115 Letter from Karla Boluk

Personal Reflection

I will begin by saying that I am Canadian and an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo, in Canada. I spent 10 years oversees studying in New Zealand, engaging in field work in South Africa, and I took up two, two-year international appointments in Sweden and then the UK. I started my appointment at the University of Waterloo in 2014. I am also, a partner and mother of two girls (Grace (4) and Adelaide (2)), a daughter and sister to my older brother and sister who both live close by.

Growing Interest in Tourism

I grew up in a small city about an hour away from Toronto. As a child, I was obsessed with synchronized swimming and naturally like many other children who idolize athletes, I had the ambition of going to the Olympics. Competing allowed me the opportunity to travel quite a bit within Canada. I prioritized choosing a university for its academic programming in tourism. Unfortunately, this meant there was no synchronized swimming team; however shortly after I arrived, I was approached by some members of the community who asked me to start a team; and I did. I created a synchronized swimming team in my first year of my undergrad, while simultaneously swimming on the varsity swim team. I became the team captain and coached several recreational and competitive synchro teams within and outside of the university.

Both of my parents were teachers, so my siblings and I enjoyed having them around full time on holidays and during the summer months. We spent time as a family travelling in Canada when my parents were free from work related responsibilities. We travelled with our family pop-up trailer around Ontario, neighbouring provinces, and some parts of the US. I recall my mom encouraging me to journal, allowing me to reflect on some of places we had visited, what I had learned about the places and peoples we visited, and create a save space for a few memories or mementos collected along the way. We also holidayed at our family cottage in south eastern Ontario. These experiences are likely what sparked my enthusiasm to pursue a tourism degree. I recall noticing differences year after year to the cottage communities I visited, particularly with the increasing volume of people visiting the small towns and crowding on the beaches.

My initial summer job was at a convenient store and meat market not far from our family cottage. It was at that time I started to gain some firsthand understanding about some of the growing resentment toward the infiltration of American visitors renting and/or buying cottages in the area, driving real estate and rental prices up. Further, I witnessed growing frustrations expressed by locals regarding the increased volume of visitors; contributing to congestion and wait times for services. Since returning to Canada after being overseas for a decade, my work has been driven by an interest in revisiting some of the tourism districts in which I spent a great deal of time as a cottager, visitor and/or employee during my youth. Specifically, I my curiosity has piqued around understanding how the communities have changed and/or weathered tourism, as well as appreciate the community leaders and entrepreneurs who have advocated for, and driven sustainability interests in light of the growing attention received by tourists.

Personality Traits

I have never enjoyed being told what to do…I see this trait in my children, and its only now in my 30s I appreciate how this may have been frustrating for my parents! Pre-children and pre-tenure, I exhibited characteristics of an A-type personality; however, having children and achieving tenure have somewhat tempered such traits, and served as the impetus to seek more of a balance. My training as a synchronized swimmer are likely to be blamed with my focus on perfection, but I am thankful for lessons learned from the sport in terms of flexibility, endurance, precision, and competing with myself. One trait that has served me well, is my ability to network and generally get along with people, also probably a result of my time training. My time spent researching oversees have supported the building and cultivation of international research teams. I have continued many of the partnerships I nurtured early on in my career, and I have developed many others I am truly thankful for.

Advice to My Younger Self

  1. Enjoy the journey. I chose to carry out my graduate research in two of the most beautiful countries in the world, New Zealand, and South Africa. My advice would be to go, enjoy, stay, and learn.
  2. I started networking early on in my career before I really understood its potential impact on my career. My advice is initiate conversations (virtually and face to face when possible), cultivate relationships, sustain relationships, and let those who are meaningful to you know they are important. You may, throughout your trajectory encounter toxic relationships, let those relationships go. Don’t dwell on those relationships or let them weigh you down. Consider aligning yourself with networks that share your values. I have found collaborators, supporters, and friends through TEFI, CTS, and Tourism RESET. We are stronger together. It may take time to find your tribe and that is ok.
  3. Give yourself a break and establish good habits. Shut down your computer throughout the day to give yourself a break. Don’t eat at your desk! Get fresh air often. Engage in physical activity and stand when possible. Incorporate walking meetings into your routine. Block time off in your calendar!
  4. Trust your instincts. It has been my experience that my instinct is usually correct. Listen to your gut. Trust yourself.
  5. If you think you would benefit from seeking out a mentor find one. If you do not know who to ask, ask others, or just scroll through the amazing compilation (Sara and Antonia have compiled in this book). Approach someone, let that person know what you need, or what you would like to work on, or how they may help, and keep in touch with them.
  6. Be a role model and mentor. No matter your career stage you have something to give to your students, to those new to the academy, to those new to your networks etc.
  7. Be less judgmental of yourself. Don’t pin yourself against others, rather do the work to be your best version of yourself and focus on continual improvement.
  8. Just as your professional life can infiltrate into your personal life, your personal life can infiltrate into your professional life. Life happens. Children grow up, parents age, and siblings need support through various life transitions. Support those closest to you through their transitions, keep them close and be kind. It is ok if your personal life affects your capacity to be an ultra-productive human being. You are human!
  9. Always lead with integrity and purpose. Don’t oversimplify your career choice into a rat race or a game, its toxic.


Karla Boluk

University of Waterloo, Canada


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Women’s voices in tourism research Copyright © 2021 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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