How to dance like an Omani

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On one of my favorite nights in Oman, my friend Ashraf (right) and Saleh took me out to watch an American movie at the mall, car dance to Spanish music videos and then sing old Arabic songs on top of a mountain that overlooked our city, Muscat.

It was just after 7 p.m. I knew the call to prayer had sounded but I couldn’t hear it over Ashraf’s salsa music.

With his left hand on the steering wheel he used his right to filter through music videos on his iPad. I was worried his eyes took in dance steps more than the road.

“Ashraf, watch the road,” I said between nervous laughter.

He paused only to dance or swerve through traffic.

“Katheryn,” he said patiently, “you are in my country, I’ll keep you safe and still drive like an Omani.”

From the highway I could see the lit dome of the Grand Mosque. I was taken by the irony.

Just a few weeks ago I had walked within the Mosque’s walls, my hair covered beneath a hijab, my bare feet hot on the sun-exposed marble floors.

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The courts at Sultan Kaboos Grand Mosque

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Inside a prayer room.

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I rarely felt the need to wear hijab, but when in a mosque or a smaller community I always covered up. And to be honest, for short amounts of time it was nice. I felt like I dressed for myself and not those around me.

I Now I sat in the back of my friend’s car, a shawl hiding my black dress as we sped to my first salsa class, which happened to be in an Islamic nation returning to normality after Ramadan.

An hour later a man in traditional Omani clothing bought me a shot of “sex on the beach” and the irony felt overwhelming.

Even now, I feel uncomfortable admitting I accepted that drink. I know some of my Omani friends reading this would never have entered “the club”. In Muscat international hotels play the role of bar, and young Omanis blend in with a mix of Europeans and other East Asians.

To a few of my friends who described me as “not the average American” – meaning I’m not a daily partier and wont date a man that doesn’t get the okay from my parents – that moment might contradict who they think I am.

My personal conflict of whether or not I should write this post is a side effect of my own entanglement with the cultural shift in Oman.

When I left Montana to live abroad for the summer I thought it was a temporary goodbye to my new love of dance. I wasn’t aware the country I was about to live in had a stronger beat then most of Missoula.

My friend Fahm moved around me as I tried to follow.

“Katheryn, I am the man and you are the woman,” Fahm said. “You are supposed to shine. But instead, I am shinning.”

I stopped dancing and jokingly glared at him. “Well, maybe I don’t know how to shine like you.”

It was true. My hips swayed like a dysfunctional robot.

He replied simply and sweetly, “It’s okay Katheryn. I will teach you how to shine.”

He tried. I failed.

Though my friends seemed more comfortable in the atmosphere of the club than I was, it wasn’t due to drinking, since every Omani person I had came with were followers of Islam. I took a break and watched them in their element – Movements felt more passionate, clear without the blur of alcohol.

Dancing wasn’t just exclusive to this mixed niche of foreigners and vibrant Omanis.

I danced Bedouin-style with new gracious friends in my small Omani apartment. We only took a break to have the last meal of the night before another day of Ramadan began and they returned to fast. (A video will be posted in the near future)

I danced crammed in a car with eight Omani women when a beloved song came on the radio. Their wrists flicking to the beat and their heads swaying in a somehow perfect way I couldn’t imitate, much to their amusement.

I danced in a village with an Omani family over Eid when a woman asked me to teach them “American dance” while an Arabic version of MTV was on. The men had left and the woman ran to lock the door. Before I understood my role, she impatiently repeated, “American dance Katheryn! American dance!”

I initially tried swing dance but soon found out they were looking for a toned-down version of grinding. She tried to do the same, allowing her hair covering drop to her shoulders. There was a knock on the door. We covered ourselves and let the men back in the room, suppressing smiles.

I danced alongside two young girls at a backyard tent wedding in front of over 100 people as one of two white people in the room. The crowd of women let out short yells as I failed to mirror their Omani dance, the shy bride smiled. I never saw the groom. Omani weddings are segregated.

The juxtaposition of old and new is apart of this country I may never get use to but I will always love. Thank you for the dance, Oman.

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My new dancing friends in a small village dressed me in a traditional Omani outfit after I taught them “American dance”.

 

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Little boys peer out from the wedding tent at the white stranger outside. When I first took this photo I didn’t realize they were there. My friends and I showed up 30 minutes early for the Omani wedding – we were the first to arrive and waited another three hours for the bride to walk down the aisle in true Omani time.

Also, follow my travels at katherynhoughton@wordpress.com or check out my Twitter, @UMHoughton

 

Traveling

The year draws to a close.

Honestly, I didn’t do nearly as many blog posts as I thought I would, but that’s the way life goes. If there is anything in particular anyone would like to hear about, let me know. Otherwise, this will be the last post in this blog.

For the last post, I’d like to talk about the difference between a traveler and a tourist. (For clarification, a traveller meaning one who travels and not a member of the traveling community)

It’s important to note that, when it comes to being a tourist or a traveler, neither is superior to the other, they’re just different. In fact, I think it can even be considered a skill to know which you are while on your journey. After all, nothing is more annoying than a tourist who thinks they’re a traveler.

But let me elaborate with an anecdote about castles.

Before we came to Ireland, all I wanted to see was a castle so I could stand atop it and survey my kingdom. The first castle we went to was Blackrock, but it had been converted into a science museum so it hardly counts. Thus, the first real castle I saw was Blarney Castle.

Blarney is a really easy and fun place to be a tourist. Not only can you kiss the famous stone in order to receive the gift of gab, but you can also tour the massive grounds with almost all of the flora and fauna Ireland has to offer. It really is a mini-Ireland.

When I went to Blarney, I was so excited to finally see a castle. I took an absurd amount of photos and touched everything I could. I was a tourist and I was having fun.

Here’s one of the photos of Blarney from the inside:

I know, it’s awesome.

However, looking back on it, I realize that seeing a castle wasn’t what this journey was all about, and even though I loved Blarney, my favorite photos are these: 

And frankly, you could crop out the castle and I’d still love the the photos.

When you’re touring, it matters where you go and that people know you were there. The post cards you bring home and the souvenirs you give to your friends matter. And that’s an important part of the journey. But I think when you’re traveling, truly traveling, it doesn’t matter so much where you are or where you’re going, it doesn’t matter if it’s the same or the opposite from home, or how long the plane ride was. Traveling introduces you to people. Traveling reminds you of the people you miss and why you miss them. Traveling makes you feel small in the best way possible. It’s a big world after all, and yet we can still all be so connected. 

So, as I pack my bags and clean the apartment until I almost forget we lived here, I really don’t think back on the castle so much. Because it was never the castle that matter the most. And in the future I hope to tour Europe and South America and, frankly, the world, but I will always take time to travel. Like traveling to a coffee shop just to get to know the waiter, or traveling to a new school just to get to know the students, or traveling back home to get to know my family better. 

There will always be pictures of castles and buildings and oceans, but they will never matter as much as the experiences which can’t be put into words. Maybe there’s a reason there aren’t words for everything. Maybe it’s meant to encourage us all to travel, if only down the road.

So I saw goodbye to this journey in Ireland. We’ll be back, of course, but it will never be the same. We’re coming home, but we’re coming home changed.

We’re coming home travelers.

See you soon, America. 

sittin’ on a chair at the terminal, wasting time

wheeeew! these past few days have been a chaotic cluster of packing, and rushing around, but finally I’m laid back in LAX waiting to board the final flight to Aukland. I’ll be in New zealand for the next five and a half months participating in Hecua’s program: New Zealand Culture and the Environment: A Shared Future. upon arrival in Aukland i’ll join 14 fellow students traveling from Auckland to Wellington over five weeks. We will stay with different communities where we will learn about and discuss the history of New Zealand’s national identity and culture, and how that ties into sustainability and place. In Wellington internship with a l seven weeks I will also be working on an independent project over the course of the semester on a topic of my choice (likely something to do with community engagement and ecological restoration in an urban setting, I’m not sure yet.) Im exited to experience the great people, places, and challenges this semester holds for me, and to keep you (whoever ya are,) updated. But for now I’m just sittin’ on a chair in the terminal.

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The Elephant’s Parade // Elephant Head Lousewort

We camped at Big River Meadow, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We were assigned to do a plant study; choose a plant to sit with and observe for 1 hour, create a name for it and a creative component and then come back and use the plant ID books to identify the specimen. 

I sat down with, what I named, THE ELEPHANT’S PARADE.

  • LOCATION:
    • still flowering near the creak (Big River Meadow Creek)
    • growing out of wet moss and mud
    • flower buds have closed and seed buds beginning to develop in the marshy areas away from the creek, and more abundant in these areas, it seems
    • the specimen seems to prefer wet and sunny areas and is found with other plants that seem to like the same soil types. The other plants found alongside this one are all relatively the same height, besides the low lying mossy and marshy plants my specific specimen seem to spring up from.
    • found in the mountain meadow (6,000 ft)
    • I do not recognize this plant from the areas we have been, and does not seem to grow in the surrounding forested and shady areas or surrounding hills and mountains
  • PHYSICAL OBSERVATIONS:
    • hardy root system- when I pulled the root out, it wouldn’t come up easily
      • gnarly looking bulbous root system, white and black
      • leaves and stalk come directly out of bulbous root
      • 1 flower stalk and approx 15 fern like leaves
    • Leaf
      • purple around edges, rest green
      • serrated edges
      • fern-like
      • does not lay flat-whorled around stalk and alternating
    • Stem
      • ranging from 5” to 12” tall
      • uneven leaf growth, all the way up the stem, getting smaller and smaller as you go up the stem and leading into the flower buds then the flowers and then the seed heads
      • it seems that the younger plant has a redder stem and as the plant flowers and makes seeds the stem becomes more green
      • alternating buds and flowers
      • flower buds poke out of leave nodules (green and purple)
      • end of stem is tuberous- might be tasty for an ungulate to eat
    • Flower
      • light floral scent
      • looks like a purple elephant
      • shades of purple
  • SPECULATIONS ABOUT THE PLANT:
    • needs an abundance of water
      • leaves aren’t grown in a way that concentrate water flow
    • needs lots of sunlight
      • leaves aren’t grown in a way to max sunlight so needs a lot of sun
      • the tuberous stalk and roots makes me think it is good to eat for ungulates
    • flowers allow for only specific pollinators (a certain type of bee)
    • bright purple attracts pollinators
    • bulb allows plant to overwinter (perennials)

 

So, I took my observations to the books and discovered my lovely little flower was a Elephant Head Lousewort (pedicularis groenlandica). This guy can become a weed in hay fields, and like I speculated it is eaten by ungulates, specifically elk. And a specific bee will pollinate the Elephant Head Lousewort. This flowering plant is a perennial, partially parasitic on the roots of other plants, grows in alpine meadows. The roots can be eaten in moderation, but only depending on its host. If the host is poisonous, then the ElephantHead can become poisonous too. If eaten the roots can be used as a sedative for children and a tranquilizer for adults, but it is not recommended to eat this plant. The Elephant Head Lousewort is part of the figwort family. Many figworts are ornamental, but not this one because of its parasitic tendency’s.  

 

 

 

Sunburst Lake

Writing an essay while watching lightning background dancers

The clouds finally cleared above the lake, after intermittent thunderstorms had drenched our tents. I was huddled underneath the tarp with some of my fellow students. We were finishing our essays, and the time was just before midnight. I needed a break, so I walked 100ft to the edge of the black waters lapping against the shore. Clouds surrounded the high mountain peaks that dipped their toes into the shallow waters of the small snow-melt fed lake.

I turned my nose to the stars. They were bright and twinkling. A bright flash across the sky, a shooting star, burned in my vision. I yelled at the guys, finishing up their essays, to come check it out. Every 10-20seconds, fainter and brighter streaks blasted across the sky, and we remembered that while in the front country the store clerk informed us of the meteor shower occurring this week. All around the mountains that stood like sentinels around this lake gem, dark clouds lit up with flashes of lightning. Thunder rolled, and the contours of the large, ominous and black clouds would be briefly visible. We had a sweet view of the meteor shower, with the lightning background dancers, and the thunderous applause.

The prompt for the essay we were writing was, “What would a sustainable future look like?” Sunburst Lake fed me inspiration to write my essay, I pulled quotes and ideas from the readings we were given. Our instructors had given us a two-inch spiral bound “reader” at the beginning of the two week course. I lugged this thick binder of resources across streams, over logs, up and down mountains, through flowering meadows and finally to this beautiful lake.

Here are some excerpts from the essay written underneath a meteor shower, beside an alpine lake:

“Individuals’ choices and actions will define a foundation for a sustainable future. As individuals begin to realize the flaws that surround, and are braided through our consumer based culture, conscious actions will be made to cut our first-world carbon footprints. I believe that human innovation and creativity will lead the way towards localizing our economies. Through localizing our economies, individuals, young families, entrepreneurs and small business owners will be able to develop a relationship with the place they live. Through their pride of being part of a community that works together and towards a goal for the greater good, they will be called to action to support a global agreement about what the world should do about climate change. This will be a call for consistency in the people of the United States’ morals, and to extend the benefits of cutting carbon emissions to other peoples.

In the United States consumer based culture, where economic growth is prioritized, we as individuals are not happy. As concluded by Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy, economic growth leads to inequality and insecurity. The growth that has been fed by the American public since WWII has never stopped and hasn’t led to any necessarily significant increase in happiness. Although happiness may be considered irrelevant in the climate crisis, I think it is very relevant.
Happiness is relevant to a sustainable future. If individuals are going to make a significant effort to change their day to day lives to live a more sustainable life, happiness and satisfaction must be apparent. According to McKibben, 20% of Americans are flourishing and content, 25% are languishing and the rest are somewhere in between. Thus, I can conclude that the United States pursuit of growthmanship after WWII did succeed in making us wealthier, but we aren’t at all anymore happier. McKibben does say, “Up to a certain point, more really does equal better,” but the amount of riches we have accumulated have well surpassed the amount to maximize our happiness….

(Skipping some paragraphs about some stuff…)

…Society’s one hope for future and long lasting happiness is climate change. Climate change offers a challenge for people to look at their lifestyles, and to really gage how successful their pursuit at happiness is. It is well known the climate change is a man caused phenomenon. Consequently, our carbon-soaked-behaviors are what have led to altering the Earth so drastically that ecosystems are shifting, species are going extinct, sea-levels are rising and ice caps are melting. We are doing something totally wrong here, and our current method of pursuing happiness is drenched in carbon emissions and really not making us, as a society and as individuals, happy. So, as climate change threatens our hope at future and long lasting happiness, and climate change is man caused, we are forced to reevaluate our behavior and to make significant changes…

(Skipping to a section in the conclusion…)

….A sustainable future cannot come from anywhere but the heart. The American vision is the pursuit of happiness, and the continued happiness for future generations. If individuals begin to make conscious efforts to lower their carbon footprints, creativity will be sparked, because we will have to develop new ways of doing things. And as a result of people getting their creative juices flowing, they will begin to actualize their own potential, which will allow happiness to flourish.”

Alaska's Misty Mountains

Saturday, June 28th (All aboard the ferry to Wrangell, AK with kayaks in tow)

We were tasked with interviewing another passenger aboard the vessel. I headed straight towards the old woman underneath the stairs with the bright yellow umbrella, blowing bubbles.

Her name was Carla, a Washington native. She told me she has lived a simple life. She told me how she has always surrounded herself with family, and this is key to fulfillment in life. She grew up with several brothers, raised two daughters, and one grandson. She was a nanny for twenty years and has seen many children grow into young adults.

As we look out on the ocean, she points to a humpback whale breaching on the horizon. We stare in wonder, and she remarks that the beautiful places she has lived have also been a huge contributing factor in her happy and simple life. I can only imagine what other beauties I will find in Alaska as I kayak around Wrangell Island. The mountains that surround either side of the ferry are coated with white, wispy clouds that hide the tops of cascading waterfalls from view and it is hard to imagine anything more beautiful than this.

Carla grew up in western Washington. Commenting on youth’s obsession with playing with cellphones and wasting the hours of the day on the computer, when she was young she’d be on the beach gooey-ducking and enjoying gooey-duck chowder with her brothers. Carla also spent most of her adult years in eastern Washington, right near where I grew up in Spokane. This was where Carla raised her daughters. Now she resides on the west coast, helping her daughter raise her son.

Carla was en route to Prince of Wales Island to see her brother. George, her brother, as she described him, is an old man, a poacher and a wino, who lives off the grid.

Words of wisdom spouted from Carla’s mouth and I drank them in like wine. She told me, simply, that people are most happy doing what they do best and what they love. Carla, in her youth and as an elder,  was born to be matron and loved rearing the young ones to be the best they can. George, on the other hand, was a master poacher, elite moon shiner, and has no criminal record.

We shook hands. As my cold and clammy hand met her warm and wrinkled hand, she remarked, “Cold hands mean a warm and kind heart.”

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Last few weeks in Toronto

Some of the nicest people I’ve met have been strangers I bump into on the public transit system. 

One evening around midnight, when I was simply riding a bus in order to have a place to read, the bus driver noticed I didn’t get off at the last stop.

“Miss your stop?” he asked.
“Uh, kinda.
“Which one?”
“Mississauga Road,” I said. He raised his eyebrows at me. It was the stop I initially got on on the bus, and somehow he remembered. “Well, I’m actually just riding in order to read a book, if you don’t mind.”
“Nah,” he said, and I turned around to go sit back down. Before I got to my seat, he shouted back, “What book?”
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence.”
“Oh, I have that one!”
“Really? A lot of it is about this place I’m from, Montana.”

I spend the next hour of that ride talking to the driver. He was a chef, and used to travel across the world. He told me about his struggles starting out as a kid with no experience in the kitchen, and then, like ever other successful person, got a lucky break solely cracking eggs for a good restaurant. When that part of his life was done, he went to law school, and defended criminals in court. To get by in school, he took up bus driving at night, and kept doing it ever since. The pay was good, and it was peaceful.

Everyone I worked with in the lab were so friendly, too. I never minded leaving work late, and I often tried try assist other people with their lab work in order to get to know their research and them as a person. The casualness of talking to someone while pippetting, I’ve found, is akin to talking to someone over coffee. It’s an easy, monotonous act that just begs for conversation, and I’ve made many friends while putting tiny drops of liquid into other tiny drops. It’s a funny thing.

Last weekend, I caught the last train back from the Canadian National Exhibit, I didn’t realize that I had just missed my last bus home. Four other kids my age, along with an older Pakistani man, missed the bus as well, and somehow we all split the cost of a cab and just laughed it off. I couldn’t think of a better way to end the night than having met those folks. 

As I write this, I’m on my last plane back home to Missoula. Today I turn 20, and though I’ve learned so much over the summer, I still can’t feel justified leaving my teenage years. The more I learn, the more I feel like I don’t know anything. I’m so privileged to have been able to learn from everyone at the University of Toronto – Mississauga this summer, and to have ended up with such a great group of people. I owe everything to the people who have helped me in my life, because if everyone had the same opportunities given to them, my story would be nothing special.

As with any place you travel in life, it’s the people that make it. For all the brief strangers that helped me find my way in a large city, that spent their time with me, that helped me be in Toronto this summer at all, I am eternally grateful. I would have never been able to do this by myself, and I’ll never have such a great opportunity again. Thank you.

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WorldPride 2014 in Toronto

I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a happy accident.
 
A month before I left for Toronto, I was playing softball with the fine folks in UM’s physics department. While sharing my summer plans, one of them interjected.
  
“Toronto? That’s where World Pride is being held this year!”
  
I couldn’t believe it. World Pride, the largest celebration of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people has only occurred four times in history: in Rome (2000), in (2006), in London (2012), and this year in Toronto. LGBTQ rights are very close to my heart, and I was shocked to find that two million people would soon flock the streets of Toronto in rainbows and glitter.
  
The first event I went to was a skit performed by a group of young actors depicting he hardships of being a young LGBTQ person. It took place at Toronto’s famous Buddies in Bad Times, a bar and theatre that have been around for thirty years (unheard of for a bar! Most close before they’re a decade old. This alone shows the importance of Buddies in its community). It was a fantastic show. The struggles of a transgender girl whose parents insist she dress like a boy, the friction between a daughter and her father when he left their family for a man, and the confusions of lesbians who like to dress rougher and boys who like to wear lace were all depicted fantastically.  It was easily one of my favorite parts of Pride. 
 
And all that before opening ceremony.
  
To start the ten-day celebration, Toronto brought in Melissa Etheridge, famous among the older crowd for being an iconic rock artist of the early nineties and a proud supporter of LGBTQ rights. She led a fantastic concert, ending the night with the biggest firework and laser show I had ever seen. Throughout the week there were many smaller events that I couldn’t make because of my work in the lab: a dyke march, a transgender march, a vigil for those who have suffered from AIDS, and  a conference held by the Human Rights Council (check???).  However I wasn’t too down about not attending those, because the real party was the last weekend.
 
It was the biggest crowd of people if ever swam through. Church Street, famous for having the highest concentration of gay bars in the city, was closed down during the entire celebration. Drag performances, where men become their prettiest and their hair becomes the biggest, were happening on stages all along Church no matter what time of day. The first performance I saw had not only good music and a beautiful costume, but the performer also threw in fire breathing. Many others included a performance themed after the popular fantasy series A Game of Thrones, multiple performances to the song I Feel Like A Woman, and even a performance where the dance was a traditional Indian dance. I’ve seen so few drag performances that I was amazed when I saw one based in a difference culture!
  
On the last day they closed down Yonge street, the most famous street in Canada and the heart of Toronto’s downtown, and held the World Pride Parade. This is when everyone brought every rainbow coloured object they owned and danced in the streets. It was a hot day, and everyone got hit with water guns from the passing floats. Kids were on the sides of the streets selling rainbow flags and pre-cut mangos. I eventually climbed on top of a bike rack to get the best pictures I could. I must have watched the parade for three hours and still didn’t see the end of it.
 
The night ended with a concert by Canada’s most famous lesbians, Tegan and Sara. They reminded the crowd that in Canada, and soon the rest of the world, it’s okay to be gay.

“Hey, look! An American Penny!”

Today at the site I finished up the NW quad I was working on yesterday. I uncovered the majority of what looks to be some sort of saw in that quad and have started on the NE quad, which contains the rest of the tool. I took my first soil sample, which will later be floated. My fear came true…I didn’t recognize the next floor layer when I got to it. Luckily, I had a good amount of PPT’s on the beginning of the next floor so I stopped excavating. No harm was done and I accidentally did exactly what we’re suppose to do, so it all worked out. Just glad someone else caught it! All in all today’s work at the site went well. I made sure to put my sunblock on and wore a shirt that kept the existing burn mostly covered. It helped that we had a nice breeze today and a few more clouds!

We left the site an hour early today because we were having a number of people from the community over for dinner. After we got all the artifacts checked in, I got a shower! It may sound silly to be so excited for a shower, but when you get that much dirt on you and you’re on a shower rotation it’s pretty exciting! Around 5:30 people started showing up. One man as he was coming up the steps of the house says “hey, look! An American penny!” It made me laugh for a couple of reasons. One, because I react the exact same way when I find a Canadian penny; Two, because it’s still strange to think I’m in a different country (It doesn’t feel like it most of the time), and Three, I have never heard anyone say that before. It definitely put a smile on my face! Carl, the spiritual leader said a blessing before the meal in both the native language and in English. After we all enjoyed a meal of beef stroganoff, roasted veggies, salad, and rolls as well as homemade cookies for dessert, Carl started a session of drumming and singing. This was my favorite part of the evening! After he finished the first song, he says “better get you’re umbrellas out, it’s gonna rain now!” The drum was passed around to a few of the elders, and others explained the dances that go along with the songs. Two of them everyone stood for, I’m not exactly sure why but that’s the etiquette. One that we stood for was a victory song. Others we heard included, both the male and female rain songs, the huckleberry song, wind, goodbye, as well as other unidentified ones. My favorites were the children’s songs. One was something along the lines of “what does the wolf say? hoooowwwwllll! what does the owl say? who, who!” and so on. everyone who knew the song got really into it and it was so much fun to see!

I really enjoyed seeing 3+ generations singing these songs, and just how strong they keep their culture and passing down the traditional language, songs, dance and so on. It was a really beautiful experience.

**I blogged regularly during the field school on a separate blog. I will be posting three of them on this one, but if anyone is interested in reading some more click here **

Last Stretch

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I am on the last stretch of my adventure in Finland. At the moment I am sitting at the airport getting ready to leave in a few hours. Over the past few weeks I have been taking my terrestrial field course. In the course I learned how to catch and ID ground and flying invertebrates, as well as small animals. I also learned how to ID different bird species. There were close to five different traps for the insects and about three different ways to track or ID bird and mammal species. Besides studying, I got to go on a bunch of hikes around the Oulanka Research Station. During these hikes I got to see a Finnish beach, the Russian border, and beautiful scenery. I also saw a ton of reindeer on this past trip. They were everywhere and really cute. I learned that the Finnish Santa doesn’t fly with his reindeer, they just sled. Speaking of sleds, on one of the hikes I went on I was shown a type of sled that students often take in the winter time to get to school. Even though I really enjoyed this study abroad and would definitely do it again, I am ready to go home and see my family and get ready for classes on Monday.