Missoula to Berlin

Week One

I started learning the second I stepped off the plane in Berlin. After what felt like days of flying, from Spokane to London then from London to Berlin, I immediately understood what jet lag was, that you have to pay to use most restrooms in Europe, and that water was most definitely not free (and never came with ice). Once I got over these feats, our first task was to make our way to the hostel from the airport using public transportation which was cheap, usually late, but not as hard to manage as I had expected. I met the full group at our hostel and, with no time to unpack or freshen up from the overnight journey, hit the streets of Berlin for a tour. We quickly learned that Berlin wasn’t just a big city in Germany. It’s a city with a long history of immigration, culture and art.

Street art in Berlin seen on a walking tour of the city

Street art in Berlin seen on a walking tour of the city

From the Turkish neighborhood next to our hostel to the many Syrians refugees already integrated, I was overwhelmed (in the best way) with different languages, food, cultures and customs. The first week was a whirlwind of struggling to order items off of menus, navigating the U-bahn and bus systems, and diving headfirst into the rich history of Berlin, complete with seeing the Berlin wall to learning about the history of world-famous clubs along the Spree.

Part of the Berlin Wall

Part of the Berlin Wall

In this first week, I learned more than I ever could have imagined traveling abroad, cultures different than mine, and we began to examine the refugee crisis, except this time close up and not from across the Atlantic safe in our classrooms.

 

Up-close: The refugee camps

Some of the most prominent days during the trip to Berlin were those when our group visited refugee camps. We’ve spent a year learning about refugees, trying to understand their struggles and the complicated asylum process, and when it came time to listing off the facts of the refugee crisis, many of us felt proficient and well-educated about the crisis. However, when it came to experiencing what it was really like to be one of these individuals with unique scenarios, we were clueless. After an hour bus ride and a mile walk out of Berlin, we arrived at a refugee camp.

Interviewing workers at a refugee camp

Interviewing workers at a refugee camp

Clothes hung up to dry on a fence at the often over-crowded refugee camp

Clothes hung up to dry on a fence at the often over-crowded refugee camp

We immediately met men, women and children who are often shown as victims simply demanding German resources in the media. Either they’re depicted as evil Muslims coming to take jobs and spread Islam, or they’re shown as victims leeching off the system of a wealthy country. While we knew it was much more complicated than that, even just speaking with a few people changed our perspective. We met people who loved the camp and others who hated the plumbing. Some were wondering why a group of American students with cameras were allowed to come in (which we sometimes wondered too) and others were thrilled to have their picture taken, posing with peace signs and posting selfies with us to Facebook. Suddenly they weren’t just “the refugees” as we’ve discussed in class so much as one collective group. “The refugees” suddenly became individuals. They became Amir, one of our translators, who was ecstatic because he’d just been granted the opportunity to move out of his refugee camp that he’s called home for years into a real home in Berlin. They became children not older than 10 who quickly overshadowed us as they showed off the four languages they spoke — embarrassing compared to our English. As we walked through the refugee camps, expecting crying and despair, we were surprised to find children playing soccer in the yard, taking selfies with their iPhones, and wearing designer clothes they brought with them on their trip from Syria. These were people. People who one day had to leave their homes and come to Germany, while we were coming to Germany because we wanted to broaden our education, not because we had to.

 

Wrapping things up

The second and third weeks in Berlin were busy with real, on the ground, international journalism. With half of our phones not working on our German SIM card plans and more than half of us knowing how to speak German (not to mention Arabic or Farsi), we quickly learned to adapt. After a few stress-induced breakdowns and loads of help from our advisors, we were on to producing our final project on a deadline, with not-so-great WiFi, in a foreign country, on a subject we knew nothing about a few months ago.

Going over the final edits. Photo by Shane McMillian

Going over the final edits. Photo by Shane McMillian

With the quotes from the doctors, politicians, refugees and others in Berlin, advice from Shane, Henriette and Larry, insight and help from our translators who were also refugees, and support from newfound friends in the group (which was bound to happen when after living in close quarters for nearly a month) we produced a final portfolio-worthy project we all can be proud of. Not only did we get to study and research a migration event that will be historically significant for years, we also got a chance to practice real journalism outside of the classroom, both of which will affect my life for the better in years to come as a journalist and traveler.

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10 weeks of simulating galaxies: check

Over the past 10 weeks, I have developed relationships I will never forget and learned new skills to further my career in astrophysics.

The last weekend was spent at the Brookhaven National Lab in Yorktown Heights, New York. The photo on the left shows the STAR detector for the accelerator shown on the right. We were unable to get a private tour, but the public tour was far worth it. We spent the day in awe of modern physics.

I have given my research talk and poster presentation to the department and my peers, and everything is coming to a close. I was very pleased with the knowledge I was able to gain in just 10 weeks. I was able to comprehensively answer questions I would not have dreamed to be able to answer at the beginning. The photo below shows the poster I presented. My research advisor and I plan to meet at the American Astronomical Society conference in January for me to present my work there as well. Photo Aug 03, 7 28 30 AM

Leaving my internship was bittersweet. I now have friends all over the United States, and I am certain we will all never been in the same place at the same time ever again. I know the friendships will continue until I am old. As school approaches, I am eager to start classes and begin my teaching assistant job. I am excited to teach younger students in my department how to code, observe, and write scientific research papers. This is going to bring me much closer to being a professor someday. I will also be continuing my research with Project MINERVA this fall, finding exoplanets.

As I look to graduate schools for Fall 2017, I will consider the things I learned at Rutgers University this summer and hope to apply them to the rest of my career to become a leader in my field. I thank everyone that made this opportunity possible for me.

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A Student and a Traveler Walk into a Bar…

And they have a ton to talk about.

Why? Because it’s come to my attention that students and travelers are really similar.

  • They both share a proclivity for toting around their possessions in backpacks
  • They both eat on the cheap and don’t much care where they sleep for the night

And…

  • They both explore the world to change it.

I was musing over a cup of coffee when it hit me. The student learns “inside-out” while the traveler learns “outside-in” before each person uses that knowledge to shape their world.

As a student, I attend lectures, converse with classmates, write papers and read books relating to whatever I’m studying. I then use what I’ve learned as a tool, untangling the knowledge and crafting it to help me achieve a goal outside of my own head. I use the knowledge to shape the way I interact with the world.

As a traveler, I go out into the world, talk to and befriend new people, try new things and experience different cultures, foods and languages. I absorb these experiences from the outside world and then use them to inform my thoughts, opening up new avenues. I use my experiences to shape my thoughts and ideas.

Therefore, I think it’s incredibly important for students and travelers to be one and the same. I think it’s important for travelers to learn like a student about the world around them, instead of just moving from one tourist activity to another. I also think it’s important for students to travel outside of their comfort zone and away from their home, whether it’s a few miles or across the sea.

A semester abroad was a perfect way for me to start weaving the path of student and traveler together. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to study in New Zealand and to have had time to travel and make friends while I was away.

There’s a whole lot of world out there and I hope to use more “inside-out” and “outside-in” learning as I move through it. And hey, side-bonus is I’ll be very interesting to talk to if you ever find me sitting at a bar.

Until the next adventure,

Rehana Asmi

P.S. If you come up with a better punch line for the title-joke, definitely share it with me!

Something Worth Protecting, Something Worth Sharing

My previous post lauded the revitalization efforts of my university and the government of New Zealand when it came to Māori culture and language. The topics were made accessible to tourists and foreigners, as well as the Kiwis. It got me thinking about the way New Zealand protects many pillars of their culture—not under lock and key, but by sharing and educating.

I joined the tramping (hiking/backpacking in Kiwi-speak) club at Victoria University. It was a fun group that blasted smooth jazz during its PowerPoint presentations, welcomed new members with bearded exuberance to Taco Tuesdays, and had a mountain goat as a glorious mascot. This group of students (and alumni, and random outdoor enthusiasts met at the Welsh Dragon pub) coordinated carpool trips and gear rentals for people in need of adventure. They had an expert on everything from avalanche safety to rock climbing to caving—and they’d direct a newbie down the right path for any information. The goal was to have a great time and to share the outdoors, safely. It wasn’t about hoarding secret hideaways, it was about making New Zealand accessible.

New Zealand is known for gorgeous landscapes (Sweeping shots from the Lord of the Rings and all) alongside a robust Department of Conservation. The trails are well kept, hut passes are at most $5 for a night on the trail, and there are no animals that’ll kill you out in the New Zealand wilds (although some flightless Weka will try to steal your food)  so it’s easy for anyone to jump onto the trails for the weekend. Even the Tongariro National Park Alpine Crossing, home to Mount Doom, was only a day trip and completely complete-abale for a jog-but-never-run-unless-being-chased girl like me. I even kayaked through Abel Tasman National Park despite having only a quick rental out in Wellington Harbor a few weeks prior.


I say this not to humble-brag, but to share. I jumped at the chance for these adventures because I was told about them by friends in New Zealand. They’d done it, and I figured I could, too. New Zealand made the outdoors accessible to me, someone who’d previously been too nervous to backpack without a hired guide on class trips, and that access made me value it more.

The same goes for Māori culture and language. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it without having access to sate my curiosity and without the channels to dig in deeper and recognize the value of something as simple as bilingual signage.

In times of fear, where people are tempted to stow away language or the wilderness in order to protect them, I think it’s something to realize that value comes from sharing and educating what makes such things important. So hopefully sharing some of these pictures will spark some curiosity in others to see what all the hubbub is about in New Zealand!

 

Nicaragua Week 3: Relationship

As my time in Nicaragua comes to a close I have begun to reflect on what I have seen and done here. By no means does three weeks make me even close to an expert on this culture and what makes it tick. However, I do like to think that I have gained some insight through personal relationships that I could never have received through any amount of research or statistics. The friendship that I have built in just three weeks feel strong enough to last a life time – and that makes my heart happy. You see, I am a “people-person” as some would say. As a people-person I have been observing the ways in which people around me interact with one another and in-turn how they interact with their community.
More specifically, I was curious as to how women felt, acted and interacted. The most startling and obvious difference from American culture was the age in which most girls were having kids. It was far from uncommon to see a 15 year old girl lugging around her three and one year old children. I was curious if this was seen as problematic in this culture or if the “American” lens in which I see the world told me it was a problem that needed to be changed.

I sat and talked with one young mom at a local baby blue church down the winding, dirt road from the farm. I am drawn to babies and conversation can be easily stated (in any language) through simple questions about a baby. I soon came to learn more about the sweet young girl holding an infant. I learned how drastically her dreams of college and a career translating Spanish to English (or even any job potentially) went out the window. This young woman was not a statistic to be analyzed, but a woman to be loved and cared for. She is a woman to seek clarity from and learn from. I cannot tell you how to change the inequality that forces young women to take on the full burden of a child instead of both the man and the women. But I can tell you there is at positively one women who desires change. (And many more with whom I spoke to on this topic after this encounter). This experience has reignited my desire to see inequality of men and women disappear. It was different than what I had anticipated seeing the inequality as, but nevertheless just as important to address.

Megan

Nicaragua Week 2: Who Needs a Schedule Anyways?

Who needs a schedule anyways? ME. That is who most certainly needs one. I thrive with routine, punctuality and above all; A SCHEDULE. While living in the United States my desire (i.e. need) for plans and specific time frames that correspond with those plans is rarely ever questioned. In fact, the overwhelming majority of my peers support me and see it as an expected part of life. It became all too apparent that what I had believed to be “common sense” was far from that for my new Nicaraguan friends. I was challenged to see that people can feel successful, productive and worry-free with or with-out a concrete schedule/plan for  the day. I saw that people could also feel lazy, stressed or disorganized without a schedule. This forced me to see American “productivity” in a new light. Our success through out each day is often measured by the number of things we checked off of our list in the shortest amount of time (I know you college students out there understand that one all too well). However, there is no correlation to success and punctuality/scheduling here. This has stretched me greatly. Mainly because it forced me to see that I had somehow allowed personal success to mean something that I could not achieve in this culture. Coming to Nicaragua to intern on a pineapple farm in Nicaragua had meant in my mind that I would be able to serve the locals and the farm well, learn, and gain new insights – all while being actively “productive”. I am still in the midst of this “slow paced” life driving me a bit stir crazy. But, at the end of each day I feel myself one step closer to seeing the value in this style of living, respecting the culture, the people and their decisions (even if they are far from what I am accustomed to).

Megan

Nicaragua Week 1: Culture Shock?

Culture shock is supposed to hit hard upon arriving to a new country and seeing the vast differences in people, business, food and lifestyle. Yet, stepping onto the pineapple farm in Ticuantepe, Nicaragua felt nothing short of home. I did not feel overwhelmed with the unfamiliar stares of locals as I rode up and down the dirt road filled with pot holes so big I could swim in. Rather I felt the genuineness of curious eyes that for one reason or another in the U.S. we try to hide. (I admit it can be rather strange to have all eyes on you- but a friendly kind of strange). I did not feel overwhelmed by the lack of electricity or the lack of hot showers. Rather, it was humbling and eye opening to experience firsthand the reality of millions of people’s lives. Sadly, I did not feel “shocked” by the inequality in our world that allows a whole community to survive off of one small “waterfall” and another community to use that same amount of water for just one family. One week in Nicaragua did not shock me; it confirmed on a deeper level that this world is full of inequality and injustice paired side-by-side to beauty, hope and joy.

Megan

Post Arusha

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My time in Arusha has made me appreciate my background and my home a lot more. It has given me a new understanding of the world and its vastness. The differentiation from one country to another is significant. To witness a society that differs so much from our own is an amazing experience and an incredibly knowledgeable one. I learned a lot more about myself during this trip but I also learned a lot about the community of Arusha and their struggles, lacks and needs.

I have come to realize that their medical process is flawed but I have also realized that there are things within our own system that could improve. A lot of problems that I witnessed I could also relate to the U.S. Sure these issues might not be at as great of severity in the United States but I believe many occur within our own medical system. It makes me wonder how much better we can be and how  we can help other communities. How can these communities, our communities, help each other?

The quality of life in both societies are lacking. Our pressured and quick paced system allows for more successful results but also for stress and mistreatment. In Arusha the professionals take their time and are very relaxed. This can lead to disappointing to outcomes in some situations. It also leads to a calmer lifestyle and people that are all trying to do the best that they can to keep themselves and each other healthy. Of course there are exceptions to these groups of people. Neither group is perfect.

I am grateful for the experiences I was fortunate enough to have, the people I was able to meet and the lessons I learned. I hope to look into other healthcare systems and continue to compare and contrast them to our own. I believe that it could be extremely helpful to discover the balances of beneficial and proper medical care. Throughout my education and future career, I would like to discover these balances and find a way for the medicinal globe to communicate and share amongst itself.

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Zealandia

Zealandia is an amazing little jewel in the Capital of New Zealand.

If you’ve never been, here is one thing you should realize. New Zealand spent 80 million years without mammals. That means no cats, dogs, squirrels, and any other fluffy creature you can think of. Therefore, in Zealandia, you won’t find any creatures with fur. If you’re looking for that, go to the Wellington Zoo (which is also amazing). From a student studying Wildlife Biology with a focus on mammals, going to a place where all mammals (except two species of bats) are invasive, was like going to another planet.

On this planet, the birds are what captures everyone’s attention. I mean why else would the national symbol of New Zealand, be a bird? You’ve heard of the kiwi, well in New Zealand you have to be more specific and say the kiwi fruit because their national bird is also called a kiwi. This bird is incredibly unique with the shortest beak in the world. If you’ve seen pictures or in person, you’d be very confused, because in the bird world the beak is measured from how far the nostrils are from the tip of the beak. The kiwi bird has its nostrils on the tip, therefore, the shortest beak. In Zealandia, there are no kiwi because that area isn’t where you would find kiwis in the wild.

While still on the subject of kiwis, that is also what New Zealanders call themselves, kiwis. It becomes very confusing when differentiating between the multiple meanings of the word kiwi, especially in New Zealand. Alright, let’s try and get back to the topic, Zealandia.

Zealandia is filled with the native birds of the area and boy, are they beautiful. You have Takahē, a large, flightless bird once thought to be extinct. The Hihi, the Saddleback, the Kākā, a large parrot. The Kererū, the Tūī and seven other native species. Now I hadn’t researched much on these birds and I was reluctant to even go, because if I did, I would have no idea of what I would be looking for. That’s why I didn’t go till right before I left and I am really glad I did go. I went with three gentlemen who were in my Animal Diversity class at uni. Two are Kiwis and one is Danish who has lived in New Zealand for two years and all in biology. They were much more knowledgeable than I was and pointed out all the birds by listening to their calls. In fact, on the map, all the native species are listed and we saw them all! Including the Tuatara, Wellington Green Gecko and the Tree Wētā. The last one is shown by going into a cave and they are on the ceiling! I went in once and for 5 secs. I couldn’t go again. I saw and that’s enough.

Without the help of my fellow classmates I would not have enjoyed Zealandia as much as I did. Thank you Shaun, Dan, and Dan!

In the Heart of Arusha

Working in the hospitals in Arusha was a daily challenge but an enjoyable one. Each and every day we faced a new obstacle with the language barrier but soon learned enough Swahili to be able to get a message across to a patient or their loved ones. This came about most in the vaccination clinics; we were helping to administer vitamins, aiding with vaccinations and immunizations and helping to register new babies into a government system. It was difficult to ask the mothers questions and even more difficult to properly record their answers in Swahili but the more practice I had with it, the easier it started to be. Short phrases came more and more easily with time and I slowly began to comprehend more throughout the trip.

Sanitation was a factor that was hard to cope with within the hospitals and the life style in general. Cleaning of patient beds was often done with dingy soap water and the sterilization of medical tools and supplies was not up to the standards of the U.S. When talking to fellow volunteers and the professionals that we worked with and followed, we were all aware that a lot of the sanitation problems were due to a lack of supply. What could be altered without the requirement of additional supplies, the doctors and nurses were glad to learn from us. They were eager to learn whatever they could in order to help their patients.

Another factor that was hard to adjust to was the slow pace of Africa. “Pole pole,” is a very common term in Tanzania and it means, slowly slowly. The lifestyle is very relaxed and coming from the United States, where we are constantly planning, cramming and in a rush, it was difficult to adjust to something that is the exact opposite of what we know. Eventually, I was able to understand the beauty of the slower paced life. Citizens were happy and relaxed. It was only in the hospitals that I continued to struggle with the slow pace and relaxation. In these settings it still seemed more appropriate, to me, to have a sense of urgency. When it came to patients health and well-being, I thought it necessary to try and complete a task as soon as possible. Especially when some came from miles away to be treated or receive medication.

Transportation was another complication with the treatment of patients. There were multiple patients every day that had traveled for hours to arrive at the hospital. Some came by car or bus but many came by foot and had to walk for hours. This is a problem because it makes visiting a health center far more complicated for families. When filling out newborns registration cards, one question that we asked was where was the baby born, at home, in a hospital or on the way? Even if public transportation is available to some, many are still not able to afford the rates.

However, all of these factors and situations were a part of the society, a part of their culture and there is no way to say that it is wrong. It is different and it is simple. There is beauty in simplicity. Parts of this differing culture could benefit our own process, as ours could theirs.