When I went to Japan for the fall semester of 2016, I had the time of my life. My host family in particular were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I got to stay in a house that was built over a hundred years ago. I did however, have a particularly awkward incident the first day I met them. Now before I get into exactly what happened, I have to preface that Japanese is a complicated language, and it doesn’t use pronouns the same way we do. In most cases, where in English we would use the words you, him, or her, in Japanese it is considered more polite to use the name of the person you are talking about or to instead. However, this can’t be applied to situations where you want to be polite but don’t know somebody’s name, like I did when I first arrived at my host family’s house. I had been studying Japanese for about five and a half years at that point, but I still wasn’t exactly sure what to call them in exactly that situation. I was mulling it over in my head, when I remembered a word that I had heard from somewhere that seemed to fit the bill- “Onushi.” Most of the other options I knew either felt too informal or downright insulting, so it seemed like my best shot. I was wrong. The moment I said it, my host family looked at me strangely for a moment, unable to fully process what they had just heard. Then it led to giggling. Then it led to full on hysterics. I was also pretty much completely unable to gauge what this response meant until they explained it. As it turns out, I did remember where I had heard the word used. Prior to coming I had been working on translating a samurai manga that took place around 1410. Onushi is a word that would typically be used only between samurai, or between a samurai and a lord. Essentially, I had arrived at my host family’s house and immediately called them “milord” and “milady.” This would have been embarrassing enough had I not done essentially the same thing a month later. I was eating dinner with my family, and asked one of them to pass me the water. I apparently asked for the water like a samurai. I didn’t even know that was possible.
The moral of the story is, if you’re going to learn Japanese through manga, learn what year it is first.
Quito, Ecuador is a very beautiful and special place. The people there are so friendly and nice, and always have wonderful things to say about their country. I read a lot about Ecuador before visiting and continued to learn about it in classes and from Ecuadorians once there. However, the experience says it all. The culture is diverse and warm. I could feel the love from Ecuadorians when we hugged and kissed while greeting one another. I did not notice the cultural differences until a month in because a lot of the food and city structures appeared very similar to those in the United States. My time here expanded my mind about what culture is and how it influences our lives. I realized that I am always learning and unlearning ideas. I took a weaving class and talked to a guy in my class one day. At first, he thought I was Ecuadorian because of my black hair and I thought he was a gringo because of his blond hair and blue eyes. We started talking and it was a good talk to discuss our assumptions. This is one of many things I continued to learn each and every day while I was in Ecuador. Sometimes it was frustrating because there was so much that I learned, but at the end of the day, learning is what keeps us going by showing us the many possibilities in the world.
This photo is taking on a walk home after class from the bus stop. It displays the beauty of the city life with the nature in Ecuador. You can see the busy cars on 6 de Diciembre and the gorgeous sunset behind the Pinchincha mountain. Forever a place of learning and growing and forever a home to all who visit.
I’m from a town of about 10,000 people in Oregon, where the tallest building I can think of is 4 stories high. I’ve never been one fond of heights.
After enrolling at Willamette, I had been taught a few years of spanish, but I never really had the chance to speak it. I had lost my passion to study. I decided that in college, I would try something entirely different. On a coin flip, I chose to study Japanese at Willamette. After a few weeks of classes, I was assigned a Japanese language partner, Kohei (Pictured left). We worked together on our language assignments. At the time, He and Natsuki (Pictured Right) were studying abroad at Willamette for a year. We quickly became great friends. I began to see the value in studying language. As time passed, we shared many experiences at Willamette, and Kohei and Natsuki even joined the same fraternity I am a member of. When they had to return home, I promised that I would come to Japan to see them.
I was accepted into a study abroad program, and a year later I was able to leave the country for the first time in my life and go to Japan. Kohei, Natsuki and I picked up right where we left off, and were spending time together almost every day. They showed me around, and I had a lot of new experiences. In doing so, we visited the world’s tallest tower (pictured) and I think I overcame my fear of heights.
Thanks to our study abroad programs, not only were we able to meet, but cement friendships that will far outlast a semester.
Before studying in New Zealand, I just thought of it as a beautiful mountainous country where you feel like you’re in Lord of the Rings. But, it is so much more than that. This photo is from my trip to Abel Tasman at the northern tip of the South Island. It is significant to my international experience because I accomplished one of the great walks which was on my bucket list for my time in New Zealand. Backpacking along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track brought me pure joy being out there in the middle of nowhere in a place so beautiful I’m still not sure if it is real. This photo represents my time studying on the South Island of New Zeland and all the amazing outdoor adventures I was able to have!
Let me start out by saying that I do not consider myself to be social. In fact, I often find myself holed up in my dorm room at school, hanging out on YouTube and casually writing short stories. I read for fun and will go out of my way to be by myself. However, when the opportunity to study abroad in Japan presented itself, I couldn’t help but apply. After six years of studying Japanese, I felt that a semester abroad in Japan would be a nice reward for learning a completely different language.
After a very hectic twenty-four hours of traveling and a fitful sleep in a tiny hotel room, I arrived at Tokyo International University for orientation. I already met the other three Willamette students who were starting the spring semester with me and one of the returning JSP students from Willamette. In spite of my promise to myself to be more open to others in Japan, I thought that those four students and my past roommates from TIU would suffice in terms of friendship in Japan.
Within a few days, I already remembered everyone’s name and added them all on LINE. Within a week, I had come to consider all other thirteen JSP participants my friends. Of course, I grew even closer to some and more distant from others, but the fact of the matter is that when you’re studying abroad in another country—especially one where the language and culture is complete different from America—the support system you build is going to be tightly knit.
I did end up staying true to my promise. Almost all of the events that JSP has organized, either by the school or by ourselves, I’ve gone to. Despite my initial pessimism at an outing suggestion, I always end up smiling and laughing the whole time and enjoying myself way more than I could have ever imagined. I’ve seen things and done things that I wouldn’t have done by myself. I’ve been to Harajuku, Akihabara, and Tsukiji. I’ve eaten uni and horse meat. I’ve walked around the most beautiful park in the middle of Tokyo. I’ve walked around the streets of Kawagoe dressed in kimono.
Never would I have thought that I would love Japan so much. It’s not the place that makes it so special though. Don’t get me wrong here; Japan in itself is absolutely amazing. However, it’s all my new friends that make it so great, friends that I never thought that I would have. I explored Crea Mall with Jazmin, Dallas, and Courtney. I played around an empty park in Kasumigaseki with Emma. I ate pizza in the middle of the night with Brendan. I went on a tour of Akihabara, hosted by Emily. I ate free ice cream alongside Misa. I discussed physical therapy school with Sean. I helped Rigo, Dorian, and John with their Japanese homework. I’ve talked about host families with Linka. I walked home after a long day in Tokyo with Kaleo.
Basically, as long as you’re with the right people, being social isn’t that bad.
This image is significant to me because these were some of the first friends I made while abroad. They were part of a club swimming team that they invited me to join. This was the best part of time abroad because being with the team and competing was so much fun. I was really happy at this point. My feels are that I miss swimming and really miss these guys and the rest of the team. I wanted to take this photo because I thought I was going to be the only meet I swam in, it wasn’t, but we won the meet as a team but and these were the two people who gave me this opportunity.
Lives In Transit
With dusk barely showing its presence through the tendrils of the low-hanging Banyan tree, the evening’s hostess, one of the managers of the hostel that was holding tonight’s event, began to light the candles that were at the center of the walled courtyard. They cast a soft orange glow through the various tropical plants and trees growing in this compressed garden. People lined every inch of the place—not uncomfortable, but intimate. The faces of the two storytellers, one Afghani and the other Malian, were lit entirely from the light of the candles; the rest of the audience was in a half-light. Sitting above most, on a narrow terrace I had an overhead view of the garden that lie between the hostel and the busy avenue just over the property wall. It was September but the summer heat still seemed to warm the evening—maybe a lost current from across the Mediterranean.
The event was called “Refugees Stories” and was put on by a hostel of considerable size and sponsored by Paul’s Place Project, a program to house refugees around the city of Rome. I attended the event with several fellow volunteers all of whom had been volunteering weekly at the Noel Nafuma Refugee Center since the beginning of the academic semester, which was now in its fifth week. Studying in Rome for a little more than three months I had yet to actually leave the Eternal City and subsequently found my Friday mornings volunteering at the refugee center as an opportunity to interact with individuals from places not only beyond Rome and Italy but continental Europe.
“On your postcards, please write what comes to mind when you think of Rome”, said the storyteller from Mali. The audience shared their descriptors. Romans wrote things like “traffic”, “tourists”, and “congestion”. Tourists wrote “romance”, “history”, and “empire”. On my postcard with a picture of the Colosseum on the other side, I, an amateur student of art history, wrote “Heart of The Western Civilization”. “Now write what comes to mind when I say migrant”, the storyteller told us. His eyes seemed distant. He had lived through things many of us couldn’t imagine; it was an impenetrable and unwavering look. With the image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s pale face on a Turkish beach fresh in most of the attendee’s minds, some of the most weighted descriptors like “poverty”, “violence”, and “war” were evoked. Some Italians, who found identity with their migrant roots, said “family” and “heritage”. Seeing the faces of the refugees brave enough to share their stories under the dim candle flicker I thought about the ones I had read about. But also about those whose stories didn’t reach the media and who were faceless in a sea of statistics. Approved for asylum, rejected for asylum, deported, alive, or deceased: they all had stories but not as far as statistics were concerned. Next to “The Heart of The Western Civilization” I wrote “Vulnerable”.
To reach the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center one must take a bus to the Chiesa di San Paolo Dentro le Mura. This Gothic-Revival Church built by an English architect in the 19th century is hidden down an unassuming alley only a few blocks from the swarms of travelers and tourists who frequent Termini Station. Our group of twenty (mostly veteran and mostly Italian volunteers), were amassed through an organization called STAND. While an international organization that addresses a multitude of social justice issues, the John Cabot University branch allocates the majority of its resources and volunteer hours to this particular refugee center—donating clothes and toiletries, buying books and study supplies, and giving basic English lessons. I asked the president of the club the morning of the first Friday if they usually have such a good turnout. She quickly shook her head saying that there were much more volunteers than in previous years most likely from the greater awareness and news coverage of the crisis. Although it looked like rain we eagerly packed into a metro bus and traveled to the center.
With cappuccino in our stomachs and a good attitude for being such a large group for the first week we descended below the street level to the church basement. Reverberations of foreign languages much more intimidating than the overheard Italian echoed up through the stairwell. Farsi, Bambara, and Arabic fluctuated in conversation amongst the colonizers Latin-derived languages. Body language was deemed the only cross-cultural form of communication. Adorning the walls of this massive vaulted room were murals of various continental themes. South America was conjured with paintings of Mayan pyramids, a bullfight, and the Mitad del Mundo monument. The side rooms included a prayer room, a makeshift theater, a depository for used clothing, and an art center to construct baskets and other artworks to sell. African and Arabic men were conversing at the dozens of tables throughout the main room, but any visitor could immediately tell that the focus of the space was at the foosball tables. Crowding around two well-worn foosball tables, spectators watched the games with an intensity that I couldn’t compare to any pass-the-time-until-dinner-game I had with my friends back in the States. They were good.
Our arrival—twenty mostly white, mostly female college-age kids—broke the concentration of these flick-of-the-wrist-athletes. We began mingling timidly with some of the more curious refugees, but it was really from the foosball games that we found a commonality in light-hearted competition. What I knew about African and Arabic culture was limited and ignorant to say the least. I had a fear they would be angry or resentful towards us. God only knows how much the United States and Europe had done to reap profits from their people and homeland. This feeling quickly subsided as the reasoning came that if a President Bush supposedly represented the views of an entire country, that it would be an even greater fallacy to insinuate that a terrorist organization such as the Taliban or ISIS could represent and characterize an entire people, culture, or place.
After about half an hour and dozens of matches, our student coordinators began to organize two groups—one to help in the art center and the other to help in the English classroom. Having taught students from Japan, Ecuador, and the U.S., I found the English classroom to be an excellent opportunity to not only interact with the refugees in a more intimate setting, but also to subsequently add a few more cultures to my teaching repertoire. With a group of about seven other volunteers, I went to occupy one of the side rooms that had a white board and a myriad of second hand textbooks. The coordinator wrote a few brief dialogues in English on the board as a handful of refugees entered the classroom. “What is your name?” and “Where are you from?” were written on the board. Some came with backpacks and notebooks, others came just with their own curiosity. Once there were about seven students, one of us closed the door and the class began. The coordinator started off with a few recitations and then called on a few confident students to act out an example conversation in front of the class. Their English skills varied dramatically. Some had studied it in their home countries for years while others had never heard the language. “Where are you from?” was answered with “Mali”, “Cameroon”, “Libya”, “Afghanistan”, “Palestine”, and other far-away countries that you might hear briefly channel surfing on the news. Curious spectators peered through a window that looked out into the main room. They were too nervous to enter, but wanted to watch the lesson from a distance. They also had the advantage of avoiding the stifling heat that suffocated the small classroom.
The rest of the volunteers sat watching the sample conversation until the coordinator broke the class up into pairs. Since the ratio was nearly even all of us paired ourselves with one of the students. I looked around and approached a man from Libya. He had long hair and wore white Adidas sneakers. I somewhat nervously initiated the introductory questions: “Where are you from?”, “What’s your name?”, “How old are you?”. Quickly answering those with minimal grammatical flukes I could tell his English skills were much better than the other students. I went on to ask more personal questions and a somewhat broken conversation developed. He used to drive trucks in Libya, but, after the 2010 Arab Spring, economic opportunity plummeted. He lost his father and the rest of his family stayed in Libyan while he went to Europe to find a job. He traveled around Scandinavia and then ended up in Italy. On his phone he showed me pictures of his trip to Sweden from the previous winter. Pixilated landscapes of frozen lakes and snow topped pine trees contrasted what I pictured as the hot and arid landscape of his home country. He had been seeking asylum there. Italy was a waypoint point for him, as it is for most refugees who are seeking a more hospitable political and economic situation in Northern Europe—most popularly Sweden and Germany. While my Libyan student leaves his family to find a new life in the North, I will be traveling to Sweden in the spring to study and see the country my great-grandfather left nearly a century ago to find opportunity in the American west. On the typical viewing tour of photo albums my father always would flip to one of the photos with a lone black man sitting alongside a group of white blond-haired Swedish relatives. Rumor had it that he was a family friend or (for the number of times he turned up) one of our far flung relatives, either way we would always curiously imagine what his story to the land of Scandinavians was like before there was even commercial plane travel. In sepia-toned photo albums I was familiarized with an early 20th century Sweden, but my Libyan friend was on an adventure into the unknown. His curious eyes looked at the snowy landscapes on his timeworn flip phone and he said simply “beautiful”.
He scrolled past a photo that looked vaguely familiar and returned to it and asked “Do you know who this is?” I looked at it closer but couldn’t make it out. “Tupac”, he said, emphasizing the “a” like “two pack”. “Do you listen to rap?” he asked. I laughed and said “Yeah, Tupac is very big in the United States.” “He’s from California like me. California Love. ” Like the Mama and Papa’s California Dreamin or the iconic Jordanian-inspired surfer-guitar rift in Dick Dale’s Misirlou, the song California Love has an undeniably distinct west coast sound that characterizes a Gold State of opportunity and Wild West antics. West coast pride and hip-hop culture seemed to have just as much of an attraction to a Libyan refugee as a white American kid who grew up in rural California. I thought, now that’s a fan base. I was about to ask him if he listens to Kendrick Lamar when the coordinator called us back to the front of the classroom.
All the pairs, each seeming to have been in equally engaging conversations, were reoriented back to the white board. “What languages do you speak?” and “How many?” were written on the board. Pairs went up and had conversations. One of the students said he spoke six languages. Behind me now, I heard my Libyan student say quietly, “6? Ok, that’s enough”. I turned around and laughed quietly while he subtly smirked. I vaguely remembered an old Spanish teacher telling me, that alongside dreaming in another language, understanding humor was the next best sign of linguistic and cultural comprehension.
As the clock reached noon we began to wrap up class and gather the rest of the volunteers. As we ascended to the street level, friendly “goodbyes” and “see you next Friday”s were exchanged between the refugees and volunteers. I could tell that the other volunteers along with myself were more relaxed than in the morning and that a common feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction was felt that only a solid dose of community service could evoke. While we waited for everyone to exit the center, the coordinator informed us that there would be a march for migrant rights later in the evening if anyone was interested in attending. Being in Rome for less than two weeks now with a minimal workload or a coherent schedule I expressed my interest. A group of three of us decided that we would meet at the campus at three o’clock and then return to the refugee center to meet with their group before heading to another center where the march would be held.
After getting in a quick lunch and nap I left for JCU’s Tiber campus not knowing what to expect. I had been to a handful of protests in the past but didn’t know what to expect from a march in a capital city and especially for an issue that was such a current topic for most Europeans. Two other volunteers I had met earlier that morning were there and after waiting another ten minutes we left for the bus stop. On our bus ride there I asked one of the other students, who was Jordanian-Italian, if he thought it would be peaceful. Before I left the States, the Ferguson and Baltimore riots were some of the top stories on nearly every American news channel for weeks until there was another shooting or riot in some other corner of the country to pursue. He replied “Probably not. There were some protests for economic reform that got pretty violent earlier this year, but I don’t think this one will be like that”.
We descended back below the church. It was completely vacant now except for a group of about five: two American professors on sabbatical, two refugees, and a representative from the center. This was where I first met Rakeen. He was an Afghani refugee in his early thirties and was one of the storytellers at the hostel nearly three weeks later. He was quiet and kept to himself, but friendly and approachable. His story, the one that was published and was told in person that night at the hostel was one of the more horrifying stories I had heard. He fled when there was nothing left, but with unwavering optimism and determination even after being rejected from both Sweden and Norway he not only found a sense of family at the refugee center but even spearheaded the creation of an art program where the refugees could create artworks to sell for a minimal income. Intricate baskets woven carefully with braided newspapers and cards with intricate ink illustrations were later sold at the Refugee Stories night; eighty percent of the proceeds went to the refugees while the other twenty were voluntarily donated back to the refugee center. With the help of this program Rakeen returned from the art room with a large light green cloth banner raveled around a long two-by-four halfway up to the ceiling. With him as the poll barer we set off for meeting place for the march.
After a bus driver deemed the flag too large and too dangerous to carry onto a bus we ended up walking; the soft drizzle that was persistent throughout the day turned into a steady shower. As we got closer to where we thought to be the other refugee center a roar of voices began to rise, fade, and echo over the buildings. The rain had ceased. My worry that we would be the only ones was completely relieved upon turning the corner to the sight of a crowd well over a hundred packed into an narrow alleyway. We slowly weaved our way through the crowded alley, which was retaining a thick humidity left over from the rain. Groups of Italians, foreigners, and refugees mingled discussing the nature of the crisis and foreign policies. Bookending both the entrances were lines of police and television crews. Cameramen and reporters had also infiltrated the crowd, taking interviews here and there. Rakeen turned down a perpendicular alley and began to unravel and assemble the banner. With help from the rest of the group we lifted the banner above the crowd. Light green trimmed with gold scales was written “Migrant Lives Matter”. It was one of the more significant banners in the crowd and immediately became a staple subject for the photographers. The crowd grew denser as new arrivals accumulated into the alley. A young Italian girl, held above the crowd on her mother’s shoulders, stared up at the sparkling golden scales that encircled the text on the banner. She reached in wonder and playfulness towards the glittering halo. Her mother closened her to the corner of the banner where our other refugee volunteer playfully began to play hide and seek with her. Nkhenfack was always incredibly friendly and social. He was from Cameroon and while not very outspoken about his experience coming to Europe, he worked closely with the center’s administration and volunteered when he had the opportunity.
The line of police and reporters blocking the entrance began to recede and the crowd slowly started to push forward. The police would follow us for the rest of the march, acting more to direct traffic than prevent violence. As the crowd exited the ally we realized how large the march had become. The broad streets relieved the pressure of the narrow alley and the crowd expanded across the entire avenue. Shop owners pried curiously out of their shops and non-pedestrian traffic slowed to a standstill. As our banner bobbed up and down over the sea of marchers I reoriented my camera and myself onto curbsides and benches to snap photos of the crowd. Signs with “S.O.S Europe” and flags of various countries waved amongst the marchers. Some Italians walked barefoot to stand in solidarity with the newcomers who arrive on the beaches in the same way. After a voyage over thousands of miles of sea the refugees find sanctuary in the sand between their toes. A new beginning in a land far different from their home is a far cry to how the tourists and locals see and frequent the beaches.
As we pass the Tiburtina Station and round back to the beginning of our walk, the sun begins to dim below the stone pines that line the avenue. It’s a particularly crimson sunset that must have been due to the more humid air brought on by the earlier storm. Between the golden hued trees cheers greeted the return of the march back to the narrow alley where at the other entrance lies the Baobab Reception Center. Beacons of hospitality and respite can be far between and it’s rest stops like this reception center that support the migrants travels north. After some time the crowd began to dissipate and this small moving community of advocacy separated back to the various households, shelters, street corners, and hotels that would possess their evening.
I’ll never forget where I was when the Paris attack occurred. I had been selected as a delegate for the 2015 Nobel Peace Laureates World Summit in Barcelona and the theme for this year was “Advocating for Refugees”. The second night at the conference tweets and posts slowly started to reveal a more and more horrific scene of carnage and destruction from the center of Paris. The consequences and implications of such a tragedy are yet to be fully realized but my immediate reaction was for the safety of the refugees. Thoughts of border closings, xenophobia, mosque and refugee closings, and another escalating war in the Middle East kept me awake the night of November 13. Weeks after the attack, the police, possibly the some of the same ones who had helped coordinate the march months earlier, raided the Baobab Reception Center arresting dozens of undocumented refugees. After that it was announced that the Reception Center would be closed at the beginning of 2016 for the construction of new shopping center.
I began my last Friday in Rome volunteering at the Refugee Center. Saying goodbye to my students without the usual “see you next Friday” on the last day I was only with two other volunteers, a drastic decrease from the initial twenty. While seeking a world away from their war torn or poverty-stricken homelands, the refugees encountered a world that could go from hospitable and welcoming to xenophobic and hostile in the matter of mere weeks. The voyages and treks that have been undertaken to find new lives in Europe will not only be remembered in photo albums and news archives for generations, but in the evolving culture of Europe. Lives in transit will continue to seek a new home; will we welcome them?
 Giuffrida, Angela. “An Afghan Refugee: Safe, but in Limbo in Italy.” The Local. The Local, 08 Oct. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <http://www.thelocal.it/20151008/an-afghan-refugee-safe-but-in-limbo-in-italy>.
 “Police Raid Baobab Migrant Reception Centre in Rome – English.” ANSA.it. ANSA, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <http://www.ansa.it/english/news/2015/11/24/police-raid-baobab-migrant-reception-centre-in-rome_631d8b64-3f26-41de-ba57-4dbb3b25daa0.html>.
 Carrier, Fanny. “Popular Migrant Rest-stop Centre in Rome Forced to Close.”Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <http://news.yahoo.com/popular-migrant-rest-stop-centre-rome-forced-close-040321367.html>.
When I chose to study abroad in Costa Rica, I was expecting to be welcomed into a “green” country, a country dedicated to conservation efforts with progressive laws and a functional government. I had heard about Costa Rica eliminating a standing army, having a woman president, having incredible environmental protection laws, and eradicating all zoos. On paper, Costa Rica looked like the perfect place to be, so perfect, in fact, that I hoped to live there after graduate school (spurred by my love for sloths and desire to become a sloth ecologist). When I arrived, however, things were not as I had imagined they would be. I imagined pristine nature and people who cared about the environment and reducing their carbon footprint. What I found was nearly entirely the opposite.
My first week in Costa Rica, I was astounded by the overwhelming amount of trash that seemed to be everywhere I looked. Because I was living in a large city and houses do not have trash cans for roadside waste pickup, trash was piled on the sidewalks and streets, usually in bags. But because of the large populations of stray dogs and feral cats, the bags would be ripped open and trash strewn everywhere as the animals searched for food scraps. Rivers were full of trash and they reeked of decay. Pedestrians would throw there trash in gutters knowing there would be no personal consequence.
I volunteered at a tourist attraction called La Paz Waterfall Gardens, an ecological destination and wildlife preserve. I was ecstatic to start volunteering there. I was told the animals had all been illegally held as pets and had been confiscated by the government. They were given a new home at La Paz where tourists could learn about the biodiversity of Costa Rica and how to protect species from extinction. I was in charge of the toucan exhibit, and each day I’d help tourists take pictures with a toucan on the arm, an unforgettable experience that served to educate and encourage people to become more connected with nature and wildlife. I quickly learned, however, that many of the animals in our care at La Paz were not pets after all. They were wild animals taken from the rainforest, in the toucans case as chicks, and raised in order to be friendly and gregarious for the tourists. I was taken behind the scenes and I saw how animals not visible to the public were kept in deplorable conditions. Additionally, animals were allowed to breed at La Paz, causing another problem since the progeny could not be released back to the wild and the only available space for more animals was in small cages with cement floors and no natural light.
This trend seemed to continue to make itself apparent as I explored the country. As a sloth lover, I was very excited to visit the Sloth Sanctuary, made famous by the Animal Planet show “Meet the Sloths”. I had high hopes that perhaps I could do my graduate research there. When I arrived, however, I noticed something fishy. The sloths were kept yet again in small enclosures without real trees and were eating an artificial diet of frozen vegetables. In the wild, sloths eat leaves of over 200 species of trees, not frozen vegetables. I was still very excited to see the sloths though and left feeling both happy that I had seen them and a little uneasy about the questionable conditions the sloths were kept in. The following week, two veterinarians who had volunteered at the sanctuary bravely came out with a testimony of their work. They revealed that the sanctuary, who claims to release sloths back into the wild and aid in sloth conservation, actually hoards sloths and keeps them in horrifying conditions behind the scenes. The sanctuary has over 200 sloths kept in tiny cages with no access to the natural world or their natural diet. Sloths are solitary animals, but they are often held in cages together at the sanctuary and will fight, seriously injuring each other with their sharp claws. Sloths do not receive the medical attention they need due to a lack of staff able to treat them and when a healthy sloth escaped multiple times back into the rain forest, it was captured and put back in its jail cell of a cage.
As you can probably tell, I was pretty discouraged and disheartened. I had come to Costa Rica to be inspired by their environmental actions, but found that laws were not enforced and citizens were not internalizing the fight to lessen their negative impact on the planet. Costa Rica is marketed as a “green” country to the rest of the world to bring in tourist revenue, and it is true that they have a lot of beautiful national parks and pristine beaches. And because these are the places tourists visit, not the cities or behind the scenes at wildlife sanctuaries, they continue believing that Costa Rica is an immaculate, environmentally friendly country. I, however, was able to see in my time abroad both sides of Costa Rica, the beautiful and the ugly. While it may seem like I am placing the blame on the Costa Ricans, I want to point out that much of the blame lies on us, the Americans, and other foreigners. Both La Paz and the Sloth Sanctuary were started and run by foreigners with the goal of making a profit, exploiting wildlife in the process. If they really wanted to help the animals as they claim, they would not be open to the tourists. Often without knowing about the issues of such refuges and sanctuaries, tourists contribute to the problem. Additionally, tourists visit large hotels and resorts that seclude them from the local Costa Ricans. These resorts cause an unprecedented amount of environmental harm, often disregard environmental laws, and make it difficult for locals who own environmentally friendly eco-lodges to stay afloat. It can also be argued that because Costa Rica is not as developed as the United States, the citizens have more critical things to worry about than protecting the environment. But what can be more critical than preserving the dwindling natural resources and biodiversity upon which our entire race relies?
It may seem like I had a terrible time while studying abroad in Costa Rica, but I am so glad that I saw the full picture of the country. I saw the good and the bad and learned from the locals their challenges and frustrations. One coworker at La Paz, an animal lover and environmentalist fed up with the animal exploitation he saw at work every day, asked me to go to the police to report the terrible conditions and illegal practices of taking wild animals and putting them in captivity. He was too scared to do it himself because he though he would lose his job, which he desperately needed to take care of his sick mother. Without having any evidence and knowing how the officials did not enforce laws, I didn’t take it to the police, but I got a professor and friend involved who is a well known animal rights activist in Costa Rica. I try to do my part through education and the experience has motivated me to return to Costa Rica to aid in animal welfare and conservation efforts as a mammal ecology researcher.
Below is a picture of me with a white-faced capuchin monkey at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. While I may look happy in this picture, I soon became upset, realizing that this animal has lived in a cage behind the scenes at La Paz his entire life. He deserves to live a happy life in the rain forest, but instead is trapped in a cage, unable to be released because of his friendliness and reliance and on humans.
I took this photo at the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Table Mountain is famous for its views over Cape Town and Robin Island (where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner during Apartheid) at sunrise and sunset. The group I was with had planned on taking a gondola to the top to see the sunrise. However, upon our arrival to the base of the mountain at 5 a.m., we decided to climb to the top instead.
We were in no way prepared for the grueling, steep, four-hour hike to the top. The climb felt like an impossible feat and I would be lying if I said we hadn’t thought about turning around every ten minutes. The feeling of reaching the top was easily one of the most rewarding, memorable parts of my experience in South Africa.
This photo was taken during our excursion to Kerry. We were lucky enough to have great weather during our drive along the Dingle Peninsula, regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the world. For me, the drive along Dingle Peninsula really solidified that it was worth it to study abroad.
I took this picture during my first week in London. The tube was always an interesting adventure. Someone once told me, “Theatre is a journey. Even if you take the same route to work every single day of your life, the journey is always different”. This is something I finally understood what this meant at the very end of my study abroad experience, while riding the same line that I took almost every day to Piccadilly Circus in central London. It didn’t matter if I left at the exact same time as the day before. I learned something whenever I was on the tube from the people taking the journey with me.
One day, I stepped onto the tube and there was an old man and his dog. The old man was sound asleep through the jerking train and the talking people. The dog in his lap kept his nose right under his owner’s chin, as if to check in, to make sure he was okay, to keep him from waking up, to help him rest.
Another day, I walked onto the tube an there was a folk band. Falling, tipping, crashing into each other as the train rolled on unforgivingly, they played tenaciously and happily for the passengers. They didn’t have a hat out for coins. They didn’t have a sign that announced who they were. They simply were playing beautiful music.
On my last tube ride, I looked around the packed train and noticed how small I was, how little I knew. I noticed how much of a gift this entire experience was. I realized how fortunate we are to have other human beings in this world to learn from, to grow from, to teach us compassion, to illuminate darkness, to keep us from falling asleep.
-Mary Rose Branick
London, Fall ’15
This picture embodies Granada for me. The beautiful Mudejar style (mixture of arabic and western Christian styles) is all over Granada which reflects the complex history and influences of Southern Spain.
My first couple days in Zurich were spent in my apartment, resting from my travels and adapting to the time change. Finally, I decided to venture out into the city – about half an hour from where I lived on the outskirts of town.
I was met by quite a shock.
The people were dressed in the most bizarre outfits. Many of them walked in groups, all dressed in the same theme. These outfits ranged from men in tutu’s to sadistic cupids to Hulks to clowns. The diversity and creativity was incredible. My thoughts were “wow, the Swiss fashion is really out there!”
Another shock was the street lavatories – totally in view of anyone passing by.
After a few hours, I realized that this was in fact a parade. As it later turned out, the Zurich Street Parade is the largest annually in the city! There were over a million people (compared to the 850,000 population).
This really taught me not to judge by first looks!
It turned out the Swiss actually dress very conservatively, preferring not to stand out too much from the crowd, so in fact this was completely opposite of my initial thoughts.
This image is significant to me because one of the biggest lessons that I learned during my time studying abroad in Rome is that there isn’t anything ‘ancient’ about the ancient Rome that people would see around them in the city. I learned in my sociology course on Rome as a modern city that the physical landscape of Rome, and especially of the ‘ancient’ parts were shaped with a political purpose. Almost all of the parts of ancient Rome that I could see were excavated and reconstructed. So, if parts of the temple and the forum were reconstructed, then they’re not exactly ancient still, at least not physically. It is actually the idea of Rome as ancient and it as an eternal city that is significant. This knowledge completely changed my perspective of Rome, and if anything, made the city even more interesting because the whole place is a contradiction of old and new that is blended together.
Nearing the end of my semester, here I stand at the top of “Parque Güell,” in Barcelona, Spain. I had discovered that my friend from my hometown was living in Madrid. She is a very special friend to me. We have competed together for years running track. She would beat me, I would beat her, then we would go run a 4×400 at conference and state and beat everyone. She ran at Brown, I run at Willamette, and still to this day with work-out and compete with the help of one-another when we are back home…Apparently we do that regardless of where we are in the world. After three days of non-stop exploring the city by day and indulging in the night’s festivities we continued for a fourth day which consisted of getting churros and chocolate at 6 am, sleeping for three hours, climbing to the top of Montjuic, getting lost, encountering a band of jazz players playing for a massive group of people who asked us to sing with them, making it to the Picasso museum by 3p.m. on the dot so we could enter for free, to then hike up to Park Guell because we wanted to “challenge” each other and not take the bus, to then go shop for an hour, get our last meal together and part ways–her bus leaving at 11p.m. and my flight leaving at 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
This is an image of Milford Sound in Fjordland. I went with a couple of friends just before finals started, and it was the last big trip I took in New Zealand. It involved kea parrots landing on our car and trying to steal the mirrors, boats, penguins, almost getting snowed in, sore butts from all the driving, lots and lots of singalongs to songs we would never admit we actually knew, tramping, learning how to put chains on a car, gorgeous sights, and getting absolutely soaked from all the rain, fog, and waterfalls. The best form of procrastination! And a wonderful send off as well.
This is a photo captured at the Cliffs of Moher in Galway, Ireland with my six other close friends I made while abroad. It is significant to my international experience because it was our last weekend trip we took while abroad. We had only been able to take three trips where our whole friend group could go, which was seven people, so it was pretty special to be on our last trip all together. In order to do this, we had to take a bus tour that picked us up at 6am. We anticipated that it was going to be raining and windy and cold up there but boy we were still caught off guard. The rain was sideways and the mud was thick but it did not take away from the beauty of that place at all. Managing to get this picture was quite an accomplishment simply due to the fact that we all don’t look like a mess. I believe this photo is very indicative of how our friendship, and most of our weekend trips were all semester. We were, by no means, any of the same people and many times we would argue about petty things on trips but in the end we were able to put it together and make great memories together.
I chose this picture because it was one of the best weeks of my life. My best friend from study abroad and I went to the Atacama Desert for spring break and it was amazing!!! The desert goes on for miles and miles and we got to explore a lot it. We went to 3 different valleys, climbed to the tallest sand dune to watch the sunset, went on a geyser tour and went star gazing! We also got to hang out with a bunch of people from our group and it was a chance to explore the beautiful country of Chile. Studying abroad was one of the best experiences of my life, I will never forget it!