Semester One Complete

When I first arrived in Tromsø, I had my giant red suitcase, a backpack, and a slip of paper with a name and the bus stop I was supposed to get off at. I knew I was meeting a man named Simen who was my Norwegian sister’s dad’s cousin’s son. I had never met or spoken with him before, but I also had no place to stay for my first night. I got off the bus to find nobody there. Pretty soon this man comes running down the sidewalk to greet me. He was helping an elderly woman with her groceries and then he didn’t see the bus come. He snatched my suitcase and we set off for his house. He gave me a tour of downtown Tromsø, fed me, and helped me figure out how to get to the school the next day. He fed me three meals the next day and then helped me get to my apartment that I would be living in for the next year. All in all, I’m grateful to have met Simen and to have his help for the first few days. I met my three roommates who happened to all be from Norway. I moved into my empty room that still seemed pretty empty after moving in my stuff. Part of that might have had to do with my sleeping bag and wadded up sweatshirt for my bed.

I had missed the international debut week which showed me around town, figured out my classes, helped you with your shopping, and let you meet other international students. Instead, I jumped into the Norwegian student debut week. We went hiking, hung out, and they helped me out with everything I needed. Here are some pictures from the campus!

14360521_1446638635362713_1538093636_o14316047_1446638622029381_2113148162_o14285221_1446638655362711_125873279_o

During my time here, my theme is to focus on the daylight (or lack of) and how the community copes with it. Because Tromsø is in the Arctic Circle, there are several months in the winter time where the sun never rises. When the nights began to shorten every day, it was definitely exciting. They gave a course to the international students on “How to Survive the Darkness”. We were advised to take lots of vitamin supplements, dress warm, and get outside even though it’s dark. There were celebrations to “send off” the sun and the city and houses were covered in lights.

The top left photo and bottom right photo were taken around noon downtown and that is about as light as it would get during that time. The bottom left was the tree lighting celebration and the top right photo was a walking street downtown. Everybody was particularly active and there was a lot going on during those months. A lot of people looked forward to those months because there was a lot going on. It’s also a time where you really appreciate and practice being “koselig” inside. The closest translation is probably cozy, but it’s more than just cozy. It’s that feeling of lighting candles all around the room, drinking tea, having good conversations with friends, feeling warm, and it’s hard to explain, but it’s a really good feeling. Norwegians take being koselig very very seriously. Up North, it’s a survival technique for the dark months. Here is an example of being koselig Christmas style. There are walnuts, Christmas cakes, and Christmas soda with family and candles. 16443947_1609563149070260_147529817_o16388718_1609563595736882_634924867_o

After the excitement of the dark began to die down, I did notice a difference though. Waking up in the morning was almost impossible because when I opened my eyes and saw the dark, all I wanted to do was go back to bed. I noticed that the students and the professors around me became less motivated and everybody was tired all of the time. It was interesting how hard it becomes to get outside and do things when it’s always dark out. The sun returned on January 21st, but we have yet to see it from the island of Tromsø because we are surrounded by mountains. Each day is getting lighter for a longer amount of time though. When it isn’t snowing or raining like crazy you can almost tell. I was lucky enough to have a month long break from the darkness because I spent winter break with my Norwegian family in the South. I spoke with a few international students that stayed in Tromsø during winter break (the darkest days) and they said it wasn’t great. They reported sleeping a lot. I don’t blame them at all. The day that I flew out of Tromsø to Oslo, the sun was sneaking through the clouds with the moon on the other side of the plane. 16442875_1609611809065394_1799507539_o

After a month or so, our days will be more normal again. Then the sunlight will increase about 15 minutes per day until the sun never actually goes down behind the mountains. This gives us midnight sun! Woo! All in all, the dark period wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. The Norwegians have adapted their lifestyle to it and made it something to look forward to. Depression is a problem, but not spoken about very often. However, they have lots of resources to go to if you’re not feeling well and they try to take care of you. My favorite part was the colors of the sky. It wasn’t pitch black, but sort of this blue haze. In the beginning and now that the sun is returning, we get these beautiful pink, orange, purple, blue skies that are beyond words or photographs. There are snow covered mountains and beautiful skies. Norway is very easy on the eyes. 14922989_1500662733293636_1904907192_o

It has been a very interesting opportunity to look at America from the outside. Norwegians are particularly educated on what is happening with our country and political system. To be here during the presidential election was very eye-opening. I was never interested or involved in politics while in the US. I almost felt guilty when the Norwegians knew much more about everything than I did. They would tell me their opinions on a specific manner or ask questions and I had no idea what to say. I started to educate myself and get more involved. I engaged in political conversations, asked questions, listened to opinions from many people of different nationalities, and then I filled out the form for an overseas ballot. I think overall it was fascinating to realize that the world seems much more involved with our politics than we are sometimes. I asked a few people (in the most polite way possible) why they cared so much about our politics and their answers were across the board that it affects them too. 14536572_1463436780349565_921227338_o

“We are all USA experts!”

While being in Norway, I’ve realized that it is very centered around helping yourself. You have to be able to motivate yourself. You don’t get help choosing classes, with the paperwork, etc. like you would in the states. That was very difficult in the beginning when I was trying to figure everything out. I had to step up and take charge for myself. This improved my leadership skills in a way that was more self-directed than towards others. However, in the beginning of the second semester, I was a leader for the new incoming international students. I had to lead them around and help them out with all of the practical stuff. This helped me with taking charge for others and helping them with what they needed so that they didn’t have to do it by themselves later on.

Being in Norway has raised many questions for me. I am constantly comparing my culture with Norwegian culture which raises a lot of questions. Fortunately, I have plenty of Norwegian friends to ask them questions about differences or opinions on different matters. It has also raised a lot of personal questions on where I want to end up and what I want to do. I do think I would be asking those questions if I was at home as well, but every day raises new questions and hearing about so many different views also makes me question where I stand on different matters as well. I’m so thankful to have this experience and I am so happy that I chose to stay for a year and have 6 more months to learn that much more.

16357619_1608360022523906_714416695_o

Athens, Greece

The end of 2016 blessed me with the experience of a lifetime. I was able to travel to Europe for a whole semester where I went to go to school at the American College of Greece in Athens, Greece from September to December 2016.

At the American College of Greece, I was able to further explore my Franke GlI Global Theme and Challenge. My theme is human rights and my challenge is women’s rights. I had the opportunity to take a class called Family and Gender Roles, in which I learned about women’s roles throughout history, how men and women’s roles differentiate, how women have gained more rights throughout the years, and much more. I believe that this class has been vital to me for learning more about women and their roles and how I can contribute to women’s rights. I am most passionate about women’s rights within the human trafficking industry. While victims of the human trafficking can be men and children, most victims are women. Human trafficking remains a huge issue today around the world, and even in the U.S.  I believe that it is important to educate people about human trafficking and to help others understand that human trafficking is a huge issue that needs to be solved.

Along with learning more about my Global Theme and Challenge, I was also able to learn about European and world history, to travel to places I have always dreamed about traveling to, learn new languages, meet new people, and experiencing different cultures. One of the highlights of my trip was being able to go on a sixteen-day backpacking trip to six different countries. During this trip, I learned so much about World War II. I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, learned about Hitler’s rise to power in Berlin, and learned about the many victims of WWII at Auschwitz in Poland. Being able to experience our history, even the terrible parts, has been a great opportunity. I know have a greater appreciation for history.

During this experience, I believe that I have developed my leadership skills. I went on several solo trips during my semester and learned how to rely on myself during these trips. I am a better leader now because I am more trusting in the decisions I make, I have learned how to make important decisions that need to be made, and I am more confident in my abilities. I believe that I am also a better leader because I have come home a more open-minded person to other cultures, beliefs, languages, and more.

This experience has taught me so much. I think that I have been changed for the better and I am extremely thankful to all that have made this experience a reality for me.

 

New Zealand

riverview

Eating lamb shank in New Zealand is one of the quintessential experiences of that country.  Everyone knows there are more sheep in New Zealand than there are people. However, on my last night in New Zealand, after my Beyond the Classroom Experience studying sustainability there, that lamb shank represented a lot more to me.

That piece of meat came from a farm in New Zealand, like the one I had visited weeks earlier.  It was raised on the rolling, green hills of the nation, cared for by Kiwis, as New Zealanders affectionately call themselves. That lamb grew up in the shadow of mountains, thrust up by the tectonic forces that shake the islands.  It never knew the factory farms common back in the states.  That lamb came from a place and a people where the environment stands all important.  It came from a place where sustainability is forefront and present.  It was cooked and plated next to local, seasonal vegetables in a restaurant lit by 80% renewable electricity.  The clear, blue water that the heards of sheep drink from is the same water that powers hydro-electric dams and ripples in the wind that turns electric turbines.

To eat lamb shank in New Zealand for me is to recognize all that I had learned in my time there, and all the work that is yet to be done.  What a wonderful time to embrace sustainability as my Global Challenge; it’s time to get to work!

Plant #17: The Perfect Partner

After only three days working in the field I found my favorite fuchsia shrub. Our 22 study plants were spread out over about 6 square kilometers of thick, Valdivian Rainforest. They ranged in habitat from lakeside beach to inland marsh, to shaded riparian forest. I grew to know this forest by heart. Sometimes I would even shut my eyes to see how far my senses could take me. To reach Plant #17 I would turn left on the large path from the research station. I followed the pathway over two small hills and down along the beachside until reaching the giant Coihue tree on my left. There, I turned towards the tree to head up the arroyo (little stream) where plants #14-20 were located. I would continue up the small path past all of my memorized turn offs, through a small gate, and up another hill until I reached a final uphill slope. Four fuchsias would meet me on the right and I would continue along the narrowing pathway. Finally, I would walk through a cut out fallen log and step down a staircase of 7 roots to reach the streamside. From there, I hopped on top of a large moss covered fallen Coihue, where I would perch before jumping down to streamside stones to greet my beloved Plant #17. During my 5 months in the field, I spent countless hours sitting on a moss-covered rock, admiring its spindly branches, and listening to the rush of the stream alongside us. So here is my ode, written one day on the moss covered rock, to Plant #17.img_0230

Ode to Plant #17

You learn towards gurgling creek,

wanting to listen closer to its stories.

You are crooked, but so strong.

Your trunk emerges from rocks

wearing hodgepodge green moss sweaters.

Your base is split, with small arm

reaching towards fallen tree below.

Your trunk rises 3 feet before fracturing

body into 5, reaching out to

gather in sunlight and knowledge

of your surroundings.

You reach out to me and suck away

my worries into saturated green,

aged motely brown, and fuchsia fire.

You make me feel comfortable

with my sadness, for you are strong

but damaged as well.

Your leaves remain green

but are munched by the hunger

of cryptic caterpillars.

Your bark is gnarled, but contains

patterns of beauty-

messages passed from earth

through roots

fueled by creek and sun

only to reach my privileged presence.

You, Plant #17, are the perfect partner.

I am eating a lot

First week in Lyon, France has been an amazing stressful mesh of things. I have experienced so much more than I ever thought in just one week. And I am eating A LOT, but at the same time… nothing at all. I have had at least one baguette everyday since I have been here. That is not a healthy amount of bread, people. I can’t stop and I probably won’t. My apartment inhibits me from cooking anything that doesn’t come in a microwave bag sooo bread and cheese have been my vice. I’m sure as the semester goes on I will get more creative, but for now, I am eating a lot, of bread.

The street shops are not helping my ever growing addiction to bread and various decadent goods. Patisseries here are out-of-this-world delicious. For now it is a free for all. As I am getting comfortable here it is important for me to have those comfort foods. It has been a pretty hard adjustment to set up my life here in Lyon. (The study abroad program did not prepare me for anything.) With any adjustment it’s important to keep yourself sane, and the best way so far has been so eat.

I am not worried about my weight because with every piece of bread I have comes over a mile of walking. I have probably averaged about 5 miles a day at least and boy is my body feeling it. So yeah, I am going to keep eating.

Stay tuned to my adventure in Lyon, I promise it will be exactly like all of the other study abroad blogs you have read.

Au revoir

Melisande

Fall in the Swan

 

img_4666

Now many weeks into my Beyond the Classroom experience, I have realized that I will not be able to fit all of the things I have learned into this short blog post. I will not be able to tell of the many people I have met with and their views on issues like logging, farming, ranching, forest fires, or water rights; nor will I be able to perfectly explain the way that the Swan Range looks in the morning, the sun creeping slowly up and over the crest while a light powder from the night before glistens against the pink morning sky. I will not be able to show you the changing colors of the larches or the size of the grizzly bear track I found this morning, but I can tell you that it is these moments in particular that have made this semester one of the most enriching, educational and valuable experiences of my life.

As a third year environmental studies student at the University of Montana, the global challenge that I chose within GLI is to examine the teachings of environmental education through hands on learning techniques, particularly among youth. This semester, I am a student of exactly that. Living in the Swan Valley of Montana with nine other students in an old homestead barn, we are learning to interpret the natural world around us every day in the field. From snorkeling and identifying native fish in the Swan River, to identifying flora and fauna around the valley, we have been interpreting and experiencing first hand what it means to live in rural Montana.

Living in a town of nearly 600 year-round residents, I have witnessed the connectedness of a community formed of sheer numbers. I have understood their rural lifestyles and the needs for hunting and fishing when the closest grocery store is 45 miles away. I have recognized the pride and love that each community member holds for the Swan Valley and their appreciation to be able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Coming from the “big city” of Missoula, it has been interesting to switch places and accept the view that locals have on the environmentalist city slickers that live there, much like myself.

And through this vision, I have learned that there is no right or wrong in any of this. I have agreed with environmentalists and loggers alike, have spent a weekend bear hunting and shooting pistols alongside the yellowing snowberry, while continually being astonished at the Mission Mountains caked in snow.

img_4622

One of the most applicable things I have learned this semester is the idea that “values trump facts.” As I continue down this tract of environmental conservation, desperately searching for some middle ground that people can agree on, I will keep this forever in my mind as a tool to apply to any single person, whole community, or even on a national scale. You cannot try to change people’s beliefs, but you can listen, interpret, and be aware of yourself as well as others in the place that you inhabit.

So as I sit on the back porch of the cabin we call the cookhouse, looking out over the grazed pasture full of horses and deer alike while the Swan Range towers over like the dramatic backdrop to a movie, I know that I am lucky to have these experiences. I know that although I may not be able to explain all of the different viewpoints I have heard and things I have seen through the writing of this small piece, I have learned and will be able to apply these skills and knowledge to other natural resource and sustainability issues around the world.

img_4561

Living the Dream (Internship Week 1)

My medical internship was at Peking University Shenzhen Hospital, which is one of the teaching hospitals of Peking University School of Medicine. Jet lag and endless warnings for turbulence confused my senses. Listening to people speaking in Mandarin made me realize that I had arrived at my destination after over 30 hours of flight and transition. It was so familiar, but new and exciting at the same time, because this was my first solo adventure in a new city as an adult!

First life lesson I learned from my internship: Never be afraid to ask for help! When I first arrived at the hospital, I started my “scavenger hunt” for my supervisor, internship office, my dorm arrangement, and where to get my work clothes/name tag. So, I started with finding my supervisor, Dr. Li, and dragged my luggage among a crowd of patients at the busiest hour in the morning. I asked volunteer guides where to go almost every 5 minutes.

First excitement: I received a white coat to wear for the duration of my internship! It was the first time that I could be so close to my dream career. On the second day of arrival, I started my internship at Department of Plastic Surgery in the OR. Even though I was just getting oriented to observation protocols, I noticed the striking similarities with what I saw when I shadowed at American hospitals: equipment, procedural standards, and infrastructure. My supervisor, Dr. Li, told me that she received part of her medical training at USC, CA. She also shared that large percentage of the equipment and materials for plastic surgery were imported from American companies. I was excited to learn of the existing medical collaboration between the U.S. and China. It encourages my dream of becoming a physician who wants to participate in the global effort in improving people’s life quality via wellness.

 

Australians and the Aborigines

The Australian culture was one of the things that made me love Australia so much. They may be crass or even harsh, and they will probably poke some fun at you, but that’s their humor. They are such friendly people; they are so direct because they have good intentions. I had a lot of fun with Australians, especially when interacting with them at pubs. They are just amazing people.

However, I also learned a lot about the history of their culture and the aborigines. We spent a day in the city of Cairns when they had a cultural festival. This festival celebrated the culture of the aborigines. There was a stage set up out in a park, and there were aborigines performing traditional dances with face- and body paint on. A big crowd of aborigines and white Australians intermingled and enjoyed the show. There were food trucks that served traditional aborigine dishes. There was also a gallery with dozens of different aborigine art products for sale such as paintings, sculptures, boomerangs, jewelry, etc.

The relationship between the aborigine tribes and the Australian government was very interesting. I learned a lot about this relationship, and the more I learned the more I wanted to know. It was so interesting because there were many similarities with the relationship between the American government and the Native American tribes. For example, the hunting laws for both indigenous peoples are pretty similar. Certain aborigine tribes also take the initiative to conserve their environment like Native American tribes. For example, there was a tribe that got government funding to construct a national park in their forest and they now use proceedings of this park to conserve their forest. Anyway, it was great to see how Australians value the history and culture of aborigines, and it was great to have learned so much about it too.

Living in the Rainforest

My trip to Australia was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Living in the rainforest was something I had never done before and I was very excited about it. Being someone who really loves animals and being surrounded by them, I thought living in the rainforest was awesome. Every morning I was woken up by a serenade of cool birds such as whipbirds, and chowchillas (we called them startrooper birds because they sounded like blaster rifles). I saw amazing animals I never thought I’d see before, almost daily. We had a resident bandicoot that hung around the center and he came by every night to steal whatever food scraps he found on the ground. We also had a resident bush turkey called Charles, who was always clucking around when we were having lunch. Even seeing Victoria rifle birds, a bird of paradise, while playing volleyball outside was a common instance. I also saw a python when taking out the trash once, and I saw another one on a hike.  I also had a juvenile emu in the wild walk up really close to me. I even petted a kangaroo and cuddled a koala in Kuranda! But I think one of the most amazing experiences I had while over there, was feeding wild wallabies. These were all unforgettable encounters

.

Living there was great, however I’m not going to sugarcoat it, there were also a lot of annoying things and there was a certain element of danger. I got leeches on my legs almost every day, especially when it rained. And when it rained, it poured. The rain would last days sometimes, it was the first time I ever experienced a day where it literally rained all day. The rain made our cabins extremely humid, and leaving anything in its place for more than a few days would cause mold to start growing on it. A lot of the other students also complained about mosquitoes and other bugs, especially spiders, which were huge of course. There were also numerous plants that we had to be careful for, like wait-a-whiles, which had curved thorns that hooked onto your skin and ripped it open if you continued walking, and stinging trees, which according to some reports can cause reoccurring burning sensations for years. In any case, living in the rainforest was an amazing experience, it wasn’t always great, but it was definitely life-changing.

Going Abroad

When I first signed up for my Australian summer abroad program, I had no idea what to expect. It was only going to be a month long, so I thought “how am I going to learn much?” But after being there for about two hours, I already knew this was going to be a very busy month.

After driving up a mountain for what seemed like hours, we arrived at the Center for Rainforest Studies. The access road had no signs indicating that was the entrance, and that was the intention. It kept us even more isolated from the rest of civilization. The “center” was really just a small building in the middle of the Australian rainforest and it had a small classroom, a common area for the students, a kitchen, and the staff’s offices. Behind the center was a muddy path that led to the cabins, where we slept. After being given a small tour of the area, we had lunch followed by a hike around the site, and then a few lectures which introduced us to our schedule.

Our schedule started at 7 a.m. every day – we woke up, had breakfast and did dishes, then we split up into groups and did different activities. At the end of the day we had dinner, did the dishes and went to bed. I did so much in such a short month; I installed animal traps in the pouring rain on one day, the other I went to a town called Kuranda and interviewed the local residents, another day I did transect surveys of native plant species. I snorkeled in the great barrier reef and learned to identify bleached corals. I did bird surveys and platypus surveys in the early morning. I set up camera traps to capture images of pademelons and bandicoots. I went spotlighting for opossums in the night. I did so much, and I learned so much in that month, that now I believe every student should take the opportunity to study abroad if they can.