Former YSNer Peter Grbac, right, at the Harvard Square Shelter. Grbac was nominated for the prestigious Ames Award from Harvard University for helping others in the community and inspiring leadership. Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Public Affairs and Communications

From Youth Speak News to Oxford University

  • July 12, 2012

TORONTO - Peter Grbac heads to Oxford University in October, leaving behind a legacy of volunteerism at his alma mater Harvard University.

A former St. Michael’s College School student, Grbac took part in The Catholic Register’s Youth Speak News program during his high-school years. His faith followed him to Harvard University in Boston where he just graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies. At commencement, Grbac was a nominee for the prestigious Ames Award for helping others in the community and inspiring leadership. 

“Harvard is an interesting place,” he said. “It’s a place where you are exposed to very different people and very different ideas, and it’s easy to lose track of your faith. If there (was) one constant in (my) four years and going forward it would be my faith community,” referring to St. Paul Catholic Church in Harvard Square.

And his spirit of volunteerism is something that stemmed out of his faith, he said.

“The core of what I did in those four years and even before in high school was service,” he said.

Grbac was heavily involved with the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, the only student-run emergency shelter in the United States.

“We do everything,” he explained. “We manage an operating budget of just under $100,000. We recruit a work force of about 250 volunteers.

“And we run through the six coldest months of the year, so from November to April, and everyday we serve about 25 homeless men and women.” 

Grbac described his time working at the shelter as one of the highlights of his Harvard experience, not only because he was able to make a difference in the community but also because he was exposed to so many different people.

It is this curiosity of people that truly came out in his academic work.

In the fall, Grbac will begin a one-year Master of Science in Refugee and Forced Migration at Oxford University, an interdisciplinary program that weaves together international law, politics, anthropology and international relations.

Grbac said his interest in this topic stemmed from his undergraduate thesis work on the Roma population. The bulk of his research came from a semester abroad in his third year in France.

“I was doing research amongst the Roma community in northeast and northwest suburbs of Paris, exploring their migratory movements and how they were moving around the European Union,” said Grbac. “What does it mean to move and how does this movement affect how people identify in this human rights regime.”

And this traveller himself, who has visited other parts of Europe as well as Japan, Kenya and various parts of the United States, doesn’t know where he sees himself after this year.

“At this point, (I have) no idea,” Grbac said. “My Roma research subjects would often joke that I was more of a gypsy than they were.”

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