Of Heather and Hollows

August had been spent charging over 18000 foot mountains, trying to surf off the coast of an ancient Peruivan fishing village, and understanding climate change in the physical and dangerous context of melting glaciers. I “relaxed” at home in Sacramento with four days of hiking, family, and re-packing before crossing the Atlantic for an extended stay on the Emerald Isle. When I hugged my dad at the airport I expected to cry; to feel shaken; to be apprehensive. I instead felt very tired but very ready for the challenge that lay before me. Peru was vacation; Ireland was meant to be life in another country.

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The River Lee, swollen by the tide, reflects a cloudy sky over the Cork City Center

Arriving late in Dublin, and taking a bus for three hours into Cork, my first hours in Ireland were dark and characteristically, rainy. I woke up the next morning and moved into my apartment. Small and modern with two roommates from France and one from Chicago I felt comfortable and excited to have my own space. We were across from the train station on the north side of town and roughly a thirty minutes walk from University College Cork (UCC). Walking became my main form of transportation. I explored the city’s many side streets and alleyways on foot. I quickly learned to fear for my life in the presence of Cork drivers given their unspoken vendetta against pedestrians.

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The Main Quadrangle of the UCC campus

Home in Montana I actively enjoy rock climbing and ultimate frisbee and it was important to me that I continued these sports abroad. I engaged with the UCC Mountaineering (hiking/climbing) Club and played for UCC Ultimate, using both groups as opportunities to make friends and travel the country. UCC mountaineering hiked all across the southern half of the island and UCC Ultimate made visits to several of the country’s largest cities, competing against every team in the nation at one tournament in the city of Galway. Sport and experience are universal mediums to communicate through and I quickly forged relationships I plan to maintain and grow in to the future despite the miles between us now.

 

Understanding the universality of our activity translated to our universality as people and for me at least, made the process of making friends much easier. The label of being American was joked about often in the best humor and I came to view it objectively; rather than overly present American stereotypes I used them to learn how to fit in, assimilate, become one of the lads. I proudly wore the UCC kit in our tournaments and tried to love the Irish landscape as much as I did my native Sierra Nevada and surrogate Bitterroots.

 

Full of steep hills, heather, hollows, and plenty of sheep; my mountain experiences in Ireland were the arguably the most important part of my time in Ireland with respect to understanding the history and depth of Irish culture. While influenced by the same modern music and similar pop culture as Americans, the under lying nature of the Irish comes from their diverse origins and sense of place. I learned that being Irish is trickier than it might seem as many of the first communities in Ireland were Norse populations which had migrated to the island seeking easier living. These mixed with native clans and a continued stream of people from Normandy and Wales to create a diverse and prosperous population on the island. The Irish countryside is a highly fought over landscape. The county of Tipperary, just north of Cork, saw many wars for regional power, religious independence, and national sovereignty. The Irish have fought to be where they are today and are proud of their heritage, both nationally and on a county level. Just as the US has regional accents and stereotypes, so does Ireland; despite it being one – eighth the size of Montana.

 

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Rural communities nestled within the Irish mountains

My global theme and challenge is Natural Resources and Sustainability and I focused this while abroad by taking courses in conservation biology and wetland ecology at UCC. I hoped to gain a sense for European views on ecosystem management and what values lay where with regard to natural resources in Europe. Much of what occurs in the European Union is guided by EU Environmental Management Directives which work multiple parts in assessing, monitoring, restoring, and maintaining the quality of soils, water, and biodiversity. Whether these are actually followed is open to interpretation and the extent to which the objectives are actually applied. Environmental issues increasingly address a social paradigm which can often place agricultural practices at odds with standards for environmental quality. The extreme length of time which farmers have been practicing their trade in Ireland contributes to their continuation of grazing practices, but may soon have to adapt to a changing climate which is affecting even Ireland’s ceaseless rains.

 

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Cork offers a dramatic sunrise in early October

Unlike most of the exchange students I met at UCC, I stayed for the holidays! I was very lucky to spend the holidays in Tipperary Town, Tipperary, Ireland and was welcomed to a warm household with plenty of Guinness and classic Irish scenery. The nearby mountains range was known as the Galtyees and during my stay, my friend Alan and I crossed the range’s ridge during a white out. Indeed, Ireland does receive a fair bit of snow!

 

I was lucky enough to have some friends from the University of Montana abroad in Ireland and France while I was in Cork. Together we traveled in Ireland and celebrated Thanksgiving, making home feel a little closer. We visited Belfast and learned about the city’s great industrial, maritime history and the Troubles; religious conflict which still steams in parts of the country.

The opportunity to travel and live in Ireland was the most important experience I have had while attending the University of Montana. It made me aware of myself in a new light and allowed my to refocus my personal and academic growth. Many people describe their time abroad as a constant whirlwind and they leave feeling traveled and worldly; but for me the moments of reflection did not come in crashing waves and grand ah-ha moments. They came in the quiet spaces of daily life which occur when you have the time to live in and understand a place so wholesomely you know the local rhythms by feel. When the everyday feels like an adventure you are living right.

As they say in Cork, thanks a million!

Pure New Zealand

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Last fall I had the opportunity to study abroad at Massey University, just outside Auckland, New Zealand–land of the Kiwis. When I first got to New Zealand I was overwhelmed. I had a huge 70lb bag, a 70L backpack, a small roller bag, and another personal size backpack. And little 135lb me was trying to take all of this through customs without the use of a “trolley” because when the kind woman who worked at the airport asked me if I wanted a “trolley” I was like no what the heck is a “trolley.” I definitely don’t need one of those… But guess what a trolley was. Yep, that’s right, a luggage cart. It probably would have helped considering how much I was trying to carry, and especially since right after I turned down the trolley offer my 70lb bag toppled over right in front of me, and the extra momentum I had from my pack caused me to nearly trip right over it.

After collecting my tent and hiking boots that had to be inspected by Biosecurity, I wandered to what looked like an information desk and asked the embarrassing question, “so how do I get a taxi to the hotel I’m staying at tonight?” I got a confused stare from the woman at the counter, who replied,”Just walk outside and ask for a taxi.” Yeah, apparently it was that simple.

So I walk out of the airport and see row after row of taxis that stretch beyond the eye could see…”how do I choose?” I think to myself. So I ask one of the millions of taxi drivers before me for a ride, and they respond in quick foreign tongue that I should really just take the bus because it’s much cheaper. Okay, that was really of them to suggest that and not take my money. But now the question is ‘what bus do I get on and how do I pay for it,’ because at this point I have no New Zealand cash on me. So I walk to a ticket dispenser machine and see that it requires coins to purchase a ticket. I have no coins. Back to the taxis I go. Taxi driver says no, no, no, take the bus. I say AH but I can’t for the life of me get a ticket! Lost, confused, stressed me continues to try and acquire a bus ticket. Then the bus driver gets off of her bus and angrily shoves coins in the slot to produce, huzzah, a ticket! I proceed to get on the bus with all my luggage, but no one assists me with lifting my 70lb purple monster of a bag on to the luggage rack. But I was like, nah, its fine I’ll just hold onto it, my hotel is only 2 blocks away.

Well, what I was not prepared for was the most insane bus ride of my life complete with about 10 roundabouts entered at what I’m sure was this bus’s maximum speed. So I’m standing in the middle of the bus, it’s just me and this other kid with an afro who is also studying abroad, and I’m trying to have a nice conversation with him because apparently we’re both staying at the same hotel. But the bus is taking sharp turns and spins around the roundabouts and I’m holding on to those yellow hanging straps buses have for my dear life. And my purple monster of a bag is rolling every-which-way as the bus takes sharp turns—and its smashing into me and dragging me all across the bus. And my heavy 70L backpack displaced my center of gravity and every time the bus swayed, I nearly toppled over trying to keep my balance while wrestling with the great purple monster. In the midst of this chaos, I’m still trying to act as natural as possible and have a conversation with this guy. It was a disaster. My face was flushed, my pits were sweaty, and I swear I was on the verge of tears, but I fought it off and kept a smile on my face while I tried to continue the friendly small talk. But by the end of it, afro kid was just laughing at me, and I had made a complete fool of myself. I did, however, manage to make it to my hotel with all of my luggage. I swung open the door to my room, aggressively shoved those bags inside, and threw myself onto the bed. Tomorrow would be a better day, and holy heck at least I was finally in New Zealand!

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Cape Reinga

Despite the rough start, I had the most incredible time during my 6-month study abroad. I loved my ecology courses, I made the most amazing friends, and I got to travel what is arguably the most beautiful country in the world with them. I learned so much about New Zealand’s sustainability efforts policies, and had the opportunity to meet with the Director of Sustainability at Massey, John Shimwell, who has maintained contact with me and is helping my GLI cohort and I implement our capstone project on Massey’s campus. Meeting him and seeing how excited he was about working with our program was wonderful, and we ended up having a wholesome discussion about sustainability efforts in New Zealand and how they compare with those utilized in various parts of the US. Moments like this one, as well as the continued contact we have had moving forward with my GLI project, make me so grateful for my abroad experience. Additionally, on a more personal side, my ecology courses allowed me to see first-hand the incredible appreciation Kiwis have for their environment in general. The many field labs and trips provided me the opportunity to both learn the intricacies of conservation and management concerns in New Zealand, and throughout my travels I saw how their Department of Conservation worked to maintain Natural Parks and promote increased awareness and preservation of their beautiful ecosystems within the ‘tramping’ (hiking) community.

My kiwi friends were so loving and welcoming and wanted us to have an incredible experience. They introduced me to tea time, late nights on the town, wharf jumping into the ocean in the dead of night with stars lighting up the night sky. I will always remember the first time my Kiwi friends taught me how to “properly” swim in the ocean. The rush of putting my hands together and diving under a white-crested wave that towered 4-5 feet above my head. The feeling of plunging under the surface of the water while the waves crashed over my back and rolled off the tips of my toes—it sent a thrilling, tingling sensation throughout my whole body and I couldn’t get enough of it. That’s probably one of the things I miss the most. Salty hair, itchy eyes—who cares about those when you’re in the most beautiful body of water being pulled and pushed and pummeled by raw powerful waves.

For the most part I traveled the country with my American friends because they had the same drive and passion to do so. Throughout my time there, we ended up buying two different beat-up cars (because the first one broke down on us!), and had the time of our lives road-tripping throughout the island nation. Cape Reinga, Tane Mahuta, Kai Iwi lakes, Raglan, Bay of Islands, Pakiri–all of these were just words on a map, but we turned them into places filled with unique and special memories that brought us all closer than I could ever have imagined. I will always feel like my words inadequately express how incredible my time in New Zealand was because of them. New Zealand is just a place in the world. Beautiful, yes, but in the words of Alexander Supertramp “happiness is only real when shared.” When I think about my time in New Zealand, I’m typically brought back to these memories of driving through winding country roads. The windows are rolled down, Kesha’s blowing her lungs out hitting that high note in “Praying.” There are cows and sheep to either of us standing among the rolling hills of green pasture, staring at us as we drive while they chew in a sideways motion. If I’m not the one driving, I’m sitting in the back with my feet up on the console looking out the window. We didn’t talk to each other much on these long drives, but we did listen to music. At first I thought it was kind of strange, but now whenever I listen to the playlist of songs we rocked out to in Ricky Baker (our trusty 1998 Honda CRV), I’m temporarily brought back to the rolling green pastures, fiery sunsets, dramatic ocean cliff sides merging with turquoise waters, crashing waves and sea spray. There was so much laughter, so many tears, and a complete feeling of joy and peace life that filled the tiny box of a car that we lived in part-time during our adventure. My kiwi friends always said we were doing way more than they had their entire lives in New Zealand. And I was shocked, but at the same time if you don’t know any different it’s harder to appreciate what you have. That’s one great thing I think that came out of my Kiwi friendships. They gained more appreciation for the beautiful place they live, and I think we inspired many of them to join us or make plans to explore more places in the future. Once you see how much people value and appreciate what you consider your home, it definitely gives you more of an appreciation for your home as well.

In the end, I couldn’t me more thankful to have had this incredible abroad experience–for the opportunity to travel and see such a remarkable country, for the people that made my time there all that it could have been, and for the new knowledge and international perspective I gained both in and out of the classroom.

Life in New Zealand

 

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Nugget Point, South Island

This past fall semester, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad at Victoria University of Wellington in Wellington, New Zealand from June to December. This semester abroad related perfectly to my global theme (global public health) because I was focusing on fulfilling some of my global public health minor credits. This included taking classes such as Biology of Disease and Sociology of Reproduction and Gender, all taught from the New Zealand perspective.
I cant even begin to describe how many new things I learned from this experience. First of all, it was incredibly eye-opening to learn about public health from the New Zealand perspective. Not only were my classes centered around public health issues that are endemic to New Zealand, such as asthma (New Zealand has the second highest rate of asthma among children in the world) and rising rates of Multiple Sclerosis, but they also focused on how New Zealanders work to combat infectious diseases that are prevalent around the world.
I also learned so much about earth sciences, such as seismology and volcanology, just by being in a place that is so tectonically active. It’s hard to live in a country that experiences earthquakes almost monthly and not learn anything about them! New Zealand also has flora and fauna that are unique and found nowhere else in the world. A perfect example of this is the Kea: the world’s only alpine parrot found in the Southern Alps that also likes to attack unsuspecting hikers. Through seeing and being among the wildlife, I learned so much about unique ecological systems and how human interaction greatly affects them.
My leadership skills grew immensely from this abroad experience. One of the most important skills for a leader to have is the ability to listen to multiple opinions and ideas and find a way to connect them. Many of my classes had group-based projects where I had the opportunity to work with many students from different areas of New Zealand and around the world. This increased my ability to communicate with other students who come from different perspectives which heightened leadership skills that I had worked on building before my study abroad.
New Zealand is a small country (roughly the size of Colorado), but it is gaining recognition and its population is growing larger and larger each year due to high immigration rates as well as more local families having children. This makes me wonder how the impact of New Zealand on the rest of the world will change over the next few years.

 

 

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Milford Sound, South Island

 

 

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Roy’s Peak, South Island

 

 

 

Culture in Catalonia

My gli theme and challenge was to address poverty in spain and how it has affected the education system. While in spain i was given the opportunity to ask fellow Spanish classmates about their experiences with the education system and how it affected the impoverished. Many answered that because of the rising tuition costs for university some students would often have to take time off to raise money before pursuing a university career. This would often result, in my time in spain, with public protests at the university. These protests would be significant enough to shut down the university for several days, however the government would continue to ignore these protests.

I learned from this experience to explore and understand a different countries culture. Specifically, in Barcelona, catalans are very proud of their history. Catalans have years of often being put down by the Spanish government and my professors and fellow peers helped me understand their hardships. Being able to truly understand this changed my experience to be more open minded of the locals when visiting a new country. It is important to understand their hardships and traditions which they find pride in. This in the end changed my view of how i will continue to experience any culture.

Also, a fond memory i have of my time there was of spending one of my first days in Barcelona. Once there i decided to take advantage of the free art museum days and went out to explore by myself. This helped me step out of my boundaries and start to feel comfortable in this new foreign country i was alone in. From that point onward i was able to comfortably go on my own path, experiencing and meeting new people. This has made me even more confident to go on may adventures to come.

 

Stories from Skid Row

Margaret Finlay

Ending up on Skid Row is something most of us are told to avoid; however, I ventured to Hollywood, California, with that exact purpose in mind. Along with other students through the Office for Civic Engagement, I traveled to Los Angeles, California, for a week during Wintersession 2018 to serve those experiencing poverty and homelessness. Though it may sound cliché, the week forever changed my perspective on poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

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School is beyond difficult, challenging, and stressful for all of us, but I entered L.A. as an English Education major focusing on the Global Theme of Social Inequality and Human Rights, and the education and schooling present in the lives of the children and adults we encountered in our service showed both the efficacy and deficiencies of the American education system.

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Throughout our time in California, we saw many efforts toward bettering the lives of oneself and others present in the many people and places we visited. We saw children returning “home” to a homeless shelter after school, with a backpack and fistful of papers in tow. We participated in after-school activities with students from the projects, attempting to fill the “risky” hours associated with the time after school and before parents return from work. We learned about classes that teach former gang members and ex-convicts about parenting, anger management, and getting a high school diploma. For those members of society who don’t mold into “standardized” education, these programs offer new opportunities and hope.

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Poverty versus Privilege

Hope: the one word that continues coming to mind even after the time has passed. Those experiencing homelessness and poverty never lost it. Children in the projects talked about it when they imagined leaving their harrowing conditions. Former gang members referred to it when they told stories of drive-bys and death. As many have said before: “Where there is life, there is hope.” No one exemplifies this idea more than those experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.

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Painting fingernails at Union Rescue Mission

Kyrgyz for Conservation

Here I find myself in Kyrgyzstan. You may be asking yourself, “Is that a country?” or “Is it part of Russia?” or “What did you say? Kyrokistani?”…. yes I have received all of the comments before. So let’s clarify. Kyrgyzstan is a country located in Central Asia. It  borders western China, southern Kazakhstan, eastern Uzbekistan, and northern Tajikistan. The people here are called Kyrgyz and they speak Kyrgyz language. Many also speak fluently in Russian because they were apart of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. Hence, they have many Russian influences in their culture, education, and politics. But Kyrgyzstan is the first country in Central Asia to fight for a truly democratic society. In the past 20 years, they underwent two revolutions for the sake of democracy. And their efforts have succeeded. In October of 2017, the Kyrgyz Republic had their first presidential elections in which they weren’t sure who would be the winner. Following the elections, they had their first peaceful transfer of power between presidents.

Kyrgyzstan is truly a gem in this part of the world. More than 80% of the landscape is occupied by mountains. They consider themselves nomadic because they traditionally roamed the mountains of Central Asia to find feeding grounds for their livestock. They lived in yurts and relied heavily on horses. They hunted and fished. They used animal parts and furs to make clothing, tools, and handicrafts. They even had time to play enthralling games such as Kok-Boru and Oodarysh. During the 70 year reign of the Soviet Union, the Kyrgyz people were heavily suppressed culturally, but they clung tightly to their roots. Now, they are seeking to reestablish their heritage in a modern world and vibrantly express their traditions for all the world to see. They have hosted the World Nomad Games since its beginning in 2014. Through this international sports event, countries come to compete in traditional nomadic games and celebrate nomadic lifestyles. You can see a bit of the brilliant chaos in this promotional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwpdPRzBJ44.

So I hope you are thinking, “Wow this sounds like a really cool place!” but you may also be asking, “Why Kyrgyzstan?”

I guess I should talk a little bit of what drew me to this place at this time in my life. At the University of Montana, I am studying Resource Conservation with a focus in Wildlife Biology. Since the beginning of my studies, I have been fascinated by Asiatic wildlife. In particular cats. Whether it was Amur tigers in eastern Russian or snow leopards in Central Asia, I knew I wanted to go to a place where I could work on cat conservation. When I saw pictures of the landscape and wildlife of Kyrgyzstan, I decided there was no better place for me to go. My global theme for GLI is Natural Resources and Sustainability and my challenge is the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. In Central Asia, populations of snow leopards and their prey species (ibex, argali, markhor) are negatively affected by illegal hunting, aka poaching. In recent years, governments and organizations such as Panthera have been working against poaching by developing and supporting community-based conservancies. When managed correctly, these conservancies can provide many opportunities for members in the community through land and wildlife management, eco-tourism, and legal hunting. In the Murghab Conservancy of Tajikistan, up to 20 rangers and guides are hired during high hunting and tourist season. A new project in the region is even teaching women how to be hunting and hiking guides.

In these communities, the locals take immense pride in their land and wildlife. I was surprised to learn that most of the rangers in these conservancies were once poachers. When they realized the immense damage they were having on wildlife populations, they decided to team up with organizations and help restore populations. Since then, they have overcome tremendous obstacles to turn around the fates of certain populations.

I can confidently say positive conservation movements are occurring throughout Central Asia. Yet, many problems continue to exist as well, especially in poorly managed conservancies. So much work still needs to be done. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to volunteer with the organization Panthera. While working alongside their incredible team, I am learning how they help develop community-based conservation in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The most valuable information I have learned thus far is that the locals are the smartest conservationists for their areas. They may not have degrees in wildlife biology or resource management, but they have strong connections to the land and the way it works. They have lived off it for the past several thousand years. If we want to succeed in properly managing land and wildlife, we must work tightly with the people who live off it and affect it.

I am excited to see where these experiences take me. I would love to come back to Central Asia after I finish my degree and gain more experience in land and wildlife management in the states. My most taunting questions at the moment are the following:

  1. How are ecotourism and legal hunting positively affecting conservation here? How are they negatively affecting conservation?
  2. Why do some community-based conservancies work really well? Why are some struggling?
  3. How do we get the general public more involved in this field so they understand why balanced ecosystems is vitally important for our future world?

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments so don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. And don’t forget to look through the pictures below!

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Early autumn in a mountain valley near Lake Issyk-Kul. Typically rangers let their livestock free-range during the day and bring them into corrals at night.

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A large yurt near the historic sight Tash Rabat. A cat perches on the top, overlooking his large kingdom.

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A Marco Polo sheep skull. Marco Polo are the largest subspecies of argali and the largest mountain sheep in the world.

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Piled in a Toyota Landrover on our search for argali and ibex. The women in the back are training to be rangers and guides for the Murghab Conservancy.

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Alichur village in Tajikistan which helps runs the Murghab conservancy.

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Here you can see the Tien Shan mountain range. It stretches the 533 mile border between Kyrgyzstan and China. You can also see the border fence.

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On the top of the hill stands a markhor, This animal is unique to certain regions of Tajikistan.

Botswana: The Adventure of a Lifetime

by Ben McAuliffe

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Climbing Table Mountain in South Africa, Caving in Lesotho, getting our truck stuck in sand in Namibia and being charged by a hippo in Botswana are just a few of my favorite memories from my time abroad. I was lucky enough to spend the past semester in Botswana, attending the University of Botswana. It is an experience that I am still processing that changed the way I see the world. I was thrown into a new place, a new culture and due to a problem with flights I had absolutely no orientation. It was the biggest culture shock I have ever felt, but it was the biggest confidence builder when I started to find my way around and figure everything out. Everything from personal space to the food was different from what I am used to and it made me grateful for the little convinces I have in the United States.

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The differences were what made my study abroad so amazing. It allowed for little victories along the way. From being able to order my food in Setswana or finding what Kombi (A type of buss that drives throughout the city) would take me to the mall I wanted to go to. Every day was filled with little challenges, little victories and plenty of failures that shaped my study abroad experience into the rewarding experience that it was. Even after all the frustration and all the challenges I would never change my time abroad. I met amazing people and I saw some of the most beautiful landscapes this world has to offer and I am thankful for every second of it.

In school I was lucky enough to be able to work with different groups of local students. This was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I was able to meet new people and make friends with local students. It was a curse because sometimes my group members could not understand me or I could not understand them and the local students and I have very different ideas of time management which led to conflict among the group. This was a great opportunity for me to enhance my leadership skills, I had to learn how to work with people from different cultures and at times with people who did not speak the same language as me. It was a challenge but in the end, it was a great experience that allowed me to build my skills as a team member and a team leader.

I am still thinking through my time in Botswana and returning to everyday life after such an exciting few months has been difficult at times. But it was completely worth it. If I could give someone who is thinking about studying abroad one piece of advice it would be to go for it. It’s not going to be easy and you will have challenges along the way. But you will miss it when you get back and you will be telling people stories about that time you studied abroad for months after you time abroad.

Oaxaca, México: My Second Home

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Name: Audrey Brosnan
Major: BFA Media Arts – Digital Filmmaking, BA Spanish
Year: Senior

A year ago today I was starting to pack my bags, getting everything in order for my study abroad experience. It would be my first trip out of the country and something I had been dreaming about since I was very young. The journey started out rocky – at about 10 pm the evening before my flight, I received a text message from Delta Airlines informing me that my flight out of the Missoula Airport had been cancelled, no further explanation given, and I had automatically been re-booked on the same flight for the following day. I was embarking on a faculty-led semester abroad, so, knowing I was booked on the same flight as my professor, I sent him a harried email asking if he too had received the same text. I remember sitting on my couch getting his quick reply: “Welcome to the world of international travel!”

A day later, I was checking in at the airport; it was about 5 in the morning (my flight was at 6) and I was getting ready to weigh my bag. I am a notorious over-packer and, having foregone a carry-on bag, I was prepared to pay for the extra weight when the worker informed me that my flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca had a strict weight limit that he could not override. I needed to drop about 30 pounds from my suitcase and fast, if I wanted to make my flight. I was panicking to say the least. I immediately called my roommate who had given me a ride to the airport, who was of course already halfway home, and begged her to come help me. I was ditching everything I deemed nonessential (looking back, I made some well intentioned but overall poor choices). I left behind all my pants, sweatshirts, and jacket thinking: Hey it’s Mexico! It’s always hot there! (WRONG). After leaving my stuff for my roommate to load into her car alone (I was told it took multiple trips), I made it through security and to my gate with two minutes to spare. My professor said, “I was a little worried you weren’t coming.”

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The first picture I took in Mexico City!

Despite the rocky start, my experience in Oaxaca was very much a dream come true. There were nine of us from the University of Montana along with our instructor. We were split up between four different households where we stayed with host families. My host mom, Cristina, was one of the most genuinely kind, caring, and funny people I’ve ever known (not to mention one of the best cooks). I had two “sisters” I knew from Montana as well as two from Chicago and two from New Zealand. I also got to know Cristina’s daughter, Fabiola, and her six year old son, Gabo (aka Gabito), who joined us for lunch almost every day. Impromptu soccer matches with Gabo were also common after lunch when we didn’t have class.

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Me and my host mom, Cristina, celebrating my 21st birthday!

Everyone living with host families attended the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, about a fifteen minute walk from our neighborhood where we took classes (in Spanish) from local Oaxacans about Spanish grammar, Mexican film and literature, poetry, theatre, cooking, dancing, and weaving. We also had “intercambios” after class where we would meet up with a partner assigned to us by the Instituto. All of the partners were volunteers from withing the Oaxaca community who were native Spanish speakers learning English as their second language. We would spend an hour a day chatting, half an hour in English and half in Spanish so we would both get practice as well as gaining a friend! My intercambio, Lourdes, was a very intelligent, kind, and funny woman. She had recently gotten her PhD in anthropology in Manchester, England. We both had an interest in film and literature – I actually helped her find a volunteer opportunity for the international film festival that is held in Oaxaca each year. And, through her volunteering, I was able to meet on of the creative directors of the Sundance Film Festival completely by chance while at dinner with some friends!

While abroad we took many trips, both organized by our program through the Instituto, through our professor, and by ourselves. Here are a few of my favorites! You can find more pictures of my time in Mexico on my instagram: @audreybrosnan.

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Our group after our first day of classes!

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Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman

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Our group at the ruins of Monte Albán

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Chapulines (grasshoppers) in el Mercado 20 de Noviembre- a traditional Oaxacan protein used in a variety of foods

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Walking on the edge of Hierve el Agua, a petrified waterfall

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Playa Manzanilla in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca where we spent spring break living in an actual treehouse!

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El Procession de Silencio (The Procession of Silence) during Semana Santa (Holy Week), downtown Oaxaca

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The Blue House aka Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s residence in Mexico City
(Translation: Frida and Diego lived in this house 1929 – 1954)

My Global Theme while abroad was Social Inequality and I chose to focus on education. Mexico, specifically the region of Oaxaca, has experienced political unrest with regards to the education system in recent years. With the highest indigenous population in the country combined with one of the highest rates of poverty, Oaxaca faces a lack of funding, facilities, transportation, supplies, and teachers, along with language barriers between teacher and student as there are 57+ indigenous languages spoken among the people. Being a filmmaking student, I was interested in filming a short documentary exploring the different sides of the issue of education access in Oaxaca. I interviewed teachers and students studying to become teachers about their own opinions as well as the basic structure of the education system, as it differs from that of the US. It was eye-opening, even having done my own research, there was nuance to the issue that I was unable to see or experience without firsthand accounts from people who live the issue each day.

I really cannot stress enough how absolutely incredible this experience was. I began the trip hoping to complete my Spanish minor; now I am two classes away from a major in Spanish, something I never thought I would be able to accomplish in my four years at the University of Montana. I am also conversationally fluent in Spanish, a dream I have had since I began Spanish classes at the age of 14, and, while abroad, in addition to class assigned work, I read my first complete work of Mexican literature and wrote a ten page analysis completely in Spanish. These may sound like small accomplishments, but they are things I hoped to accomplish but was worried I never would. While abroad I formed bonds with fellow students from Montana, but also from all over the world. I have an understanding of the Oaxacan culture I did not have before. I have a family in Oaxaca, just as I have a family here in Montana, and I can’t wait to visit again.

The Best Days

Well here I am sitting in the Brussels airport, the only major airport in Belgium, waiting for my last fun weekend trip to Barcelona. The next time I am sitting here I will be waiting for my flight home to the states. The time has gone by faster than I could have ever imagined, and while I am ready to venture home to the snow and negative degree weather, I am going to miss the city life.

Being from Montana and never staying in the city longer than a couple weeks has led to many self-discoveries. This country is so unique in many quirky ways, and while it may not be my favourite place in this huge world, it will always have a place in my heart.

I learned that there is no way I am able go longer than 6 months without some mountains in my life. I never considered myself much of a nature lover, but you never know what you have until it is gone. I discovered that I am not as independent as I thought. Being away from friends, family, and community showed me how much I value those things in my life. I have also learned a lot about the culture, history, and government of Belgium, but there two days during my exchange that I would consider the some of the best days of my life.

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If you have never been to Europe in the winter, then you will be soon to discover that it rains almost every day and if it is not rainy it will be cloudy. So, this day was glorious because not only did it not rain all day, but it was shining bright enough to sit and have a picnic. My friend Madi and I went to the store and bought Brie, bread, salami, and fruit. Before we ventured to find the perfect picnic spot, we headed to a favourite bakery and got cupcakes. We sat and stared at the Belfry on the greenest patch of grass. There were children running and playing and we forgot all about our studies. There have been so many times where I have marvelled at the fact that I am studying in Europe but this was one of those day where I couldn’t thinkof anything better.

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As you know by now I am a Montana girl; which means I have hardly ever dealt with any public transportation systems, except for riding the school bus. On this day, I seamlessly planned to go all the way to the south east of Belgium, I am currently staying in the North West (Gent) and back. There is a hike in Rochehaut called the ‘Promenade des Echelles’, or ‘walk of the ladders,’ officially it is known as walk 84. By this time, I was dying for some nature in my life, but to get there meant that I had to take a train to Brussels, another train from Brussels to Paliseul, and then from Paliseul we had to get on two different busses to reach our hiking destination. Now you might be thinking that it sounds like a piece of cake, but you must consider the size of the town I was going to. It’s like going through my blimp of a high school town Simms, and the bus only goes through the little blimp at certain times of the day and not very often. So, after extensive research and deciding that we were not going twice, I had finally figured out our way there. 5 hours to get there and 5 hours home, in the same day. Once we reached Rochehaut we ate some crepes, and I was overjoyed because we were in the French speaking part of Belgium. I could finally communicate with the world; I am staying in the Dutch part and while I have learned a lot of Dutch, I am not confident enough to speak inpublic. Anyways, off on the hike we went. It was peaceful and beautifully filled with fall colours. I kept stopping and again was just amazed that I, Megan Sipes, was on a hike in Belgium. In Europe.

 

After our hike, we ate some deliciousfood in a restaurant filled with old retired people, in nice clothes, and all their dogs. We trudged in with hungry bellies and muddy jeans, but that is not what mattered in those moments. What mattered was the memories we were creating and would carry with us for the rest of our lives.

We got to the bus stop and made our way home seamlessly. I was so happy that not only did the whole transportation go in my favour but I sure that isnot the only reason why I love this day so much. I think it must do with the fact that dreams of mine have come true. I have so many hopes and aspirations, and sometimes I am not certain they will come true, but these goals I have had for years have been realized and accomplish, while creating memories to last a lifetime.

A Day in Iganga Hospital

Victoria Gifford

This past summer, I travelled to Africa for five weeks with a group of ten pre-med students. We spent our entire school year fundraising, planning, and preparing for the experience. We educated ourselves on Ugandan culture as much as possible, from researching common social practices to trying to learn Swahili. Even with all our preparation, we knew we should expect a big learning curve and some culture shock upon arriving, and we got what we expected.

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As pre-medical students still completing our undergraduate degrees, we knew that our volunteer work would all be unskilled, and that we could provide little help to the hospital staff. Therefore we did our best to be self-aware of our limitations and tried to learn about the culture, the medical system, and understand the best ways that we could help Uganda and other nations like it in our future careers.

 

During one of our first days in the hospital we visited the emergency room where a man had been brought in after being attacked. The doctors cleaned his ear with iodine and sewed it back on with no anesthetic, and he did little more than grimace during the procedure. After watching this, we commented in admiration to a doctor how much stronger Africans seemed than Americans. They muscled through many procedures like the one we’d seen with little to no pain-relievers, and handled the tragedies in the hospital very gracefully and calmly. He laughed and agreed that Africans were raised to be strong, but then became somber and told us, “Many people believe that just because we are poor, things do not hurt as much; or they think that when people in our family die we do not feel as sad. But that is not true.” Living and working with the local Ugandans gave me a new respect and admiration for those living in poverty. It added fuel to my desire to work for Doctors Without Borders and practice medicine in places where it’s needed most. That passion is not easy to come by, and I would not have found it if I had not been volunteering in Uganda.

Seeing the conditions many Ugandans live through: children in tattered clothing, mothers crying because they can’t afford malaria medication that costs about ten US Dollars, children playing with toys they made from garbage, was heartbreaking. It was even more powerful to see how happy most Ugandans were, despite the conditions they lived in. I consider myself an empathetic person, but I quickly realized that I had become desensitized to the term “poverty.” Knowing what an impoverished family looks like, a child dying from starvation, or a woman dying from malaria puts the facts and statistics about poverty in perspective. It reminded me that even if in the last ten years less people are in poverty, millions are still too many. In fact, thousands are too many, as are hundreds, tens, or even one. The Ugandans we met that lived in derelict conditions made the most out of their lives and found ways to be happy, and it took so much more for them to be happy

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After a month of volunteering, touring, and socializing in Uganda, I realized that I should not return to Uganda until I was skilled and able to make an actual difference. But I needed that month to understand the people I wanted to help in the future, how I wanted to help in the future, and to put my personal life into perspective.