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!
 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.


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.


 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.



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.


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.


 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


 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.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Marble walls, boasting opulent showcases intercalated with ornate caryatids, rise majestically towards staggering heights. With grace and confidence, an iron-framed, translucent quilt of intricate stain glass panels dome over the walkways of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. At the foot of the ceiling, four beautiful frescos depict the continents of America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Below, the walkway unites the mosaic emblems of Italian regions in the shape of a cross, illustrating the significant accomplishments of King Vittorio Emanuele II. The immense sense of grandeur is uncatchable by any camera, preserved for only the eye of the beholder.

The peaceful chirps of birds hidden above, echo throughout the mall. Occasional clanks followed by soft rumbles circle around the air, as a Russian trio from Moscow dances on rollerblades. A perfect opportunity has surfaced. Soon I am also, shakily, feeling the breeze on my face. The air is still, and there is an unexpected void of the badgering swindlers that hand out “free” bracelets. The bustling swarms of traveling want-to-be-merchants are unusually absent from the windows, where they desperately stare for seemingly forever at Prada leather purses. It is near sunrise. The true splendor of the Galleria opens itself willingly, a private, romantic hidden treasure.


The crest of Turin depicts a bull, rearing up on its hind legs. His testicles are a smooth hole, carved from millions of spinning feet. According to tradition, a person who spins three times, counterclockwise, will be fortuned with good luck. Unfortunately, I spun many times in the opposite direction. As this is likely a common mistake, I cross my fingers for the smiling visitors who leave every day with a false sense of hope. Speaking of misfortune, the designer of this Galleria, Giuseppe Mengoni, fell to his death from a scaffold at the worksite on December 30, 1877, the eve of the inauguration. In memory of the great architect, a plaque is displayed on the left column of the arch of triumph entrance to the Galleria.


The name of this Gallery is significant in the history of Italy. Italians are prideful of the Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement of the 1850s and early 60s. The heroes of this time are forever honored as the names of several buildings and streets in Milan, and throughout Italy. During this time, copious estates were still practicing feudalism under lords, segmenting Italy. Then, a King of Sardinia, Vittorio Emanuele II, became a powerful instigator of a new unification movement. A friend of Emanuele II, Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general, was ripe for the opportunity to conquer Italy for the King. Garibaldi gathered an army of a thousand volunteers called I Mille. With ease, this army fueled rebellion and support in each estate across Italy. Quickly, the estates fell and feudalism was replaced by a form of capitalism under the new king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuel II. Today, Milan contains a street called Corso Garibaldi, and a metro station called Port Garibaldi.


Vittorio Emanuele II

For an example of Garibaldi’s swift invasion, the upheaval of Sicily is elegantly portrayed in the famous book and movie, The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The story follows Prince of Salina, a noble and scholarly aristocrat, as he attempts to preserve his family and class. There is also an opera adaption of The Leopard called La Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni.


Giuseppe Garibaldi in front of the Sforza Castle

Before the annexation, the House of Bourbon, a Spanish royal family, ruled Sicily. With the rebellion, their lands were divided and bought as investments by wealthy men. During the shaky transition of government powers, the mafia was born.

King Vittorio Emanuele II ruled an entire country of Italy. His services and power were stretched to the max. In Sicily, there were little boundaries between politics, economics, and crime. Many people in Sicily despised the control from northern powers. They wanted the law to be conducted in the Sicilian way. In addition, people needed to buy protection for their land properties from a specialist in violence, a Mafioso. Organized families of crime began to spread across Italy, and infiltrate business markets and politics. Today, the mafia is still large and influential. In Milan, a mafia family controls the majority of the fresh produce. The clues that hint at the unstable past and present of Italy are hidden across Milan and even branded across one of the oldest malls in the world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Top of the Galleria

The Last Supper


The story of the Leonardo de Vinci’s, The Last Supper, begins at a simple, yet elegant Santa Maria delle Grazie, nestled within the winding streets of Milan. This UNESCO site was erected as a Dominican convent in 1469. The priests of the Dominican Order preferred to live in communities outside the church. So, they uniquely constructed Santa Maria delle Grazie within the constricting center of Milan, despite the lack of space for lavish gardens. Originally, its architecture was modest and simple.


Soon after its completion, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Maria Sforza, choose the Santa Maria delle Grazie to be the Sforza family burial site. He ordered the cloister and apse to be rebuilt with a suitable splendor. Today, you can distinctly see both the modest and the extravagant architecture. The rebuilding of the church was bothersome for the priests, so the Duke commissioned Leonardo de Vinci to paint The Last Supper as a gift. It was painted in the refectory of the church. This was a place where only the priests entered to eat meals. In this way, the painting was a private tribute for the priests.


Leonardo de Vinci choose to paint The Last Supper in a fashion uncommon to wall murals. Fresco Style was the typical method, which required wetting and preparing small pieces of the wall to paint over. The sections dried quickly and permanently. It was not possible to paint layers or redo the sections. De Vinci wished to meditate for lengthy periods while painting. He also wanted the ability to slightly change the picture during the process. Therefore, he chose to paint on the dry, unprepared wall. After the four leisurely years he took to complete The Last Supper, he realized his mistake. He had painted on the outside wall of the church’s kitchen. The humidity and heat from the kitchen caused the paint to flake and deteriorate. At the same time, the Duke of Milan died, ending his family lineage. Without his patron, Leonardo could not restore his painting. In addition, the Santa Maria delle Grazie could never be used as the Sforza family burial site.


The priests struggled to preserve their painting. They allowed artists to copy the painting. However, the copies were renditions and didn’t capture the message Leonardo had depicted. They also allowed artists to darken the fading colors of the original painting. However, over time the facial expressions in the picture slightly changed, again altering its message. For example, Leonardo depicted The Supper as the moment before Jesus states that someone will betray him. In the original painting, Jesus’s mouth is opened just slightly as he is about to speak. Over time, artists began to extensively open Jesus’s mouth, which takes away the special moment that Leonard had depicted. Additionally, many of the copies of The Last Supper have Judas, in the front of the table, as he is the traitor. However, De Vinci painted the moment before Judas was realized as the betrayer; therefore he painted Judas behind the table with the other apostles.

The survivability of The Last Supper was further threatened during WWII when a bomb landed in the courtyard of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. It landed nearly 80 feet from The Last Supper. Miraculously, the mural survived. Today, the museum is built with the only surviving pieces of the wall still around the Last Supper.


In the late 1970s, a major restoration of The Last Supper brought out the original painting. Using new technology, scientists removed the layers of paint that had covered Leonardo De Vinci’s work. This process took over 20 years to complete. Today, you can see the original message that he had depicted.

The Last Supper portrays the reaction of each apostle at the moment that Jesus begins to open his mouth to say that one of them will betray him. It is a scene before Judas is ever determined as the traitor. The apostles nearest Jesus have a stronger relationship with Jesus, and they knowingly wait in anticipation. The apostles farthest from Jesus are in discussion because they are uncertain about what is happening. Judas is appears withdrawn and startled by the revelation of his plan.

Only John and Judas have different tones of skin compared to the other bodies. John is white symbolizing his good soul, and Judas is dark skinned with a dark soul. Peter is between John and Judas as a representation of church. John is facing Judas, which symbolizes that people face their darker souls in the church. The message suggests that even though people are not perfect, sin happens at the moment of choice. Judas had the chance to not betray until the exact moment Jesus uncovered his plans.


The table of the Last Supper is actually larger than the surrounding, painted room. This illusion pops the table into a clear view while cramming the apostles on the sides into the intense moment. In addition, the entire painting is huge with the dimensions of 15 by 29 feet. On Jesus’s cheek, a small hole can be seen where Leonardo De Vinci used a nail as the vanishing point of the picture. He used a rope to draw the room with perfect geometry.

Visiting The Last Supper requires reservation months in advance, for only a 15-minute viewing allowance. The feeling of anticipation, followed by utter amazement exemplifies the story of The Last Supper.




I love Milan. The city is the future and the past. It is a fast-paced metropolis of creativity, and the people are fueled with bubbly ambition and energy. Milan is the business capital of Italy, and Milanese lifestyle has evolved to support working hard and playing harder. At every corner, cafes and vending machines dispense endless shots of espresso, each for a single euro. (America needs more espresso vending machines.) Every evening from eight till midnight, people of all ages flock to the bars for aperitivo, a Milanese culture of free buffets with the purchase of drinks. In the mornings, the city begins the hasty business day around nine. Although they smoke and drink excessively, they also maintain a proper, assembled ambiance. Looking good is compulsory. For travelers, Milan is welcoming and relaxing, while expressing a sense of home. The city has many hidden secrets with only select tourist destinations. Thus, Milan feels authentic and free from lingering crowds. The center of Milan houses the Castel Sforza, the Duomo and the Galleria Vottorio Emanuele II, so many tourists congregate here. Luckily, the main streets in this area are majestically wide, and the tourists are comfortably spread out.



Wide piazza seen from the Duomo




Espresso vending machine


Uniquely, the center of Milan was reconstructed after the city was conquered by Napoleon. Napoleon influenced the architecture to reflect Paris. Even today, Milan looks more similar to old downtown Paris than the rest of Italy.  Just outside the Castel Sforza, there is a twin of Paris’s Arch of Triumph. It’s called the Arch of Peace. The two arches are on both sides of a road that connects Paris and Milan. Even today, Milan wants to be more like Paris. Currently, Milan’s economy is strong, while the economy of the rest of Italy is crumbling. In recent news, Milan wants to gain a specific government for the city in order to speed up politics in favor of thriving entrepreneur businesses. Many people believe that the Italian government is slow and harming the economy.  Similarly, Paris also has their own independent government power.



Arch of Peace


The Old

Milan has a rich dynamic of ancient history and thriving entrepreneurial nuances. The old part of Milan is an immense downtown center. Massive marble buildings stand firmly within the ancient walls of the old city. Here, the luxury brand shops for the high-class business citizens fill the streets. Churches dating back as far as the 3rd century are small treasures hidden within the windings streets. Every church is still used religiously. For example, one church, shown below, is called the Santa Maria Presso San Satiro. This church was built in the 15th century. When it didn’t have enough space to expand, an illusion was painted to make the church feel bigger. Furthermore, the Civic Archaeological Museum displays the Roman artifacts, on which the modern city is built. Near the fantastic Hostel Ostello Bello, the streets have open spots that offer sneak peeks at the Roman ruins beneath.

The ancient ways are alluring to the people in Milan. On the last Sunday of each month, the Navigli district, the ancient canals that flow through Milan, hosts a massive antique market. Continuous tents weave along the canals, displaying Roman artifacts, watches, African trinkets, Renaissance art, statues, silverware, clothing, jewelry, and furniture. The market is a real treat, as it is a glimpse into the culture of Milan.


Antique Market


Navigli District

Leonardo Da Vinci is a historical favorite of Milan. In fact, Da Vinci lived in Milan for over 20 years of his life. He worked for the Duke of Milan to paint the impressive Last Supper, and he lived with the Duke in the Castle Sforza. Within the Castle, Leonardo lined his room with wood and painted beautiful tree canopies across the ceilings and walls. This room is preserved under the name Sala Delle Asse, and available to the public within the colossal fortress. The Castle Sforza also sports another famous painting by Da Vince, the Madonna Lia. While painting the Madonna Lia, Leonardo was experimenting with using light sources and sloping shadows, mixed with physical movements, to reveal the soul and new perspectives of space. It is one of the best paintings to depict his artistic philosophies.

Leonardo Da Vinci was not only an artist. Recently the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia analyzed Leonardo’s invention journals. Experts used his ideas to create models and presented the masterpieces in an exhibit. One model was an improved printing press. Another was a mechanical loom. He also experimented with war boats and flying machines.

The New

Milan has a strong sense of entrepreneurship and growth. The push towards the future, developed during the Renaissance era, has continued throughout the centuries. Northern Italians are prideful of the Risorgimento, an Italian unification movement of the 1850s and early 60s. This was a time when Italy finally eradicated their feudal system and fought for a new Italy under one King, Vittorio Emanuel II. The heroes of this time are honored as the statues across Milan, and their names are presented on popular streets and buildings. The passionate determination for the future persists because of the remembrance of these heroes.



Vittorio Emanuele II


Then in the early 20th century, artistic and social movements influenced the period of Futurism in Milan. The change emphasized speed, technology, industry, and fascism. The modern paintings from this time are displayed in the Museo del Novecento. The paintings hint towards Picasso style but with more fluidity and movement rather than cubism. In 1913, Umberto Boccioni sculpted the Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. This famous statue is featured on the 20 cent euro coin. The speed of this figure is still reflected, today, in the people of Milan as they walk determinedly across the city.

In addition, many buildings still remain from the fascist politics of the early 20th century. The Milano Centrale train station and the Milan Stock Exchange are in fascist style buildings. The architecture is elegant and full of replicas of Roman statues and designs.  Recently, an artist placed as sculpture in front of the Milan Stock Exchange that presents a strong message. It shows a hand with all the fingers cut off but the middle one, an old fascist symbol. It is presented as a remembrance of the fascism that used to reign in Milan. However it also a modern message. This statue suggests an attitude towards the crumbling banks of Italy.

Today, Milan is the forefront of fashion and business in Italy. The constant, daily evolution of fashion in Milan has shaped a culture of nuance in every part of the city. Situated outside the Milano Centrale train station, there is a massive sculpture of the Apple logo with a bandage across the bitten piece. It symbolizes that nature and technology must find a way to coexist. This theme is scattered across the city. Everyone in the city uses the metro and walks. However, small electric cars (far cooler than Tesla) scurry through the streets. The modern part of Milan, Porta Nuovo, contains some of the most impressive architecture in the world. This area is lively and creative. The towering Unicredit Tower marks the hub of modern business in Milan. Amongst wavy architecture, fountains and modern sculptures, the impressive forerunners of millennial entrepreneurial businesses are presented such as Tesla, Moleskin, and Swatch. Peeking out from behind the Unicredit Tower is a unique skyscraper called the Bosco Verticale, or the Vertical Forest. This is a new residential building that uses an elaborate watering system to create an appealing green living area filled with trees and plants. The entire area of Porta Nuovo is under construction. The large land proposes hope for a green, livable modern business center of Milan. The new opportunities and potential are enticing.

The Opera


The Teatro Alla Scala offers a lavish and stunning experience into the thriving tradition of opera. I bought pricey tickets to be in a plush compartment near the stage. It was one of the best seats in the opera house. I sat in awe at my surroundings. The compartment fits four people and was decorated with intricate gold embroidery that surrounded velvety cushions. The view into the audience was stunning. The compartments rose up five stories high. The wealthy regulars popped their heads over the balconies to chat with their friends. Antique gold lights radiated the expanse with a warm glow. The entire room was massive! I spent longer staring at the marvels of the room than I did admiring the Duomo. The Teatro Alla Scala is a must see destination. Unfortunately, camera use is strictly forbidden so I didn’t take my own pictures.


I attended the performance of La Bohème, one of the most famous operas in the world. It was emotional and intense. I sat above the orchestra, and the music complimented the story with hints of excitement followed by mourning. The opera opened with a humorous scene of starving artists freezing in a simple apartment. Dramatically, the artists burned their operas and writings to keep warm. I found the set to be amazing! It was extremely detailed from scuffs on the walls to textured windows. It was so realistic that I felt like I was peering into a portal, and witnessing France in the 1840s.



Scene from La Bohème from Teatro Alla Scala website


The next scene was intense. The curtains drew back to reveal a stage that was two stories high and filled with hundreds of actors. The bottom story was a busy riverside festival near a restaurant, while wealthier citizens gossiped on the upper story. Horses and donkeys pulling carriages and carts of goods traversed across the stage. The music was uplifting, as the two main couples each fell in love during the festivals.

Then the following scenes got dark and depressing. The relationships between the two couples struggled. In the climactic end, the woman, Mimì, confesses her final love to Rodolfo as she dies from a short life plagued with poverty. In her dying moments, Mimí asks Rodolfo if he thinks she is still beautiful. Rodolfo romantically explains, “Beautiful as the dawn.”  Then tragically, Mimí replies, “You’ve mistaken the image: you should have said, beautiful as the sunset.”



The entrance to Teatro Alla Scala


The Fashion

The average fashion in Milan is not as wild as Vogue Magazine portrays. However, the people of Milan are confident and prideful. Thus, the people of Milan dress smartly. There is a strong culture of eating small, healthy, fresh meals and hastily walking long distances, while exorbitantly drinking and smoking. This culture has uniquely paid off in an interesting way. The people of Milan are beautiful, sexy, charismatic and grungy. In fact, they walk a fine line. Due to healthy eating and exercise, the people are thin, with strong attributes of either femininity or masculinity. The women’s hairstyles are typically long, straight and black. During the summer, the younger women wear high waist short shorts with exposing blouses and elaborate laced sandals with super thick soles to make them appear taller and thinner. Also, rompers are very popular. The older women wear longer, colorful sundresses, or tight sheath dresses. I did notice that the fashion shops are influencing elaborate woman shoes. For example, heals are covered in fluffy fur. I didn’t notice anyone wearing these shoes. However, I did see a couple woman with shoes that had huge red bows on top. The bows were so enormous that the woman had to be careful to not trip.

The men have a stricter dress code. It is imperative to wear pants, preferably slacks, to enter many restaurants, churches, or special events. Shorts are not accepted. Even collared shirts are suggested. The men wear elaborated leather shoes, slacks, and half buttoned up dress shirts, exemplifying the machismo culture of Italians. Businessmen are dressed in full suits. The older men have longer, curly hair that is pushed back. The young men sport a more modern look of undercuts, with the sides trimmed short and the top long. The top can be slicked back or let loose, wildly.

Men and women both typically have many tattoos and greasy looking hair. Furthermore, sunglasses, bracelets, and large flashy watches are popular for everyone. Every type of sunglasses is worn such as round, wayfarer, butterfly or even octagon. The signs of tobacco and alcohol leave hardened faces and wrinkles. The women cover the wrinkles with flawless, but heavy makeup, while the men rock the look as it supports their masculine toughness. This is a unique contrast from how elegantly they dress and walk.

The Food

The food is surprisingly cheap. Unless of course, you are eating from a balcony in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This is contributed by the prevalent aperitivo tradition and the lack of mass tourism. A traveler could eat well with only spending 20 euros a day. Aperitivio is typically 8 euros which includes a drink and a buffet for dinner between 8 pm and midnight. Breakfast seems to be a small muffin with a couple shots of espresso before work. Italians typically eat smaller meals when they are hungry.  Panini, gelato, and pizza cafes are everywhere. Each store takes fresh fruit for the new gelato each day. The pizza joints make their own tomato sauce by using a slow process with the best Italian tomatoes. This makes the pizza excellent.  Shopping at market stores is the cheapest option. Groceries are significantly cheaper in Milan than in Montana. Notably, olive oil is insanely cheap. As I am from Montana, Milan food lights up my taste buds. The fresh produce in Milan is mouth-watering. Even the cucumbers are juicy!

The cafes are my favorite. If you want to sit down, coffee is more expensive. Usually, Italians stand at the counter to drink their coffee and talk. It’s easy to meet people. Unlike Montana, liquor licenses in Italy are easy to attain.  This makes a wide available variety of types of coffee. A cafe shakerato is an iced coffee made like a cocktail with a shot of liqueur. A cafe correcto is an espresso with a shot of brandy. Many times a day, I always order a cafe macchiato. Each time, it is prepared excellently. In America, I would be running the risk of getting a horrible latte caramel macchiato. Uniquely, McCafes are popular here. In fact, I ordered a really good cafe macchiato from a McCafe.


Interestingly, the food in Milan used to be fairly unhealthy. Then, the Expo 2015 shocked Milan. The quality food from around the world at the festival altered how people in Milan thought out about food. Now, the healthy and exotic cuisine is fashional in Milan. The food scene in Milan is diverse and popular.

Follow closely as I dive deeper into Milan and the nearby cities of Italy.