La primera semana

I’ve only been in Chile for a week, and I’ve already learned so much.

One of the most important things I’ve learned (or realized) is how well I know the Spanish language. Before I left, friends cautioned me that Chileans speak very quickly, use words unique to their dialect, and sometimes don’t pronounce the ‘s’ sounds that end words. All of these factors tend to confuse foreigners, they told me. So I arrived in Chile worrying that I wouldn’t be able to understand anybody, I wouldn’t be able to say anything anyone would understand, et cetera.

All of those fears proved to be unfounded. Since arriving in Valparaíso, I’ve discovered new levels of competence: I’ve gotten to know my host family on a personal level, ordered food and drinks, asked for directions several times, and engaged in complex conversations about abstract topics. For example, the second day I was here I talked to my host mother about the environmental toxicity caused by lead and copper mining, which exists both in Butte, MT and some parts of Chile. It’s exciting and satisfying to apply my prior knowledge from three years of Spanish classes at UM in these real-world contexts.

Through this language learning by immersion, my understanding of Spanish grammar has developed significantly. I’ve observed a change in the way I mentally organize my knowledge of Spanish verb morphology.

In every class or educational software that I’ve encountered, Spanish verbs are taught in their tenses, in order of increasing complexity: first students learn to conjugate verbs in the present tense, then the two aspects of the past tense, and from there on to more tricky conjugations, like the present subjunctive or past perfect.

This is the way I’ve become accustomed to conceptualizing Spanish verbs. But after a week of speaking almost entirely in Spanish, I notice I tend to think of verb endings in groups based on person: first person conjugations I use to speak about myself, second person conjugations for asking about my conversation partner, first person plural conjugations to express something about me and my friends, and so on.

I imagine this is because in actual conversation, I’m far more likely to need to switch between thinking of different tenses within the same person, than to call to mind the different forms of a certain tense for different persons. This type of metacognitive learning will no doubt prove useful when I am teaching these grammatical and linguistic concepts one day.

This is just one particularly interesting thing I’ve noticed about the process of learning a language in an immersive environment. I’m sure that as I spend more time with Chileans, I will gain more insights into their language and culture.


I took this right before landing at the airport in Santiago.


A view of Valparaíso.

Learning Māori

Māori to New Zealand are like Native Americans to the U.S. they differ however in their languages. The Native Americans have many different languages and more space to move around. Māori only have one language, te reo Māori. Since the relationship between the Māori and Britain has allowed this language to be taught at my uni (university), I thought why not. So I took and completed MAOR 101 – Introduction to te reo Māori.


Like any other introductory language course, it incorporated listening (whakarongo), speaking (kōrero), writing (tuhi), and reading (rīti). For me the hardest part was whakarongo because there are so many little articles and minor difference in sentence structure, it was difficult to discern. To work on this, our instructor would describe a scene and whoever’s picture came out the same, did a good job of listening.


The most challenging assignment was having to write an essay in te reo Māori about my family. It had a minimum of 280 words and could not go over 400. Here is what I turned in.


Ko Koenig te ingoa o tō mātou whānau. (The name of my family is Koenig) Kei Washinton tōku whānau. (My family live in Washington) Ko Rāwiri tōku matua ā ko Julie tōku whaea. (My father’s name is David[Rāwiri] and my mother’s name is Julie) Kei Washington rāua, enagri nō California rāua. (They live in Washington but are from California) Ko William tōku tungāne. (William in my younger brother) Kei Washington ia. (He is in Washington) Ko whaea pai a Julia. (Julie is a good mom) He wahine tino ātaahua tōku whaea. (My mother is very beautiful) Ko whakarīrā whakamahi a Rāwiri. (David is a hard worker) E maha ōna waka. (He has many cars) He roa ko Rāwiri rāua ko William. (David and William are tall) He rima tekau mā rima a Rāwiri ā he rima tekau mā toru a Julie. (David is 55 and Julie is 53) He tekau mā whā a William ā he rua tekau mā tahi ahau. (William is 14 and I am 21) Kāore ōku tuāhine. (I don’t have any sisters) E mau ana māua ko Julie i ngā mōhiti. (Julie and I wear glasses) Kaore ko Rāwiri raua ko Willliam ana I nga mōhiti. (David and William do not wear glasses)


He nēhi tōku whaea. (My mother is a nurse) He kaiaka mīhini tōku matua. (My father is a mechanic) E mahi ana ia mō Ford. (He works for Ford) E haere ana tōku tungāne ki te kura. (My brother goes to school) Ehara ia i tino pai tauira enagri he koi te hinengaro ia. (He is not a good student but he has a sharp mind)

E tunu ana maha tōku whaea ā ko ia tunu tino pai.  (My mother cooks a lot and she makes good food) E aroha ana ia ki te tunu ā e aroha ana ia ki te rīti. (She loves to cook and she loves to read) Me whakatika a William i tāna rūma moe, nā te mea i te nuinga o te wa he porohe tāna ruma. (William should tidy his room because most of the time his room is a mess) He tungāne pai ia, engari i ētahi wā ehara ia i te tama pai. (He is a good brother but sometimes not a good son. Engari e aroha ana mātou ki ia. (But we love him) He tino hoa maua ko William. (William and I are good friends)


E maha mātou mōkai. (We have many pets) E toru mātou ngeru, e rua mātou hurī ā e maha mātou ika. (We have three cats, two dogs and many fish) Kei Washington ngā mōkai. (The pets are in Washington) E rua mātou hurī, engari kaua e hīkoi I ngā hurī. (We have two dogs but we don’t walk the dogs) Me hīkoi rātou I ngā hurī nā te mea kei Aotearoa ahau. (They should walk the dogs because I am in New Zealand) Kotahi tōku mātua ngeru. (My parents have one cat) Kotahi tōku tungāne ngeru ā kotahi tāku ngeru. (My brother has one cat and I have one cat) Ko Cole te ingoa i te ngeru o William a ko Hippie to ingoa i te ngeru o mātua. (Cole is the name of William’s cat and Hippie is the name of my parent’s cat) Ko Starla raua ko Twilla te ingoa i nga huri o matua. (Starla and Twilla are the names of our dogs) Kaore ika nga ingoa. (The fish don’t have names)


Basically it describes who my family is, where they are from and what they do.

I must have done well because my grade back was a B.


Learning the language really helped me understand more of the culture and appreciate the diversity we have in this world. I suggest to those going somewhere new, learn the language!

Simulated Galaxies

I am not a leader in the sense that most people think of when they hear the word. I do not make speeches. I do not do outreach. I am not on the front lines of some political movement. I code. I do not even code for purpose that many of you would deem worthy of your interest; not even something many have heard of.

For the summer, I get the opportunity to spend the summer in Piscataway, New Jersey. I am simulating galaxies with Professor Alyson Brooks with the hopes of discovering something about galactic evolution. I was offered this position out of 368 applicants. In that sense, I am leader. I got this position, not because I can talk to people, but because I can solve problems.

Aside from the work, I have been able to go on several day trips with others in the program. I have visited the Hayden Planetarium in NYC and the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia. Through these visits, I have been making connections that will last a lifetime. My roommates and I plan to go to Asbury Park this weekend.

All of the trips make it sound like I have a lot of freetime, but I work 40 hours a week on simulating galaxies. The cover photo for this post is an example of one. I have been spending long hours trying to use this information to determine information about galactic evolution.

Along with work, we have been doing Physics GRE prep and having many discussions on Graduate School, Collaboration, and Scientific Ethics. I am confident that these “courses” will help me succeed later on as a scientist. I am hoping to take the Physics GRE this fall and begin applications to Graduate School for Astrophysics, specializing in either Observational Planetary Science and/or the Origin of Magnetic Field lines in M Dwarf Stars. Both of these topics are very “hot” in Astronomy right now.

I am incredibly happy about my field choice both because of the people and the amount of open research questions. I am glad I found my passion so early in life.

Palmerston North

New Zealand is probably one of the most beautiful places on Earth. That being said, I probably went to one of the least beautiful cities in New Zealand.

I chose to do my time abroad in Palmerston North where Massey University’s main campus is. It is the only vet school in New Zealand and is surrounded by farms. When I got to the town it was already dark out and I was so exhausted from the flights, four in total, I did not really pay attention to my surroundings. When I did get up the next morning I found myself not doing much because I had just travelled all day before, but I was invited to hang out with some Chinese exchange students who were staying in the same dorm complex as I. When we were walking around the campus, that was when I noticed that it was not as spectacular as I was expecting. The University of Montana’s campus is more beautiful than Massey’s.

As I was hanging with the other students, they were telling me how they had already been into town and that there was not much there. That was a little disappointing, but if it was the worst thing to happen on this experience then I was fine with it. While hanging out with these other students, I was the only native English speaker so many times they would all start speaking Chinese for a good amount of time. I understood that it was easier and more comforting for them to speak in their native language, but I did feel a bit left out. They did, however, invite me to eat dinner with them and I really appreciated it because no one else was in my dorm yet.

When I got back from dinner with the other exchange students, two of my roommates had shown up and they were both from South Dakota and unexpectedly male. It was then we realized that they mainly roomed people by where they were coming from and at orientation we realized that most of the people living in our dorm complex were from China. Even though I am in New Zealand, I was experience another culture by living with many Chinese exchange students. It was during orientation that I saw that even though Palmerston North, or Palmy, is not as beautiful as the rest of New Zealand it does have its moments. IMG_0835.JPG


Milford Sound April 25th 2016

April 25, 2016

First off, my feet stink so badly! I can’t even begin to describe, so I’m going to go wash them real quick.

Now that I feel better let’s begin with how today started and I have a feeling that this entry will take some time to finish. Hopefully I have the patience to do so.

Sleeping was easy, easier than the first night.

Breakfast was quick and walking, a breeze.

I was worried I would miss the bus but turned up there early anyways.

The bus driver was funny and enjoyable. But what I really want to do is write a story about today. How to start is still uncertain but one thing I do know for certain, today was a Mountain Top experience. Milford was beautiful as I thought it would be, however, the ride in and out was the best part.


On the way in, the bus driver stopped many times and gave wonderful commentary. Albeit, some were a little inaccurate but I wasn’t there to correct him, I was there to enjoy myself.


The road into Milford Sound is spectacular and some scenery was even used in the Hobbit films. There was one peak that jutted out from the others and that’s the peak that Peter Jackson used.


How can words describe today? How can words describe any day??


Upon leaving Milford Sound, you witness giants carrying out their day. Some are adorned with mist, others with dew. Their presences in all encompassing. You realize how small you really are, but these giants don’t scrutinize you. Instead they bring comfort. Comfort very similar to another powerful force, one even stronger. God. God’s majesty consumes you beneath these creatures’ feet. Yet you know they won’t step on you. They are the guardians to these waters, these trees, these birds. Their power isn’t controlled by humans. Their power is much more than what mere humans have, however, these giants have come to an understanding with humans. This understanding didn’t come right away but these giants were patience. The humans have this way of thinking that they’re the top of the world, but is it the humans that reach for the sky? Is it the humans that continue to grow? Do the humans have the power to live for thousands, even millions of years? No. It is because of their longevity that the guardians waited. They waited until the day came where humans realized how important they are. So now the humans work hard to aid the mountains; aid the livelihood of the coat that surrounds them, the life they support and the majesty they carry.


While leaving Milford sound, I became a dwarf. But instead of being crushed by these giants, I was cradled. I felt more cherished and loved, than frightened. These mountains contain the power of fear but during those moments, I felt none.


The bus driver made a point to mention how infectious mountains can be to the human species and then when surround by them, you feel spiritually connected to them. I connected to these mountains spiritually but what stands out more is that I connected to them emotionally.


These past two months have been hard, emotionally and spiritually. Moving away from home is not something new for me, but moving to a new country, even for four months, is still a big change. I feel different. I process things differently and I speak differently. I have changed.


Change isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to strive for.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” Winston Churchill.


Because I have changed I needed to discover who this new person was, so I took advantage of the mid-trimester break and left. Alone.


It is by far, the gutsiest thing I have ever done but I wouldn’t change a thing. I have begun to understand this new person and how she feels. Today, one piece fell into place.


I love giants.

For the love of language

People always ask me why I’m studying a language like Irish. “You mean Gaelic?” they say. “I didn’t even know that was still a thing.” One particular professor asked why I didn’t want to study a “useful” language, like Chinese. Usually when I’m talking to someone like this who just doesn’t understand, I don’t bother wasting my time to explain. I just shrug my shoulders and smile, and they seem to let it go. I haven’t yet perfected my persuasive argument on why studying languages that aren’t “useful” is so important to me. But I’m working on it. It started with Latin. I took “the dead language” in high school because I wanted to be different – I didn’t want to be like everyone else who took Spanish and French. And sure, no one really speaks Latin anymore. Less than 100,000 people speak Irish. But these languages are NOT dead – not so long as there is someone like me around who wants to study them and learn from them. A language is so much more than a set of grammar rules, a lexicon, and an alphabet. It’s a complex compilation of a culture. It holds history, values, and perspectives. If we let a language die, we let those components of a culture die. And with each fewer language, each fewer culture, our world becomes all that more homogeneous. And I don’t want that. I think one of the most beautiful things about humanity is our diversity, and more importantly, our ability to learn from each other. We have to preserve other ideals and ways of life in order to be able to learn from them. And we can preserve those ideals by preserving languages. I love Irish, not because it’s “useful,” but because it holds so much history and sacrifice and love within its words.

IMG_2254Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

IMG_2249Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Terror from within

Terrorism. Today, when we say that word, it conjures up all kinds of images and feelings. Growing up, I’ve developed my own connotations of the word. In an unintentionally self-absorbed way, I assumed terrorism was an entirely American thing, and that it all started here with us. But Ireland has made me realize a different story. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal. If you know anything about Irish history in the last hundred years or so, then you know this definition fits the conflict in Ireland to a T. A few years ago, I would have said that Ireland’s form of terrorism was very different than ours, in the sense that our fear is of a foreign enemy, and Ireland’s of a domestic one. However, I now believe we can somewhat better understand Ireland’s form of terrorism. With our present and ongoing domestic mass shootings and bombings, more and more often in the name of ISIS, we are becoming less afraid of an enemy outside our borders and more terrified of one within. I’m not making any assertions on which form is better, as they are both obviously atrocious and unbearable, I’m just making an observation on what I see as a developing similarity. What is particularly interesting to me, however, is the fact that I can almost empathize with the motivations for Irish terrorism. I get it. Almost. I understand why they were willing to go so far, after so many centuries of being ignored. But I just do not comprehend ISIS’s rationale. I find it impossible to fathom how they really think mass murder will lead to a better world. You could say Ireland is now a better place, but only once terror was primarily discarded. Violence doesn’t create peace – it only creates more violence. How many more times will the world be shown this before we finally pay attention?

IMG_2978Belfast, Northern Ireland

IMG_3513Derry, Northern Ireland

I’m from Montana

During my time in Ireland, I realized that whenever someone asked me where I was from, my instinctive response was “I’m from Montana.” Not once did I ever say that I was from the United States. Once I noticed this, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I began to understand that this was an expression of my personal identity. I don’t identify myself as an American. I know that I am, but it isn’t how I see myself. I’m first and foremost and always and forever a Montanan. My pride and my affection are for my state more so than for my country. Once I acknowledged this, I started thinking about the Irish identity – one so very different from my own. My Montana pride stems from the state’s beauty and way of life and the simple fact that it’s my home. Irish pride, if I may say so, is a lot more complex – so complex that I don’t believe I can accurately explain it or ever fully understand it. Of course it varies for every person, but it’s rooted in centuries of conflict and poverty and oppression. If you ask any American when they think their history starts, they will most likely say somewhere around 1776. If you ask any Irishman, you’ll get a lot of different answers – but all of them will be a lot longer ago than some measly 200 years. This is one of the things that most fascinates me about the Irish. Their history spans such a greater time period, and all of it remains so central to their modern identity. History is a common topic of conversation in a very different way than it is here. Because I don’t have this immense frame of history, I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to really understand what it is to be Irish. But even as I lack that understanding, I know what it means to be a Montanan, and that’s enough for me.

IMG_2332General Post Office, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

IMG_4439St. Finbarr’s Cathedral, Cork, Republic of Ireland