Thank God for Polish Families and Spanish Grandmas

I made it to Malaga, Spain and my next move was to get to Granada where I would be living for the next six months. After spending the night in Malaga because my plane got in so late, I was trying to figure out how to get a city bus to the main bus station to get another bus to Granada. After eating breakfast with a nice Polish family who spoke perfect English and telling them I had to cross the highway with two suitcases to get to the bus stop, they were kind enough to offer me a ride. After they dropped me off I knew I would be speaking Spanish from there on out and that I was on my own until I got to Granada where a lady named Vickie, also from the University of Montana, was going to meet me. After talking to the bus driver (in Spanish) and him not responding to me and just shrugging his shoulders, I thought to myself maybe it would just be obvious where I needed to get off. At one point I saw a bunch of bus stops and what looked like to be a city center so I got off. I ask some different people at newsstands where I could find a bus to Granada and they all told me I was in the wrong place. When I asked what bus I could take to get to the main bus station most people ignored me or just didn’t say anything. I felt invisible but stood out like a sore thumb. I was wearing a white Nike hat, a sweatshirt, black yoga pants, and sneakers that day with a backpack and two suitcases; apparently looking like a complete tourist and speaking Spanish with a semi American accent wasn’t working in my favor. I started crying in the middle of this “city center” already feeling defeated my very first day in Spain. Then not too long after this little old lady came up to me and asked me if I needed help. After I told her where I needed to go, she grabbed one of my suitcases grabbed my arm and we headed onto a bus. She rode all the way with me to the real city center of Malaga, got off the bus with me and pointed to exactly where I needed to go to get a bus to Granada. She told me she had a granddaughter and hoped someone would do the same for her if she were ever in this kind of situation. I thank her and grabbed a bus to Granada. I showed up without having a place to live and without knowing anyone except Vickie. Vickie helped me find a place to live after a week, showed me the bus routes, the city, and all the things I needed to know before starting school in February. I realized at this point that even though self-reliance was so important to me on my trip, I needed others along the way to guide me and help me. I wanted complete independence when moving to Spain but without the few connections I made with Vickie, my Russian roommate Elina, my Mexican American friend Crystal, and my German friend Christina, I would have been even more lost and alone than I already was at times.11042946_10205957188916391_5328061108517214668_n

One of my first weeks in Granada in the Albayzín district

I Wonder What it’s Going to Be Like…

Writing about my experiences abroad has proven to be far more challenging than I thought. I keep typing then deleting my thoughts, and I have had trouble reflecting on some of my thoughts and emotions since I have been back in Montana. My experience studying abroad in Spain for 6 months contained some of the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows of my life thus far. When I first started applying to study abroad programs I thought I was completely ready. I had already been to Spain 3 times (twice with my grandma to visit family when I was little, and once with my Spanish class in high school) and had a good amount of other travels underneath my belt. Once I bought my one way ticket to Iceland though and then another one-way from Iceland to Spain, I had a melt-down. This was about 2 months before I left in January of 2015. I was sad to be leaving my friends and family let alone my comfort zone behind for 6 months. I felt vulnerable and felt so much anxiety I went to Curry Health Center to talk to a doctor. I talked to Dr. Bell and told him I wanted anxiety medication in case I had an anxiety attack while abroad. Dr. Bell told me medicine wasn’t going to solve what I was going through, and that it was okay to feel the way I was feeling. He told me I had to think to myself “I wonder what it’s going to be like…” and be okay with the unknown and not have too many expectations set in place. After that I really started working on myself and now realize my journey began before I even left for Europe.


Iceland was my first stop on my adventures. It was my first time doing solo travel. I really wanted to push myself and get out of my comfort zone when starting my trip. I think I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t need anyone and that I was self-reliant. I decided to couch surf and stay in Iceland for four days. Couch surfing is a website you can join to stay at other people’s homes while traveling, host people, or meet up with other travelers all for free. I completely got out of my comfort zone by couch surfing for the first time alone and stayed with a man named Petur, and his little boy named Snori. It was a humbling experience to have someone let you into their home and host you as a traveler. Petur drove me into the center of Reykjavik everyday on his way to work, gave me a house key, and even took me outside of the city one night where we tried to chase down the northern lights. It really opened my heart seeing the kindness of people and how much more an experience means seeing somewhere new from a local’s perspective. Iceland was honestly a magical time for me and made me feel like I could do anything. It was a little lonely to experience such a beautiful place by myself and not to have anyone to really share those memories with, but it was the solo trip I wanted. My favorite day was when I did a horseback riding tour and rode an Icelandic Pony named Garpur. I was with a good, kind group of people and felt really alive that day. After a blissful time in Iceland, I was off to my big move to Spain where I immediately received my first dose of reality.


“Mexican” isn’t a Dirty Word

When I first approached my family and friends about traveling to Mexico most thought I was basically asking for a death sentence.


Danielle, what about the drug cartels?

I heard they kill babies to smuggle drugs across the border.

The news said Americans are targets.

The U.S. Embassy has travel warnings in Mexico due to violence.

Even the police are corrupt in Mexico, no one is there to protect you.

Do they even have internet?

Why do you think they all want to come to America? Because Mexico is a mess.

Why do you want to go to “real” Mexico? Just go to Cabo or something.


All of these concerns were voiced at some point leading up to my departure. In all honesty, some of these concerns are very much a reality. However, the entire country of Mexico does not deserve general stereotypes as different parts bring different political and social environments. I stayed in the state of Michoacan, supposedly the most dangerous state in Mexico; what most like to refer to as “hot country”. In reality, the city I lived in was extremely tranquil and safe. Yes, there were certain regions of the state I was strongly advised not to travel to, but it isn’t dangerous in every inch of the state. 

One of the best parts of my experience was being able to breakdown the stereotypes people back in the U.S. (and even I) believed about the Mexican people. Many Americans are not aware or don’t want to think it, but they live very much like us. Mexico has a growing middle class and their cities are filled with stores, theaters, the movies, designer shopping and restaurants. I saw more McDonalds than I could count, Walmart, Applebees, Olive Garden, and Chili’s (an American Mexican restaurant).They drive BMWs, Mercedes, and are often very well dressed. To say everyone in Mexico lives this way is ignorant, of course. Mexico still has about 55 million people living on less than 99 cents per day. There are still many poor areas in the country with little economic opportunity. But Mexico is not by any means uncivilized, chaotic, and undeveloped. People are not begging for money everywhere you go. They have structure and order, even if many distrust the government.

Sadly, I cannot even count the number of times I have heard someone in the United States use Mexican as an insult. They are extremely hardworking people, and strong beyond belief. They are generous, friendly, passionate and extremely kind people. I would go back in a heartbeat.


Strong Women and the Justice System

My host mother is an amazing person. What makes all of her accomplishments even more impressive is the obstacles she had to overcome to get there. She became pregnant at age 20, but continued to work her way through college. She worked full time, was a full time law student, all the while being a single parent with NO financial help from her family members or her child’s father. Is there another word to describe that other than amazing?

She graduated with a law degree and went to work for the government in Mexico City.

*It is important to note that the Mexican judicial system does not include a jury to help decide the fate of the accused; it is the judge’s decision. Also, in Mexico, you are guilty until you can prove your innocence; the opposite of the United States. This causes issues for obvious reasons. After talking to many people about the system, most believe this system hurts the poor and helps the rich. The wealthy mexicans can simply pay off the judge or police officers to avoid trouble, but the poor cannot often do so. Then, the poor cannot afford proper representation to prove their innocence so they may spend years in jail for petty offenses.

Back to my host mom. One day she was writing a guilty verdict of a man who murdered someone, all of the evidence proved so. However, the day before the hearing she watched the accused walk into the judge’s office with his attorney. He walked out smiling thirty minutes later. The judge told her to change his conviction to innocent. When she refused to change the verdict, she had to flee the region for her and her daughter’s safety. She stopped practicing law and became an accountant and a Spanish/English teacher instead.

Samantha became a lawyer in hopes of helping people, but the current judicial system in Mexico challenges any attorney’s ability to do so. Luckily, Mexico has been working on a series of judicial reforms to be completed and implemented by 2016. I took a Politics of Mexico class while I was living abroad, and we spent a lot of time focusing on the Mexican judicial system.

As a hopeful law student, the stories I listened to surrounding the system were frustrating, but they reminded me why I want to enter the discipline; to help people. The American judicial system is by no means perfect either, but we do have certain freedoms and rights many other countries do not in our system.




Another strong woman that I had the opportunity to meet while I was in Mexico was my Spanish teacher Alicia. Alicia was hands down the most positive person I have ever met in my life. She was constantly smiling and laughing and worked really hard to challenge my language skills. As I got to know Alicia better I found out more about some of the amazing things she has done. Alicia was raised in an indigenous village a few minutes outside of Patzcuaro. When she was about to enter high school, she had to work to get the elders in her community to let her go to high school. After months of meetings and hard work, she was able to get them to agree. Alicia went to Patzcuaro for high school, being the first girl from her community to do so. After high school, she knew that she wanted to go to the university. She fought for seven years for permission from her community to do so. Her husband helped fight for her right to go too. Eventually they let her, and she has since become a teacher. She has three children and is married. On top of all of that, she has also started a small loan program in her community that gives money to women who need assistance or want to start a business. However, it is common in Mexico that the husband does not work a steady job, and that the wife does. Women are still expected to do all of the cleaning and cooking too. With all of the things Alicia had to overcome, and how hard she fought to get where she is, it is hard to argue against the fact that Alicia is one strong woman.




Life, A Renewable Resource

The main reason I chose the Zambia and Botswana study abroad was the difficulty finding a science related faculty-led study abroad. I chose this trip because I am a biology major and have an interest in wildlife. While on this trip, and after more thought I realized the importance of certain species of wildlife as a food resource, and began to ponder the science and ethics behind managing a common pool resource. There are certain animals that it is treasonous to poach and others abundant enough to hunt like deer in Montana. If too much is taken from this common pool, everyone suffers for a small group’s short term gain. Properly managing a common pool resource allows everyone to benefit in the long term.  The science in managing such a resource involves establishing  a sustainable target population number of a species and setting up the proper methods of management. One reason I made this connection is that food is a big issue that I care about. A career goal of mine is to use science to be sure everyone in the world is fed. I believe that through proper use, management and consumption, we can ensure that every one gets fed and that everyone can afford to be fed without giving up other basic human amenities.

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The Life that Drew Me to Zambia & Botswana

On top of an interest in food, I am also studying to be a biologist. One of the most exciting parts of my trip to Zambia and Botswana, and the biggest draw for most visitors to this area, was seeing the wildlife. The variety of animals appearing daily during my trip was breathtaking.  I saw a herd of elephants swim across the Zambezi River and was no more than 10 feet away from a juvenile Marshall Eagle. The first night we stayed in Chobe National Park in Botswana, I fell asleep listening to lion calls, and on the third night was serenaded by hyenas. I even saw a baby White Rhino in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. A truly memorable experience I would recommend to anyone that has an interest or passion for wildlife. It is these sorts of experiences that generate much of the most sustainable revenue for the African economies. This is one important reason why the government and non-government agencies are now putting so much effort into conservation work. They want to maintain the revenue stream generated by that particular kind of tourism and also ensure that their descendants can benefit from it as well.  The African people, villages and governments can benefit from protecting the local sites and wildlife.   DSCN0689 DSCN0758 DSCN0759

Feeding the Children of Zambia

For my beyond the classroom experience I went to Zambia in Africa. Prior to this trip I have never spent more than a few days in another country. This experience was the first time I truly experienced a culture different than my own. It was amazing seeing all of the differences as well as all of the similarities between that country and my own. It was also interesting seeing the food and the culture of food in Zambia. The reason I find it so interesting is that food and sustainable ways of using and cultivating it is one of the main issues I hope to address in my career. One of the most heartening things that I saw on this trip involved the school and preschool programs. The main reason that this impacted me so much is that these programs and schools work with NGOs (non-government organizations) and philanthropic individuals to ensure that the kids in their care have a decent nutritious lunch, seven days a week. Another reason I was impressed with the school my group visited was that it was built to teach its students conservation on top of their basic all around education. I wish more of the schools in the U.S. were more concerned about teaching conservation to their students.

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