Oaxaca, México: My Second Home

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Name: Audrey Brosnan
Major: BFA Media Arts – Digital Filmmaking, BA Spanish
Year: Senior

A year ago today I was starting to pack my bags, getting everything in order for my study abroad experience. It would be my first trip out of the country and something I had been dreaming about since I was very young. The journey started out rocky – at about 10 pm the evening before my flight, I received a text message from Delta Airlines informing me that my flight out of the Missoula Airport had been cancelled, no further explanation given, and I had automatically been re-booked on the same flight for the following day. I was embarking on a faculty-led semester abroad, so, knowing I was booked on the same flight as my professor, I sent him a harried email asking if he too had received the same text. I remember sitting on my couch getting his quick reply: “Welcome to the world of international travel!”

A day later, I was checking in at the airport; it was about 5 in the morning (my flight was at 6) and I was getting ready to weigh my bag. I am a notorious over-packer and, having foregone a carry-on bag, I was prepared to pay for the extra weight when the worker informed me that my flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca had a strict weight limit that he could not override. I needed to drop about 30 pounds from my suitcase and fast, if I wanted to make my flight. I was panicking to say the least. I immediately called my roommate who had given me a ride to the airport, who was of course already halfway home, and begged her to come help me. I was ditching everything I deemed nonessential (looking back, I made some well intentioned but overall poor choices). I left behind all my pants, sweatshirts, and jacket thinking: Hey it’s Mexico! It’s always hot there! (WRONG). After leaving my stuff for my roommate to load into her car alone (I was told it took multiple trips), I made it through security and to my gate with two minutes to spare. My professor said, “I was a little worried you weren’t coming.”

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The first picture I took in Mexico City!

Despite the rocky start, my experience in Oaxaca was very much a dream come true. There were nine of us from the University of Montana along with our instructor. We were split up between four different households where we stayed with host families. My host mom, Cristina, was one of the most genuinely kind, caring, and funny people I’ve ever known (not to mention one of the best cooks). I had two “sisters” I knew from Montana as well as two from Chicago and two from New Zealand. I also got to know Cristina’s daughter, Fabiola, and her six year old son, Gabo (aka Gabito), who joined us for lunch almost every day. Impromptu soccer matches with Gabo were also common after lunch when we didn’t have class.

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Me and my host mom, Cristina, celebrating my 21st birthday!

Everyone living with host families attended the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, about a fifteen minute walk from our neighborhood where we took classes (in Spanish) from local Oaxacans about Spanish grammar, Mexican film and literature, poetry, theatre, cooking, dancing, and weaving. We also had “intercambios” after class where we would meet up with a partner assigned to us by the Instituto. All of the partners were volunteers from withing the Oaxaca community who were native Spanish speakers learning English as their second language. We would spend an hour a day chatting, half an hour in English and half in Spanish so we would both get practice as well as gaining a friend! My intercambio, Lourdes, was a very intelligent, kind, and funny woman. She had recently gotten her PhD in anthropology in Manchester, England. We both had an interest in film and literature – I actually helped her find a volunteer opportunity for the international film festival that is held in Oaxaca each year. And, through her volunteering, I was able to meet on of the creative directors of the Sundance Film Festival completely by chance while at dinner with some friends!

While abroad we took many trips, both organized by our program through the Instituto, through our professor, and by ourselves. Here are a few of my favorites! You can find more pictures of my time in Mexico on my instagram: @audreybrosnan.

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Our group after our first day of classes!

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Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman

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Our group at the ruins of Monte Albán

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Chapulines (grasshoppers) in el Mercado 20 de Noviembre- a traditional Oaxacan protein used in a variety of foods

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Walking on the edge of Hierve el Agua, a petrified waterfall

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Playa Manzanilla in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca where we spent spring break living in an actual treehouse!

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El Procession de Silencio (The Procession of Silence) during Semana Santa (Holy Week), downtown Oaxaca

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The Blue House aka Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s residence in Mexico City
(Translation: Frida and Diego lived in this house 1929 – 1954)

My Global Theme while abroad was Social Inequality and I chose to focus on education. Mexico, specifically the region of Oaxaca, has experienced political unrest with regards to the education system in recent years. With the highest indigenous population in the country combined with one of the highest rates of poverty, Oaxaca faces a lack of funding, facilities, transportation, supplies, and teachers, along with language barriers between teacher and student as there are 57+ indigenous languages spoken among the people. Being a filmmaking student, I was interested in filming a short documentary exploring the different sides of the issue of education access in Oaxaca. I interviewed teachers and students studying to become teachers about their own opinions as well as the basic structure of the education system, as it differs from that of the US. It was eye-opening, even having done my own research, there was nuance to the issue that I was unable to see or experience without firsthand accounts from people who live the issue each day.

I really cannot stress enough how absolutely incredible this experience was. I began the trip hoping to complete my Spanish minor; now I am two classes away from a major in Spanish, something I never thought I would be able to accomplish in my four years at the University of Montana. I am also conversationally fluent in Spanish, a dream I have had since I began Spanish classes at the age of 14, and, while abroad, in addition to class assigned work, I read my first complete work of Mexican literature and wrote a ten page analysis completely in Spanish. These may sound like small accomplishments, but they are things I hoped to accomplish but was worried I never would. While abroad I formed bonds with fellow students from Montana, but also from all over the world. I have an understanding of the Oaxacan culture I did not have before. I have a family in Oaxaca, just as I have a family here in Montana, and I can’t wait to visit again.

The Best Days

Well here I am sitting in the Brussels airport, the only major airport in Belgium, waiting for my last fun weekend trip to Barcelona. The next time I am sitting here I will be waiting for my flight home to the states. The time has gone by faster than I could have ever imagined, and while I am ready to venture home to the snow and negative degree weather, I am going to miss the city life.

Being from Montana and never staying in the city longer than a couple weeks has led to many self-discoveries. This country is so unique in many quirky ways, and while it may not be my favourite place in this huge world, it will always have a place in my heart.

I learned that there is no way I am able go longer than 6 months without some mountains in my life. I never considered myself much of a nature lover, but you never know what you have until it is gone. I discovered that I am not as independent as I thought. Being away from friends, family, and community showed me how much I value those things in my life. I have also learned a lot about the culture, history, and government of Belgium, but there two days during my exchange that I would consider the some of the best days of my life.

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If you have never been to Europe in the winter, then you will be soon to discover that it rains almost every day and if it is not rainy it will be cloudy. So, this day was glorious because not only did it not rain all day, but it was shining bright enough to sit and have a picnic. My friend Madi and I went to the store and bought Brie, bread, salami, and fruit. Before we ventured to find the perfect picnic spot, we headed to a favourite bakery and got cupcakes. We sat and stared at the Belfry on the greenest patch of grass. There were children running and playing and we forgot all about our studies. There have been so many times where I have marvelled at the fact that I am studying in Europe but this was one of those day where I couldn’t thinkof anything better.

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As you know by now I am a Montana girl; which means I have hardly ever dealt with any public transportation systems, except for riding the school bus. On this day, I seamlessly planned to go all the way to the south east of Belgium, I am currently staying in the North West (Gent) and back. There is a hike in Rochehaut called the ‘Promenade des Echelles’, or ‘walk of the ladders,’ officially it is known as walk 84. By this time, I was dying for some nature in my life, but to get there meant that I had to take a train to Brussels, another train from Brussels to Paliseul, and then from Paliseul we had to get on two different busses to reach our hiking destination. Now you might be thinking that it sounds like a piece of cake, but you must consider the size of the town I was going to. It’s like going through my blimp of a high school town Simms, and the bus only goes through the little blimp at certain times of the day and not very often. So, after extensive research and deciding that we were not going twice, I had finally figured out our way there. 5 hours to get there and 5 hours home, in the same day. Once we reached Rochehaut we ate some crepes, and I was overjoyed because we were in the French speaking part of Belgium. I could finally communicate with the world; I am staying in the Dutch part and while I have learned a lot of Dutch, I am not confident enough to speak inpublic. Anyways, off on the hike we went. It was peaceful and beautifully filled with fall colours. I kept stopping and again was just amazed that I, Megan Sipes, was on a hike in Belgium. In Europe.

 

After our hike, we ate some deliciousfood in a restaurant filled with old retired people, in nice clothes, and all their dogs. We trudged in with hungry bellies and muddy jeans, but that is not what mattered in those moments. What mattered was the memories we were creating and would carry with us for the rest of our lives.

We got to the bus stop and made our way home seamlessly. I was so happy that not only did the whole transportation go in my favour but I sure that isnot the only reason why I love this day so much. I think it must do with the fact that dreams of mine have come true. I have so many hopes and aspirations, and sometimes I am not certain they will come true, but these goals I have had for years have been realized and accomplish, while creating memories to last a lifetime.

A Day in Iganga Hospital

Victoria Gifford

This past summer, I travelled to Africa for five weeks with a group of ten pre-med students. We spent our entire school year fundraising, planning, and preparing for the experience. We educated ourselves on Ugandan culture as much as possible, from researching common social practices to trying to learn Swahili. Even with all our preparation, we knew we should expect a big learning curve and some culture shock upon arriving, and we got what we expected.

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As pre-medical students still completing our undergraduate degrees, we knew that our volunteer work would all be unskilled, and that we could provide little help to the hospital staff. Therefore we did our best to be self-aware of our limitations and tried to learn about the culture, the medical system, and understand the best ways that we could help Uganda and other nations like it in our future careers.

 

During one of our first days in the hospital we visited the emergency room where a man had been brought in after being attacked. The doctors cleaned his ear with iodine and sewed it back on with no anesthetic, and he did little more than grimace during the procedure. After watching this, we commented in admiration to a doctor how much stronger Africans seemed than Americans. They muscled through many procedures like the one we’d seen with little to no pain-relievers, and handled the tragedies in the hospital very gracefully and calmly. He laughed and agreed that Africans were raised to be strong, but then became somber and told us, “Many people believe that just because we are poor, things do not hurt as much; or they think that when people in our family die we do not feel as sad. But that is not true.” Living and working with the local Ugandans gave me a new respect and admiration for those living in poverty. It added fuel to my desire to work for Doctors Without Borders and practice medicine in places where it’s needed most. That passion is not easy to come by, and I would not have found it if I had not been volunteering in Uganda.

Seeing the conditions many Ugandans live through: children in tattered clothing, mothers crying because they can’t afford malaria medication that costs about ten US Dollars, children playing with toys they made from garbage, was heartbreaking. It was even more powerful to see how happy most Ugandans were, despite the conditions they lived in. I consider myself an empathetic person, but I quickly realized that I had become desensitized to the term “poverty.” Knowing what an impoverished family looks like, a child dying from starvation, or a woman dying from malaria puts the facts and statistics about poverty in perspective. It reminded me that even if in the last ten years less people are in poverty, millions are still too many. In fact, thousands are too many, as are hundreds, tens, or even one. The Ugandans we met that lived in derelict conditions made the most out of their lives and found ways to be happy, and it took so much more for them to be happy

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After a month of volunteering, touring, and socializing in Uganda, I realized that I should not return to Uganda until I was skilled and able to make an actual difference. But I needed that month to understand the people I wanted to help in the future, how I wanted to help in the future, and to put my personal life into perspective.

The Medinas of Morocco

By Nat Smith

                The experience most emblematic of my time in Morocco is walking down a crowded alley: weaving through a bustling throng, vendors vying for my attention, the drifting scent of olives and roasting meat, the call to prayer echoing out from mosque minarets towering above everything else. From Fez to Marrakech, most large cities in Morocco have an extensive history and a section of town built long before cars were a concern. These old areas at the heart of every major urban area are called medinas (from the Arabic word for city). Each medina has its own character, but they all share the quality of being a narrow, winding maze both daunting and exciting for a tourist. There are always overly friendly guides who can help you find your way (for a fee of course), reaching out in French, Arabic, and English. The streets of the medinas were built with one primary rule in mind: to be wide enough for two donkey carts to pass in opposite directions. The result is a pedestrian’s paradise and a respite from the roar of traffic that dominates US metropolitan areas.

                Fez has the largest and most overwhelming medina, over 180 miles of alleys snaking around in patterns only recognizable to a local. Bring a map or someone who knows where they’re going. A must-see landmark is the Chouara Tannery that has been in operation since the 11th century. You can climb up to the rooftops and look down at the process of dying leather, which has changed little in the last thousand years. If a leather jacket doesn’t quite fit your style, the city’s numerous shops filled to the brim with beautiful rugs may be better places to shop. The cuisine is another reason to visit. You could try a traditional tajine—meat and vegetables smothered in spices and slow cooked in one of Morocco’s iconic conical ceramic dishes—or couscous, traditionally eaten on Fridays to celebrate Islam’s holy day, but always delicious. The more adventurous could try a camel burger (a bit greasy for my tastes) or a bowl of snails. Food carts offering delectable baked goods or fresh prickly-pear cactus fruit are never far away. Fez’s cramped alleys can hardly contain the variety of shops and vibrant energy you feel walking around the ancient city.

 

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Tannery – Leather dying

 

                Since I’m one to usually avoid big crowds, my favorite medina was Chefchaouen. The tourist attraction of a city is tucked high up in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. What makes the city so unforgettable and eye-catching is the blue paint that covers nearly every wall in the medina. Come for the scenery and stay for the lifestyle. Given its proximity to where Morocco’s marijuana is grown, Chefchaouen has gotten the reputation as the country’s hub for illicit activity (and thus attracted plenty of western tourists). Everyone in the city was friendly, whether because they were smoking hash or trying to sell me some I could never tell. Regardless, the blue city is something everyone visiting Morocco should try to experience. I can say without exaggeration that a labyrinth of blue alleys nested among a panorama of grey-green peaks is a city unlike any other.

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                The diversity of scenery in Morocco is incredible. You can go from snow-capped mountains to rolling hills of olive trees spotted with grazing goats inside of an hour’s drive. From the sand seas of the Sahara to the waves of the Atlantic, Morocco always provides a captivating vista. Still, of all the beautiful places I visited there, when I think of Morocco I miss the medinas.

Monate Tata

 

Monate Tata

Initially published on March 9, 2017, during a Beyond the Classroom experience with Round River Conservation Studies in the Okavango Delta of Botswana.

We left Maun a little later than expected and arrived at our first campsite in NG41, a couple of kilometers outside the village of Mababe, around 6 pm. We quickly set up camp: pitching the kitchen tent and loading the equipment in it, pitching our own tents, and throwing a tarp up between the kitchen tent and the table we cook over. Sixteen, our instructor who was born and raised in Sankuyo, left to pick up Zencks and Foe (pronounced Foye) – our escort guides for our time in Mababe. We cooked as the sun set. Chicken, seasoned simply with adequate salt, pepper, and a little cumin, grilled over a mopane wood fire, sautéed peppers and onions, pap (the ubiquitous fine white corn meal cooked to the consistency of very thick mashed potatoes), and a kind of thick instant brown onion soup. “Monate tata,” as we say in Setswana (meaning: very good).

After spending the last few weeks conducting our spoor surveys with our new Bushmen tracker friends in the Xai Xai area, NG3 and NG4, here in NG41 we’ve begun our routine of herbivore transects, which we will continue throughout the rest of the program as we move to Khwai and return to Sankuyo. Everyday, two cars, each with an instructor driving, a community escort guide, and two students, leaves camp around 6:15 am with the aim of beginning a transect at 6:30am. All of these transects are along roads, some more than others, that have been driven in previous years by Round River. The car goes along at 10 kilometers per hour and everybody keeps their eyes peeled for movement in the bush. Once something is spotted, the car stops, we count, age, and sex the animals to the best of our ability, record distance with a rangefinder, take a GPS point of the car, and use a compass to record the angle of the animal from north. This method is called DADS (Density And Demography Sampling). During the first transect I went on, we saw three bull elephants, several small herds of impala and one with thirty individuals, mostly females, a waterbuck, and a wildebeest.

 

 

It still rains almost every day, as we work through this near record-breaking wet season, ranging from a prolonged drizzle to a torrential downpour. Yesterday we managed to have a fire, despite a little rain. A campfire is one of those things that never fails to remind me of so many good and peaceful times, and is my favorite part of how we operate out here.

As we sat around the fire after dinner, Ben and Kaggie took the chance to remind us that this area is very different than the one we just left. Namely, the difference in the concentration of lions, elephants, and everything else that goes bump in the night. It has only been three nights here and we’ve heard elephants pass not more than ten or fifteen meters behind our tents, and we’ve found hyena and lion tracks about fifty yards from camp.

According to Ben and Foe, lions are more present in Mababe than they ever have been. Nobody walks in town after 9:00 pm, and there are only ten dogs left in the village. Ben told us the story of an old man who, a few years ago, was on the toilet at night, outside of his house in Mababe, and was surprised by a male lion. According to Ben, as the lion attacked and lunged at the man, he shoved his arm down the throat of the lion and ripped out it’s tongue, and the lion ran off. Undoubtedly this is a story that will stick with me every time I head to the latrine.

 

 

Sixteen picked some meat in the village yesterday and began cooking it around dinnertime. Sixteen prepared the meat for those who were willing to stay up for another hour or two and chat around the fire. In Botswana, meat of all sorts is usually cooked in the same traditional way. In a round, cast iron pojkie pot, the chunks of meat are just covered with water, a healthy amount of oil, and lots of salt. After a couple hours over the fire, having been stirred occasionally, the water has mostly evaporated and sliced onions are added as the now tender meat browns in the fat. Spices can be added, but traditionally rarely are. We enjoyed a few pieces before going to bed.

Not long after I could hear the low groans of a pair of lions calling to each other a kilometer or two or way. It’s an indescribable sound, like a long, deep, tired moan that you feel in your chest, something I’ve only ever otherwise felt hearing a grizzly bear huff and puff.

Life Inside the Buffalo Fence

Life Inside the Buffalo Fence

Published April 19, 2017

 

Only one more day left in the bush of the Okavango Delta and seven until I’m on a plane back to the states. It’s difficult to believe, the time has passed so quickly. I’ll go on my last transect tomorrow morning, a bird transect. All we have left to work on are our projects, which we’ll present at the Okavango Research Institute on the 24th, and studying for our Setswana exam.

 

 

One of the most interesting parts of living in Botswana has been learning about the hunting ban of 2014 and its effects on the people who live here, in the controlled and protected areas of Botswana. I admit I didn’t even know about the hunting ban when I came to Botswana. When I heard about it during one of our first conservation biology classes, it seemed like a completely correct response to aerial surveys done by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks that showed populations of most herbivores falling precipitously across northern Botswana. Now, having spent several weeks living in the Delta, inside the buffalo fence, the hunting ban seems more like a flawed stopgap than anything else.

Hunting still happens, but now it’s called poaching, and more often than not it’s done for subsistence rather than commercial reasons. Besides turning normal people who are just trying to feed their family, as they have for millennia in the Delta, into criminals, it has taken away an important income source for rural communities. Though I have zero empathy for the usual motive of trophy hunting—I believe people should only hunt to eat—it was a very significant source of income for communities in the Delta, and can be sustainable if properly managed. The money, much more than could be earned through photographic tourism in a similar amount of time, went to schools, scholarships, community centers, house loans, and clinics, to name a few. I agree that something needed to be done about the declining numbers, but there must be a more appropriate middle ground.

 

 

Throughout my time here I’ve found myself continuously making comparisons with my home state, Montana, and in particular the little corner of the state I grew up in, around Livingston, just north of Yellowstone National Park. The wide open spaces and big skies of both places. The people, who are friendly and welcoming. The astounding lack of people, in many cases, small towns and villages separated by vast wilderness. Some aspects of the wildlife: the cape buffalo and the American bison, the impala and the pronghorn, the lion and the grizzly.

 

 

One thing I’ve noticed while living here has been how I see, or define, the wilderness. In Montana, I recognize it mostly based on the absence of human activity and the systems that support it. I realize I’m in wilderness when I down see any power lines, roads, or fences. When I don’t see any empty plastic bottles, cigarette butts, or manicured lawns. Or when there aren’t any mountainsides stripped of their trees or their earth. Here, though, we’ve been camping in places where there is none of the infrastructure that supports human activity—the roads, fences, and power lines—and I realize it more often based on the presence of things, usually wildlife. The group of giraffes loitering around the wet pan, the mating herd of elephants running past the edge of camp, the pair of ostriches dancing in the distance, or the leopard walking through camp at night, as a group of us sit around the fire. We’ve learned the tracks and scat of more than fifteen mammals, the identification of more than sixty bird species, a dozen grasses, and around thirty different trees and shrubs. It’s instilled within me a desire to learn the same thing for the place I call home—to realize and enjoy wilderness for what it is rather than what it is not.

 

 

There’s so much I’ll miss about this country and this program. We’ve has so many great times and seen and done so much. We’ve met so many great people and made so many good friends. I’ve made promises to come back, both to myself and others, and am intent on keeping them.

Abroad in Milan

Emily Hake

I had the opportunity to study abroad in Milan, Italy for the Spring 2017 semester, where I truly fell in love with the culture and beauty of Italy. Living abroad was eye-opening and challenging at the same time. It allowed me to learn much about myself and also how diving into other cultures is integral to our understanding of the world. My focus for the global theme and challenge is technology and society and while in Milan I was able to engage with a few of the ways in which technology is shaping business markets overseas. Specifically, my entrepreneurial finance class gave my class direct access to a med-tech conference taking place in the city where concepts of how technology is influencing innovation is taking root on a world-wide scale. We were asked to use these new/technological concepts to craft our own innovation or business idea. Seeing first-hand the incredible innovations coming out of Italy and surrounding European countries proved to me that the world is becoming ever-more technological and that the U.S. has a great amount of competition in the innovation world. In terms of fostering my personal leadership skills, studying abroad helped me understand what navigating a new place is truly like and that if you want to learn and grow you often have to step up to the plate yourself. Going abroad has left me curious about how the world will continually change as we become more interconnected and globalized. Overall, this study abroad experience is something that I will never forget and has shaped the rest of my life.

My Favorite Things To Do In Valencia, Spain

I started my journey in Valencia in early January, and had 4 months of new experiences, new travels, and new cultures during my time abroad. Studying abroad in Spain really opened my eyes to how different the way of life can be for different cultures, and it made me step back and look back at how I was living my life. I traveled to many different countries outside of Spain, but Valencia will always hold a special place in my heart for what it taught me and how it helped me grow.
Valencia is a diverse city with many parts to explore, I wish everyone had the chance to fall in love with it like I did. There’s the old town, the University district, the urban Ruzafa area, the beach, and more. It’s hard to choose where and how to spend your time, so here a re a few things I recommend doing when in Valencia!

Ride Bikes in the Riverbed
There’s not better way to see the city than by poking through it. All over town, you can find bike rental shops that let you rent a bike for the day, for soo cheap! I love riding through the riverbed, because you get to see local sports and people in general, and you also can ride straight to the beautiful arts and sciences museum. Even if you don’t go in, you get amazing views that are worth taking some pictures of. If you follow the Riverbed Turia all the ay down, you can take some side streets and head to the beach! You can save money on transportation by paying the all day bike fee, and it’s such a fun way to get around – especially with nice weather!
Stroll through the Central Market
For food lovers like me, walking through the central market is such an experience. Rows and rows and rows of fresh fruits, vegetables, as well as dried goods, wine, beer, candy, pastries, meats, coffees, olive oil – you name it, you can probably find it here! Grab a fresh fruit cup as you walk, or grab a latte from one of the little cafes inside. This is also the perfect place to grab a picnic for the day, and have fresh food rather than eating at a restaurant!
Walk Through the Old Town
Lucky for me, I live right in the Old Town Valencia. Close to cathedrals, churches, and the Torres De Serranos. There are winding streets that narrow and widen, leading you to hidden corners of the city. It’s fun to get lost and explore areas, because you will always find a cute cafe or small authentic restaurant. The main plazas are also a part of this area, and are always bustling with people. Spend time walking through here and street shopping from vendors, or stop off to grab a midday drink. You can also find free walking tours through this part of town, if you’re interested in knowing a little more history.
Tapas, Tapas, Tapas!
One of the many traditions of Spain: Tapas! Locals usually enjoy these late afternoon, after lunch and before dinner (which is really late compared to the United States). Find a tapas restaurant to spend a couple hours enjoying small bites and a nice drink! You’ll have no issue finding one, trust me, they’re on every corner! You get a drink, and then can go up to the bar where they have the tapas displayed. Pick which ones ya want, and once you’re done they will add up how many you ate and charge you (usually per tapa). It’s such a fun way to socialize over food and drinks, so don’t miss out on this chance to experience Valencia like a local!
Visit the Arts and Sciences Museum or Aquarium
Valencia is well know for the City of Arts and Sciences Museum and Aquarium. It costs around $35 without a student card to visit both, but if you are looking for something to do, it’s a good way to spend the day. If you aren’t in to museums, maybe not the best for you. They alternate showcases, and the aquarium is always fun to visit! Again the outside is beautiful, and when it warms up they have activities outside in the water for people to try – like paddle boarding and canoeing. It’s a great place for families, especially those with younger kids who can enjoy the interactive parts of the museum!
Try Churros and Chocolate
Although my favorite dessert is and forever will be ice cream, one has to try churros and chocolate while in Spain. This combo was created here, so of course they have the best! Going somewhere in the Old Town is your best bet for an authentic experience, but fried churros dipped in chocolate are really hard to mess up! However, make sure wherever you go serves it with a thick chocolate, not watery – cause this tastes like watered down hot chocolate, and you just end up with a sad, soggy churro. My favorite place is Horchatería Santa Catalina, they have amaaaazing chocolate, and it has been the best I’ve tried so far!
Sit and Enjoy a Drink in the Afternoon
Do as the locals do, am I right? Everyday, I walk by a restaurant or cafe and see adults enjoying beer or a glass of wine as early as 10 A.M. It’s culture here to take a break in the afternoon (a siesta) and rest, or have a nice drink. I love finding an outdoor spot to grab an Agua de Valencia, and spend time just taking
in the city around me! You’re on vacation, enjoy the day drinking while you can, cheers!
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 No matter how you spend your time in Valencia, I can almost guarantee you will be relaxed and content, because that is just how everyone is here. Studying abroad has given me much more than an education in a new place; it has given me a new perspective on life overall and made me more mindful of how I am living day to day. I wish everyone could study abroad to gain experiences like this in life, because I believe these are much more beneficial than anything you learn in a classroom.

Valencia

India Clinicals

Public Hospital, Pune

    This is the Operation Theatre (OT) at a public hospital in Pune. There is another bed behind this one that looks exactly the same, and two operations are always occurring simultaneously. The thing about public healthcare in India vs the US is the fact that it’s ALL FREE. Every operation, vaccination, etc. is 100% paid for by the government or given by altruistic physicians who donate their time and equipment to provide India’s gargantuan population with the care it needs. Unfortunately, this means that there is a constant shortage of government provided equipment and wo/manpower. The fact that most of the population is nutritionally deficient in at least one significant way also puts a huge strain on medical resources. That’s why the private sector of healthcare is so much better than public at this point. Unfortunately, public care is the only option for most, and a lot of it runs on the altruism of the private sector. This particular room is serviced by about three OBGYNs at one time, from private hospitals all over Pune. Most will dedicate a day out of the week to perform operations, and the teams are very skilled and work well together, which is why they would dare to perform two operations at one time in one place. I can’t say whether this is the case everywhere. In three hours we saw two c-sections, a hysterectomy, an IUD correction, and four separate laproscopic procedures for either endometriosis and/or tubeligation. This was all before lunch, and all in one room. It was extremely impressive, and the physicians and nurses very obviously care very deeply about the patients they serve. People often turn up their noses at the cleanliness of the facilities, but what they don’t realize is that is is literally impossible to meet the standards of US medical facility cleanliness without wasting the already very limited resources that the facilities are provided, and when forced to choose between spending money on prettier beds vs providing emergency c-sections for poor mothers, they’re obviously going to choose the latter.

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 My first week was spent with the lovely Caroline, observing Dr. Kothari in his pediatric clinic in Pune. He sees around 80 kiddos every day. That’s an absolutely staggering number, and the poor man barely ever got to sit down unless it was to examine a child while using his personal desk as an exam table. He obviously loves his job and we spent every tea time having fascinating conversations about the differences in politics and culture between the US and India (as well as laughing about the kiddos and chatting about everyday life things of course)! Dr. Kothari is in purple, and the man next to him is a homeopath who was also observing. He was very sweet and never actually drank tea with us because he was in the midst of a fast. Poor guy.

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I had the privilege of watching this sweet momma give birth (a natural birth) to this equally sweet bb girl!!! This was done at Dr. Dugad’s hospital. She had no epidural, but still had an episiotomy (cutting of the vaginal opening to widen it to avoid excessive tearing) with anesthesia that basically looked to me like Novocain for the vagina. She didn’t scream once, despite the fact that she was very obviously in a hell of a lot of pain. Good lord. She stayed the rest of the week to recover, and we (meaning me, Caroline and Jelina at the time) got to see her little girl get treated for jaundice, eat celebratory candies with the whole family, and see the daddy being over the moon about his wee little girl.

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19198582_1871002496486418_1967619381_nThis folder is given to all of Dr. Kothari’s little patients’ moms and dads.

Thanks to this act, it is “now easier to get married in India than it is to purchase an ultrasound machine,” according to Dr. Dugad, who owns his own private OB/GYN clinic in Pune. There is a long, arduous registration process of the machines that are allowed to be purchased for use in genetic labs, OBGYN offices, etc. that needs to be renewed withtransfer of ownership of the machine, after every five years, and with initial purchase. Clinics are constantly under scrutiny for illegal disclosure of fetal sex, and violation of the act will result in 5 years jail time, the revoking of any medical license, and a large financial penalty. Even in cases of high-risk pregnancy (e.g. mother over 35 years of age, family history of genetic disease, etc) where chromosome panels, amniocentesis, or other genetic tests must be done, the physicians are sworn to not disclose the sex of the child. Before every initial sonograph, the mother must sign an agreement stating that she does not wish to know the sex, and that the physician has stated clearly the requirements of the act. The physician also must sign a similar agreement. By prohibiting sex determination, the hope is that faetocide and infanticide will be reduced, and it has been successful thus far. However, there is still a long way to go, and programs such as Catch Them Young (this program in particular is done through an NGO) are aimed at educating young ladies and men of the basics of the anatomy and physiology of their own bodies, of conception/pregnancy, and the importance of continuing education as far as possible.

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 This act, as sad as it may be, is extremely necessary in India. When asked, Dr. Dugad expressed the opinion that female faetocide will continue to be a problem even 50 years in the future. Because of the fact that male babies are so much more socially desirable than females, if the sex of the baby is determined to be female in utero, then the chances of an elective abortion is very high. This is not because the mothers are mean-spirited or inherently hate women; it’s because of the familial and social pressure to produce males as opposed to females. For example, it is very common in rural India for mother-in-laws to kick young mothers out of the home for giving their husbands girls instead of boys.This is due to a severe lack of education about the process of conception, fertility, sex determination, and even basic bodily functions such as menstruation (which is still viewed as a punishment on the sinful female in many rural areas). If a female bodied baby is produced, then this is seen as a shortcoming of the mother, despite the simple empirical fact that a mother is incapable of providing a Y chromosome, and the father has no say in which chromosomes get passed on. Uneducated young women end up in crippling poverty because they are encouraged to drop out of school when they begin to menstruate, get married young, have dangerous pregnancies, have baby girls, disappoint their families, and end up on the streets. It’s either this or try everything under the sun to have baby boys, including undergoing dangerous and expensive treatments by “doctors” that will “guarantee” a boy after conception, or by finding out the sex by ultrasound and aborting the girls. This issue is extremely prevalent, which is why this act was necessary in the first place.

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Pathology! The safety in terms of sharps disposal and body fluid cleanup would likely upset anybody used to US standards of sterilization. However, remember that many of these clinics barely have enough resources to keep a phone working much less to properly disinfect everything that needs disinfecting, as ALL public care is free.

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These are several photos of the pathology lab in the rural hospital we visit once a week. We’re being shown a malaria specimen under the microscope, which was very cool. This is a primary care clinic, meaning they only give the most basic care. Most primary care clinics are barely equipped to even provide enough iron supplements to pregnant mothers Secondary and tertiary care is provided in cities, but as of now there is a very VERY limited emergency transport system, and the odds of living in a rural village serviced by any kind of emergency vehicle is extremely slim. Most people in India that don’t live in the cities are farmers who have to walk several miles just to get to the primary care clinic, that may not even have a working telephone. A medical official is supposed to be on call at every clinic 24/7, but most medical providers do not want to be working in these isolated areas, and often are not present at the clinic or available at all hours. Many are not even equipped to provide emergency delivery care.

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This is also the pathology lab. The only tests that are able to be performed in this clinic are rapid result tests. If a patient is suspected of having something that would require further testing in a better equipped facility, then the test needs to be ordered, which is quite expensive for them to do. That’s why these more complicated tests are almost never used for preventive measures. For example, we can get biopsies done almost anywhere at anytime for any reason in the US, but the only way that a patient could get one done in this clinic is if they are already showing signs/symptoms, or pay out of pocket. All of the tests offered are detailed on the walls to assist the pathologist who may or may not be particularly qualified, depending on the clinic. Even some of the rapid result tests are in short supply, and are not used for every patient. For example, they don’t ever have many HIV/AIDS tests on hand, so again, only those patients who are already sick may use them.

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What fine, spicy ladies I get to see every day.19106048_10209383128278249_8197803254982474284_n

This is the group at the rural clinic last week! The medical official (not pictured) is in the process of becoming an OBGYN, and he was very nice. After visiting a patient who wasvery obviously on his death bed, I asked about hospice/palliative care in India. He had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, since such things are considered unaffordable luxeries anywhere but the heart of the richest cities, in private hospitals. Even then, most people are cared for by their families until death, and end-of-life procedures are very simple. In the United States it is very expensive to die. Many surgeries and procedures are done to draw out the life of an ailing individual, whereas in India that simply isn’t an option and therefore hasn’t become the norm, even among more affluent communities. Comfort is the priority in the case of a chronic illness.

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 One of Dr. Kothari’s happier patients!!! ❤

 

Losing a Loved One While Abroad

I arrived in Germany for a semester-long study abroad on February 23, 2017. Eleven days later, my grandmother, Nana, passed away.

My experience abroad was heavily impacted by Nana’s death at the beginning of my stay. Being five thousand miles away from the rest of my family for the five months following her funeral was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and though I’d like to separate the two experiences – studying abroad and losing a grandparent – the two will forever be linked.

About six weeks before I left for Germany, Nana was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Every few days, her situation got worse. They discovered fluid in her lungs which needed to be drained. Eventually, they found several tumors in her lungs. My mom flew out to visit her, then came home, then flew back. My dad, sister, brother-in-law, and I joined her in Pennsylvania for a few days, eleven days before I flew to Germany. We said our goodbyes to Nana then.

“I’ll see you again, you know,” Nana said to me as I was hugging her for the last time, hours before our flight back to Montana. In the moment, I felt confused; up until then, she had been very cogent and understanding of her situation. I thought I was seeing her mind start to slip, until she spoke again.

“In heaven, I mean. I won’t see you here anymore. But we’ll see each other again.”

This was just like Nana. She was frank to the end. She was not losing her mind; no, she was giving her family the hope and strength we needed to get through this time, which she probably considered more difficult for all of us than it was for her, just like she always took on other people’s problems throughout her life. I’m sure she said the same words to all thirteen of her other grandchildren, all four of her kids and their spouses, all her friends, everyone who was lucky enough to say goodbye to her before the end, because she knew that those were the words we all needed to hear.

When I left for Germany, I knew I would never see Nana again – at least not “here,” as she put it. And when I left, I thought it was a certainty that I would miss her funeral. It seemed completely out of the realm of possibility to fly back to the states immediately after arriving in Germany. We knew she only had a few weeks left, at best. Leaving my family, uprooting my life and moving to a foreign country during this time was, for lack of a better word, complicated. I left with the understanding that I would be dealing with this, all of this, alone. And I tried to be okay with that.

But the morning I woke up to the text from my dad telling me that Nana had died, I knew that I couldn’t be alone for this. I talked to my mom on the phone that morning, just hours after she and my aunt had sat together in the room while Nana breathed her last breaths, and I knew I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be five thousand miles away from my family, in a place where I hardly knew anyone. I felt hopeless, lost, and completely alone.

My mom said on the phone that Dad was already looking for tickets for me to fly home for the funeral, and that when they were all awake the next morning (afternoon for me in Germany), we would figure out a plan. She said it was my choice whether or not to go home for the funeral. I had orientation programs all day, and my mom told me to tell someone in my program what I was going through.

The six hours following that phone call were incredibly difficult. My mom went to bed right after, and no one else in the states was awake for the first six hours of my morning. I followed my mom’s advice and told my new friend Brittany.

It’s a pretty twisted way to test a new friendship, to find out if this new friendship is really real, telling your new friend that your grandmother passed away that morning. But Brittany passed the test with flying colors, and I will forever be grateful to her for being the shoulder I needed to cry on that morning. She and Paul, the other friend I decided to confide in later that day, will be permanently etched in my memory for their support on one of the most difficult days of my life.

When my family in the states finally started waking up, the cloud that had been over my head for the day lifted a bit. I talked to my dad in between orientation programs and he bought my ticket home. It turned out to be cheaper to fly from Frankfurt to Philadelphia than it was for him to fly from Montana. It was a done deal. I would be going to the funeral. I didn’t know how I felt about it, but I knew that I was going.

Nothing else I did in my five-month study abroad came close to being as important as the funeral ended up being for me. My family mourns very well. Nana’s funeral was truly a celebration of her life, and we felt her presence there the whole time – for good reason: she planned the funeral herself. The service was perfect. Being there with my family was so, so good. And without having gone home for the funeral, I cannot say whether my study abroad experience would have been a positive one.

That being said, the next five months were not painless. Just as anyone who has lost a loved one knows, the grief doesn’t just evaporate after the funeral. And being so far away from my family during this time did not help speed up the grieving process for me. Now, two months after coming home from Germany, I mean it when I say I had a great time abroad – I learned a lot, experienced many new things, and met people from all over the world. But at the same time, those five months abroad were also the five months following Nana’s death, and these two experiences of the same time period are, in many ways, inseparable.

If you ever find yourself in a situation like mine, and I sincerely hope you don’t, here is my advice: do not pretend that this won’t be a tough time, but do not wallow. Be honest with yourself, and be honest with the people whose opinions matter to you. It will help you, as it helped me, to move on with your life without forgetting what has happened. I will admit, there were times when I felt guilty for enjoying my time abroad when I felt like I should have been mourning my grandmother’s passing. And there were also times when I felt guilty for feeling sad, because I felt like I should be embracing my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study abroad. In the end, the key was finding the compromise between the two, allowing time to think about Nana, but also letting myself go out with friends and have a good time.

I learned a lot about myself in the five months after Nana’s funeral, which also happened to be the five months I spent studying abroad. I learned that I could not ignore the fact that I was grieving, but I also couldn’t ignore the fact that I was living in a foreign country for a limited time. I learned that grief wears many faces. I learned to appreciate the true friendships in my life, both the new ones and old ones – the friends who helped me enjoy my time abroad and the friends who helped me through a very tough time.

You can’t control the things that happen back home when you go abroad. But you do have control over how you react to these things. Seven months later, I am still reminding myself of this.

Thank you, Nana, for this lesson and so many more.