Studying Along the Rhône: A Year in Lyon, France

Global Theme and Challenge

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

My Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Theme & Challenge

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

My Experience 

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

My Beyond the Classroom in Tokyo Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer magazine writing

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hawaii – island living in the middle of the Pacific

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

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

Studying in Barcelona, Spain

Studying Abroad in Barcelona, Spain 

“Que bonita la vida, que curiosa tu forma de andar”

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I saw this phrase written on the inside of a stall in a cafe on my second day of my study abroad semester in Barcelona, Spain. It translates to something like, “What a beautiful life, how curious the way you wander.”

I still resonate with it after I’ve returned from my six months abroad. My experience has given me an education about culture, people, language, politics, history, and the world. I learned about myself, my own independence, potential, and leadership skills. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences and knowledge I gained from studying in Barcelona, and it will continue to positively affect me for the rest of my life.

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Barcelona, Spain 

The Global Leadership Initiative

 and Studying in Barcelona

The Global Leadership Initiative 

Through the University of Montana’s GLI program, I was able to pack up my life, and move half way around the world to study at La Universitat de Autómoma de Barcelona, or UAB.  As an English literature major with a Pre-PA (physician Assistant) emphasis, I chose Public and Global Health as my global theme and eventually decided to focus on mental health as my global challenge. I had some rather specific requirements to go abroad. I like to think that UAB chose me. It was the only available university in a Spanish speaking environment, with a psychology course for my GLI challenge, and English literature courses.

One of the most valuable experiences I had was taking a class called Ámbitos de Aplicación en Psicología de la Salud, or Areas of Application of Health Psychology. I took the entire course in Spanish, and I can safely say it was one of the hardest things I have ever accomplished. It really showed me how difficult a language barrier can be and also helped improve my Spanish immensely. I learned about the diverse psychological and mental effects of other health conditions like diabetes, obesity, fibromyalgia, hospice, and cancer.  Not only will it be useful information for GLI and my professional career as a PA, but I gained an understanding of how language barriers can affect the quality of health care. After my time in Barcelona, becoming fluent in Spanish has become a priority for my personal and professional goals.

My International Family 

One of the highlights of going abroad was becoming part of a family of international students from all over the world. Studying in Barcelona introduced me to many new people; we  were able to travel together, share problems and experiences together, and ultimately became life long friends.

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Exploring Barcelona

Barcelona is located in a region of Spain called Catalunya.  Many Catalan people distinguish themselves as Catalan, rather than Spanish. The people in the region often speak Catalan and especially cherish their own language, traditions, and history.

Barcelona is a different world than the sparsely populated, northwestern U.S. that I’ve always known. It’s a buzzing city of 1.6 million people. There’s a constant stream of people casually bustling down the street with deliberate destinations. Ordering a coffee, you will hear a blend of Spanish, Catalan, and English in the background babble. You might bump into a Spaniard, a Portuguese, or a Frenchman. It’s a compact city full of international diversity and a quiet buzz of constant excitement.

El Gótic

El Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter, is full of small shops, tapas restaurants, bars, and apartments. The winding paths and Gothic style make it a popular destination for travelers and locals alike. I used to wander for hours in the Gothic Quarter, and loved finding new cafés to sip some café con leche (coffee with milk) and people watch.

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El Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter feels like a city maze, with narrow cobblestone streets that bend and twist unpredictably.

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I was fortunate enough to have my family visit me during my time in Barcelona. Behind my dad, sister, and myself, Pont Gótic is one of the most famous images of the Gothic Quarter. 

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The tan buildings are usually five or six stories high, with layers of balconies and intricate Gothic styles.

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Looking up at the balconies you might see Catalan flags, plants, or drying laundry. The Catalan flag was often paired with yellow ribbon symbolizing the support of the release of a few Catalan politicians from prison. With recent political movements towards Catalan independence from Spain, the Catalan flag was more prominent than the Spanish flag. 

Montserrat 

Just outside of Barcelona, Montserrat is an incredible monastery nestled into a unique, towering mountain of curious rock formations. After a train ride and a gondola to the top, the place attracts a curious combination of hikers, climbers, tourists, and religious pilgrims coming from all over the world.

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The monastery seems small compared to the towering rock formations of Montserrat. 

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With the monastery to the right, and the mountain to the left, the transition between the two creates a unique blend of natural and architectural beauty. 

La Sagrada Família 

La Sagrada Família is an identifying highlight of Barcelona. Planned by the famous architect, Antoni Goudí, it is still under construction today. Throughout Barcelona there are many architectural works by Goudí, the Sagada Familia being the most famous. The church’s intricate Gothic exterior contains a progressive symbolism for the birth and death of Christ. It is said that Gaudí planned the church to be just short of the tallest point in Barcelona, with the reasoning that man’s creation shouldn’t reach higher than God’s creation.

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The inside is filled with changing colors from the large stain glass windows, and the branching pillars inside vaguely mimic trees and the image of sunlight filtering through a colorful canopy.

Bunkers del Carmel

The Bunkers de Carmel offers one of the best views of the city. As one of the highest points of the city, the ruins of an old anti-aircraft base sit at the top with a 360 degree view.

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My directly above my sister and I, the Sagrada Família’s tall spires stick out in the middle of the city. Far in the background, the Mediterranean Sea blends into the sky. 

La Barceloneta  

Right next to the Mediterranean Sea, Barcelona offers a port, a marina, and beautiful sandy beaches.

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The W Hotel, (shark fin shaped building) is another identifying building in Barcelona’s skyline. 

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Barcelona is full of pedestrians, bikers, and skateboarders enjoying the sun, especially along the beach. 

Plaça d’Espanya

Plaça d’Espanya, or Plaza Espana,  makes an impression even from a distance. The towering dome of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is the national museum of Catalan visual art, displayed impressively with massive colorful fountains and preceded with many, many stairs.

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What I Learned 

Studying in Spain was the experience of a life time. I had the best moments of my life, and some of the worst. I learned more about myself, what I am able to accomplish, and how I want to spend my time and effort. I was integrated into Spanish culture and gained new perspectives of Catalunya, Spain, the U.S., and the rest of the world. I returned with ambition to become fluent in Spanish and to continue pursuing my GLI goals, personal goals, and professional goals. I am incredibly thankful for my experience in Spain and cannot wait to apply what I have learned to the rest of my life.

 

 

Healthcare in Uganda

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to live in Iganga, Uganda for 12 weeks and volunteer at the Iganga District Hospital. This hospital serves the entire district and surrounding area, despite having a severe lack of resources. Many times, if they run out of supplies, the health professionals will either improvise or have the attendants (usually the patient’s family) buy the items. For example, there was one time when they needed to catheterize a delivering mother to drain her bladder so that the baby could pass without injury. They had run out of catheters, so instead they had to tear IV tubing and use that, which is a LOT more painful than a normal catheter. But, they had no choice since the alternative would have been much worse. Observing these situations and decisions allowed me to investigate my global challenge of “Providing high quality healthcare with limited resources”. Most of the time I was surprised at how resourceful the midwives, nurses, and doctors were. There were sometimes though when even they were helpless to do anything, because there was absolutely nothing that could be done. There is no alternative to basic supplies such as oxygen, ultrasounds, and electricity. I witnessed several deaths that wouldn’t have occurred if there had been supplies.

Since I am still a pre-med student, and my highest level of training is Certified Nursing Assistant, I didn’t perform any procedures, or do anything that is outside the scope of practice of a pre-med student/CNA (despite the nurses’ insistence that it was okay in Uganda). So, my time was spent observing, and helping with tasks such as cleaning, retrieving supplies, wrapping up newborns, and other basic tasks that often get overlooked or put off due to a lack of staff. I also spent a lot of time connecting with patients. I learned that holding a hand communicates empathy, respect, and compassion more than an attempt to speak the local language. I gained leadership skills not by overseeing a large project or procedure, but by observing those who were in charge. I was able to observe how they lead, and what works in the Ugandan culture and what doesn’t.

Outside of the hospital, I spent a lot of time with my host family. I got to know them and learn about their culture and beliefs as well. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between our cultures. I was also able to learn about their views on public and global health issues.

Going into this experience, I knew that I was interested in global health, and specifically practicing as a doctor in a developing country. My time in Uganda cemented this desire. I had a lot of amazing experiences, but it was the difficult experiences that taught me the most. There were several heartbreaking moments that made me stop and consider why I wanted to go into a profession where these moments occur every day. Each time, I came to the conclusion that it is the moments in between the sad ones, and the connections with patients that makes the whole job worth it. For example, when you tell a mother who is mourning the death of one of her twins that they were able to save the other twin, and you see the hope go back in her eyes as she realizes she still has one child to take care of and love. The fact that I was able to connect with that mom and comfort her during her heartbreak, and offer her hope embodies why I want to become a doctor. I am so thankful for the amazing experiences that I had in Uganda!

-Kirsten Tucker

 

Exploring environmental consciousness in a town of 4 million people

When I moved to Athens, Greece approximately 8 months ago, a quick Google search informed me that the population of Athens was no more than 700,000 people; a size relatively similar to Denver or Seattle, a size that seemed intimidating to a girl who has never lived in a city over 70,000, yet also a size that sparked excitement and a sense of adventure. Upon arriving in the city, I was quick to discover that although the census says the population of the city is 700,000, since the year 2011 the actual population of the city combined with the vast urban sprawl has soared well above the 3.5 million mark. I travelled to Greece to study abroad as well as explore the topic of my GLI global theme centered around sustainability and environmental consciousness. What I found upon arriving was an experience that nothing could have prepared me for, from the awe-inspiring physical beauty, to the intricacies and complexities of Greek people and culture. Studying these themes in a city that tops the list of Europe’s most populous cities was a task that taught me more about society’s interaction with the environment, as well as served as a profound comparison between the sustainability strategies that are being implemented in an urban hub and the efforts we take in the–mostly–environmentally aware city of Missoula, MT. Not only did I have the chance to study an environment that I never have studied before, but I also experienced what it felt like to feel so incredibly small in a place so incredibly big.

Studying abroad was one of the most solitary experiences that I have had. Although I made great friends, when it came down to it, there were decisions I had to make and situations that I found myself in that forced a competence and an independence out of me that I had always thought was there but had never been forced to use. I participated in a youth conference focused on environmental justice and global peace that allowed me to apply my practical leadership skills such as serving as a youth leader and educator in a topic that I am passionate about. In addition, while living abroad I was able to apply a different kind of leadership skill, one that involved being my own leader by being able to assess if a situation would be a positive or negative experience, and figuring out how to be my own reliable source of comfort and happiness.

Living in Athens was incredible and by far one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been in my life, although not without its challenges. The accessibility to natural space in Missoula that I have come to take for granted was not present in my living situation in Athens, allowing me to instead study and accept urban life as my own, one of the biggest moments of adaptation that I have had the chance to experience.  Through living in a place vastly different from my own, both in size and culture, I was able to better develop my ideas and perspectives about the global issues that both Greeks and Missoulians face, and in turn how to better develop research questions that address local sustainability and environmental consciousness, and how those sustainability practices can better be implemented on an international and cross-cultural scale.

 

Collaborative Conservation in the Blackfoot Watershed

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is one of the largest nonprofit conservation organizations in the world. They have conserved over 100-million acres across 72 countries with the help of one million members. There is a small and ambitious branch of TNC located in Missoula, Montana. In the last two decades, they have carried out the largest single private conservation purchase in history, right here in our backyards.

In the push to settle and develop the West, the federal government used a rectangular survey system that split the land into systematic boxes. Attempting to entice railroad companies, the federal government gave them alternating 1-mile parcels of land. Over time, these railroad holding were sold to ranchers, settlers and timber companies. The checkerboard of ownerships continues to create enormous challenges for land managers today.

BFWatershedMap_Poster_02_17_16.jpgThe Blackfoot Challenge, 2016: http://blackfootchallenge.org/?cat=57

Plum Creek Timber Company came to own more than one million acres of this former railroad land in Montana. When Plum Creek began to transition away from logging, TNC saw an opportunity to take on a complex and innovative conservation strategy to condense ownership of this important landscape. As an interim owner, TNC is holding an extensive collaborative process to work with neighbors and partner organizations to redistribute the land to permanent conservation owners. This landscape is the southern tip of the Crown of the Continent, which remains one of a dozen places left in the world that has not has a single recorded post-industrial plant or animal extinction. It is vital habitat as well as historic, working land. The project will ensure its conservation for wildlife, rural livelihoods and recreationists.

COCE_Boundary_CMP_2013Wildlife Conservation Society North America, 2013: https://northamerica.wcs.org/Wild-Places/Crown-of-the-Continent.aspx

My global theme is natural resources and sustainability. I chose to do my Beyond the Classroom experience in Montana because I wanted to develop a deeper understanding of the groundbreaking work happening in the part of the world I already call home. My original plan was to participate in a three-month internship. I quickly realized that to work on a project that exists on a decadal timeline, I was going to need to keep showing up if I wanted to add something of value. My official GLI internship has been the beginning of a much longer relationship with TNC and their partners.

I am a communications and coordination intern, which means I am both creating storytelling materials and coordinating collaborative workgroups and events. I have had the opportunity to attend many meetings and observe collaboration in action. I have practiced taking notes and organizing them in such a way that captures the important information the group wants to carry forward. I have practiced setting up an online database for information sharing. I have practiced designing timelines and delegating responsibilities. I have practiced holding my colleagues (and myself) accountable to those timelines. I have practiced writing invitations and dealing with the messy logistics of other people’s schedules. I have practiced my interview, photographic and writing skills. I have been challenged to be resourceful when I lack experience and knowledge. I have learned to ask loud and clear for the materials and information that I need in order to do my job well. Most important off all, I have built relationships with some of the most passionate and intelligent people I have ever met. I feel so lucky to have a window into such exciting conservation work in the West and to actually play a role, however modest, in moving it forward.

Thank you to Jeanne Loftus for connecting me with The Nature Conservancy and thank you to the Franke Family for funding my work with them. This has been and continues to be the most challenging and rewarding set of projects I have done thus far in college.

A World Away: Rural India

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I set out for India, to a rural village called Loni in the province of Maharashtra (the same province which contains Mumbai), with a lot of preconceptions, a lot of ideas about how it would be, and a lot of curiosity about how the people live. Some of my thoughts on how things would be were correct, but there were many things which broke my preconceptions.

My Franke GLI global theme is Global Public Health, and my challenge is related to mental health treatment, perception and stigmas, and how it relates to physical health and society. Considering that around 99% of the population is religious in one way or another (with over 80% being Hindu) and the primary occupation is agricultural, I thought this experience in Social Health and Development at the Center for Social Medicine (CSM) would fit nicely with my own interests and studies. The CSM organization is a locally started NGO which has totally transformed the local and surrounding areas of Loni. As a branch entity of the Pravara Institute of Medical Sciences – Deemed University (PIMS-DU), the CSM works to expand the rural and tribal populations’ access to healthcare and livelihood services. This comes in the form of primary healthcare centers, mobile medical outreach, HIV/AIDS migrant worker screening camps, school health education programs, partnerships with government and NGO organizations to rescue children and women in compromising situations, and much more. They are constantly working to promote the health and welfare of the rural population, women, and vulnerable groups to achieve the best outcomes possible. The work they have done in rural India is truly amazing and inspiring.

Rural India is a place of chaotic fluidity. Many people of different religious beliefs live together, oftentimes within the same village, and are mostly non-contentious with one another. Traffic laws seem to be non-existent (though that is a common attribute I found in rural and urban areas), and yet there is a flow that somehow manages to work despite this. This flow appears to extend into the medical arena as well. Doctors at the local hospital operated quite differently to the states. Many rural farmers and workers are still illiterate and, despite the reach of technology, run off a more relaxed perception of time. There is no making appointments. This means that through the day there are times of high-volume and times of no-volume. It really keeps you on your toes. This combined with the variety of extremely progressed and “rare” cases made it very interesting to be around. I had many opportunities to witness interactions, treatments, and cultural norms which you don’t see in documentaries. I also got to know the more minute aspects, since the slow times gave me ample opportunity to have discussions with the doctors and students. All around, my clinical experiences were ones I could only have had in rural India.

 

The public outreach work and rural postings were quite rewarding. Being able to see the people and the children in their normal, daily routine was both intriguing and fun. The children were all so cute! It was inspiring to see what is being done by both the government and private organizations to help elevate the health of the people. The number of experiences are far too many to write about in just one blog.

All I can really say is this: Go see it for yourself! Experience the challenges, the successes, the food, the people, the weather, and the wonder! It wasn’t an easy experience, but I’m so thankful for all the support and assistance I received to go on this life-changing journey!

Joseph | Exercise Science & Global Public Health | Summer 2018