Mijn gezellige reis naar Tilburg

Hallo iedereen! My name is Maxwell Shaver, and I studied abroad in Tilburg in the Netherlands. I cannot recommend it enough- especially if you love biking (check out Not Just Bikes on youtube: https://youtu.be/9OfBpQgLXUc ). There I was close enough to a major hub for international traveling (Schiphol Airport), and studying at a top 50 school for economics. All of this is with the added bonus of the GLI scholarship! What’s not to love?

Moving abroad is tough at times, like this picture of me implies. But first and foremost remember: everyone is struggling the same amount as you. This was my second study abroad and by far the harder, and the first one wasn’t even in English! The school system is harder, and the separation you get from friends and family is tough, but hey- you’re tougher! Studying abroad, you get so many awesome experiences. I managed to learn Dutch in only four months, and now I can communicate with a population that has a 93% English literacy rate! In all seriousness, I made friends in my international dorm from all across the world. I now have a couch to sleep on in Madrid, Singapore, Vienna, Taipei, Hong Kong, and even as far away as Sydney! Some of the people I met are going to be lifelong friends, and really encourage me to be true to myself. As my friend Libor told me (in a thick German accent) “Mixwell, you are, who you surround yourself wif.” I will never forget those words, and I am happy to have taken lessons from people I love so much. They pushed me to be who I want to be, and it is an experience I wouldn’t have given for the world.

Apart from the sappy (yet always important) personal growth you will inevitably experience abroad, there are so many things you can do. Tickets from Schiphol to Barcelona were at one point 22€, not to mention how easy and cheap it is to get around by train or bus! I had six close friends and family members come to visit me throughout my semester, and I got into a rhythm of showing them the cool parts of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Not to mention how cheap it is to travel (especially in Eastern Europe), there are always super cool events going on! Somehow a pirate band I had known for most of my life (don’t ask) was playing in a few nearby towns on tour, and I managed to rope a few friends to go. This band was so engaging and fun we all went to each time they played in the Netherlands.

How crazy is that? All of the members on tour (they are called Ye Banished Privateers by the way) signed my CD, and it remains a highlight of our friend group.

Regardless, this experience was life-changing (as you have heard a billion times), and I can only say good things about the Netherlands. Also, I need people here to speak Dutch with. Please go, if not then please learn it and hit me up!

Dankjewel om dit te lezen, ik vond Tilburg heel gezellig en jij zult het ook vinden!

European Union, Brats, and the Bundesländer

Complicated and interlocking political and economic administration systems. I expected most of Germany to be devoid of trees and heavily influenced by the Cold War cement. Waking up at the end of my flight I noticed a polka dotted landscape of villages that grew in size while coming closer to major cities. All over Germany there are fields of wind turbines and solar panels. A brave utilization of land, lush and beautiful. The area I called home for a year is the ‘Ruhrpott,’ distinguished by a preserved mining heritage reminding me of Butte, America. Embodied in the state-of-the-art UNESCO museum at the Zollverein Mining area, it follows Germany’s history in utilization of coal mining, industrialization, and worker life in the area. This museum displays local artifacts ranging from archeological treasures found while mining, cultural tides of an imperial past, and the final chapters of coal mining in the area. Local Dortmund peers educated me on the Fußball Club rivalries and diverse communities within the Ruhrpott. As one could expect, this city prides itself on diversity with citizens coming from all over the world. I was particularly impressed with the international students at the Techniche Universität campus as they number 14% of the student body.

I opted to intern with a local high school as an English teaching assistant in my second semester. Unsure how this experience would go, once these “at risk” students learned about where I was from their curiosity pushed them to communicate in my native language. It helped I spoke enough German to answer simple questions and I was able to play a bit of charades when these students wanted to dig deeper than their English textbooks allowed. (I was really proud when during this year my I managed to pass as a local giving directions at the Hauptbahnhofs.)

Personal connections are the lasting souvenir from Dortmund. In an online German Intensive Language course, I invited a bunch of peers out one evening and quickly became friends with a Turkish fellow, Maltepe. He had been attending a Military Academy in Istanbul with the expectation to become an officer. I immediately knew I’d found another politics buff. We traded thoughts about Turkish current events and American culture. I enjoyed telling him stories of my Montana home and other parts of the U.S., particularly national parks, and he enjoyed explaining growing up in Malatya on an apricot farm. He opened up about his love of Turkey and his hope for a better future. He works hard for his studies in a foreign country, learning his fifth language, working, and following a different career than he was educated for. He became a fellow explorer of German culture, architecture, bratwursts, and museums.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time using the Deutsche Bahn public trains because of the easy use long distance and local systems. I was able to use the regional train systems with the German 9 Euro Ticket allowing individuals to buy an all-inclusive ticket to travel anywhere in Germany (regional and local in all cities). This was a promotional legislation and experiment to see if Germany could attract a large amount of tourism after the pandemic. It worked and train platforms had no elbowroom and felt like being at a concert.

Dortmund is an undiscovered gem. A central location near the Rhine river, there is easy access to historical sites in Germany such as Cologne, Aachen, and just a few train stops from Münster (where they conceived of national sovereignty). The downtown boasts the oldest Pharmacy in Western Europe that was founded in 1332 which put into perspective how young the United States are. While traveling Germany and exploring the national museums show an ancient and divided history in a youthful nation (remember it only unified after the fall of the Berlin wall). I was fortunate to study and travel Germany while political passions were high. The election of a new Chancellor (Olaf Schultz of the SPD). A common spirit of decency and respect and anti-Nazi sentiment referring to the far-right AfD party. Traveling the former Eastern block countries when Putin’s War in Ukraine began gave me a fright and incentivized a habit of being glued to the news even while in museums. I had a few heavy visits to concentration camps; in particular the Dachau camp which my great grandfather Allen Chesbro Jr. (UM Class of 1941) helped to liberate with the Rainbow Brigade. I enjoyed representing Montana to my international peers, it gave me a diplomatic perspective I hope to carry in my final year at the University of Montana. The intensive German language learning courses offered by TU were a great way to meet other new exchange students and there were many events on the TU campus to connect with the local Germans before classes began. Learning a language takes a little humor and a lot of dedication to try. I took many classes on the E.U. structure and recent crises. I learned from new friends to make traditional Calcutta Curry and Schnitzel while memorizing different phrases in Turkish. While participating in day trips and longer travels in Europe I taught these same friends to respond ‘Fight On’ to my chant of ‘Go Griz’.

Hunter Grimes (recent UM graduate) and Ben DeBar (current UM student) visit Seth Carmichael at the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site
Visiting the top of the Reichstag in Berlin
Techniche Universität Dortmund (main campus)

Nottingham, England

Hi there, my name is Trevor Finney and I am currently a senior at the University of Montana!

I spent this past semester studying abroad in Nottingham, England with the goal of learning more about green business and sustainability within supply chains. I wanted to better understand how businesses can evolve in the face of climate change and operate more efficiently and environmentally friendly. I was able to take courses in logistics, business strategy, and China’s global economy, all of which had elements discussing the steps companies are taking to innovate in the name of sustainability. Furthermore, guest lecturers in my courses were able to provide insight on European trade

 I was also lucky enough to travel to several countries such as Denmark, France, and Ireland to explore all the wonders that Europe has to offer.

My experience abroad and engagement with the different cultures of students who lived in the residence hall with me has given me a new perspective on how culture shapes our relationship with the environment as well as the importance of learning from people outside one’s bubble. For example, there is more social pressure to be environmentally responsible in the U.K. and Sweden, it is a social contract like waiting in queue. A good example is how when you go grocery shopping in downtown Nottingham (or Dublin), most people bring reusable bags as it costs ten pence for each plastic one you have to buy. Furthermore, many people walk to the grocery store, so your bags have to be durable enough for the trek home. I really appreciated the bag tax as an economics major as it is a proven incentive to get people to engage in more socially and environmentally responsible behavior, and the shame of noncompliance does not hurt either.  

It is also easier to live greener in Europe as public transport is everywhere, affordable, and accessible. In Nottingham there is an electric tram that runs through all of town daily, connecting city to suburb. Talking with my fellow flat mates, I confirmed what I had suspected, most cities in Europe have incredible public transit whether it is HamburgHamburg or Copenhagen. I think Americans like myself can learn a lot from talking with people from diverse perspectives when it comes to sustainability as we clearly don’t need to reinvent the wheel, rather just look at what has been proven to be an effective solution. I also found that the students I met from Italy live greener lives, but it isn’t with great effort, it’s simply apart of their lifestyle and culture. For example, they spoke of how some apartments do not have clothes dryers, air conditioning, or limitless amounts of hot water and thus you live a more practical, energy conserving life. With smaller fridges and cars that get double the mileage of even the best hybrid, Italians carb footprints are much smaller than those of Americans, and even the Brits. When it comes to the Netherlands, my Dutch friend told me about how as a small country there is a lack of space for new landfills, implying the need to be conservative and efficient with waste management, instilling in the culture a sensibility when it comes to disposables like single use plastics, one that I find  we often lack in the U.S.

In terms of leadership skills, you might be shocked to know that absolutely no one participates in class discussions in the U.K. My American friend Cole and I would sit in a lecture hall of a hundred students and watch as everyone said nothing until we felt compelled to give the lecturer an answer just to break the silence. It may’ve just been my three courses, but I definitely had to get used to feeling weird for speaking up. Participation isn’t necessarily “leadership” but I also led group discussions and group projects. I did not mind it because it gave me a chance to ask questions about attending university in England and what it’s like to not have to pay hardly anything for school. I did develop in my ability to independently plan a trip and navigate French cities with only two semesters of classes.

One cultural difference that may be attributed to being in a city instead of a small town like Missoula is that every night of the week is a party night. Nottingham has a vibrant nightlife with dozens of clubs, and I’d always head home around midnight only to be awoken at three in the morning by the drunken chatter of inebriated lads. One of the best nights I had in the U.K. was a trip to Scotland where we went on a bar crawl, and for the sake of embracing the local culture, we drank a fair amount of local scotch. I also enjoyed Scotland for the beautiful architecture of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the stunning landscape.

P.S: News flash to me, an American, Trevor is not a common English name; it is actually considered antiquated.

Went Down Under for a Bit

My name is Liam Hauck, I am a marketing major and my global theme is Natural Resources and Sustainability.  For my beyond the classroom experience I chose to study abroad at La Trobe University in Melbourne Australia.  I was looking forward to learning more about the theme of Natural resources and Sustainability while I was in Australia.  Climate change has had a significant impact on Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is continuously being negatively impacted by climate change and I arrived in Melbourne just as the last of the severe bush fires were being put out.  So, it seemed like there was a lot to learn from Australia in terms of natural resources and sustainability and how the natural world can challenge a nation’s sustainable practices.  

            However, it was only about two weeks into my semester abroad that I had to return back home to Seattle to finish my studies online due to COVID shutdowns.  Fortunately, I had arrived in Melbourne about a month before my program started and I got to stay with my Uncle who lives in Melbourne.  During this time I was able to explore Melbourne, see Elton John perform, and even took a week-long trip down to Queenstown, New Zealand (where I got to skydive)

            The majority of the times where I found myself growing as a leader and simply as a person were when I had to continue my studies online back in Seattle.  I left Australia on March 26th and finished my semester on June 15th.  All of my classes had to be attended live via Zoom, in Australia time.  Which meant that most of my classes were at night, with the latest class starting at 9 pm and ending at 11 pm.  It was very hard to find the motivation and fortitude to attend these classes and do all the work at late hours.  Yet I persevered and worked as hard as I could through those 2 ½ months of late nights and I certainly developed skills that I will take with me into my professional career.  While this experience of course was not the one I wanted, it was the crazy one that I got. I am definitely thankful for the time that I had down under.

Cultures don’t meet, people do: an exchange period told through three reflections

welcome to Finland

First, some questions answered 

Where: The University of Jyväskylä in Jyväskylä, Finland 

Wait…where: About three hours by train north of Helsinki 

Was it cold and dark: Yes

Did you learn any Finnish: A little bit (I am especially good at saying “En puhu suomea” or “I don’t speak Finnish”) 

sun setting above apartment buildings at 2:29 PM

Löyly, Avanto, and Sisu. 

Sauna culture was something I looked forward to exploring while in Jyväskylä and I was pleased to learn that Kortephoja, my student living complex, boasted a proud five saunas. It is also important to clarify that the correct pronunciation is sow-na, because the Finns know best. Learning about Finnish sauna culture meant embracing löyly, the steam that rises off the rocks in the sauna when water is splashed on them, and avanto, the practice of dipping into a hole in the ice.

a hole in the ice waiting for a sauna-goer

Taking multiple sauna turns a week meant time for long conversations with friends. More adventurous sauna experiences included running into the Arctic Ocean in Norway while a Finnish bus driver yelled at me to put me head fully under the water; this gets one closer to the Finnish concept of sisu. Sisu is comprised of determination, grit, and resilience and is said to express the Finnish national character. Choosing an exchange experience in college means choosing to embrace sisu (and saunas, if one finds themself in Finland). 

Are you the one who needs a violin?

After my first day of classes I plodded through the dark, the sun set at 3:30, without an instrument, my violin was safe at home in Montana, towards the music building, a twenty-minute walk from my apartment. Groups of musicians have a certain buzz about them, and that night was no exception. Timpani drums were tuned, a saxophonist played a scale, and rosin was applied to bows as I quietly stood in the corner and observed. As the symphony tuned, a trombonist emerged beside me and asked, “are you the one who needs a violin?” I was offered her grandfather’s violin for me to borrow. I lovingly nicknamed the violin ‘Pavo’, after violin’s original owner, and slipped into my spot in the second violins.

say hello to Pavo

As the only exchange student in Sinfis, the student symphony, I found it refreshing to be around only Finnish students. Works by Grieg, Mendelssohn, Bizet, and Saint-Saëns were the soundtrack for those three-hour Monday evening practices. The rehearsals were conducted all in Finnish, but I quickly learned “yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä” (one, two, three, four) as the count to begin as a symphony. My ever-patient stand partner, Rita, spent hours leaning over to me and whispering what measure number we were rehearsing each time the conductor offered a direction. While our final concert was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those hours spent making music remain some of the ones I am proudest I spent during my exchange. 


Because my roommates and I had the largest apartment, it was decided that we would host brunch. Miriam and I pulled out the desks from our room to make the dining room table longer. Shannon took muffins out from the oven while her ‘brunch’ playlist played out of her phone. Sienna stood ready at the door to hop in the dangerously small elevator and let our friends into our building.

a bounty from some creative exchange students

About once every two weeks this was our ritual. Gathering for a meal with friends from Spain, France, Hong Kong, Madagascar, and Russia meant lots of food, conversation, and laughter. Our earnest interest in building lasting friendships was born out of these meals together and has continued since. In late March when the composition of our study abroad experience was altered due to the global pandemic – this group of friends rallied in an impressive way. When universities called some of us home, others showed up to clean the entire apartment top to bottom while we packed. Our last hodge-podge meal all together was composed of only desserts and food we had purchased in an attempt to use up our food stipend for that month (can’t let good euros go to waste). Though I spent half the amount of months I had planned to with this friend group, we’ve stayed connected: reminding each other of inside jokes, bi-weekly zoom calls, and plans to see each other have kept the spirit of our brunches very alive.  

our kitchen before our last meal together

Cultures don’t meet, people do 

With a focus on the global theme of culture and politics I tried to construct my schedule at the University of Jyväskylä around these large concepts. As a Communication Studies major I had never previously studied intercultural communication. The University of Jyväskylä specializes in instruction and research in this field. I took multiple courses with an underlying focus on intercultural communication. My main take away from these courses, and my time outside of the classroom in and around Jyväskylä, was an awareness of the simplifications we tend to make when we take about intercultural communication.

One of my most impactful instructors at the University of Jyväskylä took a critical view on commonly held beliefs about intercultural communication and borrowed a subtitle from a book by Hoffman and Verdooren to remind her students that “cultures don’t meet, people do.” This lesson was solidified around a table constructed out of desks, while rehearsing music I understood in a language I did not, and in a cedar plank sauna in the Artic Circle. 

Oppdage et moderne Norge, Discovering a modern Norway

Hei, jeg heter Madeline og jeg bodde i Oslo, Norge i seks måneder. Hi, my name is Madeline and I lived in Oslo, Norway for the last six months. 

Having only been back “state-side” it is difficult to look back on my time abroad with perspective. Norway has always meant a lot to me. Growing up, my family made a lot of traditional Norwegian food and even attended an annual “Norway Day” celebration in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When I return home for winter break one of the first things my mom and I do is make a large patch of fresh lefse for the holidays. Lefse is a thin potato tortilla that we like to eat with butter and cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. 

In Norway, friends told me they no longer knew anyone who made fresh lefse. Everyone just bought it in from the store, premade. I had spent my whole life learning about Norway and hearing stories from family members who had visited. 

It sounds obvious now, but I quickly learned that my family was practicing traditions that had been passed down from family members that had immigrated to the United States more than 100 years ago. But, I have also found that many Americans have an outdated view of Norway, if they’ve even heard of the Nordic country. While many Norwegians live on farms in beautiful fjords raising sheep and knitting, Norway is also a powerful oil country that leads Europe in multiple fields including environmental innovation. 

From left to right, Astrid (Dutch), Andre (Australian), Vanessa (Austrian), Izzy (Colorado), myself and Lauren (Australian) pose around 2 p.m. on top of Holmenkollen on one of my first days in Norway. Holmenkollen is a tall ski jump, used in the Olympics, that has a wonderful view of the city.

I was also amazed to learn that many students are heavily involved in one of the country’s eight political parties. Every one of my new Norwegians friends were involved and attended climate marches, held offices in the student union and helped organize large events for nonprofits. This is much different from my experience at home. In high school, very few were even knowledgeable about politics. Meanwhile, at my university, many of my friends are politically active in both political parties and local nonprofits, but I wouldn’t say that’s the norm for the student body.

Within Europe, Norway is frequently regarded as a country that other countries should aspire to be. Their progressive environmental and social policies have made them a leader. And even though many believe the country to be a leader, citizens continue to demand more from their governments. In March, I stood outside Stortinget, translated to “the big thing” aka Norway’s parliament building, with nearly 20,000 Norwegians chanting “Fjerne Erna!” or “remove Erna,” referring to Erna Solberg, the Norwegian prime minister. We were gathered outside the parliament building to demand action on climate change from the leader of the ruling conservative party. Norway, at the time, had been discussing beginning to drill for oil in Australia and the Arctic. 

Izzy (left), from Colorado, and Ingeborg from western Norway hold signs at the Oslo Climastreik (Climate Strike) in Oslo. Ingeborg’s sign reads “We want systems change, not climate change.”

I was inspired by a country full of people that recognized the great life they got to live in Norway and how different that often made them from the rest of the world. But they didn’t allow that to make them complacent, they continued to push for equality and justice.

As someone who has been in climate change work for just over three years our slow progress, and sometimes regression, has been hard to watch. The time we have left to turn this climate crisis around is quickly shrinking. It’s traveling to places around the world whether it is Vietnam, like I did last January, or Norway I am reassured when I see the people who are doing the work around the world. 

Youth hold signs at the March Klimastreik in Oslo, Norway. The signs, from left to right, say “Do something while there is still hope,” “crocodile tears don’t help us,” and “you said clean your room, we say clean the planet.”

Norwegians gave me more hope for our future and our ability to at least slow down the climate crisis that is quickly making the Earth uninhabitable for humans as we do now. There connectedness to the environment was inspiring and their kindness towards one another was moving.

As I go into my capstone experience I am filled with hope that we can shift the American consciousness towards being environmentally aware and politically active for the environment. That was important for me as I had been spending some time feeling dejected with the current regression in American environmental policy. 

Sunshine in the Hearts

My GLI Global Theme is Exploring Mental Health, particularly among college students. This topic plays into the well-being of an individual and the productivity and happiness of a society. I arrived in Lille, France, assuming I would be awaited by some romantic, French enlightenment on this issue.  In fact, I discovered a richer complexity to mental health, and the need for time and patience to influence.

Lille, France, may be unknown by many Americans, but it is located in the center of a triangle of three major international cities: Brussels, London, and Paris. This means that it is a melting pot of multiple cultures, filled with international students and habitants, immigrants and refugees. Despite its convenient location as a stopping-point between cities, very few people speak English, forcing me into a rapid state of improving my French.  This was utterly terrifying, because French people tend to not smile.  As an American, eye contact results in an awkward smile, and anything less is interpreted as hostile. However, I quickly learned that the French method of communication is simply different, and the people are often very kind and ready to help.


The favorite saying in Lille translates as follows: “In the North, the sunshine is not in the sky, but in the heart of the people.” I have never been so surprised by the kindness of strangers, despite their grimacing faces.  Unfortunately, vulnerability is not an easily accessible thing.  Only now, after five months of living alongside am I starting to glimpse the culture regarding mental health. It is rather surprising to find that it remains very heavily stigmatized.  According to the Psychology students, if a French person discovers that you study Psychology, they instantaneously create space.  Very few students use the resources, or are aware that they exist for free on campus.  In addition, the resources are incredibly lacking for international students, as they have counselors only in French and it may take weeks or months of paperwork before you one can access the services.  I learned patience during my time in France, thanks to the French administration (a worker’s smoke break is completely permissible, despite a line of waiting clients), being friends with Italians (“J’arrive” doesn’t mean “I’m arriving” but “I am still at home, in the shower, and will leave in an hour”), and waiting for the French to come out of their shells.

Once a French person has allowed you to integrate in their life, you are truly family.  This is one of the most beautiful experiences.  My confidence in quickly changing the world has diminished, but my curiosity for other cultures and places steadily grows.  I have learned that simply asking questions and listening can create a safer place.  Some questions, about mental health, are incredibly scary, but these questions have the ability to change lives by creating a dialogue – interior or exterior, and this potential is found only in already formed relationships. This is a form of personal leadership, accessible by anyone willing to take the time and effort to learn and share. Despite the challenges of living in such a stigmatized and different society, I crave to return and continue to search for a healthier world.


I have so much more I could write about – Christmas with Italian families, force-feeding me and teaching me important words such as “MANGI!”, sharing Stroopwaffles with strangers in the Netherlands, or becoming a connoisseur of Belgian Fries.  I return to the US in one week with a full stomach and full heart.



Studying Along the Rhône: A Year in Lyon, France

Global Theme and Challenge

I have always been very interested in improving the lives of others in any way that I can. On campus, I worked as a tour guide and an RA so as to help prospective students and incoming freshmen feel more supported and excited to be at the University of Montana. I volunteered when I could and complimented 3 strangers a day. Ultimately, however, I found politics to be the most streamlined way to improve the lives of many. That’s why I decided to declare my Global Theme in human rights and social justice and my challenge in observing the rise of nationalist tendencies in major world powers such as the UK, United States, and France. At the time of my departure, President Donald Trump was experiencing his first few months in office, Brexit had been voted for favorably by the English, and a fiery Presidential Election was happening in France that mirrored the one the US had experienced a few months before. I thought this was the perfect time to study abroad and get a very up-close perspective on international politics. Little did I know, my experiences in France would lead me to change my Challenge entirely and inspire a long-term change in how I perceive the world…

My Experience

My incredible year abroad started the moment I boarded my flight to France where I found myself seated next to a very friendly German astrophysicist. He excitedly explained to me that the pilot had explained only in German that we would be able to see the Northern Lights from the plane that night. I probably should have slept, but instead the two of us stayed up all night trying as hard as we could to capture this spectacle with his camera through the window. I used my sweater to block out the light while he held his probably 10 pound camera up for three minutes at a time so as to let the exposure capture the Aurora. Although the resulting pictures came out blurry, I found them to be hauntingly beautiful and a sure sign from the universe that I was embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. 21246612_1167354363364461_460651731422623670_o

My year in Lyon, France transpired just as excitingly as it started, and the adventure of a lifetime it truly was. My first weeks in France were spent in awe of the beautiful architecture, the two rivers that run through the city, and the constant, poetic murmur of people speaking French all around me. I was surprised at first to find that I was much less prepared to live in a city and much less fluent in French than I had anticipated, but the following months taught me how to navigate the Metro system and to never reply “comme ci, comme ça” if a French person asks how you are doing unless you want them to laugh at you.

Although I had come to France with the intention of observing the political tension that has been reverberating across the world as of late, once I arrived I was struck with a much more pressing and surprising issue. It seemed as though every other street I walked on had a homeless person sitting under an awning begging for change, and about a third of them were flanked on either side by their children. The homelessness, especially homeless youth, was staggering to me. I knew objectively, of course, that there existed homeless children in the world, but for some reason I had never even considered a country like France would struggle with this problem. What is more is that over the course of my time abroad I traveled to 11 other countries, all of whom seemed to have the same problem. I was astounded that countries I considered to be “first world” would still have streets filled with dirty, shoeless children asking passers by for change.

Seeing the scope of homeless youth in the world really challenged my preconceived ideas about poverty across the globe. I began questioning what I knew about homeless youth in the United States as well. Growing up in Montana meant that I had never been to an urban area of the United States, and therefore had never seen a homeless child in my life prior to moving to France. But surely they exist, right? They absolutely do – according to the National Network for Youth, an estimated 1.3 to 1.7 million children in the United States have spent at least one night without a home in the past year.

Why, then, had I never heard or seen the issue? How could it have taken me 20 years of life and a trip across the globe to fully understand just how many homeless children exist? I could feel a clear shift in my intentions the more prevalent this issue became to me. I decided to abandon my original idea of focusing my time in France on the rise of nationalism across the globe and instead to dedicate my time abroad helping homeless youth in France. My best friend, who happens to be majoring in Human Rights herself, and would spend our spare change buying baguettes and delivering them to homeless families in the main square. During our second semester, we even attended several meetings of a local human rights group that volunteered their time aiding the community.

Ultimately, my time spent in France was as illuminating as it was enjoyable. I made the most amazing friends I have ever had, I travelled and experienced vastly different cultures than my own, and I gleaned pivotal insight into the lives of the impoverished, which inspired me to work harder to improve this situation not only in my own country but in France as well. I am so thankful for every new experience that my study abroad gave me and I am excited to spend more time working to promote support for homeless youth in the future.

Exploring Social Inequality & Human Rights in Greece During the Refugee Crisis

Global Theme & Challenge

Before beginning my study abroad adventure, I had always been interested in the dynamics between social inequality and human rights. Does an unstable society promote abuses of human rights or is it more community based? Because of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Asia and Africa, I wanted to see for myself the balance between individual freedoms and human rights, and social order and justice. More specifically, how have governments reacted to the crisis and what are the public’s perception of proposed or implemented policies?

My Experience 

From the moment I landed in Athens, Greece I knew this was a culture I had never experienced before. The way individuals spoke to one another on the street, how newspapers addressed current political issues, the way advertisements were represented on the sides of buses, and the dilapidation of abandoned buildings scattering the neighborhood, all showed signs of distress and disrepair. I knew before coming to Greece that the country was in a state of poverty and unrest, but I was not expecting it to be this noticeable. Homeless and mutilated individuals flooded commercial and shopping districts begging for food and money. Unaccompanied children ran through the streets selling cheap goods, such as balloons and flowers. Abandoned and stray animals, such as cats and dogs, littered the neighborhoods in the thousands. Due to the extreme poverty of Greek citizens, their outlook and willingness to aid refugees was mainly negative. Even when I traveled to other European countries, the opinions on the impact refugess presented in the economy, was pessemistic. Many believed refugees were biologically inferior and stole jobs from hard-working citizens. Of course, I could find no data to support these claims, but countries where Catholisism and Orthodox Christianity strongly practiced, these false views followed. I believe this to be a result of past experiences where the Church used religion to codemn “inferior” races of people and other minority groups such as women and the GSD (gender and sexualy diverse) community. During my time abroad, I never saw noticeably gay or transsexual individuals on the streets and during International Women’s Day, Greece was absent in holding any parades or marches in favor of women’s rights. I was later informed that the country, being Greece, had never held pride or women’s marches and many people, including women, felt that it was unnessesary to do so. Because of this I noticed how aggressive Greek men were to women, including myself and my roommates, and how there was an underlying sexist attitude in almost all conversation. Due to my personal experience, I believed and continue to believe that there are many human rights issues in Greece and other European countries, and that these primarily stem from social inequality. In the future, I hope to see Greece move in a more progressive direction. 

My Beyond the Classroom in Tokyo Japan

My GLI Global Theme and Challenge is dealing with Human trafficking and global awareness. My experience in Japan gave me a chance to see one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo, and the ability to look further into global cultures and see how they treat information gathering as well as communication.

Due to being in Tokyo, I was able to gain an eastern perspective on America and realize how selfish our culture is. While we talk a lot about individualism and making sure everyone is ‘accepted’ as different, we always seem to focus on the individual, not the collective. If we have our individual rights that don’t ‘hurt’ someone else, then we do not seem to care. However, in Japan, they care a lot more about the collective. For instance, in America we have a hard time being quiet in public, not disrupting class, not talking over each other, and waiting in line, and stealing bags, bikes, or even CHILDREN that are left unattended. These are common in most areas of the united states. I find this very discouraging. However, in Japan, specifically in Tokyo where I stayed, these issues are not really an issue. Why? Because everyone thinks about everyone else. You are not loud because you could be bothering someone else. You do not steal wallets, or purses, or bikes, or kidnap kids, because that is just not okay to upset someone else. You also stand in line patiently, get up on the train so elders can sit down, and be quiet in public places and on public transportation, because it is rude to your fellow citizens if you are not. These things show how much society cares about what other people think and feel in Tokyo.

Despite all these things, there is a down side to that exact mind set as well. Since the mind set is ‘you before me’ in Tokyo, often molestation cases go unreported. This is extremely the case in public transportation. I believe the statistic I got from a Japanese Professor of mine was that 1 in 5 women are molested on the train. Though that number is skewed because most do not report it because they do not want to take up someone else’s time during the day. Things like this would not be stood for in America. There is still yet a silver lining. Because women do not report these things, often a man will step in if he notices and ask the other guy to stop. This is not always the case, society has its flaws, but it does happen.

Beyond that. I have also realized how universal racism towards foreigners is. Japan hates foreigners even more than Americans do. We pretend to be okay with foreigners, we even have advocacy groups and active groups helping to incorporate foreigners in our country because, technically, most of us are at least partial foreigners when it comes to ancestry. However, in Japan, they want you to fit in, they want you to blend and do as the collective does, and most foreigners do not do that. Naturally these points I mention are extreme cases. But they are still cases. I was called on not just one occasion a ‘baka gaijin’ which literally translates to (rudely) “Idiot Foreigner” this is a derogatory term for anyone who is not Japanese and does not necessarily understand the culture. Does that mean I did something to piss these Japanese people off with my excessive loudness or rudeness? No. Not necessarily. I was called this name twice because I was wearing a rather gothic style shirt in a public area when out with friends both times. This earned me a very nasty look from two old men, separate occasions, who then proceeded to say I was an idiot foreigner. They of course probably did not account for the fact that one, I did hear them and two, I do understand a bit of Japanese, especially mean words. So yes, Racism is still a thing even in foreign countries, it also made me realize how silly ‘white washing’ in American films are because Asians do it too. Yes, they watch American films, but have you ever actually seen a movie, drama, or play from China Japan or Korean? The actors are… Japanese Chinese or Korean. They don’t really let in foreign influence. Yes, I did model in Japan, but I never became famous and was not even signed to an agency, I was just freelance and paid 10,000 yen each day I worked. That is roughly less than 100 dollars USA money. Which, for a model, is not that much. For anyone really since I was working eight hours a day. So Racism is pretty universal.

I feel like I have a better understanding of how Japan deals with such topics versus America. For instance, Japan has a lot of gang related issues. Despite this, they do not really talk about it. You do not even mention the Yakuza, and you sure as heck do not show off tattoos in Japan. Yet, world wide the sex trafficking and human trafficking is largely impacted by gangs in Japan. Japan does not talk about the bad points of the society though. They do not really talk about it at all. Americans are quick to point out the faults in our society, quick to judge and diminish our own worth, but Japanese people hide all the bad stuff. They only talk about the good things. This was something I found interesting. They promote their country in a way that sweeps all the negativity under the rug, so unless you are actively looking for it, or very aware of their culture, you do not actually see it. This conclusion led me to understand why human trafficking is so big in Japan; Its ignored.

I feel my experience in Japan did not fully help my leadership skills to be honest. I did do a lot of translating for some foreign exchange friends when talking to Japanese people, or even explaining cultures and cultural gaps, but I felt more behind then I ever have in my life. There was definitely a steep learning curve in Japan and that made me kind of have to take a back-seat approach and learn more than lead. I think the time I got to lead the most was in a culture class I took. We were discussing the idea of individualism, the American view, versus collectivism, the Japanese view. An American student did not understand how one could ignore their own needs and really think about others before them. He was a classic example of a bad tourist, even if he was a nice guy by American standards. Japanese people that I talked to did not like him because he was loud, obnoxious and self-centered. When I talked to Japanese people, they said that he was what they imagined Americans to be like. That hurt. During the culture class where we were discussing these differences I was given the chance to talk to him and express why the views were different. He finally understood how the Japanese people could put others before themselves, but I don’t think he ever actually embraced it as he was still just as loud and obnoxious as before. Yet, still, I feel a few other foreign exchange students from other countries were also very avid to hear what I had to say because after class I got more questions about the different views and ideals. This was really my only chance to play ‘leader’ as I kind of ‘led’ a cultural knowledge moment.

The questions I have now are more based on how I can more aptly get people to understand Japanese culture, so that when they go over to Japan they better represent a positive American vs. the stereo type of loud and obnoxious. However, also the idea of how one could better traffic knowledge about sex and human trafficking to japan without it being totally rejected.

Over all though I must say my experience in Japan was extremely Positive. I had a lot of fun, made some good friends from around the globe, and gathered some knowledge from all kinds of countries about different issues and why they are an issue in those specific countries. This increased my cultural knowledge for not only America and Japan but other places as well like Sweden, Norway, Germany, Ireland, South Korea, and the UK. My room mate was also from the States, so I even got a state to state different view point. That was also a lot of fun. We did a few different things and honestly most of my adventures were outlined on a blog, but I will add a few photos with captions here just to keep things interesting.