Exploring Montana’s Own Backyard

Global Theme

Being a student in the Biology and Environmental Studies departments at UM, it only seemed natural for me to declare my Global Theme in Natural Resources and Sustainability. I have always had a keen interest in promoting green energy and more sustainable lifestyles. Little did I know that there was so much of a push for these interests in my own backyard. My out-of-the-classroom experience allowed me the opportunity to learn about these movements happening throughout Montana and gave me real-life experiences in the environmental sector to jump start me towards a career.

My Experience

My experience was not like most. I did not travel to exotic lands in a different continent, I did not enroll at a foreign university, and I did not exchange my dollar bills for another currency. In fact, I didn’t even leave my time zone. However, that does not mean I wasn’t exposed to new people from different places, cultures different than my own, unique languages, or academic challenges. My experience was rather unique. I chose to not leave the state of Montana. Instead, I delved deep into environmental issues that affect my daily life. I learned about my neighbors experiencing social and cultural injustices. And I learned about myself and my own beliefs and values.

My journey started in Missoula. A group of ten students, perfect strangers, gathered in the office of The Wild Rockies Field Institute (WRFI). Little did I know that these ten strangers would be my family for the next three months. We nervously sifted through our backpacking gear, anxious about what would happen next. Looking back now, I had nothing to fear; what awaited me was the experience of a lifetime. But in the moment, I was terrified. All I knew then was that I was about to leave behind my warm bed, friends and family, and indoor plumbing for a more natural and humbling experience. And that is exactly what I received, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The program consisted of four sections. We spent the first nine days backpacking through the Scapegoat Wilderness. Section Two included a nine-day kayak float down the Missouri River, Section Three had a week-long backpack in the Big Snowies, and Section Four concluded our journey with a five-day kayak trip on the Tongue River in Eastern Montana. These wilderness experiences were beautiful, organic, and challenging—both physically and mentally. They were truly wild. Being able to spend time in such natural and unpopulated spaces really bore a connection between me and the place I was exploring and yearning to protect.

While these sections of my WRFI course were beyond valuable and extraordinary, they were not the most memorable or impactful parts of my experience. It was everything that happened in between these backcountry outings that really stuck with me. The conversations with environmental professionals, the historical site visits, and the relationships we formed with town locals as we traversed the state are what constituted this WRFI experience. Everything that I thought of as “off-periods” during these few months, ended up being the bulk of my education.

One of the most important lessons I learned is that there is diversity everywhere you go. I thought I knew Montana since I had gone to school here for three years, but I was proven to be extremely wrong. The diversity of cultures that exist just within one state blew me away. I was fortunate enough to meet with members representing more than six Native American tribes and learn about each of their values, traditions, spiritual beliefs, politics, and languages.I learned that there are always two sides (if not more) to a story or a controversy and how important it is for all sides to be heard. But most importantly, I learned to always question my own beliefs. By testing and examining my own belief system, I can objectively see if something I think is just, or if I simply believe that due to my own culture and upbringing. Being exposed to different cultures’ challenges and struggles existing only hours away from Missoula heightened my awareness towards my own prejudices and social and environmental injustices that exist in my home. If nothing else, I learned to look outside my own culture and personal bubble for neighbors and friends that might need help advocating against a dominant opinion.

Along the way we met with artists, authors, politicians, tribal elders, environmental and industrial professionals, and everyday town people. We read philosophical, scientific, political, and cultural pieces. We learned about the U.S. as it is, and how it could be. We pushed ourselves socially, mentally, physically, and academically. And with all of this combined, I walked away from my WRFI experience as a better leader. I learned how to quickly adapt to a new group. It was very obvious that we underwent Tuckman’s stages of group development, but being able to recognize that and roll with the punches without quitting or detaching helped make me a stronger, more level-headed leader among my peers. I also learned how to better associate with people I don’t particularly like. And I learned when it is important to advocate for my beliefs and when it is important to bite my tongue. Overall, I became a better leader because I was better able to understand the needs of a group sometimes trump my individual needs. I became selfless, flexible, and understanding of others’; I gained compassion for others which is something I desperately lacked as a leader going in to this experience.

Not only did WRFI provide me a unique outdoor experience, I always gained invaluable leadership skills and relationships with people across Montana. I might not have traveled across the globe, but I was able to have intimate experiences and gain deep insight in a place that means so much to me and where I will be able to continue to apply my knowledge and experience for years to come in the field of environmental sustainability.  

Studying abroad in the world’s most livable city

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From 2011 to 2017 Melbourne was named most livable city in the world by The Economist. This stand out city, among other top dogs like Vienna, Vancouver and Toronto, is set on the southeast coast of the Australian state Victoria. Victoria, although a smaller state, is well known for its beautiful coastline, mountains, seasonality and, especially, Melbourne. Having now lived in this hip, coastal city for five months, there are three things that really stand out to me as the city’s top brags: art, food and people.

 

Art

The art scene Melbourne is unlike anywhere else in Australia. Dubbed the culture capital of Australia the streets are filled with informal art galleries. No matter where you go in the central business district and surrounding neighborhoods your eyes are flooded with street art, some commissioned, some done freely. With everything from portraits of Hollywood stars to more traditional graffiti script, there is something for everyone in Melbourne’s ever expanding laneways.

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Food

          A literal melting pot of cultures, it only takes a few blocks to discover why finding food is not a problem, but what to eat is. Since 40% of Melbourne’s population is from overseas, everything from authentic Chinese dumplings to traditional Greek gyros is a regular find in the city.You also won’t find too many Starbucks in Melbourne and that’s because Melbournians know good coffee. Trust me, you and your coffee addiction won’t get too far without being taunted by the delicious smells that fill the streets of downtown.

 

People

Much like any other destination, the locals can make or break how enjoyable the place was. Being from Chicago I’m used to midwestern hospitality and “over-niceness” and, much to my surprise, Melbourne was no different. There is a certain level of community that is hard to come across is other big cities. The diverse cultures of its 4.8 million inhabitants makes it so there is always something new to do and new people to meet. Plus, if you lucky you might find a few people to take you surfing on the weekends.

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Fighting To Stand Out

Taiwan is often a place people don’t hear about. With the small island being off the cost of mainland China, it is often forgotten or placed as apart of China.  With my GLI Global Theme being culture and politics I decide to explore Taiwan, wanting to excrescence the difference of the small island and the many stereotypes that is placed upon it. I wanted to focus on how Taiwanese people see themselves and how they are different then other Asian countries.

When you first arrive to Taipei Taiwan you notice one big thing; the kindness of the Taiwanese people. Taiwanese are known for being extremely friendly and going above and beyond to help foreigners. An example of these is when me and my good friend Hue-Quyen were lost. Looking at our very confused faces, a Taiwanese women approached us and asked if we were lost and need help. Instead of telling us how to get to the restaurant we were looking for she decided it would be best to just take us their personally. Both me and Hue-Quyen were shocked by her willingness to escort us to the place we wanted to go to instead of point us the right direction and hurrying along her way to her original destination. Seeing this, especially in a big city with nearly 6 million people living in one area, is extremely rare in the United States.

It is important to know that Taiwan prides themselves as being very progressive and tends to think as themselves a example for other Asian countries. While this may sound arrogant but the have reasons for thinking this way. While they are under the One China act, meaning no country can recognize Taiwan as it’s own country without breaking all tie they have with China. This is a huge issue that I will touch on through out this blog post. Even though they are under the One China act they have the same as Hong Kong, they are able to have their own government system as long as they don’t defy China and their rules they have for Taiwan. They are progressive because the adapted a democracy, and have a female president. They are also currently fighting for women rights and gay rights.

When I was in Taiwan I was able to witness a referendum vote in Taiwan. One topic up for vote was same-sex marriage. With Taiwanese people wanting to continue the image of them being progressive millions of people came out to vote on this topic. While almost all young citizens of Taiwan voted for same-sex marriage many elders and parents voted against. When the verdict of the same-sex marriage being turned down I witnessed the impact it had on Taiwanese people. Just weeks before the vote their was a pride parade in Taipei that thousands of people attended to show their support. This verdict of turning down same-sex marriage was considered a huge plow to the island reputation of being rights pioneer. After the verdict many flooded to social media to express their disappointment and support for the Taiwanese gay community. Stating that the battle has just began and to not give up hope. Witnessing the unity of the youth of Taiwan was something that was powerful for me to witness.

Apart from looking at the major political happening in Taiwan I also learned about the pride the Taiwanese take in their own culture. Even with Taiwan often being looked at as mostly Chinese culture, the citizens see themselves separated. With both China and Taiwan speaking Mandarin Chinese, China writes in simplified Chinese (examples:爱 [love],
还[still,yet] ,头[head,top,first] ) while Taiwan writes in traditional Chinese (example:愛 [love] , 還 [still,yet] ,頭 [head,top,first] ). The Taiwanese people see this as staying true to their culture and stepping away from China. The Taiwanese also have natives and they take pride in the original culture and traditions of their tribes. (I talked more about this in my first blog post) Learning about Taiwanese culture made me understand better why Taiwan is fighting to become it’s own country. The Taiwanese have many unique cultures and their own political system that is different for China. I can also see how the United States influenced Taiwan, it’s adopted our governmental system and college system. There were a lot of connections between the United States and Taiwan politically. Besides politically younger Taiwanese people have adapted a western style.

Night View of Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain

While being immersed in Taiwanese culture I have been able to re-think what it means to be proud of where you come from. Taiwanese people are constantly being told that they are Chinese and that they don’t have their own culture. But everyone that lives in Taiwan know and continue to fight to prove that they are different, whether that politically or celebrating their unique culture. Being able to observe the referendum vote and the argument for their native cultures I have been able to see many different challenges that other face.


National Taiwan University (國立臺灣大學)Palm Tree Boulevard

During my Time in Taipei I noticed many other thing other then the kindness of the Taiwanese people. With Taking class at National Taiwan University, the top university in Taiwan,I was able to take classes that expanded my knowledge of my GLI theme. I took two different classes, one focused on Taiwanese women and society today and how it came to be. The other focused on culture and film, looking at how Taiwan has grown from its struggles and how film has portrayed those moments. Both of these classes gave great insight to how the culture of Taiwan developed into what we see today as well as seeing the struggles it faced. Both classes were interesting and thought provoking. Along with those classes I took intro to east Asian studies, global market management, general Chinese, and enhanced Chinese.

My time in Taiwan enhanced my leadership skills by forcing me to put myself in awkward and stressful situations. With the main language being Mandarin I often had to speak in Chinese to get around. My Chinese is good enough that I can get around Taiwan pretty well. Ordering Food, no problem, Finding/ asking questions about Trains and buses, easy. But I had to do many things that I was not comfortable with. Small talk is really easy in your own language but I often had to have everyday conversations with locals. This caused me stress because I didn’t want to be rude or seem indecisive. It challenged be to communicate efficiently in a language I am learning. Also being one of two people in our twelve person group who knew Chinese I often had to speak and help my friends to get around. For example I would get phone calls when they are lost, I would then be handed to a local and translate for them the best I could to help them. Helping them through their challenges allowed me to grow my leadership skills and problem solving skills. Not to mention overcoming my own challenges with the language.

My time in Taiwan is something I found to be very educational and beneficial for me in the future. Have to adapt to a culture so different then the one we have here in america and take classes that were challenging has made me a better person and student. I can talk about many other experiences that I had that made my time in Taiwan one to remember but it’s mostly stories about how we got lost and stumbled upon something extraordinary. The friends I made also made my stay something that I will always look back on with found memories. I am forever great full that I was able to participate in GLI that allowed to broaden my education and experience. Giving me knowledge and memories I will always cherish.

My Taiwan Family
(Natasha, Csenge, Mina, Rio, Hue-Qyen, Stijin, Maria, Jan-Willem, Me, Kris, Francesca, Renate)

Sunshine in the Hearts

My GLI Global Theme is Exploring Mental Health, particularly among college students. This topic plays into the well-being of an individual and the productivity and happiness of a society. I arrived in Lille, France, assuming I would be awaited by some romantic, French enlightenment on this issue.  In fact, I discovered a richer complexity to mental health, and the need for time and patience to influence.

Lille, France, may be unknown by many Americans, but it is located in the center of a triangle of three major international cities: Brussels, London, and Paris. This means that it is a melting pot of multiple cultures, filled with international students and habitants, immigrants and refugees. Despite its convenient location as a stopping-point between cities, very few people speak English, forcing me into a rapid state of improving my French.  This was utterly terrifying, because French people tend to not smile.  As an American, eye contact results in an awkward smile, and anything less is interpreted as hostile. However, I quickly learned that the French method of communication is simply different, and the people are often very kind and ready to help.

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The favorite saying in Lille translates as follows: “In the North, the sunshine is not in the sky, but in the heart of the people.” I have never been so surprised by the kindness of strangers, despite their grimacing faces.  Unfortunately, vulnerability is not an easily accessible thing.  Only now, after five months of living alongside am I starting to glimpse the culture regarding mental health. It is rather surprising to find that it remains very heavily stigmatized.  According to the Psychology students, if a French person discovers that you study Psychology, they instantaneously create space.  Very few students use the resources, or are aware that they exist for free on campus.  In addition, the resources are incredibly lacking for international students, as they have counselors only in French and it may take weeks or months of paperwork before you one can access the services.  I learned patience during my time in France, thanks to the French administration (a worker’s smoke break is completely permissible, despite a line of waiting clients), being friends with Italians (“J’arrive” doesn’t mean “I’m arriving” but “I am still at home, in the shower, and will leave in an hour”), and waiting for the French to come out of their shells.

Once a French person has allowed you to integrate in their life, you are truly family.  This is one of the most beautiful experiences.  My confidence in quickly changing the world has diminished, but my curiosity for other cultures and places steadily grows.  I have learned that simply asking questions and listening can create a safer place.  Some questions, about mental health, are incredibly scary, but these questions have the ability to change lives by creating a dialogue – interior or exterior, and this potential is found only in already formed relationships. This is a form of personal leadership, accessible by anyone willing to take the time and effort to learn and share. Despite the challenges of living in such a stigmatized and different society, I crave to return and continue to search for a healthier world.

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I have so much more I could write about – Christmas with Italian families, force-feeding me and teaching me important words such as “MANGI!”, sharing Stroopwaffles with strangers in the Netherlands, or becoming a connoisseur of Belgian Fries.  I return to the US in one week with a full stomach and full heart.

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The Pomegranate City

My Global Theme

Studying geography and GIS it only seemed natural to have my global theme to be natural resources and sustainability. The earth is a finite source but we as a society have been using its resources as if it were infinite. It’s important that we limit our uses of these precious natural resources and studying abroad was a way to see how other countries were going about doing that.

My Experience

Granada is located in the southern province of Andalucía, Spain. The city itself is warm and rich history as there has been evidence of civilization here since the 5th century. The Romans, Moorish, and Roman Catholics have all ruled the area leaving behind an ancient maze of neighborhoods paved with stone. The city is also a mix of Spanish and Moroccan culture as exhibited by the Arabic markets with traditional pastry booths and hand woven rugs hanging from the walls. This was the perfect place to experience a truly global study abroad experience.

While in Granada I took 4 classes at the Universidad de Granada, a fully Spanish speaking university. Doing all of my classes in Spanish was something very important to me as I really wanted to develop my language skills. I took 2 classes pertaining to my global theme, the planning and management of natural resources, and the urban planning of developing Spanish cities. In these classes we took multiple field trips to nature reserves and cities with sustainable development plans. I took away many valuable lessons from these experiences. Living in Spain itself was also impactful. The countries recycling facilities were everywhere making it easy to separate and dispose of glass, cardboard, and paper. I shopped all local produce and reduced my footprint by walking everywhere and utilizing public transportation. The infrastructures in places made it almost difficult to start living in an unsustainable way.

In Spain I met several other students who were also studying abroad and developed friendships that will last a life time. They inspired me to continue traveling and learning more of what the world has to offer. I learned about the corruption in small town politics in Mexico, the healthy bike riding habits of long term travel through South America, and how people survive the winters of Estonia.  

While abroad I was able to also do some traveling around southern Spain as well as other countries including Morocco, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Croatia. The experience I had was truly one at a kind and I’ve taken away valuable life lessons that wouldn’t have been possible without the Global Leadership Initiative. Overall, I’m excited to bring back the lessons I have learned about sustainability back to the States and get focused on how our country can begin to leave a smaller footprint as a whole.

 

Studying Along the Rhône: A Year in Lyon, France

Global Theme and Challenge

I have always been very interested in improving the lives of others in any way that I can. On campus, I worked as a tour guide and an RA so as to help prospective students and incoming freshmen feel more supported and excited to be at the University of Montana. I volunteered when I could and complimented 3 strangers a day. Ultimately, however, I found politics to be the most streamlined way to improve the lives of many. That’s why I decided to declare my Global Theme in human rights and social justice and my challenge in observing the rise of nationalist tendencies in major world powers such as the UK, United States, and France. At the time of my departure, President Donald Trump was experiencing his first few months in office, Brexit had been voted for favorably by the English, and a fiery Presidential Election was happening in France that mirrored the one the US had experienced a few months before. I thought this was the perfect time to study abroad and get a very up-close perspective on international politics. Little did I know, my experiences in France would lead me to change my Challenge entirely and inspire a long-term change in how I perceive the world…

My Experience

My incredible year abroad started the moment I boarded my flight to France where I found myself seated next to a very friendly German astrophysicist. He excitedly explained to me that the pilot had explained only in German that we would be able to see the Northern Lights from the plane that night. I probably should have slept, but instead the two of us stayed up all night trying as hard as we could to capture this spectacle with his camera through the window. I used my sweater to block out the light while he held his probably 10 pound camera up for three minutes at a time so as to let the exposure capture the Aurora. Although the resulting pictures came out blurry, I found them to be hauntingly beautiful and a sure sign from the universe that I was embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. 21246612_1167354363364461_460651731422623670_o

My year in Lyon, France transpired just as excitingly as it started, and the adventure of a lifetime it truly was. My first weeks in France were spent in awe of the beautiful architecture, the two rivers that run through the city, and the constant, poetic murmur of people speaking French all around me. I was surprised at first to find that I was much less prepared to live in a city and much less fluent in French than I had anticipated, but the following months taught me how to navigate the Metro system and to never reply “comme ci, comme ça” if a French person asks how you are doing unless you want them to laugh at you.

Although I had come to France with the intention of observing the political tension that has been reverberating across the world as of late, once I arrived I was struck with a much more pressing and surprising issue. It seemed as though every other street I walked on had a homeless person sitting under an awning begging for change, and about a third of them were flanked on either side by their children. The homelessness, especially homeless youth, was staggering to me. I knew objectively, of course, that there existed homeless children in the world, but for some reason I had never even considered a country like France would struggle with this problem. What is more is that over the course of my time abroad I traveled to 11 other countries, all of whom seemed to have the same problem. I was astounded that countries I considered to be “first world” would still have streets filled with dirty, shoeless children asking passers by for change.

Seeing the scope of homeless youth in the world really challenged my preconceived ideas about poverty across the globe. I began questioning what I knew about homeless youth in the United States as well. Growing up in Montana meant that I had never been to an urban area of the United States, and therefore had never seen a homeless child in my life prior to moving to France. But surely they exist, right? They absolutely do – according to the National Network for Youth, an estimated 1.3 to 1.7 million children in the United States have spent at least one night without a home in the past year.

Why, then, had I never heard or seen the issue? How could it have taken me 20 years of life and a trip across the globe to fully understand just how many homeless children exist? I could feel a clear shift in my intentions the more prevalent this issue became to me. I decided to abandon my original idea of focusing my time in France on the rise of nationalism across the globe and instead to dedicate my time abroad helping homeless youth in France. My best friend, who happens to be majoring in Human Rights herself, and would spend our spare change buying baguettes and delivering them to homeless families in the main square. During our second semester, we even attended several meetings of a local human rights group that volunteered their time aiding the community.

Ultimately, my time spent in France was as illuminating as it was enjoyable. I made the most amazing friends I have ever had, I travelled and experienced vastly different cultures than my own, and I gleaned pivotal insight into the lives of the impoverished, which inspired me to work harder to improve this situation not only in my own country but in France as well. I am so thankful for every new experience that my study abroad gave me and I am excited to spend more time working to promote support for homeless youth in the future.

Exploring Social Inequality & Human Rights in Greece During the Refugee Crisis

Global Theme & Challenge

Before beginning my study abroad adventure, I had always been interested in the dynamics between social inequality and human rights. Does an unstable society promote abuses of human rights or is it more community based? Because of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Asia and Africa, I wanted to see for myself the balance between individual freedoms and human rights, and social order and justice. More specifically, how have governments reacted to the crisis and what are the public’s perception of proposed or implemented policies?

My Experience 

From the moment I landed in Athens, Greece I knew this was a culture I had never experienced before. The way individuals spoke to one another on the street, how newspapers addressed current political issues, the way advertisements were represented on the sides of buses, and the dilapidation of abandoned buildings scattering the neighborhood, all showed signs of distress and disrepair. I knew before coming to Greece that the country was in a state of poverty and unrest, but I was not expecting it to be this noticeable. Homeless and mutilated individuals flooded commercial and shopping districts begging for food and money. Unaccompanied children ran through the streets selling cheap goods, such as balloons and flowers. Abandoned and stray animals, such as cats and dogs, littered the neighborhoods in the thousands. Due to the extreme poverty of Greek citizens, their outlook and willingness to aid refugees was mainly negative. Even when I traveled to other European countries, the opinions on the impact refugess presented in the economy, was pessemistic. Many believed refugees were biologically inferior and stole jobs from hard-working citizens. Of course, I could find no data to support these claims, but countries where Catholisism and Orthodox Christianity strongly practiced, these false views followed. I believe this to be a result of past experiences where the Church used religion to codemn “inferior” races of people and other minority groups such as women and the GSD (gender and sexualy diverse) community. During my time abroad, I never saw noticeably gay or transsexual individuals on the streets and during International Women’s Day, Greece was absent in holding any parades or marches in favor of women’s rights. I was later informed that the country, being Greece, had never held pride or women’s marches and many people, including women, felt that it was unnessesary to do so. Because of this I noticed how aggressive Greek men were to women, including myself and my roommates, and how there was an underlying sexist attitude in almost all conversation. Due to my personal experience, I believed and continue to believe that there are many human rights issues in Greece and other European countries, and that these primarily stem from social inequality. In the future, I hope to see Greece move in a more progressive direction. 

My Beyond the Classroom in Tokyo Japan

My GLI Global Theme and Challenge is dealing with Human trafficking and global awareness. My experience in Japan gave me a chance to see one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo, and the ability to look further into global cultures and see how they treat information gathering as well as communication.

Due to being in Tokyo, I was able to gain an eastern perspective on America and realize how selfish our culture is. While we talk a lot about individualism and making sure everyone is ‘accepted’ as different, we always seem to focus on the individual, not the collective. If we have our individual rights that don’t ‘hurt’ someone else, then we do not seem to care. However, in Japan, they care a lot more about the collective. For instance, in America we have a hard time being quiet in public, not disrupting class, not talking over each other, and waiting in line, and stealing bags, bikes, or even CHILDREN that are left unattended. These are common in most areas of the united states. I find this very discouraging. However, in Japan, specifically in Tokyo where I stayed, these issues are not really an issue. Why? Because everyone thinks about everyone else. You are not loud because you could be bothering someone else. You do not steal wallets, or purses, or bikes, or kidnap kids, because that is just not okay to upset someone else. You also stand in line patiently, get up on the train so elders can sit down, and be quiet in public places and on public transportation, because it is rude to your fellow citizens if you are not. These things show how much society cares about what other people think and feel in Tokyo.

Despite all these things, there is a down side to that exact mind set as well. Since the mind set is ‘you before me’ in Tokyo, often molestation cases go unreported. This is extremely the case in public transportation. I believe the statistic I got from a Japanese Professor of mine was that 1 in 5 women are molested on the train. Though that number is skewed because most do not report it because they do not want to take up someone else’s time during the day. Things like this would not be stood for in America. There is still yet a silver lining. Because women do not report these things, often a man will step in if he notices and ask the other guy to stop. This is not always the case, society has its flaws, but it does happen.

Beyond that. I have also realized how universal racism towards foreigners is. Japan hates foreigners even more than Americans do. We pretend to be okay with foreigners, we even have advocacy groups and active groups helping to incorporate foreigners in our country because, technically, most of us are at least partial foreigners when it comes to ancestry. However, in Japan, they want you to fit in, they want you to blend and do as the collective does, and most foreigners do not do that. Naturally these points I mention are extreme cases. But they are still cases. I was called on not just one occasion a ‘baka gaijin’ which literally translates to (rudely) “Idiot Foreigner” this is a derogatory term for anyone who is not Japanese and does not necessarily understand the culture. Does that mean I did something to piss these Japanese people off with my excessive loudness or rudeness? No. Not necessarily. I was called this name twice because I was wearing a rather gothic style shirt in a public area when out with friends both times. This earned me a very nasty look from two old men, separate occasions, who then proceeded to say I was an idiot foreigner. They of course probably did not account for the fact that one, I did hear them and two, I do understand a bit of Japanese, especially mean words. So yes, Racism is still a thing even in foreign countries, it also made me realize how silly ‘white washing’ in American films are because Asians do it too. Yes, they watch American films, but have you ever actually seen a movie, drama, or play from China Japan or Korean? The actors are… Japanese Chinese or Korean. They don’t really let in foreign influence. Yes, I did model in Japan, but I never became famous and was not even signed to an agency, I was just freelance and paid 10,000 yen each day I worked. That is roughly less than 100 dollars USA money. Which, for a model, is not that much. For anyone really since I was working eight hours a day. So Racism is pretty universal.

I feel like I have a better understanding of how Japan deals with such topics versus America. For instance, Japan has a lot of gang related issues. Despite this, they do not really talk about it. You do not even mention the Yakuza, and you sure as heck do not show off tattoos in Japan. Yet, world wide the sex trafficking and human trafficking is largely impacted by gangs in Japan. Japan does not talk about the bad points of the society though. They do not really talk about it at all. Americans are quick to point out the faults in our society, quick to judge and diminish our own worth, but Japanese people hide all the bad stuff. They only talk about the good things. This was something I found interesting. They promote their country in a way that sweeps all the negativity under the rug, so unless you are actively looking for it, or very aware of their culture, you do not actually see it. This conclusion led me to understand why human trafficking is so big in Japan; Its ignored.

I feel my experience in Japan did not fully help my leadership skills to be honest. I did do a lot of translating for some foreign exchange friends when talking to Japanese people, or even explaining cultures and cultural gaps, but I felt more behind then I ever have in my life. There was definitely a steep learning curve in Japan and that made me kind of have to take a back-seat approach and learn more than lead. I think the time I got to lead the most was in a culture class I took. We were discussing the idea of individualism, the American view, versus collectivism, the Japanese view. An American student did not understand how one could ignore their own needs and really think about others before them. He was a classic example of a bad tourist, even if he was a nice guy by American standards. Japanese people that I talked to did not like him because he was loud, obnoxious and self-centered. When I talked to Japanese people, they said that he was what they imagined Americans to be like. That hurt. During the culture class where we were discussing these differences I was given the chance to talk to him and express why the views were different. He finally understood how the Japanese people could put others before themselves, but I don’t think he ever actually embraced it as he was still just as loud and obnoxious as before. Yet, still, I feel a few other foreign exchange students from other countries were also very avid to hear what I had to say because after class I got more questions about the different views and ideals. This was really my only chance to play ‘leader’ as I kind of ‘led’ a cultural knowledge moment.

The questions I have now are more based on how I can more aptly get people to understand Japanese culture, so that when they go over to Japan they better represent a positive American vs. the stereo type of loud and obnoxious. However, also the idea of how one could better traffic knowledge about sex and human trafficking to japan without it being totally rejected.

Over all though I must say my experience in Japan was extremely Positive. I had a lot of fun, made some good friends from around the globe, and gathered some knowledge from all kinds of countries about different issues and why they are an issue in those specific countries. This increased my cultural knowledge for not only America and Japan but other places as well like Sweden, Norway, Germany, Ireland, South Korea, and the UK. My room mate was also from the States, so I even got a state to state different view point. That was also a lot of fun. We did a few different things and honestly most of my adventures were outlined on a blog, but I will add a few photos with captions here just to keep things interesting.

Summer magazine writing

This summer, I spent a little over three months interning with the Outdoor Writers Association of America. As an editorial intern, I wrote stories and edited their membership magazine, Outdoor Unlimited. This magazine’s audience and OWAA’s members are outdoor communicators and journalists. Much of the content in the magazine is about craft improvement as well as stories on conservation and environmental issues.

OWAA sent me to their annual conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana where I helped set up, attended some of the panels and connected with the members. This is where I learned about some current issues in conservation and then wrote stories about them. One panel I went to was about the nation’s decline in hunters and anglers. I have never hunted and never knew much about it, but it was an eye-opening presentation to learn that they were conveying the importance of targeting and including more women, people of color and millennials. The panelists presented graphs to the audience showing the decline and why hunting is important to conservation. I wrote a story about hunting’s decline and what could be done to recruit more people to try it. The story I wrote featured voices of organizations who are bringing different people into hunting. I also attended a panel about how Trout Unlimited is restoring urban streams and rivers and how they get the inner-city communities to help. Most all the panels were related to my GLI theme, Natural Resources and Sustainability and opened my eyes to how environmental organizations are working to keep the planet healthy.

As I interned, I learned how a membership magazine runs. This is a particularly small magazine, so I was able to work very closely with the editor. I realized just how much an editor-in-chief does to make sure the magazine runs smoothly. I had the chance to talk with and write stories about editors of major magazines like Outside and Adventure Cyclist.

My main goal in interning at Outdoors Unlimited was to create inclusive content in hopes of making the magazine more diverse. Women, people of color and those in the LGBTQ community are often left out of the outdoor industry conversation. I wanted to bring those voices in without it seeming out of the ordinary. Only three of my eight stories focused on men. One of those men did discuss the importance of diversity in outdoor media. Outdoors Unlimited is now actively working toward continuing an inclusive and diverse space. Their next keynote speaker for their conference next year is Dr. Carolyn Finney, author of “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors.”

Now that it’s toward the end of my internship, I am starting up a student chapter at University of Montana with OWAA’s president. We hope it will be a chance for students who are interested in outdoor writing and media to come together to learn about conservation issues, hear from professionals and share content with each other. I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn from a talented editor who supported all of my ideas. Not only did I enjoy every minute of it, it also strengthened my journalism skills while writing about issues I’m passionate about.

 

Hawaii – island living in the middle of the Pacific

Hilo, Hawaii. Where I spent the first five months of 2018. Where most locals wear ‘slippas’ everyday of the year and always leave them at the door. Where “ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” is sent to the entire state population by accident. Where Spam has an entire display in the grocery store and is eaten in ways I didn’t know where possible, including sushi. Where breaching humpback whales are seen from shore. Where coqui frogs are heard all night, creating a symphony of “coooquiiiii.” Where 1,000 foot waterfalls abound. Where the summit of the tallest volcano in the world, Mauna Kea, can be caught with snow fall. Where a night scuba dive with 20 manta rays the size of a small car is not uncommon. Where the locals call everyone ‘auntie’, ‘uncle’ and ‘cousin,’ after all most of the island is related in someway. Where jumping out of a small plane at 13,000 feet and falling through a hole in the clouds is the best way to spend a Saturday. Where some of the world’s most endangered birds are on the brink of being gone forever. Where volcanoes erupt without notice, announcing the new flow with 100s of earthquakes over the course of finals week, the largest a 6.9 magnitude.

While the experiences that I had while on the Big Island of Hawaii are ones that I will never forget, what still rattles around in my head day to day are the conservation challenges that I experienced. Many people from around the world come to experience Hawaii’s beauty without realizing the impact that they are causing on that very allure. I had a professor explain this scenario as “nature’s Disneyland.” Hawaii has been through or is currently going through many conservation challenges of today; overfishing, extirpations of native species, near extinctions, spread of disease through wildlife, loss of habitat, competition with feral or non-native species, and many more. In many ways I believe Hawaii can be seen as a case study for the earth. Humans are causing great destruction to the aina (Hawaiian for land) and many lessons can be learned looking forward with a global mindset in conservation.