Castles, Celtics and Culture

Hi! My name is Sami Sykes and I spent the last semester in Cork, Ireland! My global theme that I focused on was Public and Global Health. I took classes like Crime and Deviance, and Women’s Prison Systems. These classes took me up close and personal with the Irish prison systems and the way of life for the average Irish inmate. I found the coursework and education system in Irish very intriguing. There was little homework and classes really relied on the discussions that happened in person. I found this more engaging than standard American schooling and I absorbed more information because everything was discussion based.

School, though interesting, was such a small part of my semester abroad. I made friends with so many different individuals from all over the world and most of which I still talk to! I also traveled all across Ireland and immersed myself within the culture from day one. I think the best way to gain experience and knowledge in a new place is to dive head first into the culture. I met people from Ireland, America, Netherlands, Thailand, and more! Not only did I get to experience Irish culture, but because I met so many people from all over, I also got a taste for their cultures as well. I was lucky to become fast friends with another fellow UM student, Christian, and we were able to explore this country together. I’m lucky to have him because he pushed me to leave my comfort zone and broaden my horizons.

Studying abroad is a gift, a life-changing experience, and overall the best time. From seeing twelve different castles to experiencing the Cliffs of Moher, it was the most enlightening experience. The memories you make while abroad will last a lifetime. One blog post won’t do justice for how amazing it is. It truly is something you need to experience for yourself. I’m glad I had this experience because it made me grow as a student, person, and world traveler.

Mamma Mia! Covid Edition

City view of Arachova, Greece. The architecture is truly incomparable!

Γεια σας! I’m Makayla, a senior studying Organizational Communication with a minor in Media Arts. Through the Franke Global Leadership Initiative, I had the opportunity to spend (most of) my spring semester at the American College of Greece in Athens.

I had no idea what to expect from my abroad experience, having never been out of the country before. My time in Athens was the most rewarding, eye opening, and exhilarating experience of my life. From gyros, to so so many stray cats, I learned multitudes about myself, different cultures, and how differing societies handle environmental challenges.

Taken at the Temple of Apollo featuring one of the many feral cats I was referring to (of whom I think are magical).

My global theme is natural resources and sustainability. Although I wasn’t able to dive as deep as I would’ve liked into my theme during my shortened time there, I was able to observe both the differences and similarities of our cultural and environmental practices. Most of the food in Greece was locally sourced and grown, hence the oranges that I still have dreams about. I also took an environmental studies class at the college, which raised thoughts of how to remain sustainable amidst economic crises. As a country growing through financial decline, they still had an appreciation and value of the land they occupy which I found incredibly inspirational. My class also had a section on Yellowstone where I was able to share my experiences from Montana, which was really fun as they all thought Old Faithful was an insane structure.

The best oranges I ‘ve ever tasted.

At the start, I experienced a tad bit of culture shock. To my surprise, Greece is actually very mountainous, so I felt at home in no time. Getting off the train, which we missed twice, to Meteora felt like the whole city was a green screen. It’s home to the largest complex of Greek monasteries, many isolated on the mountain peaks.

The breathtaking inspiration behind ‘Game of Thrones Eyrie’

Studying abroad was absolutely the best decision I ever made for myself. By being out of my comfort zone, I saw the most incredible views, made the best friends ever, and learned more about myself than I thought was possible in a few short months. The people of Greece are loud, bold, and incredibly friendly which rubbed off on me in the end. The enriching intercultural exchanges I had made me feel better equipped to be a leader and study Communication from a global lens. Overall, the experience not only gave me a greater sense of tenacity and confidence in regard to my studies, but in myself as well.

The girl gang!

Although this was an interesting semester to have an out of classroom experience, I feel so grateful to have lived every second of it. I wholeheartedly believe that seeing unfamiliar sites, being surrounded in a cafe with a completely unfamiliar language, and meeting those who are different than us has immeasurable value that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

OPA! Off to Greece I Go!

The Seaport town of Nafplion. Greece’s water is absolutely stunning!

Hi, my name is Kat and I studied abroad this past semester in Greece. My theme is technology and society. I took a consumer behavior class while I was there that discussed how technology effects consumers in different markets. It was really interesting to see the differences as well as similarities between Greek and American cultures. I was the only one in my class that wasn’t Greek, so it gave me a really fascinating perspective and we all had some really good conversations. I learned a lot about Greece’s government and issues they’ve been having since their economic crisis. While this was in the media, it wasn’t portrayed exactly how they would describe it. It was really interesting to see their opinions versus what the media portrays. It was also incredibly interesting talking to them about American politics because they experience it through what they see on social media and the internet and were really interested in what it was like living there. I think social media and the internet are a great way for different societies to stay connected, but you don’t necessarily always see the full story until you personally know someone living in it or are living in it. 

Greece is also very mountainous which I didn’t really realize. This is Meteora which is home to the largest complex of Orthodox Monasteries.

Going to Greece was hands down the best decision I have ever made. I connected with so many people I would have never been able to connect with. I learned so much about the world and about myself in such a short amount of time. I definitely gained a whole new perspective on life. There are so many places and people to see and cultures to experience. I learned to be more confident in myself and as a leader. In Missoula I am very comfortable, and this really pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I feel like I can do anything now that I set my mind to. Even though this experience didn’t end the way we all wanted it to, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I grew so much as a person in just a few short months. 

My roommate Marissa and me in Budapest, Hungary

I met some of the best people while I was in Greece. My roommate Marissa actually packed up her suitcase and moved across the country from Boston to Montana for the Summer. I wholeheartedly believe soulmates are best friends and I truly met my soulmates during this experience. We had the best girl gang and I know I am going to be friends with them forever.

The best girl gang ever in Delphi!
Until I can go back I will be dreaming of MILF (Meat I Live For) Gyros

From Elephants to The Alps

I have been fortunate enough to experience two completely different countries with the GLI program. I spent a semester in Bangkok, Thailand, and a second semester in Linz, Austria. My goal for studying in these two countries was to learn more about the broad cultural and political differences of other countries and how that ties to my double major in economics and finance. 

My first semester in Bangkok taught me a lot about myself. I learned how to communicate more effectively given the language barriers. I learned about the different levels of communication. Thai people are a great example of a culture with undercurrent communication cues. Watching how someone’s body is reacting and positioned in a conversation, you can gain an understanding of what is being communicated despite what’s being said.  “Watch what people do, not what they say,” is a great lesson for being successful in life.

Krabi, Thailand

Another interesting aspect of my experience in Thailand was learning the art of tactful political inquiries and conversations. Thailand is controlled by the military and has a constitutional monarchy with the first constitutional rule of the country forbidding disparaging the king. Political conversations are monitored, and a misstep could get a person deported or jailed. An interesting aspect to experience. 

My next semester was spent in the smaller city of Linz, Austria, which was a completely different world in some sense from Thailand. I experienced a very different outlook on the Austrian government and political institutions. I went from a somewhat absolute Monarchy to a very democratic country. 

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

While studying in Austria, I learned a great amount about the history of Europe and its role in the world wars. This included information about concentration camps and the era of Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, my time in Austria was cut short due to COVID-19. I had traveled to Poland to meet my friend I had met in Thailand, who was studying abroad in Morocco. This would be a perfect example of the kinds of connections studying abroad can create. But while in Krakow, public transportation was ceased due to the virus and we were not able to return to our universities. 

Maneuvering the last-minute arrangements to leave Europe abruptly and dealing with difficult situations in the airports, taught me many things about myself. I developed crisis management, self-resiliency, and inner peace management skills. Despite that strife and having to return back to the U.S. from Europe, my education of Europe’s political institutes continued.

Although these two countries were very different, there were similarities. Through these experiences, I have realized that many people living in the U.S. seem overly busy with work being a primary focus.  In Thailand, breaks are revered, and being late, even an hour, is common. Austria is similar in some sense. All stores are generally closed at seven on weekdays. On Sundays, most stores are completely closed, so there is no place to shop unless you want bread as bakeries seem to always be open.

My diverse experience gave me an understanding of different political spheres and cultures. It taught me that sometimes it’s better to just slow down and enjoy the walk. But no matter what country a person travel to, they will find similarities to their own culture and country. There’s something interesting in seeing how those similarities play out in the differences. No matter what country you find yourself in, people are much the same. We all want love, happiness, and fulfillment in our lives. 

My Time with a Local Advocacy Group

When I originally joined the Franke Global Leadership Initiative, one of my main intentions was to study abroad.  That was until I opted out last minute and settled for a local internship instead.  This internship was with MontPIRG, an advocacy group that promotes civic leadership and specializes in several social activities like engaging young voters, lobbying in the state legislature, protecting consumer rights, etc.  MontPIRG’s goals situated well with my global theme of culture and politics, and more specifically revolving around elections.  Even though uncontrollable events heavily altered the internship mid-semester, I still was able to draw plenty of skills and experiences relating to my global theme.

To explain what I have learned during my internship, here is a brief synopsis of my tumultuous time with MontPIRG.  Aside from standing outside and registering voters on campus and in downtown, I was originally tasked with event planning.  More specifically, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Festival and the Ballot Initiative Event.  Up until that turbulent week prior to spring break, I assumed the role of leader in both of those project; having to organize location, promotion, volunteers/staff, entertainment, food, and beverages.  The week after spring break saw my role change.  Because of COVID-19 concerns, both events were cancelled, and I was then put in charge of letters-to-the-editor editing and submissions.  Both responsibilities required me to step up as a leader, for which I learned that communication is key.  I needed to cooperate with members of MontPIRG to setup the events and had to respond with feedback to interns and volunteers on their letters on a consistent basis.

In terms of my global theme and challenge, I was able to grasp a better understanding on our electoral system and how to properly campaign for certain issues.  I got to work with influential state senators and representatives to make effective change in the community of Montana.  Along with that, I gained more knowledge on differing political opinions from both inside and outside the organization, which have also influenced my own personal political ideology. 

All in all, while this internship did not turn out the way I expected, I still learned plenty from this opportunity.  These skills and experiences will not only assist me for my Capstone project, but in my future endeavors in law and politics.

A Heart-warming, if abridged, semester

Hey all! I’m Christian Pfeifer, and I spent my Spring semester in Cork, Ireland studying the Culture and Politics theme. Classes I took in Cork include Political Economy and Democratic Utopias. They were fun classes, but I feel like my biggest takeaways had to do with the cultures between countries, and also how much difference there is between American and European education.

I was glad to be away from the U.S., though I made friends with plenty of Americans while I was in Ireland. I made friends from Texas, Germany, England, China, and Eastern Europe (Though one of the biggest friends I made was my fellow UM traveler, Sami). The biggest change I noticed from America to Ireland was the attitudes. Ireland has a lot of friendly people in it. I definitely met some hostile individuals here or there, but for the most part people felt unguarded and willing to speak their mind. It reminded me how much more conservative the U.S. is as a country. Americans aren’t as trusting of one another and there is a resistance to emotional openness. You can see this in the politics, as well. Despite the rise of an historically contentious party, many people in Ireland accepted the change without a lot of outrage. I wish the U.S. could think as amiably about its politics.

Perspective is important; making friends with Chinese students helped me understand that China is not the polar opposite of Western nations, but it does have issues to address.

One of the ways I made fast friends was through the International Student’s Society. I eventually became a lot more comfortable with organizing people I didn’t know, especially in groups like the Rover Scouts, which had weekly meetings. The passion that I encountered in other students helped push me out of the malaise I’d felt for all of junior year. There were plenty of surprising perspectives on the U.S.’s problems, which I didn’t expect to be a point of contention in Ireland. When it came to my theme, I came to wonder how many other perspectives I don’t think about when I’m in the U.S. How much insight have I lost when I don’t listen to other people? I hoped that having courses in Ireland would lead me to a new way of looking at politics.

I was blown away by my classroom experiences. The quality of lectures was a great break from what I remembered in the U.S. I ended up coming away from those classes with a newfound interest in China, Conflict resolution, and how Beowulf is such an interesting work in relation to English history. You were expected to read, but there was little to no homework. Some of the most life changing visits in Ireland come from driving through the countryside, seeing the formations, or taking a look at old estates. Ireland is full of a lushness and life, with a stillness unique to an island that always has rain. It gives a lot of time to pause and reflect on how you have been and what’s next for you. It had been the most stress-free experience I’d had since starting University.

It’s all about the atmosphere, especially in places like Ross Castle and the Cliffs of Moher. It felt good to visit without so many other people. It’s like you have the world to yourself.

In the end, everything I learned about myself and what I wanted to do for the world made me want to return home.What I took away was a new enthusiasm for being an academic. I had a greater desire to excel in my field, and to chase my interests instead of reacting to life. As I left Ireland, I wondered how I could get better at chasing opportunities and thinking of my goals. I already feel a need to help people, but how could I push myself to make those opportunities for myself? These questions grew bigger for me over the summer, but I’m sure they’ll stick with me as I finish my college career.

Tales of a Wannabe Kiwi

A classic New Zealand view of rolling hills

Kia ora! My name is JT, I am a senior studying Music composition, Media Arts, Entertainment Management, Chinese, and Global Leadership.

My abroad experience this last semester took place at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, NZ. I really didn’t know what to expect from this semester, but I never thought in a million years that I would get so attached to New Zealand that I would want to move back in the future.

My adventures actually began with a crazy “no-reservations” style trip across the world before I ended up in New Zealand. I planned to go the “other” way around the world to get there and I ended up in Europe and Asia. I don’t know why I felt like I needed to dive headfirst into culture shock, but I did. I was both trying to test the limits of my comfort zone and trying to get artistic inspiration from every facet of life—people, landscapes, food, language, culture, everything. I also gave myself a chance to stay in countries that spoke other languages than English.

Every part of Iceland was just a masterpiece

I visited 5 countries—Iceland, Denmark, France, Italy, and Japan—before ending up in my final destination. Each place offered some of the most crazy experiences of my life. I honestly never thought I could pull something like that off and navigate through five completely different cultures. Prior to this trip, I had never been overseas, so I felt like I was always missing out on a lot. I never realised how much world travel changes your perspective on humanity and your own life.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen
The beautiful Trevi Fountain in Rome
Best Valentine’s Day to date
My favourite statue has always been the Venus de Milo and it was so breathtaking to see it in person

Now I really feel like I have the confidence to conquer almost anything after learning some Japanese to navigate the 200+ exits at the Shinjuku Station in Tokyo or eating fermented shark in Iceland. When you remove yourself completely out of your normal environment you are so much more inclined to step outside your comfort zone.

The streets of Shinjuku, Tokyo were always packed, even at 2am

When I first arrived in New Zealand, I already felt like it was a home base for myself. Instantly, I was greeted with several Kia ora’s (hello in Māori) and incredible hospitality (even from the airport security guards). My host university wasn’t shy to throw me into several social settings with orientation events, downtown parties, and several student groups.

My kiwi friend, Jodie and I at Piha Beach outside of Auckland

My initial global theme was Technology and Society but that quickly evolved to add the theme of Social Inequality and Human Rights. I was primarily there to focus on music courses, but my class in Decolonization Methodologies and Indigenous Research turned out to be one of the most rewarding classes I have ever taken in my life. It was tough at first, especially not knowing Aotearoa history very well and not knowing practically any Te Reo Māori (Māori language). However, my eyes were quickly opened to the injustices that Indigenous people face everywhere, not just in the US. As progressive as New Zealand is, they are still working to make amends with current Māori iwi through treaties, political representation, integration of Te Reo Māori in everyday life, and many other ways. However, I think the integration of Māori culture and language in everyday Kiwi life is something that I think could serve as a model for every country.

The beautiful Bridal Veil Falls (Te Reo Māori: Wairēinga)
Marokopa Falls looked like a scene straight out of a movie

It was also just simply crazy that I was in New Zealand during a global pandemic. I first thought I absolutely had to come home, but a gut feeling told me that with the leadership and isolated nature of New Zealand that it would be heaps safer to remain there. It was insane to experience firsthand a very successful way to handle the COVID-19 crisis living outside of my home country. The lockdown was rough intially, as I had no contact with anyone outside of my bubble at home and online music schoolwork was rather frustating at times. But however, because of the great leadership from the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and people’s collective attitude to keep each other safe, soon everything was back to almost normal and I was out and about again.

Post-lockdown, I had the crazy idea to bungy jump off of a 155ft cliff into a river
We love Aunty Cindy!

I was also able to work and collaborate as well with other music students in the music department at Waikato and was able to write a few works based on landscapes and experiences from my travels. I was even lucky enough to perform a mini-recital in the Gallagher Recital Hall after the lockdown. In that short period of time I already was able to make some great connections with music professors and students around the North Island and now I am heavily considering doing my Masters of Music in New Zealand. I worked closely with my bassoon professor, Ben Hoadley, throughout the whole semester and he told me repeatedly that bassoonists are heavily needed in New Zealand and that I would readily have gigs available if I ever came back. I never thought that I would ever have options in a foreign country, so it was so incredible that so many professors/mentors were very encouraging of my future career goals in music.

Views from Auckland Harbour
Drive 2 hours one way and you have a sunny surfing beach, drive 2 hours another way you’ll see a snow-capped volcano

I really still never thought that I would become so accustomed to the life in New Zealand. Soon I was eating Fish and Chips (or Fush and Chups as they call it) almost everyday and saying “Sweet as, mate” to everyone. I was clearly American whenever I talked, but I tried my best to do everything remotely Kiwi-esque.

I would love to live in Wellington some day. Incredible art scene, but very windy!

I made some of the most incredible friendships in my entire life there as well, it was actually pretty dang hard to say goodbye to everyone. I lived with my two Norwegian friends, Lillian and Kristine and coincitendally, with my friend and fellow GLI-er Bri. I learned a lot from them all whether it was sharing our family backgrounds over terribly-made enchiladas or exploring nature all over the North Island. I also made a lot of friendships with other international students from China, Japan, Finland, the UK, Canada, India, Australia, and several other places. It’s so cool knowing now that I have all these places to visit now! I guess my bank account would say otherwise.

Made some incredible friends that I’ll never forget and hope to visit again in the near future (well Bri is a fellow GLI friend here, so I can see her whenever…it was a lovely coincidence that we ended up as flatmates.)
I would never think to criticize food of another culture, but I never understood the chip buddy, which is just butter on white bread with fries and tomato sauce

All in all, this was one of the best experiences of my life and I feel like I came back to the states with a completely new perspective on everything. I know for a fact I’ll be back at some point after graduation. It felt like a second home to me. It was hard to say to say haere rā (farewell) to the place I grew so close to in six short months, but this journey thought me that I’m never stuck in one place and that the world will always be waiting for me to explore.

If I missed anything the most, it’s this giant hand in Wellington.

Surviving Drought by Working Together: AMF-induced Drought Tolerance in Canadian Horseweed.

Often times, people view research as clean and precise- a group of scientists standing around in lab coats peering through microscopes. However, I’ve found through the course of my research that science can be messy and unclear. It isn’t always about finding the answers, but instead, learning which questions to ask next.

Hi, my name is Kian Speck and I am a senior studying Ecosystem Science and Restoration at the University of Montana. My capstone experience was a research project in partnership with Ylva Lekberg at MPG Ranch and built upon work done in collaboration with Min Sheng at Northwest A&F University in China. The research involved an important organism in plant ecology called arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, or AMF. AMF is a type of microscopic fungus that lives in soil and forms relationships with the roots of most land plants. Put simply, the plant provides AMF a food source (carbon) as well as a place to live and reproduce. In return, the AMF offers a plethora of services for the plant, such as increased nutrient uptake, herbivory defense, and possible increased drought tolerance.

The ASUM greenhouse where my research was conducted. This is prior to drought, and I’m checking for any differences in plant growth between the two treatments.

The goal of my research was to determine if, and how, AMF help plants mitigate drought stress. The plant I used was Canadian horseweed, due to its prevalence in drought prone areas and documented association with AMF. Furthermore, Canadian horseweed is invasive in much of China and the Middle East and having a better understanding of its ecology could help restoration efforts overseas. The results of my research won’t be available until later this year, but the lessons I learned while conducting this research are clear. 

Setting up the drought conditions using a wick system to manipulate soil moisture. This was arguably the hardest part of the experiment to get right.

A major takeaway from my capstone experience is understanding the importance of scientific integrity. Although I faced my fair share of challenges and setbacks, it was important to correct mistakes properly to ensure that the data we were gathering would be accurate and unbiased. At times, these setbacks may have taken a couple weeks to correctly fix. In the end, having integrity is better than having a “clean” or “perfect” study.

Overall, this capstone experience has been extremely eye-opening. It has shown me how difficult science can be, and how rare it is to get everything right. It has caused me to ask more questions than I originally had, and to reanalyze assumptions I had made. I look forward to taking a closer look at our data and writing up the manuscript for publication in the coming months.

Nottingham, England

Hi there, my name is Trevor Finney and I am currently a senior at the University of Montana!

I spent this past semester studying abroad in Nottingham, England with the goal of learning more about green business and sustainability within supply chains. I wanted to better understand how businesses can evolve in the face of climate change and operate more efficiently and environmentally friendly. I was able to take courses in logistics, business strategy, and China’s global economy, all of which had elements discussing the steps companies are taking to innovate in the name of sustainability. Furthermore, guest lecturers in my courses were able to provide insight on European trade

 I was also lucky enough to travel to several countries such as Denmark, France, and Ireland to explore all the wonders that Europe has to offer.

My experience abroad and engagement with the different cultures of students who lived in the residence hall with me has given me a new perspective on how culture shapes our relationship with the environment as well as the importance of learning from people outside one’s bubble. For example, there is more social pressure to be environmentally responsible in the U.K. and Sweden, it is a social contract like waiting in queue. A good example is how when you go grocery shopping in downtown Nottingham (or Dublin), most people bring reusable bags as it costs ten pence for each plastic one you have to buy. Furthermore, many people walk to the grocery store, so your bags have to be durable enough for the trek home. I really appreciated the bag tax as an economics major as it is a proven incentive to get people to engage in more socially and environmentally responsible behavior, and the shame of noncompliance does not hurt either.  

It is also easier to live greener in Europe as public transport is everywhere, affordable, and accessible. In Nottingham there is an electric tram that runs through all of town daily, connecting city to suburb. Talking with my fellow flat mates, I confirmed what I had suspected, most cities in Europe have incredible public transit whether it is HamburgHamburg or Copenhagen. I think Americans like myself can learn a lot from talking with people from diverse perspectives when it comes to sustainability as we clearly don’t need to reinvent the wheel, rather just look at what has been proven to be an effective solution. I also found that the students I met from Italy live greener lives, but it isn’t with great effort, it’s simply apart of their lifestyle and culture. For example, they spoke of how some apartments do not have clothes dryers, air conditioning, or limitless amounts of hot water and thus you live a more practical, energy conserving life. With smaller fridges and cars that get double the mileage of even the best hybrid, Italians carb footprints are much smaller than those of Americans, and even the Brits. When it comes to the Netherlands, my Dutch friend told me about how as a small country there is a lack of space for new landfills, implying the need to be conservative and efficient with waste management, instilling in the culture a sensibility when it comes to disposables like single use plastics, one that I find  we often lack in the U.S.

In terms of leadership skills, you might be shocked to know that absolutely no one participates in class discussions in the U.K. My American friend Cole and I would sit in a lecture hall of a hundred students and watch as everyone said nothing until we felt compelled to give the lecturer an answer just to break the silence. It may’ve just been my three courses, but I definitely had to get used to feeling weird for speaking up. Participation isn’t necessarily “leadership” but I also led group discussions and group projects. I did not mind it because it gave me a chance to ask questions about attending university in England and what it’s like to not have to pay hardly anything for school. I did develop in my ability to independently plan a trip and navigate French cities with only two semesters of classes.

One cultural difference that may be attributed to being in a city instead of a small town like Missoula is that every night of the week is a party night. Nottingham has a vibrant nightlife with dozens of clubs, and I’d always head home around midnight only to be awoken at three in the morning by the drunken chatter of inebriated lads. One of the best nights I had in the U.K. was a trip to Scotland where we went on a bar crawl, and for the sake of embracing the local culture, we drank a fair amount of local scotch. I also enjoyed Scotland for the beautiful architecture of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the stunning landscape.

P.S: News flash to me, an American, Trevor is not a common English name; it is actually considered antiquated.

Comparing Norwegian Education System During Quarantine

My name is Rachel Brosten, and for my study abroad experience I went to the University of Bergen in Norway this past spring semester. Going in, my plan for my Global Challenge was to analyze the American education system and its approach to teaching students. Norway has one of the highest rates of education so I wanted to see if I could understand why and how the US could improve its own. So for me, the very act of studying abroad supported my challenge and Theme of Culture and Politics.

My brother and I on a night hike to the top of one of the surrounding mountains overlooking Bergen lit up below

Coincidentally enough, my older brother was also attending the University of Bergen and pursuing his Master’s in mathematics, so it was exciting to be going to the same school again for the first time in 5 years. Bergen was an absolutely stunning place, with so many opportunities to get outdoors and hike and explore. The student housing I lived in was surrounded by graveyards so that was pretty cool and a lot less creepy than I thought it would be. Also, the public transportation system was amazing and that enabled me to go into the city center and look around and shop too. One of the things I miss the most is how absolutely safe and stress free it felt to walk about. I even felt comfortable walking alone at night!

One of the graveyards around where I lived

While there, I got to attend a Black Lives Matter rally which was a super interesting experience because about 2/3 of the speeches were in Norwegian so I could understand very little. The rest was in English and those were ones I was able to really get into. It really was such an amazing and surreal experience, to be attending a rally of a group formed in the US as protest against the killing of innocent black Americans by police…all the way over in Norway. And have almost as much energy as if I was back in the US (given, introverted Norwegian high energy, but still high)

Norwegian signs reading “Racism is also a pandemic” and “If you don’t see the problem, you are the problem”

At the University, I took two courses; one on world education and society and the other on indigenous arctic governance. One thing that was super different was how each class was structured. They only met once a week for 2-3 hours with a 15 min break in the middle and the only homework was to read the assigned material. No essays, no quizzes, just one final exam at the end of the semester which would be the only determiner of your grade. So, your entire grade rode on one 6-10 hour long sit-in written essay. I learned later with my expectations and experience in the US education system, I was woefully unprepared.

And then of course, the pandemic hit and everything immediately and completely shut down. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend about 4 weeks of classes which meant 8 individual classes (4 for each subject) and it didn’t allow a lot of time to make friendships. Luckily I was able to make one friend from Poland and we’re still in touch and wanting to visit each others’ home country when this is all over (aka when other countries actually allow any Americans to come in.) That time was super hard. I was essentially completely by myself for 3 months in a small dorm room where I was within 6 feet from my “kitchen” and bathroom when lying in bed. All I can say is thank god my brother was there. We made sure to check in on each other and socialize and make sure to get out of the building as much as possible. There was never a time we each needed family more and we were lucky to live in the same building.

My friend Dominika momentarily stuck in a telephone booth library

As an outlet and release of sorts, I even created a blog for myself where I could write out any deep introspective thoughts I was having, work/talk through difficult emotions, as well as just continuously journal about what it was like to live through the entire experience. It was very therapeutic for me and helped a lot with any mental or emotional strain. And man oh man was I glad to be an introvert because I had inadvertently been training for this prolonged period of solitude for 21 years. I actually had my birthday in March while I was there. Big deal in America, meaningless age in Norway.

The biggest thing I learned was just how different the expectations and approach to learning are in Norway. I actually learned this the most in my own failure.

This all came to a head during my finals. When the time came, I found that I actually had very little idea on how to even approach studying because it didn’t rely on pure memorization of facts and dates. I had total access to all the notes and readings and all resources provided during the course of the term. So I legitimately didn’t know how to prepare and that made me feel really frustrated at the limited skills my past schooling had provided me. Was the only thing encouraged/taught just different ways of memorization and not actually how to critically think and articulate what you’d learned? It sure felt that way.

It was especially hard because I had never before in all my 16 years of schooling, ever failed a class. It was almost debilitating and I was so angry at myself for not preparing more, at my past schooling for not preparing and teaching me, and just at the fact that I knew I was 100% able of doing it and yet, couldn’t. Also, for the prior 2 days leading up to my last final, knowing how unprepared I was for the first, I didn’t sleep at all with anxiety at what was coming. So there I was, staring at prompts I couldn’t answer well, stressed, absurdly sleep deprived, and calling my mom every hour to cry.

But as it tends to do, time continued on unwaveringly and I got through it. They say you tend to learn the most from your failures, and I would definitely agree (as terrible it seems while you’re in it).