Jumping into the Unknown

3 months, 90 days, 2160 hours, I got the wonderful opportunity to spend in the land of the Kiwis. The beautiful country southeast of Australia should not be overshadowed. New Zealand, the land of rugby, Lord of the Rings, beautiful beaches, bungy jumping, left-side-of-the-road driving, strong coffee, Maori Culture, etc., was my home for the summer.

The Kiwis (local people) welcome new travelers with open arms and open hearts. I interned for a non-profit organization, Recreate New Zealand, working with people with intellectual disabilities. Everyone I worked with, both participants and staff members, were the nicest people I have ever met. I become close friends with other staff members and interns. I even got to play on a soccer team for two games with a staff member (something I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do).  One staff member’s family was kind enough to host a traditional “kiwi feast”.

My Global Theme and Challenge for my time abroad focused on engaging children in physical activity to give them a healthy start to life. While the population I worked with in New Zealand would not be considered children, but rather young adults, they are just as important of a population to be teaching healthy habits. Health and nutrition were not the main focuses of most of the programs (a few programs were focused on health habits), but all the programs did incorporate it one way or another. On weekend getaways, we would plan healthy meals. We would always try to get out for some physical activity during the day as well. Everyone enjoyed walking along the beach or in the bush (forest). I have learned that health encompasses more than just physical activity, but social interaction as well. Recreate NZ focuses on creating the environment where participants can receive and participate in a fun, social environment. Many of the participants have met their best friends through Recreate NZ.

New Zealand is a well-developed country like The United States and thus extremely similar. I easily made friends with my co-workers at Recreate NZ and always went to them with questions if something about the culture confused me. Interacting with the participants really strengthened my role as a leader. Everything I did was being watched and possibly copied by the participants. I was a role model they looked up to.

As a going away present and a thank you, Recreate NZ took me and another American Intern to the Auckland Harbour Bridge. They pushed us off the bridge!! Just kidding, we jumped and were connected to harnesses. Bungee Jumping is a great representation of my experience going abroad. I was nervous all up until the final step off the edge. But, looking over over the edge, feeling all the safety equipment, and knowing everything was going to be okay, I made the jump. I’d never been abroad, let alone on the other side of the hemisphere. The whole experience was a leap of faith and brought me out of my comfort zone, but I knew everything was going to be okay. And it was more than okay. It was amazing. Just like the bungee, I would love to do it again.

I had a wonderful experience abroad and I would give anything to go back to New Zealand to work with Recreate NZ again or to just see all the wonderful friends I made. I loved learning first-hand about New Zealand and being immersed within the culture. I am forever grateful for the Franke Global Leadership Initiative for giving me the opportunity to have the most amazing experience of my life.

Surviving Yanapaccha

I went to Peru to experience other mountains. I need mountains, having left Seattle to live in Missoula. I wanted to meet someone else’s mountains, so I trekked over a couple in the Andes and Cordillera Blanca. My guides shared their culture and reverence for nature in a mixture of English, Spanish, and Quechua. But walking was familiar. Arriving at the end of my trip, I realized, terrified, I am going to climb a mountain.

When we begin, the sky is dark. Dark enough to see the swath of pinpricks composing the Milky Way – without my contacts in! The ground is dark too, save for the round white beams emanating from our headlamps. Yana, Quechua for “black,” I learn. For twenty minutes we clamber over rocks in our moonboots, following the trail marked only by occasional rock cairns and the dirt of rocks crushed by those who’ve passed before. Today, I lead.

Reaching the glacier, we clamp on our cramp-ons and unhitch our pickaxes. Our guide scrambles up the ice face to set an anchor. “On belay!”

Hours of slow steps across thick, frozen snow follow. The altitude gives some of us stomachaches, others headaches, and makes our breathing heavy.

A bright light shines over the edge of a nearby mountain. Sunrise? But it is only 3 am. The moon reveals itself fully, outlining the enormity of the mountain.

My feet barely pass each other with each step. One of my partners does not feel well either though, so my pace suffices. We keep our heads down, sights set on following the pre-existing footprints that keep us on trail. By halfway, sunrise imbues the snow with a soft glow.

Here we rest. I cannot stomach food so I down a juice box. I try to keep my eyes open. My friend does not feel well at all. The summit may be a lofty goal for us. Our guide points to some hills, two-thirds of the way.

“If you cannot go any more, just say so and we can turn around,” He says.
“Let’s go there and then chat,” we decide.

We never had that chat.

Slope after slope rises in front of us. The severity of the steepness overwhelms me – how can I climb this? “Zero!” I call, as my heart climbs into my throat and my eyes well with tears. If I can just compose myself… I close my eyes for a moment. I am afraid. Yes. But, I have made it all the way here. “Clear!”

By the last ice wall, immense, we are too close to give up. Despite dwindling strength, we pull ourselves up twenty meters. We each collapse at the top of the wall, only to be roused to our feet. We are not there yet. With the guide tugging on the rope, I struggle to crawl up the last bit. I gave up hours ago on reaching the summit. I only agreed with myself to take the next step, the next hill, the next traverse. Now I’m here.

“You made it!” a friend at the top exclaims. “I didn’t think we would,” I mutter. I wanted to let the mountain beat me, but my team’s encouragement refused. They gave me the courage to lead, to bite down my fear, to remember the skills at my disposal to evade all the danger and thoughts the mountain threw at me. Laying on my pack, I cry at my exhaustion, my upset stomach, my aching limbs. I cry because I did not have faith in myself and yet I still succeeded. Pagcha, or paccha, Quechua for “waterfall,” I remember, making my own. I feel intense respect for Pacha Mama, Mother Earth, and what she can do for or to us.

The peak is beautiful.

Where Theories became Force: A summer in East Germany

From May 31st to July 14, 2017 I studied the history of European Integration and violence in Europe at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany. I was surprised from the moment of arrival, essentially – as I saw a side of Germany that I did not think about – the difficulty of recovery from being divided. When I arrived in Berlin, I was surprised to find that two years of German and learning about the culture and language still could not fully prepare me for culture shock. When I arrived in Frankfurt an der Oder, taking a train from Berlin eastward, I was even more surprised to find something that had yet to cross my mind learning about Germany. Frankfurt an der Oder, a smaller, different town than Frankfurt am Main (the big one) used to be an industrial hub under the Soviet Union, and when Germany was reunited, all the heavy industry was shut down and the town suffered unemployment and a population drain. When I think about Germany, I think about how it is the economic hub of Europe, how its infrastructure is nearly unparalleled, and how its political system functions quite well. I did not think of abandoned buildings that the local government has no money to repair, or how Germans in the east blame the EU for many of their troubles. Not only did my studies relate to Social Inequality and Human Rights – my whole experience showed me an experiment in trying to fight inequality. I did not think how the culture of former east Germany has yet to fully assimilate to the west. Nor did I think of how the west has failed to adjust and help merge the former two Germanys in many ways. The cultural problem remains difficult to solve in many ways, as there is still almost an anti-western sentiment in eastern Germany, and vice versa in west Germany. The way the country has attacked the economic problem, and even started to attack the cultural divide, has been interesting though. With the dawn of European integration and the revival of the German economy, the infrastructure – the public institutions, transport, and other structures in east Germany – has undergone serious revitalization.


(Pictured: The Abandoned Communist Youth Theater, Frankfurt an der Oder)


(European University Viadrina, Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany)


(Façade of the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany)

The university I studied at was closed by the Soviets, but has been built back up by the country to become a well-known international educational institution. In many ways, though many buildings are abandoned and still destroyed – the infrastructure in East Germany is better than the west, as its become more focused on making its students cosmopolitan. Therein lay the biggest cultural difference I saw in Germany – the way children are brought up to know their own history more thoroughly than anything before they broaden their knowledge to the world. The Holocaust is a giant scar on German history, and the Nazi period is a taboo subject for many in the United States. However, in Germany, people fully recognize the past’s mistakes, as the old slogan “never again” truly means something to them. In discussing their history, Germans were very blunt and thought the only productive way to move forward was to recognize the past so as to understand the problems of today and solve them. Though most Americans know their country’s history, the attitude toward it, and attitude toward education here is far different than the German one, and I honestly wonder now what changes developing these attitudes and approach toward a more efficient infrastructure at a local level, particularly here in Montana, with the presence of historical trauma on reservations and a lack of proper education structures for many, could make.

Meandering through Morocco

My name is Julia Maxon, and over the summer I had the unique opportunity to intern abroad for a women’s empowerment organization in Rabat, Morocco.

When I first arrived in Rabat, I remember peeking through the faded curtains in my hotel room watching as the city moved fast below me. Blue petit taxis zoomed by trying to pick up their next rider, restless people were trying to squeeze onto the crumbling sidewalks just to shuffle past one another, and older men lined the crowded buildings below trying to take it all in just like me. It seemed as though this city stopped for no one, and I felt afraid to throw myself into the mix. As I peered out and looked at my surroundings, it all just felt overwhelmingly unreal. How could I be in Montana one day and Morocco the next? How could I be 5,250 miles from home? 5,250 miles from the ones I loved?


(Pictured: My first view of Morocco)

As weeks passed, I grew accustomed to the medina where I resided, which is the oldest portion of the city before the French colonized the region. The initial maze that was laid out before me felt increasingly more manageable each day. My loving host family was one of the main attributes that made me feel the most welcome throughout my entire experience. My host mom, Saana, especially always made sure I had enough food to fill my belly until I couldn’t eat anymore, and had a pot of mint tea always ready.

While in Morocco, I was also incredibly lucky to be able to experience Ramadan. Prior to my arrival, I had never fully experienced Ramadan or the traditions and culture associated with it. It was captivating to see how Ramadan took form in a predominantly Islamic nation. It was beautiful to see families like my host family preparing iftor, or the evening meal that breaks the daily fast, each night for people in the medina who didn’t have as much. It was moving to hear the evening prayer call echo throughout the streets of the medina, and to see so many people come together in an act of peace.


(Pictured: My host mom, Saana, leading the way home through the medina)

Morocco is a beautiful country filled with so much life and so much love, but like many other nations, it has its faults as well. As a GLI student, I was interested in looking at social inequality and human rights, or more specifically how the individual, community, organizations, and public policy come together to contribute to the inequalities women face in Morocco. The organization I interned with was a nonprofit specifically interested in the socio-economical development and empowerment of women in the Saharan region of Morocco. During my internship, I facilitated the NGO’s social media and social marketing department on various projects aimed at promoting and furthering the efforts of multiple couscous cooperatives throughout the Saharan region to improve its members’ quality of life.

By being able to have this experience, I was able to learn more about women’s rights in the Middle East, and create a proposed intervention plan based off of the needs that women in rural Morocco vocalized. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world, as it helped give me a broader perspective on women’s rights and human rights in a global context.

A few days before I was to depart from Morocco, I returned to that little hotel on the corner where I watched the world move before me. However, this time, I sat below with my back against the cement wall, studying the street move idly by.

This experience gave me a sense of renewed confidence that I could take on whatever life throws at me. Whether that be venturing out into a world where I may not necessarily know anyone nor speak the common language, or hopping onto multiple trains traveling solo to destinations unknown. By escaping my comfort zone and throwing myself in, I was able to experience endless possibilities and pursue unexpected adventures that I will never forget. ~


(Pictured: Me ready for my next adventure!)




A Year in Spain

During my third year at the University of Montana, I studied abroad in Málaga, Spain, a smaller city on the southern coast in a province called Andalucía. My experience was filled with ups and downs, challenges, and growth as well as unadulterated fun. My global theme and challenge is Culture and Politics. Living in Spain and traveling throughout Europe, I was lucky enough to meet friends from Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Germany, England, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Morocco, China, South Korea, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, and even other Americans. By interacting with cultures from across the globe, many of them completely different from that of the United States, I was exposed to cultural differences that opened my mind and challenged my perspective on life. I also noted similarities between myself and everyone with whom I interacted, and felt connected globally to other human beings, without regards to nationality or upbringing. Learning Spanish was also an incredibly humbling and eye opening experience. I immersed myself in the Spanish language and was able to gain so much understanding about the culture through speaking and listening to the language itself. This highlighted, again, both differences and similarities between Spanish and American culture. I also learned to be humble and listen more than I speak – at first because I couldn’t say much but by the end because I found value in listening to others before seeking for my own voice to be heard. I was exposed to countless different cultures and I was able to find a connection with nearly everyone I met, whether it be over something superficial or a deep, lifelong connection. As a leader, I believe it is important to listen to others and find common ground, while having an open mind and an understanding heart. Through living in a completely unfamiliar world I was able to hone in on these skills and develop them each day through different social interactions with new people. My experience abroad was never completely perfect – my computer, passport, and many other things were stolen, I struggled to find close connections at first, I was homesick and frustrated with Spanish culture at points, but the struggle is what makes the incredible moments stand out, and the experience so life-changing. My thirst to travel and experience new cultures, eat different foods, and meet new people has only grown stronger over the course of the last year, and I can’t wait to see how my cultural connections grow and change and to foster new ones as I use the skills I learned in Spain to explore every corner of the world and capitalize on new opportunities to see where life takes me.

Ciao From Buenos Aires!

I chose Buenos Aires, Argentina, for my beyond-the-classroom experience, and it has been a magnificent time so far. I have only been here for a few weeks, but I already feel myself adapting to the live-fast-and-slow kind of mentality Porteños (members of Buenos Aires) carry.
I have not been able to do too many things regarding my global challenge and theme yet, besides giving a few English lessons to a couple Buenos Aires natives. I have found that here, not many people speak fluent English, it’s more certain phrases (“that’s cool bro”) or the lyrics to popular songs (Hotline Bling). I love this, as it is different from Spain, where mostly everyone speaks English and will automatically switch to English if they hear your American accent. It has been easy to find people that want to learn English from a native English speaker here, which I will be able to use to further develop my global challenge, discovering how best to carry out and teach English abroad.
It has been extremely helpful to live among a Spanish-speaking community, as it is helping me to improve my Spanish, and I am forced to speak it since most folks cannot communicate with me otherwise. I am going to continue giving English lessons when I can and asking the locals where and how they have learned English in the past (so far, many people have said they’ve learned from the T.V show Friends), and what the best way they think is to learn.
I am excited for my next few months in B.A and expect to leave with a significantly broadened perspective!