his graduate degree in the M.A. International Studies program, but for Bustillo, the Venezuelen crisis is more than a research interest.
“Ultimately, I’m drawn to Venezuela,” said Bustillo. “It gives me the opportunity to challenge my own preconceptions about an issue close to me and contribute towards the end of a crisis that has ravaged the lives not only of my family members but of everyone who calls themselves Venezolano.”
Bustillo was only a month old when his family moved from the United States to Caracas, which he considers his hometown. Venezuela is currently facing the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis in the modern history of the hemisphere, and Bustillo found himself at a junction where his academic studies and connection to his hometown met:
“I started my first year at Chapman [as an undergraduate student] around the time when the country’s crisis really exploded, so I used my [undergraduate] Screenwriting and Political Science majors [in my graduate studies] as vehicles through which to better understand the human and political elements of the situation back home.”
Wilkinson College students are encouraged to enhance their learning by making experiential forms of education part of their academic program. Experiential learning is a mutually reinforcing engagement of ideas and experience. Internships are one way MAIS students move beyond the classroom to develop new knowledge, apply expertise, contribute to communities and add to the learning of others. For Bustillo, standing shoulder to shoulder with his community during a humanitarian crisis is at the forefront.
“Through the International Studies Program I’ve been exposed to an incredible variety of stories from all around the world that go beyond what I read in the news. I’ve learned to extract patterns from events across time and space and figure out how they connect to individual narratives that I can represent on film and television. I’ve learned both the limits and the benefits of writing about realities that are not my own,” said Bustillo. “But perhaps most importantly, my studies have taught me how to balance my own biases with the real issues I draw from in order to create work that reflects the narratives of the characters I write.”
Bustillo intends to continue making use of his degrees in International Studies and Screenwriting to write movies and television shows that address the issues he researched in both undergrad and graduate school. He is currently working on a miniseries that follows four Venezuelan families across class and ethnic lines struggling under the humanitarian crisis.