Messenger of the People

Before coming to Dublin, I had only done a minimal amount of research on Michael Healy-Rae. I knew he was an independent representative from County Kerry and I found a lot of pictures of his late father, Jackie Healy-Rae. My second day at work I learned that he was the only member of the Dáil to vote “no” on the same sex referendum in Ireland that was passed two weeks before my arrival and he is a pro-life activist. While he does not go around preaching these values and arguing with people who have different beliefs, my time canvassing with him and Timothy O, Chief of Staff if you will, down in County Kerry proved to be one of the more difficult things I have done. My patience and anger management was tested unlike any other trial I had yet to meet and I learned a lot from the experience.

It is easy to forget that Michael is one of the most conservative TD’s in Ireland and that we hold very different views simply because he is outstandingly charismatic. In this way it has been extremely easy and pleasant to work with him. His office mostly deals with local constituent issues, as I mentioned in my first blog entry, and therefore I have not had much of a chance to see him rally behind national issues. However, while canvassing in Kerry I was able to see how conservative the county is and heard more people’s opinions on national issues, particularly the referendum.

55% of Kerry residents voted yes for the same sex referendum and 45% voted no. Michael has always prided himself in being an honest TD and refuses to be swayed by popular beliefs. Back on my second day of work when we were discussing the referendum, he told me that it was not that he cared if someone is gay, he voted no because he was not in favor of formalizing that union to include marriage. Although this is not my opinion, I was at least relieved to hear he is somewhat open-minded and acknowledges that it is okay for people to be gay, something that a lot of people still do not accept.

While we were canvassing, his “no” vote was referenced more often than I expected, usually with praise, by many of the residents in County Kerry. I knew Kerry was conservative so this did not surprise me. What made me reflect on the responsibility of a TD or Senator or any representative was when he explained that he was the only TD to vote no because the others were afraid to vote against the popular support of the referendum in their respective counties; he was the only TD to not only vote no but to also go against the consensus of his county (“it would have been against my personal beliefs”).

I understand not supporting something that you simply do not believe in and I commend people, especially politicians, who stand up against companies, policies, wars, that they fundamentally think are wrong. On the other hand, if the majority of the constituency who chose you to fix your nation believes that same sex marriage should be legalized, is it not your duty to vote yes? Granted, the final voting margin was slim and the yes’s only barely surpassed the no’s in the grand scheme of things but the majority of his constituents were in favor either way you slice it.

On our last night canvassing in Kerry before coming back to Dublin Michael asked if I knew what “TD” actually stood for. I embarrassingly admitted that I actually did not. “Teachta Dála” he responded “it means ‘Messenger of the people'”.

The Machine

Michael Healy-Rae’s phone never stops ringing. It is quite literally a part of him; if he is not calling someone then someone is calling him. More often than not, these calls are from people in his constituency, Kerry County, asking him for help. Here, a TD working in the Dáil in Dublin, Ireland, being called about matters four hours away; pot holes that need filling, fences that need building, hedges that need trimming, works 20-hours days. These problems keep him from sleeping and often cause him to skip meals. He is quite literally a machine. I do not want to discredit the needs of the Kerry people, they also call asking for medical and legal help and sometimes seek business advice. As Michael explained to me on my first day of work, “imagine what it would be like if 100,000 people had your personal cell phone number in their phones. That is my life”.

He is arguably one of the most outgoing and charismatic people I have ever met in my life and I would bet that most of the people he has met in his lifetime would agree with me. However, there are those few fellows who I come across around Ireland and, after I explain why a Montanan wound up in Ireland, they say that what Michael is doing is down right corrupt. “Favors for votes!” they say. “That’s all he does”.

I won’t go through extensive detail about the Healy-Rae family except to say that he belongs to a bloodline of prominent and charismatic politicians, his late father being the most outstanding of them all. It is known that he and his brothers get jobs done, which is why everyone in Kerry calls them day and night. When I heard people regarding him as a “corrupt politician” I was personally offended. I did not understand how someone could accuse a man who is genuinely and sincerely devoted to helping people corrupt.

In the United States, we elect officials to help us. We want them to fix all of our problems and whoever promises to carry out this impossible task is who we vote for. The difference is that, in America, if I wanted to expand my driveway and did not know the proper form to fill out to do so, my governor, representative, senator, whomever, wouldn’t care one bit about my insignificant parking problem, that is assuming I could even contact this person directly to begin with. In this way, Irish politics astound me. Although I have observed Michael the most, I think it is generally fair to say that most TDs are genuinely concerned with the well-being of their constituents and so personally involved in all of their lives that dealing with seemingly insignificant matters is extremely important to them. I truly admire this and think we lack this in America. Can we classify this as “vote-buying” when this is what the people of his constituency elected Michael Healy-Rae to do? Isn’t his job to help them? Either way it is very refreshing to watch a politician find a tangible solution to a problem.

Closing a Chapter?

As I prepare for my final exams here in my second semester in Braunschweig, my days are being split up in chapters. Today I finished summarizing 2 chapters of Computer Networks, or the Lecturer saying “Today we’re starting the new chapter on recursion”. Really my whole life as a student has been divided into chapters.

I have currently 15 days left in Germany, specifically Braunschweig(BS). Then this chapter of my life is closed. But I have to ask myself- When I close a chapter during studying, is it because I’m done with that material? Can I then forget that chapter and move on?

I certainly have been approaching this transition back home this way.

The goal and purpose of studying, of learning how the world works, is to apply that knowledge in my life later, and ultimately be prepared for whatever may lie ahead. This “chapter” of my life in BS has certainly contained a significant amount of content. As I look at the “Chapter Review” there are so many things that I will immediately be “tested” on upon returning stateside.

A few things:

  1. I’ve learned how to study. (Ich habe gelernt, wie ich lernen soll)
    German university classes have almost no homework, which means that students have to be committed to studying and preparing for exams. No, you don’t have to go to lecture, No alot of time you don’t even have to do the homework. You just have to pass the exam.
  2. I’ve learned “I am not my resumé”
    Before I came to Braunschweig, I had multiple jobs and was crazy busy. When people asked about hobbies, I would say “well, I don’t really have any”– I defined myself by what I did.
    Upon coming to BS, my jobs were gone; I had no one to answer to, and no one to be responsible for; I was really lost in the first few days. In the interest of this very public blog, I’ll just write that I now know that no matter what circumstances lay ahead, I will still be me; Greg;
  3. I’ve learned the importance of online privacy
    Germans are crazy about “Datenschutz”… Large companies like google knowing everything about you. My attitude when I first came was simply: If you don’t want people online to know about you, don’t put it up!
    I can’t say I’ve completely gone away from this opinion, but I have definitely had a few moments where I think… How does google know about this event coming up in my life; I haven’t sent any emails about it; haven’t done web searches;  haven’t put it in my calendar;  Huh?
  4. Lastly… I’ve learned that a more global perspective is possible
    One of my German friends said: “We’re not allowed to fight wars anymore here in Europe, so we play Football! (Soccer)” I have really appreciated that my outlook on the world has changed. That watching the news (from good sources) is normal, and that a more open mind is possible.

So as I “Close” this chapter in my life, I can’t wait to experience the events for which this chapter has prepared me for. The people I’ve met here; the things that I’ve done here. This may be the end of a chapter, but it is certainly not the end of a book. The climax of the plot is yet to come.

 

 

Java & XML Files Enhancing the Profession of Physical Therapy

July 13th, 2015

My Beyond the Classroom Experience has been a perfect opportunity to combine my Human Biology major with my Computer Science minor. Currently I am working on building a mobile Android application that will calculate the fitness levels of people in wheelchairs. To date, the majority of the work has been independent since it is difficult to coordinate schedules in the summer in Missoula. At the end of May, I designed the flow chart of the app with a fellow student, Stefan Riemens, who is also working on the project. The flowchart was to the specifications of our client, Professor James Laskin from the Physical Therapy department at UM. We then met with Professor Laskin at the beginning of June to get his approval on the initial design.

Our meeting lasted several hours, but we all came to an agreement on the first generation prototype layout and basic functions. Over the past month and a half, I have been building the app in a software developing environment called Android Studio. Typically, as with most technological projects, it has not gone completely smoothly. I have encountered a major hardware failure which forced me to invest in a new laptop. After a year of struggling, I finally have the appropriate equipment to program without crashes and system issues. It showed me how many compromises I had been making to get around my computer’s problems. Wow was getting a new laptop a fantastic decision! There are not words to describe it….

Currently, the app is almost completed with respect to layout and user interface. I have not yet begun data collection, data storage, or test functionality implementation. There are so many screens/panels throughout the app that I am working on a flowchart to keep track of everything. Stefan and I need to meet with Professor Laskin again soon to check in and make sure that it is moving in a direction that is pleasing to him. The opportunity to apply my programming knowledge to help people in the profession of Physical Therapy is quite rewarding. No longer am I doing scripted homework assignments with precisely detailed specifications, but I have to motivate myself to take my own creative liberty to complete the task. I finally am experiencing bridging the gap between the computer science world and clients/everyday users. I wish more people were interested in combining the fields of computer science with other fields. The opportunities are extremely rewarding, and despite the hard work and time commitment, programming and data knowledge is invaluable.

Lisa H. Morgan

A Different Form of Patriotism

In the United States, the country only unites through the world of sports once every few years for various different competitions. In the world of team sports, the most popular are the Men’s basketball team that plays in the olympics, and the Men’s soccer team as they compete in the olympics and the World Cup. However, as many people know, the national intensity displayed in these sports is nowhere near the intensity shown at the domestic level.

Copa America logo

When Copa America came to Chile, I had absolutely no idea what it would entail. I had never followed soccer much, but the idea of all South American countries competing for the title of best soccer team seemed like it was going to be fun. When the tickets became available, I quickly purchased three, Colombia vs. Brazil, the Semifinal, and the Final.

Going to these soccer matches opened my eyes. First, at Colombia vs. Brazil, the national pride on display was breathtaking. 40,000 fans packed in a stadium, mostly Colombian, cheered like madmen for 90 minutes. The energy and emotion was unlike anything I had ever seen. When Colombia scored the first and only goal of the game, I found myself screaming and hugging all the “parceros” from Colombia (lucky, I decided to sport my Colombia shirt in anticipation). With a brawl between the players at the final whistle, I was convinced that the national pride I had seen would never be replicated at a US sporting event. After the game, there remained no doubt in my mind it was the most fun I had experienced at a sporting event.

Next up was the Semifinal. Chile, after a strong showing in the group stage, had advanced to the semifinal to face a Peru squad. Chile, seeking it’s first world cup title ever, came out hungry. Being in a stadium full of Colombians was quite the experience, but it was nothing like what I felt in Estadio Nacional watching Chileans cheer on their team in their own country. As Chile was tied 1-1 with little time remaining, Eduardo Vargas unleashed the most amazing soccer goal I have ever seen in person. A rocket from far outside the box, the Chilean cold-bloodedly sank the goal to give Chile the eventual 2-1 victory. With Chile in it’s first Final since the 1980’s the entire country of “weones” was buzzing with anticipation.

Unfortunately, my iPhone had been pick-pocketed a week before while I was at a celebration for a Chilean group stage match. Because of this I had to sell my ticket to the Final, which ultimately netted me a fairly large amount due to the fact that Chile was playing. In the Final, Chile was the heavy underdog against Argentina, widely regarded as the best team in the America’s. Chile went on to win a dramatic championship through Penalty Shoot Out. As Chile won, a country cried tears of joy. Friends at the stadium told me they saw elderly men sitting in their chairs weeping in joy. The Chileans I watched the game with yelled and celebrated for about an hour, and the whole country began to flock to the streets in celebration.

Immediately going to the Chilean version of the White House to celebrate with the president, I knew this was going to be no normal celebration. As people took to the streets and partied until the early hours of the morning, I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience. That day, I was able to watch a country unite and celebrate through sports in a way that I had never seen in my life, and probably never will again. Immediately going to the Chilean version of the White House to celebrate with the president.

Gracias y vamos La Roja!!

Chile's president Michelle Bachelet and Chile's national soccer team celebrates at the La Moneda presidential palace after Chile defeated Argentina to win the Copa America 2015 final soccer match in Santiago, Chile, July 4, 2015.  REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

Jakarta has 22 million inhabitants. Ten million of which are actually documented. The sound of the city is nothing short of explosive – as it has known to have the worst traffic in the world. Five times a day, a choir of mosques reaches from the ocean of slums and clash with each other to create a sound that I can only describe as a hornets nest. I watch the children play in a trash filled river, black with oil and rotting with the bodies of dead animals. I live in a tower, surrounded by slums – sheet metal houses, no bathrooms, open sewage lines running along deep ditches on the side of the road. The air is thick with exhaust and cigarettes (1 in 3 men smoke in Indonesia.) There are no mountains to be seen, in fact – there is nothing but sky scrapers and old broken down homes as far as the eye can see; but it has it’s moments. On a windy day after a fresh rain (which is to acidic to stand in) you can watch the sun fall behind the smog and the glow is not of this world.

IMG_1870[1]

At night, after the 4th prayer – the streets fill with Warungs (food carts) and hundreds of different foods are made right in front of your face. You can’t imagine the variety – the saute, ayam goreng, martabak, the gado-gado. All of it being prepared at breakneck speed; it has the finesse of a circus. Families of four on a single motorbike – kids on mom and dads shoulders, infants, toddlers, piled on. They weave in and out of traffic with incredible confidence. Really, it makes what we find dangerous look like a joke. But what makes one feel more alive than the threat of harm? I get around on “Ojeks” – just dudes on the side of the road with a motorcycle and you hop on the back. Sometimes they know where you want them to go – other times you just have to point. If you have never had the experience of being a minority and being a spectacle everywhere you go, this is the place to do it. Thousands of eyes study me with blank expressions, some smile – most don’t. It’s not always the safest thing to be friendly in this city – have to put on an unimpressed mask to ward off troublemakers. Groups of kids will harass you for money relentlessly, shouting insults and pulling on your backpack. For the most part you just ignore them, but this is not easy on the empathy. Just yesterday, en route to a part of the city, a man with a mangled foot just sat in one of the busiest intersections (one of the few that have a light) and drug himself around asking for money. I kid you not, you would have thought him suicidal – the sheer speed and amount of traffic. I see my fair share of these things in a day, and it never gets any easier.

Life here in the city, is not for the faint of heart – I found this out the hard way. It plays with your nerves, your morality, your health, and your optimism. And then, you become a part of it and navigate it with ease – which is no ease at all, but this is relative. And you start to see something beautiful at work. An unimaginable web of lives bouncing off one another in what can only be described as exciting. Everyday faced with new challenges and lessons that are simply not found elsewhere. You develop skills that make you a veteran of the overwhelming. There is no escape, and so you must compensate.

But this is Jakarta, and it says so little about Indonesia as a whole. The countryside is unparalleled and full of secrets and ancient beauty. The islands are the stuff of dreams. The volcanoes rise thousands of meters into the sky and dance with the clouds. I was lucky enough to climb Mt. Merapi – one of the largest in Indonesia. You begin the hike at 12:00 a.m. and reach the final plateau somewhere around 6:00 a.m. to watch the sun rise. The final 2 hours is spent climbing the caldera which requires a great deal of confidence. Ancient temples litter Indonesia – monuments to a vibrant history. The markets are alive and bustling with hecklers, bargainers, and merchants. Monkeys break into homes and eat food and scale the power lines to escape. I can’t help but smile at the beautiful anarchy of this country. I have never felt so human.

I will be back,

I will, be back.

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent school masters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. – John Lubbock

From Wanaka the drive up the west coast was a quick two days but still full of amazing scenery. My first stop was Gillespie Beach, 20 km down a dirt road from Fox glacier. It was a free campsite right on the beach, with the best view of mount cook. After a run, through the forest and on the beach where I saw seals, I got back to camp just in time to start dinner and watch the sunset over the ocean. I watched as the sun quickly disappeared behind the horizon then saw the green flash that I’ve always heard about. I looked behind me and Mount Cook was standing so bold with a pink glow from the sunset. Small world I actually ran into my Chemistry TA there from my Freshman year, she didn’t remember me though. 

The next day after a longer day of hitch hiking, I tagged along with two German girls and saw another glorious sunset at Pancake Rocks. We stayed in Paparoa National Park and the next morning I ventured back to the Fox River Tourist Caves. It was a short hike back though a dense green forest then up to a huge cave that randomly appeared in the towering hundred foot rock wall. I went inside with my torch but didn’t make it far as I was reminded of the movie The Descent and got a little scared. It was a different type of beautiful as the dark cave was lined with jagged calcium carbonate icicles. I do hope to do some caving while I am in New Zealand as there are an abundance of caves everywhere. 


I wanted to stay on the west coast longer but only had so much time before I needed to be in Wellington. I wanted to get in one more walk and headed to Nelson Lakes National Park to do so. It’s hard to say what has been my favorite place in New Zealand, as it is all so beautiful and unique, but Nelson Lakes stands high on the list. 


I got to the park and spent far to much time in the Department of Conservation office trying to figure out which track I want to do.  I picked a short four day circuit to different lakes, hiking in valleys, up and down mountains and then along a ridge. Sounded good to me, and it was!  The first day I walked along Lake Rotoiti into a huge valley and stayed at Lake Head Hut. It was such a beautiful night when I got there but bees covered the ground and kept me inside. Two of the people in the hut had been stung earlier and the bees are quite a problem in the area. Usually the huts are full of Europeans, mostly German, but this time it was different a different crowd with Australians and Kiwis. It was a nice bunch and one guy even gave me a new spork as mine had broke in half the first day I used it. This one didn’t last long either, maybe a week. 



I woke up early the next day to start the climb up the Cascade Track to Angelus Hut. It started with a gradual climb through the forest, where I occasionally got a view of a waterfall and the mountains I was about to climb. I kept expecting to see people but I was all alone on the trail and it was quite peaceful.  I broke above treeline and was astonished with the graceful mountains all around me. They reminded me a lot of Colorado mountains and made me feel somewhat at home even though I was half way around the world. 



The rest of the hike was straight up big boulders at first which turned into scree.  My calves and legs were on fire but I was loving every minute of it and the view kept getting a better. As I was climbing up I would see what I thought was the col and think I only had a couple more minutes but would reach that point to find more to climb.  I eventually made it to the top where Angelus Hut laid on the edge of Angelus Lake and more glorious mountains. The hut was completely full that night with 30 people from all over the world, even some people my age which I don’t normally see in the huts.  It was by far my favorite hut I had stayed in and the view really didn’t get much better.  



I had the best bed in the hut and woke up the next morning to turn over and look out the window to the lake reflecting the mountains above.  It was hard for me to climb out of my sleeping bag but I was motivated with the good weather and wanted to climb Mount Angelus in the distance. It was a short climb up to the top and was the highest I had been in New Zealand at 2075 meters (6807 feet). The view was amazing and a huge inversion made it feel like I was floating on a world of mountains.  It was absolutely stunning and a perfect way to start the day. 



The rest of the hike I was above treeline and had amazing view for miles of different mountain ranges, lakes and small farms in the distance.  I made my way along Roberts Ridge and decided to stay at Treeline Hut to make for a short hike the next day. It was a quiet night with a couple of Germans like usual, they are everywhere.  Everyone was in bed by 8 even before the sun went down but being a night owl I stayed up and finished my book I haven’t been able to put down ( “A Wind from a Distant Summit.” If you like mountaineering, bad ass women or crazy adventures you should most definitely read this book). 



I was sad to hike out of Nelson Lakes and wished I had more time to do the whole cirque that takes 7 days.  I guess it’s just another track to add to the list for next time. I continue to be amazed with New Zealand at its variety of environments. You drive one hour and you are in a completely different landscape.  In the matter of a week I saw rivers, lakes, dense forest, beaches, caves, waterfalls, glaciers, 12,218 feet mountain tops, alpine terrain and more.  How many places can offer all of that in a matter of 300 miles?  Not many and I am so fortunate to be seeing it all. 

GLOVO-

As my volunteer leader’s hat so simply states, “Be the Change.” During my time here in Greece, I was determined to live up to this mantra. In accordance with my GLI theme: Inequality, Justice and Injustice, and my topic of focus: Human Rights, I made extensive preparations a semester prior to work with ACTIONAID, Doctors without Borders, or Amnesty International. I was in constant email correspondence with these organizations, my university (DEREE: The American College of Greece), and some Greek friends to make this dream a reality. I kept thinking to myself what an opportunity this would be to work with any one of these prestigious, dedicated organizations while at the same time studying in Greece. However, when I arrived to Greece, not only was I over-whelmed by an entirely new atmosphere, but I also realized that being accepted as a volunteer at any of these organizations would not be an easy task, because I did not speak Greek and I was there on a Student Visa. It seemed that many volunteer organizations were cautious about accepting anyone with a Student Visa because they may be a liability to their organization (even though this was an un-paid position). Moreover, after speaking to personnel in Student Affairs, Career Services and the study Abroad Office, I realized that even if they were to accept me in the long run, I would not be able to pursue the kind of work I was passionate about. More than likely I would be stuck in an office taking care of administrative work.

Determined not to give up yet, I kept getting my voice out there-talking to administrators and students about what I wanted to accomplish, hoping to find a group with common interests to mine. I considered creating a new women’s club or society on campus to collaborate on women’s issues in Greece; however, an advisor warned against this because of the time required to approve a new club and the DEREE students’ lack of dedication to extracurricular, off-campus activities. Since that wasn’t a viable option, I then turned to the possibility of an on-campus internship, discovering soon after that all the internships were already taken. Luckily, in the end I did find my niche, or rather my niche found me. A week later a volunteer leader from an upwardly mobile organization called GLOVO recruited me to be a part of her group. GLOVO is an organization whose mission was to educate and help young people to develop the skills to make a meaningful impact on their society, and to educate them on how volunteerism can benefit both the society and the individual. In Greece, I found that most of the people I spoke to had a negative view of volunteerism, thinking that it made little difference to society and only served to prop up bad organizations that exploited volunteers to do their jobs for them. Contrary to the general consensus of the public, I found the work I did to be both rewarding and eye-opening, despite the pushback we received from many businesses or citizens who didn’t want us meddling in their affairs. During one of our events, we helped to pinpoint the few places in town that were accessible to persons with disabilities to increase awareness on this issue. Furthermore, in another event we helped to launch the opening of the Solidarity Now center in Athens-a center which aims to help those most affected by the financial crisis in Greece. With the opening of the center in Athens, now Greeks, immigrants and refugees can obtain legal services free of charge.

Since that day that GLOVO found me, I have not only felt welcomed and impassioned by this diverse group of people, but I have also felt like I found my home away from home. I was even invited to attend the GLOVO cruise, which rewarded us volunteers by cruising and volunteering around the Greek and Turkish islands. During my time in Greece, I felt so fortunate to be surrounded by a group of young, like-minded peers with such huge hearts. Each and every person had a different story as to how they came to GLOVO and incredible backgrounds to match. They were also so excited to teach me about the Greek culture, language and history, while also learning about mine. By volunteering with GLOVO I was able to make lifelong friends, and become exposed to opportunities I wouldn’t have ever dreamed were possible.

North and South

The idea of using Nicaragua as a location for a trans-oceanic canal has been around since the French made the first proposals in 1786. Since then, the Spanish, Danish, and the United States have all expressed interest in building a canal across the country. Since the United States abandoned its commission to build a canal in the early 1900’s, all other interest seemed to be brushed aside as well. Until now.

With the new century came new interest in the impoverished and easily exploited Central American country. In recent years, Chinese investors began looking into building a canal. Before long documents were signed, laws, were passed, and the idea of a canal was quickly becoming a reality for the Nicaraguan people. However, just as the country will be divided if or when the canal is actually built, Nicaraguan opinion on the channel is as opposite as north and south. Throughout my travels in Nicaragua, I have had the opportunity to meet with several organizations and talk with local individuals from varying backgrounds about their stance on the matter.

Coming into Nicaragua three weeks ago, I had a pre-formed bias on the canal from what I had learned about it while in the states. By my third day in the country, after having a conversation with my Spanish professor in San Juan del Sur, Lucia, I was already hearing new information and opinions that backed what I knew. My GLI focus being clean water, I was fascinated with what she had to say.

According to Lucia, most people in the coastal town can afford to buy purified drinking water and only use tap water for cleaning. However, the poor cannot and suffer from kidney problems as a result. The canal, which will come out a mere 11 km from San Juan if built, will endanger and add additional pollutants to the region’s water table. To counter this, extra chlorine will be put in the tap water. For the poor who drink the tap water, this will mean increased occurrence of kidney stones and renal diseases.

The next week in Managua my class met with a representative from the Humbolt Center at the University of Central America. The Center, which runs several environmental projects throughout Nicaragua, has been studying the potential impacts of the canal since 2013. It was during this meeting that I learned the depth of the environmental and social injustices that have been and will be inflicted as a result of the canal.

For starters, in regards to social injustice, every Nicaraguan has had their constitutional rights exploited by the signing of the concession document which gave China the right to build the canal. The document was passed into law, law 840, over the period of seven days (most laws take between two and three years to be passed in Nicaragua) without consulting the people in any way. One of its clauses states that any new law passed against the canal will be overturned, which basically places law 840 above the constitution. On top of being constitutionally exploited, those living in the direct path of the canal will be the recipients of additional injustices. They will be forced from their homes with minor compensation for their land and  property. (A mere 300-500 cordobas a hectare or about $4.50-$7.50 an acre). Also, as of right now, the government has no plan for the relocation of people displaced by the canal.

To top off the wrongs being committed to Nicaraguans by their leaders, when made public the 200+ page concession document was only printed in English. A vast majority of the Nicaraguan people speak and read only Spanish, leaving them unaware of the realities of the future canal. Unable to do their own research, they are left vulnerable to the press, which releases only what they government wants people to hear. They believe the rumors that the canal will produce jobs and increase economic growth. As for the latter, perhaps the economy will grow. But it is likely any introduced commerce will be in the form of foreign investment and tourism, both of which only take away from the cultural integrity of a people. Regarding jobs, the belief that the canal project will raise the poor out of poverty by creating thousands of jobs is completely and utterly false. China has announced it will only be hiring Asian workers and, unlike Panama who gained complete control and benefit of its canal after 100 years, the Nicaraguan canal will indefinitely belong to China.

When it comes to the environment, the injustices begin to multiply. While studies performed by the Nicaraguan and Chinese governments insist the canal will not cause any extensive damage, the Humbolt Center believes differently. Starting at the most basic level, the proposed canal will be a 278 km trench dug across an entire country. It will divide the country into a north Nicaragua and a south, creating a physical barrier for both people and animals. Families will be separated from their loved ones and employees from their employers. And while the government’s scientists insist animals will be able to swim across the canal, this is simply not feasible. With the building of the canal, one of the largest animal corridors in the world which stretches from Panama to southern Mexico, will be cut in half.

Just as all people were exploited in the passing of law 840, all regions of Nicaragua will be degraded in the building of the canal. The canal will go through the rainforest of the east, Lake Nicaragua, and the lowlands of the west. In addition to the land being dug up to build the canal, there will be an impact zone stretching several dozen kilometers on either side of the canal for its entire zone which will be subject to erosion, deforestation, and pollution resulting from the building, operation of , and any new infrastructure related to the canal. A lake will be made to feed water to the canal’s system of locks which will flood a massive portion of eastern Nicaragua and displace an enormous number of families from their homes. When it comes to building the canal, Nicaragua has given China the right to any resources within in the country that they may need.  They have given them the right to access all lakes, rivers, and seas within and around the country as well as complete control over the land, sea, and air associated with building the canal. To sum matters up, Nicaragua no longer owns its natural resources, China does. And while the government would like people to believe otherwise, you can’t dig a trench across a country without inflicting serious environmental damage.

Many Nicaraguans views on the canal fall in line with that of the Humbolt Center. They fear for the environmental health of their country and see through the government’s lies related to the creation of jobs. Nevertheless, many Nicaraguans share an opposite viewpoint. They believe the canal is harmless and that it is the solution to all the countries economic problems. We spoke with one women who owned an eco-lodge in the Solentiname Islands who firmly believed the canal would make Nicaragua prosper. She informed our group that a company  independent of the government had come in and done a study of Lake Nicaragua, her island’s host lake, and concluded that the lake would not see any environmental impacts. Personally, I find this hard to believe as the canal will introduce both salt water pollution and chemical/gas pollution from the passage of ships. Seeing as the lake is home to a unique species of freshwater sharks, this could be a very serious threat indeed. However, her economic argument had more validity. Following the proposed canal have come the proposals for several resorts and the prediction of a significant increase in tourism. While it’s true that this will create many new jobs, it won’t necessarily eliminate poverty completely.

The proposed canal has divided the Nicaraguan people. Nicaraguans are either for it or against it. They either believe it will harm the environment or it won’t. They think it will revolutionize the economy or ruin it. Maybe the canal will be a God send to the people. Or maybe they are about to lose all but their sovereignty to a foreign nation. Maybe the environment will see minimal damage, or maybe, as seen time and time again when humankind  tries to alter nature, they are only setting themselves up for disaster. Unfortunately its situations like these where all you can do is watch and wait and hope that somehow, through all these injustices and divisions and perhaps also by spreading information as I have just done, people are brought together to experience a more just future.

Lessons of Culture Shock

When you imagine your study abroad experience unfolding, you never imagine the drawbacks, the low points…you never imagine that culture shock will happen to you. I am here to tell you that you’re wrong. Listen to Professor Udo Fluck in the Pre-Departure Seminar course, because you will probably go through just about every stage of the Cultural Adjustment curve… Because, if you don’t, you should probably wonder what went wrong.

The first month I was in Greece, I sank into a very dark place. About $400 was stolen from my gym locker, I left a brand new LG Android phone in a taxi, and I was feeling very degraded as a woman, constantly being harassed as I walked to school. Not to mention the fact that every time I went to Carrefour (the grocery store down the block) I was left in an annoying state of perplexity, unable to ask the employees for help to find that jar of peanut butter that I desperately NEEDED. It seemed my only friend in this situation was google translate. At one point, all I wanted was to book the next flight home to Missoula. I felt that in Missoula I would be safe. I could avoid all these potentially threatening situations and no one could take anything more from me. I also felt that I didn’t deserve this opportunity, nor the unconditional love I was shown by my parents. I went to bed every night filled with mindless regret; wondering what life-changing opportunity I could have used that money to finance; or, what quality pictures I could have taken with my fancy new phone. I tried to cut down on money for food, and wouldn’t let myself do anything I considered ‘fun’ for the next month or so.

After considerable time, it began to dawn on me, after the consolation from my parents, new friends, and support circle in Greece. These were all things that I had lost, and I could get them all back if I wanted. However, what I could not get back is the time and memories I was wasting in a country that I may never return to, with friends that I may never see again. I needed to cut myself a break and think pragmatically. When I returned to Montana, I would simply work that much harder to earn the money I had lost and I would live at home to cut down on spending. Beyond that, I had to take a hard look at my values. Anas told me something one day. He said that, “there will be times in your life where you may have nothing, and there will be times in your life where you may have everything. Don’t worry about the times you have nothing, because the point is that you will never truly have nothing in life. It’s all about perspective.” Not only was I letting my mistakes define me, but I was also letting temporary, material things come in the way of experiences and friends that might last a lifetime. I realized a valuable life lesson that day-one that will stay with me for a lifetime. Money and material items are temporary entities that come in the way of happiness. And furthermore, the obstacles I will inevitably encounter in another culture are a good thing. Culture shock sets off an internal transformation of sorts which forced me to realize the value and emptiness of money, and establish faith in my own unconditional worth and ability to persevere.