Wildlife Conservation in South Africa

During most of the year, I’m a media arts and filmmaking student at the University of Montana. This summer, however, I’m a wildlife researcher and international volunteer! Thanks to the generous contribution of the Franke Global Leadership Initiative, I had the opportunity to take on a whole new experience related to my global interests. This summer, I am volunteering at a wildlife research base in the Limpopo region of South Africa. This experience has been absolutely life-changing so far. I’m so grateful to be here and to contribute to real-world wildlife research in the wilds of Africa. 

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Global Theme

My chosen GLI Global Theme and Challenge is natural resources and sustainability. This program directly relates to this theme because the volunteer program I am participating in is a wildlife conservation experience. This program exposes participants to life as a bush researcher. I’m only halfway through my experience thus far but I have learned a tremendous amount about the conservation work in this area and how data collection of wildlife helps sustain the ecosystems of South Africa. Every day here in the bush has opened my eyes to a new idea and topic related to this theme and I can’t wait to incorporate this knowledge into my GLI Capstone Project in the future.

My Experience

I am here with a program called Global Vision International (GVI) which is in partnership with AFS Next. GVI is a worldwide volunteer organization that allows students like myself to participate in a wide range of volunteer experiences. In my case, I am with a wildlife research team to collect big cat data at Karongwe Game Reserve. The GVI base here at Karongwe monitors the big cats species, collects data on them, and helps maintain the reserve as a whole. It’s very busy with lots to take care of and do here at the base camp. There are over seven countries represented here at the moment and there’s a diverse mix of personalities, but we all have something in common: a love for wildlife. 

Everyday is full of surprises, but here is the short version of daily life here:

The team goes out on two 3.5 hour drives each day. One in the morning and the other in the evening. The purpose of these drives is to go out and find the big cats on the reserve, monitor them, collect data on them, and then later plug that data into the base computer. The primary focus with the research drives is to find a group of three male cheetahs. It’s currently these three brothers that are the first thing we need to go and find each drive. Once we reach a presumed location, a volunteer sets up the telem and tries to find a signal. One of the male cheetahs has an implanted tracker inside him so we can generally find him using telemetry. On a good day, we’ll stop a few times, test the telem, and then finally hear a beep from the telem indicating which direction the cheetahs are from us. 

It’s about a 50-50 chance we’ll actually end of seeing the cheetahs on drive. When we do find them, it’s time for data collection. We GPS their location and answer the main research questions. Where are they located? How full are their stomachs? Do they have a kill to feed on? What species are they feeding on? Are they mobile? Other notes? All of these notes are later imputed into a huge database for further research. Once this primary data is collected, the team then goes out to do the same thing for a pride of lions, and if time allows after that, the herd of elephant on the reserve. Aside from the research, some other duties as a volunteer include cleaning the base, reserve work, cooking for staff, and data entry. 

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I have gained a much better understanding of my theme and challenge from this experience. The biggest takeaway related to sustainability is the controversy around certain species protection in South Africa. The biggest topics include elephant culling, rhino dehorning, and game hunting and how these issues have positive and negative effects on sustaining the bush ecosystem in South Africa.

This experience has positively benefited my leadership skills. Everything we do is a team effort here at base. It is this collaboration that allows us to conduct the large scope of research we do and maintain a healthy base camp. 

The best part of this experience is meeting a group of extraordinary individuals. Each volunteer, intern, and staff members shares a passion for wildlife and a wanderlust for the world. What makes us different is our backgrounds. Where we’re from, what lead us to GVI, and our strengths and skills that contribute to life on base. It has been amazing representing the US and more specifically Montana here with GVI. 

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This experience would not have been possible with the Franke Global Leadership Initiative at the University of Montana. I can’t express enough how grateful I am for this opportunity! 

Blog Post by Jeff Hyer

 

A New Way of Thinking

Grüß Gott aus Österreich!

Greetings from Austria!

As I’m nearing the end of my exchange, I’ve been able to begin reflecting on my entire experience. It’s pretty overwhelming to think back on all that I’ve learned and done in the past five months and think that it’s all coming to an end in the next few weeks. I‘ve been so greatful for this experience and GLI and UM exchange program for helping me be able to do this. 

For GLI, my global theme is Natural Resource and Sustainability. Here, at UNI GRAZ I’ve taken courses that are more about the humanities and the social constructs behind this concept than my typical science courses. I’ve been studying how our language and different political and media platforms effects how we talk about environmental issues, how cinema and the movie industry effect the environment and how it changes our prospective on the earth and nature, and I’ve also looked at extinction and how this is an ever growing issue that is in need of immediate attention.  These courses, along with various cultural courses have helped me to think in a completely different way. I normally look at the environment with a scientific lens, but in Austria I was able to put down the field tools and really look at the social aspects we’ve had behind our current environmental crisis. Doing this has helped me to understand the importance of looking at an issue from all angles and attacking it in multiple different ways, rather than just one.

While being here, I’ve been able to really look introspectively about how I live my everyday life. I know it’s a cliché to say that I’ve discovered who I am while I’ve been abroad but I can honestly say that I’ve felt that happening. Being away from the states and the drama that surrounds our politics and all the influence from all the media sources has allowed me to deepen my own perspectives and solidify what I believe. my simple everyday interactions that I’ve been having with people from a different culture have allowed me to do just that. I’ve been able to break the mundane habits that I didn’t even realize I was so rooted in, by adapting and exploring a new way of living and thinking. 

Specifically relating to my GLI theme and challenge, I think this experience has made me realize that sustainability isn’t only a problem that America is struggling to address, but it’s also and issue across the world. There is a universal discourse happening about climate change and waste management and resource allocation that I never knew was actually going on.  It’s been rewarding to discuss natural resource and climate issues with people from all over the world and realize that we all sharing the same frustrations and all strive for a global shift towards sustainability. 

Being in Austria I’ve been able to grow into my own as a leader. Usually being one of the only Americans in a class I’ve turned into almost a spokesperson for the American viewpoint (even though I am not qualified for that position). I’ve been able to lead discussions about the climate and other contentious topics in the US while practicing the necessary leadership skills to facilitate a productive conversation. I’ve been really impressed with how open-minded people can be when you have coherent conversations that allow for everyone to gain a greater understanding of a shared interest. 

Sense coming to Europe back in February, I’ve been able to travel and form unimaginable bonds with people all across the world. I’ve visited Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Georgia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Spain, Slovakia, Hungry and Germany. The best part of every trip though, was the people. talking with people outside of my exchange group and outside of Austria from countries I’ve barely given thought about has shown me how fascinating the world can be. despite culture and upbringing and language, a human is a human and each one is so special. Everywhere I’ve been has been unique and eye opening. Because of this exchange I have made connections with not only incredible people, but incredible places and for that I am forever grateful. 

Where Cultures Collide

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The Parthenon in Athens

Greece is the land between the East and West, not quite conforming to either culture, but instead creating a beautiful blend that results in a place of good food, kind people and history spanning the millennia. Choosing to spend a semester in Athens was one of the best decisions of my college career, allowing me to step outside of Montana, into a place of growth and learning.

For my GLI theme, I am focusing on culture, something very different each place you go, but more specifically of the interactions between cultures and how prejudice and hate from within cultural groups. Athens was a wonderful place to end up with such a theme. I took a Modern Greek History class while there, and gained new insight into the formation of Greece as it is today and the conflict that brought it there. I focused individually, for a class paper on the Greek Jewish Population during the occupation and Holocaust. They faced 87% extermination of their population in just four years, one of the highest in all of Europe, due to hate and prejudice against their religion. It was incredible to learn about a population I had never before encountered.

I had the opportunity to take a few weekend trips while in Greece to places such as Hungary, Austria, Poland, Italy and Israel. I saw beautiful things, ate good food and took away, most of all, that every person you meet has something to teach you. Whether it’s the two, elderly Danish lady next to us at dinner in Krakow sharing Life stories with us young 20 year olds or a Taxi driver in Rome sharing the best hole in the wall place to eat (best pasta EVER!), there is something to take away from every interaction if you only take the time to stop and listen.

Each place I went, I toured museums, I saw the sites and I saw the world from new angles. I am particularly passionate about WWII, and with my challenge focusing on prejudice, I visited many places pertaining to the Holocaust and instances of hate throughout history. I visited the House of Terror in Budapest, Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz Birkenau in Poland, and visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. I saw the bloody past of mankind because of hatred in order to learn and to remember. We must acknowledge the hate and prejudice in this world in order to combat it and grow into a people better than our past.

Being the type of person who likes a plan and to stick to that plan, my time abroad taught me to be flexible and embrace the blessings that come in the form of the unexpected. Opportunity arises when you take a breath and jump feet first into whatever comes your way and I saw much of that this semester. I got to breath in the island air on my birthday weekend because I said yes and jumped on a plane to Santorini with a friend. Best of all, my roommates and I discovered the best bakery in all of Athens that fed us free treats one night because we got lost and embraced the chance to explore a new neighborhood.

I learned to listen to strangers. I learned to embrace new and unexpected opportunities. I learned to watch the world with both eyes wide open. I learned that to see the world, as much of it as physically possible, is to truly live life to the fullest. You never know what you may find in the next city you explore. I am so thankful for Athens Greece, and for my time spent abroad.

Visiting the Acropolis in Athens
Athens from the Acropolis. The city goes on forever!
Santorini!
Santorini is so picturesque!
My Lemur Friend!
Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sunion, Greece.
Seeing the work of my favorite artist, Gustav Klimt in Vienna!

My Semester Down Under

Global Theme

As a student in many majors, many minors, and many certificate programs, I’ve always found it hard to settle down and pick something to focus on. But, generally speaking, my focus in college has been on environmental policy and international relations, which made the GLI theme of Natural Resources and Sustainability perfect for me. In the past years at UM, I have served in a number of roles, from a campaign organizer with Montana Conservation Voters, to an undergraduate teaching assistant in the Climate Change Studies program. My Beyond the Classroom experience allowed me to take my existing passions into an entire other realm, and in fact an entire other country: Australia.

My Experience

When most people think of Australia, they might think of Melbourne, or Sydney, or if they’re a little more knowledgable of Australian geography, maybe they’ll throw in Perth or Uluru (Ayer’s Rock). But very few people had any idea where I was going when I told them ‘Tasmania’. Every time my mom told friends where I was going, she always had to clarify that yes, Tasmania is a part of Australia, and no, it is not Tanzania, or somewhere in Africa.

Hobart, Tasmania, is just about as far south, and as close to Antarctica as you can get in the world, besides the southern tips of Chile/Argentina. Tasmania is a wonderful, beautiful place, full of incredible species, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and rich with a culture (and a slang) of its very own. Little did I know that the English language could be contorted in such ways: doco=documentary, arvo=afternoon, thongs=flip flops, esky=cooler, bottle O=liquor store, daggy=scruffy, Macca’s=McDonald’s…and the list goes on and on.

I lived in a 6 bedroom apartment with 5 wonderful people, 3 from China, 1 from Tasmania, and 1 from Denmark.

I took four courses while at the University of Tasmania, including: Governing Antarctica, Population and Community Ecology, China’s Global Power, and Indigenous Justice Issues. The buildings on campus were incredible, and a massive student body of over 30,000 people was a big change from the about 7,000 at UM.

While a lot of my time in Tassie was in class, I did have enough time to explore the island and go on incredible trips.

I visited places like: Bruny Island,

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Mt. Field National Park,

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Wineglass Bay, 

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Kunanyi/Mt. Wellington,

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and Fortescue Bay.

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The wildlife was also incredible, and if you know me, you know there’s at least a thousand more pictures of animals that I didn’t include in this post. 

From wallabies,

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to kangaroos,

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to Tassie Devils,

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to dingoes,

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to koalas,

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and so many more, I absolutely loved the wildlife and came to really appreciate the unique natural world that I was able to experience alongside my academic component of the semester. 

One of the most memorable moments came from an evening walk in Tassie. I had just finished with a free lecture on campus, and was making my way back uphill to my apartment. Suddenly, I saw about thirty wallabies in front of me, munching on grass in this large open field. I was so amazed by them, and couldn’t help but just stand and stare for ages. While most people here don’t seem very phased by wallabies, I absolutely love them. I’ll never get sick of seeing them, even if they are basically the equivalent of your everyday deer in Missoula. 

What I Learned

I learned that the most important part of leadership is being able to take care of yourself and operate independently. This semester was a huge risk for me. If something bad happened, I couldn’t just call my parents and expect them to make an overnight car ride to come and help me. I was an ocean away, I was a 17 hour flight away, I was over 8,000 miles and a 19 hour time difference away. I was truly on my own, and I had to figure out how to live on my own.

But, through my experience, I came to understand just how adaptable I was, and I learned the importance of asking for help without feeling embarrassed. I also came to appreciate and deeply respect the people around me who had come from all across the globe just to study here. There are very few experiences in life where you can meet people from China, Canada, Germany, the U.K., Malaysia, Denmark, Norway, and Mexico all in the same place. We were able to laugh in our shared experiences, our shared fumbles, and I was often the ‘English dictionary’ for my friends learning English as a second or third language.

My time in Tasmania did help raise some important questions for me about my future and my last year of college. I knew that when I returned to UM that I wanted to be much more involved on campus, so I decided to run for a Senate seat in ASUM, which I won. I also began to think about my future after graduation, and started looking at graduate programs related to climate change and politics. No matter what I decide to do after graduation, I know that I want to do something on an international scale, where I can effect real change and do something meaningful with my life, my privilege, and my knowledge. 

I am beyond thankful for this experience, the friends I made along the way, and the continued support from my family, friends, and the Franke Global Leadership Initiative.

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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.