The Start of my Journey

People say to trust your instincts because they’re usually right. Instincts, it turns out, aren’t as good when you’ve just arrived in a foreign country, sleep deprived, and in desperate need of food and a shower.

I took a flight from Minneapolis to Cincinnati on Sunday, January 6 and from there I took an overnight flight to Paris. Once the sun set it was hard to see anything from the window of the plane, although every once in a while we would fly over a city and get just a glimpse of what was happening down below. Just twenty minutes before we were to land in Paris, the sun peeked above the clouds and I watched the most beautiful sunrise from 30,000 feet which is most definitely a great way to start the day.

As soon as I was out of customs I was tasked with getting from where I was to where I needed to be, a feat that is greatly complicated when you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. After consulting a map I determined that I needed to go down a level; that was wrong. I ended up hauling my suitcases around for about five or ten minutes before I realized I was going the wrong direction, that and I definitely was not supposed to be in a parking garage. That aside, I went back upstairs into the airport which was definitely a step in the right direction and decided to go the other way since clearly my first instinct was wrong. This turned out to be a good idea because eventually I found myself at the airport door where I was supposed to meet up with other people from my program.

Here was where I found my second great obstacle: there was this massive group of people just standing around exactly where I needed to be. My instincts told me that this was not my group of people, there were far too many and I didn’t recognize anyone from my group chat of the ten total students in my program. So I did exactly what any other person my age would do: I checked my phone. I found that I was in the right place, but if that was true then why was there nobody else from my program?! I took one last look around and spotted my savior, it was someone I knew! Well, not really, but I recognized him from my program’s group chat so I walked right up to him and introduced myself and immediately explained my confusion. Turns out, he (his name is Nat) was extremely confused as well. We waited together for a few more minutes, looking around occasionally until Nat asked “isn’t that Brent Keever?” He pointed to a man, Brent Keever, who is the director of our program standing directly at the center of the large group. I sighed in relief.

Turns out, Brent was going to be meeting students from our program at the same time that he was meeting students from a different, larger program that he was running as well. We hauled our luggage over to Brent and introduced ourselves and within minutes we were handed lunch bags with baguette sandwiches and other orientation materials. Eventually everyone from our program arrived and we all got to know each other while eating baguette sandwiches and waiting for our taxis.

I got put in a taxi with three other students from the other program and none of them spoke any French which left it to me to communicate to the driver where everyone was supposed to go. At first I was quite apprehensive to start any kind of conversation with him because I’d always heard that Parisians were rude, but our driver turned out to be nothing like what I’d anticipated. Once he realized that I could understand and speak French he struck up a conversation with me about where and for how long I studied French, what I was doing in Paris, what I thought of Macron and the Gilets Jaunes (working class protesters who wear yellow safety vests to protest diesel gas tax and now other social issues). In turn I learned that he is actually originally from Algeria and knows French as a second language, that he’s visited his sisters in the United States multiple times, and that I should learn important grammar rules sooner rather than later. By the time he had dropped everyone off at their apartments and arrived at my homestay we’d covered so many subjects that it felt as if we were old friends. Even my preconceived notions about my taxi driver were wrong.

I exited the taxi and the driver, who never told me his name, left me and my suitcases to face my next task: my host mom. I was just a little proud of myself for making it all the way to her apartment with my French skills but I would be glad to speak at least a little English; after all, I’d heard that most Parisians knew the language. As I was approaching her apartment building she popped her head out of a window on the first floor and shouted down to me  “Emma, ma chère! Bienvenue chez moi!”

I smiled up at her and she disappeared from the window only to reappear at the door of the building to help me with my suitcases. She pointed out the elevator with pride and somehow fit both of us and my suitcases inside, though it still remains a mystery to me how she managed to do it. All the while she was speaking to me in rapid-fire French that made my head spin, but I was able to understand one essential piece of information: she doesn’t know any English.

Thoughts on Leaving Australia

Recently I thought, how will it feel to leave Australia? This isn’t the first time that I have reflected on the idea of going home, but I realized that in the past, I had always been focused on the returning rather than the leaving. I would think about seeing my family and friends who I haven’t been able to see for a couple of months and I would feel excited about the new stories they would have or the stories that I have to tell them. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that returning home means leaving Australia. I heard stories before leaving the States about students who have tried to extend their stay in whatever country they had been studying in, and I had even heard a couple of stories in which students decided to transfer schools to complete their studies in this other country. I knew that wouldn’t be me, there’s too much back home that I would miss if I stayed but I also can appreciate the feelings of those other study abroad students a bit better now.

Here’s a pic from the inside of the famous Opera House

Upon first arriving to Australia I fell into the classic wanderlust of experiencing a new country for the first time where everything seemed new and exotic and interesting. This feeling was particularly strong during orientation when I was going on excursions and didn’t need to worry about food or classes or planning. But when I arrived in Sydney life did become more difficult. Suddenly I needed to cook and clean for myself, and although I can make mac & cheese with the best of them, my experience in both cooking and cleaning have been limited up until this point. I also had no sense of direction, I felt as though I was getting lost everywhere I went, and I felt far away from the city where most of the people in my program who attended different schools lived. There would be times where I felt a bit guilty writing blog posts or posting pictures on Instagram or Facebook because for every day that was filled with adventure and traveling, there were four or five other days which consisted of mostly cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, schoolwork and other mundane activities not typically associated with studying abroad.

Luna Park: where I accidently ran into all of the athletes from the Invictus Games

This seems likely to be the second stage of traveling to a new country, when suddenly the new country doesn’t seem so perfect or amazing as it was when you first arrived but this felt different from the culture shock I was expecting. Typically when I thought of culture shock I actually projected my stereotypes instead of realizing that the shock arises from what’s unexpected. I thought the culture shock that I would deal with would mostly consist of trying to understand the slang or eating more seafood as I lived near the ocean but that isn’t what my life in Australia has been like at all. Instead, the shock was spurred by the fact that a good deal of what I imagined Sydney to be like wasn’t true. The strangest part about living in Australia I think has been that where I live now isn’t radically different from back home, but it’s just different enough so that I would notice these differences consistently. The food is in many ways similar to the States, but the brands are different, there are far fewer item options, and at times items that I am used to aren’t available such as breakfast sausage, biscuits, or Cool Ranch Doritos. I also perceived Australians as small differentiations of Steve Irwin or the surfer archetype but of course that isn’t true either. Occasionally I’ll come across an Aussie who may be similar to either of those descriptions but in the big city of Sydney, many Aussies don’t act like either of those stereotypes. I suppose that would be comparable to expecting to see people who look like the guys in the TV show Duck Dynasty while walking around New York City, it’s simply a different culture in the city. But these differences certainly haven’t been bad, in fact I feel as though I have learned a lot as a result of this shattering of my expectations.

Darling Harbour on a cloudy day

While these changes at first felt strange and uncomfortable, slowly the differences started to feel natural. I know the names of different train stops and know certain areas of the city fairly well, I know how to use the bus and how to get off at the right stop properly, and even looking the correct directions when crossing the street has become second nature. Perhaps some of the most rewarding times are when I have been asked for help by Aussies themselves. When I returned to Sydney from New Zealand, I was getting on the train to go back home and an Aussie couple asked me how to get train tickets and how to get on the right train to get where they needed to go. It felt amazing to know the answer to their question and be able to help them out, suddenly Sydney was starting to feel more like home.

Royal National Park on a perfect day

The feelings of missing Australia became even more pronounced when I remembered some of the problems that I will be returning to in the States. While studying abroad I’ve felt very, very far away from a variety of socio-political problems that the US faces and it is honestly difficult to think that I will be returning to these problems. This isn’t to say that Australia is without its own set of socio-political problems, while I have been studying there the Prime Minister changed for goodness sake, but by studying on exchange I didn’t feel the weight of those problems the way I sometimes do back home. I found it particularly funny when I would come across an Aussie student in one of my classes who would bash Australian politics or say that Australia had all sorts of problems because I personally didn’t see these problems nearly as much. I suppose that when you grow up in a country, you’re privy to all of the issues or concerns that country may have. Meanwhile when you travel to a new country for a short period of time, you tend to be blissfully ignorant for at least a little while.

The Grounds of Alexandria which is a marketplace and coffeeshop all in one

So when I thought about what it will mean to leave Sydney, I considered all of this. I thought of how scared and out of place I felt when I first arrived, how awestruck I was by some of the differences such as the Opera House or kangaroos, and how much Sydney has started to feel a bit like home. It’s sad to think that I’m going to leave this place. I realized that at some point of studying abroad there’s a transition from being a tourist to being something else. I’m certainly not a native and there is plenty about Sydney that I don’t know, but I also feel as though I have played a role as an active member of Sydney rather than somebody who has just passed through the city. A popular caption on posts by bloggers is something along the lines of “this city will always have a piece of my heart,” and while that phrase is a bit of a cliché and it makes me roll my eyes, it’s a cliché because it speaks of a truth. I know that when I return home, I’ll be different. Not in any major dramatic way, but I have been influenced by living in a new city, a new culture, and a new country on the other end of the world. But I also would like to think that I changed Sydney a bit as well, once again not in any major way whatsoever, but to the friends I have made and classmates that I talked with, I have been able to share who I am with others as well.

Blue Mountain Waterfalls

It will be strange leaving Australia, particularly because I feel as though I have grown so much while I have been here but the end of my time is coming soon. I will leave knowing that I made the most of my time academically, socially, and adventurously but I will also know that there is so much of this country that I didn’t see and experience. I have also been reminded of just how much of the US I haven’t seen or experienced yet either, and I intend to see more of my home country when I return as well. This is such a big, beautiful, amazing world. And I cannot express how grateful I am that God has allowed me to experience this part of it.




Knowing Your Nature

Branches whip madly above my head as we walk along a mountainside that’s alternately damp, earthy forest and golden-haired meadows. With his growth potion (aka me – he’s on my shoulders) my young friend Kylan is among the trees. Kylan, when not making the most of his childhood, is an alchemist, who happens to make magic potions in lieu of gold. Today, he and I are working on a growth potion, presumably so he can be tall even without me around, which I guess means I’m making my replacement. Regardless, after seeing the results of his speed potion, which left me realizing how badly I’ve let myself go, I asked Kylan to teach me some alchemy. In the meantime, newly an apprentice, I scoured the forest floor for duckweed and pine needles and mysterious white berries.

As I worked, shuffling along the damp ground, I found out how much I normally missed, little duckweed (which I found out later wasn’t really duck weed) hid below shrubs and among moss, wolf lichen clung desperately to trees, and frail spiderwebs tied themselves to fragrant pine. This newfound attention to nature intrigued me and, eager to learn more about the alchemy that inspired this attentiveness, I checked out Gillot de Givry’s tome about the science called the Illustrated Anthology of Sorcery, Magic, and Alchemy. Upon leafing through musty pages right out of a Harry Potter movie, I was surprised to find a science deeply respectful of nature, a science which echoed my lessons from Kylan. The goal of alchemy was, “to penetrate the mystery of life” by looking to nature and imitating (De Givry 1973). What I learned from De Givry sounded more mystical than I’d previously imagined, not at all what usually comes to mind when I think of alchemy: “man’s vain endeavor to make artificial gold” (De Givry 1973). Alchemy of old, respected nature as teacher: “all the alchemists stubbornly repeat so often that their sole master is Nature,” says De Givry (De Givry 1973). Alchemists even went so far as to say that books aren’t necessary for learning from alchemy, one merely needs an upright soul and ears open to nature (De Givry 1973). Far from hermits crouched over bubbling pots with dreams of riches beyond belief, it seems alchemists respected and knew nature in a deep, almost spiritual way. After my time as an apprentice alchemist, I started asking this question over and over again: How can I get to know nature? What follows are a collection of stories that attempt to answer that question.

Back in the day, alchemists claimed to use ‘A single substance, a single vase’ to plumb the secrets of the natural world. In my time as a computer “alchemist”, things were a tad more extravagant. As modern-day Puffers (alchemists name for chemists), we used supercomputers and the buzzword of all buzzwords ‘machine learning’ to pick at the secrets held so jealously by the material world. The goal of our project was to predict what material combos were most promising for research, saving material scientists the work (and cost) of getting to know nature’s materials first hand. That was the goal. The reality was that we were a bunch of undergrads who barely knew what machine learning was and ran random models with data we didn’t collect about materials we’d never seen. Our models appeared to be predictive of something in the end, but none of us knew what, other than the fact a line followed a curve pretty damn well. We thought that computers could make our work fast and “know” nature for us, but it turns out they only disconnected us from the nature the alchemists imitated.

My experience as a computer alchemist shouldn’t be surprising. In our culture we glorify experimentation as the way of all ways and machine learning is the holy grail of experimentation. Computers can try so many hypotheses so fast, they guarantee a golden ticket to understanding. After all, the scientific method can solve everything right? I don’t think we verbalize this belief – nor the underlying belief that all our experimentation comes without consequences. The great experiments of our time – social media, cell phones, fossil fuels – have bit us hard and it makes me wonder whether the scientific method couldn’t use some of the funky reverence of the alchemists. If alchemists were lovers of nature, us Puffers were creepy weirdos who watched her from a distance with a calculator, converting our “love” into numbers we could easily understand from behind the safety of a screen. In our disconnection from nature, we hurt ourselves. In my case, we not only wasted time staring at screens and crunching numbers, we missed out on what Kylan and I discovered in the forest that day: a sense of wonder and the care that is listening. After all this, I can’t help but think our time wouldn’t have been better spent out picking what we thought was duckweed to make a fragrant potion, whose magic would teach us to notice the world around us. In that class we might have discovered less, but more worthwhile things.

I’m checking over the gray, cold body when I see he has a tiny penis, I think. I’m serious, it’s like the size of my thumb. Which I guess might actually be big for a poor little squirrel. Right above his tiny appendage, I grab a chunk of skin and saw away with my knife. This little dude’s life left him just a few hours ago. A big truck clocked him and his friend as they tried to cross the road. My friend here came out ok other than his head, which suffice to say, did not come out ok. His bushy tail jitters with false life as I slice up his gray abdomen to slip still warm organs out. With them gone, I start skinning him, laboriously pulling pelt away from muscle and bone. As his skin slips off like a well fit suit, I see an eerie resemblance between myself and him. We both have puny biceps and are sewn together with tendons and muscles which cover lungs and a heart, which precariously beats along. With the skin nearly off now I have to break off hands and feet and head and again I’m struck with a sense of déjà vu. My fingers search along the knee for tendons, tendons I later absentmindedly touch on my own leg, that is until I remember his. With all his appendages gone and clean, the pink headless squirrel does not look so different than I. I’m chilled by how accurate a picture of my own body I see below me. In this little life there is an odd resonance between my mortality and his. Annie Dillard once said, “You see the creatures die, and you know you will die.” I didn’t see this guy die, but I saw him dead and I knew him. More, I saw me in him. I am spooked.

Later I’m in the woods again, trying to wrap my head around another way of knowing nature, this time in the “sit and observe” way Dillard is so fond of. I try to sit and observe, I really do, but shortly after the sitting part begins an uprooted tree catches my eye and I’m drawn to it like a moth. The upturned roots speak of a hidden world below, a dark mirror of the one above. Tendrils of wood grasp vainly at the sky and a mass of little roots tumble from the tendrils like thick hair. I step into the hollow below and look up. I’m not used to looking up, being 6’ 4’’. It always comes as a shock, but here it’s extra bizarre because I’m used to looking up to tree tops, not tree bottoms. These roots feel like the underwear of trees, they tell you tons about them but it’s really not your business to know what goes on down there. I just kind of stare at the roots for a while, lost in wonder and feeling lucky and sad the tree had to fall.

Then I ask a rather obvious question: What the hell could topple a tree like this? Whatever it was I’m glad it’s gone. In another part of the forest I saw trees missing tops and imagined an immature giant running around with a sword, leveling trees in a tantrum. In reality, it was probably the wind, but that’s rather boring. Being a bit bored myself, I climb out of the hollow and onto the trunk of the tree where I decide to meditate. I slow my breathing and feel foolish for doing this standing up, but that thought flees in the fright of another one. I can feel breath on my face, though I’m alone. A breeze from roots long dead, cold and moist, mirrors my own breath. I know it’s probably just old wind at it once again, but I can’t help but feel spooked. As is usually the case when I try to meditate, I’m quickly bored, and the tree changes tones and beckons me down its length, which hangs suspended above the ground. With a shoelace hanging precariously untied, I make my way across in fits and starts. My terrible balance feeds grotesque visions of impalement on the many branches shooting up from below. Mercifully, I forgot these visions as I begin to bounce. Well, not at first do I forget. My first reaction is cold fear as I think the tree is trying to throw me off to be stabbed by his friends below. After I realize this isn’t what’s happening, I start to lean into this bounce. Slowly, a rhythm begins to reverberate between me and the tree. Before long the tree and I are in sync and what looked long dead seems to have new life. It’s like my bounces are a CPR that animates the tree for a moment, returning it to vibrant, exuberant life. It’s whole hundred-foot length is vibrating now, looking like a plucked string. My friend comes over and joins the rhythm and now we are really bouncing, shivering up and down with this tree we thought was dead but was actually slumbering, waiting to be awoken. The soles of my feet seemed to connect with that tree and I felt sure it was having fun, too. Life multiplied between us in a beautiful resonance. Here, with this tree, I felt a sense of life, even in death.

A day after my time as an apprentice to Kylan and a few days before I met my tree friend, our potion had sat overnight and finished. Walking to the back porch where it lay, Kylan was a wonderful mix of excited and serious and I was just plain curious. I’m shocked back into the childhood wonder I lost when I grew tall after I get a whiff of the pungent lemony potion. All those ingredients distilled into a smell to savor. It’s not gold, but it’s still remarkable. These plants, a random mishmash of things incorrectly named or nameless, came together to form an experience I will treasure. I can never look at the forest floor the same and while that also isn’t gold, it is priceless. Just as valuable are the lessons I learned: to listen and keep it simple. Through said lessons I heard a lively dead tree with fun on offer, a deadly resonance in roadkill, and the true sound of that artificial buzz of screens. Knowing nature is not easy, but important. Now I ask you: How do you get to know nature? I hope for your sake it doesn’t involve male roadkill.


It’s the Climb… or Three

Being surrounded by mountains is something new for me, but here in Cape Town, I have caught the hiking bug. I have really enjoyed spending a morning or a day climbing up one of the mountains here and being rewarded with beautiful views of the city. There are three mountains that are the most well known here and that sit right in the middle of the city. They are Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head. Table Mountain is the most well known of the three due to its unique flat top. The three mountains together, famous for making up Cape Town’s cityscape.

The three peaks (from left to right: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head)

Throughout the semester, I have climbed both Table Mountain and Lion’s Head a few times each. Last weekend, however, my friend, Noelle, and I wanted to take the next step. We decided to take on the three peaks challenge. This involves hiking all three mountains in one day. The official challenge requires participants to start in the city center and go back to the starting point to check in between each mountain. Noelle and I took the easy route and did the unofficial version, though, just hiking each mountain back to back.

Our day started early at 6:30am when we got to the Devil’s Peak trail. We had never hiked Devil’s Peak before, so we weren’t sure what was in store, but it was a beautiful hike. There were lots of flowers and bushes along the trail, and once we got closer to the peak they got thicker and the path got narrower, so we had to carefully navigate. It was not as long of a hike as we expected, which meant we got to see the beautiful view quicker than expected. From the top we could see the view of the front of Table Mountain, and if we turned around we looked down to see UCT campus with all of its orange-roofed buildings and rugby fields.

After enjoying the views and taking a quick snack break, we began our descent. About two thirds of the way down Devil’s Peak there is a path, which connects Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain. We turned onto this path and made our way towards Table Mountain’s Platteklip Gorge. We had hiked along this path before, so we knew the route to reach Table Mountain, and once we got here, up we went.

Hiking from Devil’s Peak to Table Mountain

The climb up Platteklip Gorge is not nearly as enjoyable, as the views from the top. It’s a zig-zag path all the way up with big stair-like rocks. It is also a popular trail, making it crowded and congested at times. Nevertheless, we powered through with a positive attitude and reached the flat top of Table Mountain. The top of Table Mountain is beautiful, with lots of rock formations and various plants. Table Mountain has its own ecosystem of plants living atop it, with flowers, bushes, and other species that are unique just to Table Mountain. Isn’t that neat?

We roamed around the top of the mountain for a bit, admiring what is considered one of the new seven wonders of nature, before sitting down and eating our packed lunches to sustain us for the remainder of our hike. We had more one walk around before starting the trek down the gorge. You would think that climbing down would be a bit faster because you have gravity and momentum on your side, but the steep rocks and their smoothed surfaces from so many hikers make going down a slippery adventure. It took us just as long to hike down as it did to get up there, surprisingly only slipping once.

We then headed over to Lion’s Head to hike the final peak of the challenge. Lion’s Head is the easiest and shortest mountain to climb of the three peaks. Well, that’s if you don’t hike the two other peaks beforehand 🙂 We took the climb slow and steady, taking a long break to have another snack and watch other hikers go bye, cheering them on as they passed. After we had caught our breaths and given our legs a needed break, we continued our climb. A fun part about Lion’s Head is about two thirds of the way up is a fork in the road. You can either take a longer footpath route, or a shorter climbing route that involves chains and staples that have been installed in the rocks. We were feeling adventurous, so we opted for the shorter route, and lifted ourselves up the rocks with the help of the staples. A short while after climbing up and hiking along a bit more of the path, we reached the final peak!

Lion’s Head has one of my favorite views. Because of its location, a little bit separated from Table Mountain and closer to the coast, you get an amazing 360 degree view of Cape Town. On one side you see Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. On another you get a clear view of the strip of beaches and the water. And in yet another area you get a great view of the city centre. We walked around the perimeter of the top, soaking in the beauty of each view while giving our legs some rest before making the final descent.

We then headed down, steadily and carefully, until we reached the bottom of Lion’s Head to complete the three peaks challenge! After a total of 9 hours out on the mountains, we finally made it. Our legs had turned to jello by the end, but it was definitely worth the great experience and accomplishment. It’ll be a big switch going from this mountainous city back to the flat lands of the Midwest, so it was good to get a full day of hiking in before heading back home!

Lo Logramos!

Four hours up and five hours down…

An exhaustingly magnificent hike up La Campana, a beautiful mountain situated 2000 meters above sea level.

The guides say that it takes the average person 5 hours to reach the top, so why did it only take us 4? Well, please, let me explain.

Our incredibly exhausting journey began at 10:00 in the morning when we started to hike. They notified us that the first part, 3.2 miles, should take about two and a half hours to complete, but then they broke the news… “You must arrive to La Mina, the end of part one, before 12:00 p.m if you would like to continue and trek to the top”. They wished us luck, chuckled, and we doubtfully began our journey.


Here’s the thing. They say that the first part is the “easy” part, so when we were dying on our way to La Mina, we had no idea what was waiting for us on the second “actually hard” part. My legs began to feel like they were on fire as I took step after step, up the “easy” steep hills of dirt and jumped over the occasional large rocks blocking my path.

The “easy” part

There was no stopping us. We had our minds set on getting to the top, so we only had one choice – we were going to do this two and half hour “easy” part of the hike in two hours. No problem at all. With essentially no rest breaks, little time to chat, and no opportunities to eat, we made our way to La Mina! And guess what time we arrived?

11:57 a.m.!

Three whole minutes to spare.

We were so proud of ourselves and so excited to sit, rest, breathe, drink some water, and eat a snack… but then came the next messenger of bad news (the park guards) to tell us that if we wanted to go to the top, we had to depart in that very moment. He also let us know that it typically takes two and a half hours to conquer this part, 1.25 miles, however we must begin to descend at 2:00 p.m, regardless of whether or not we make it to the top. So what did we do? We took one look at each other and in unison shouted “Vamos!” and we continued on. I looked up and began to tremble in fear, unsure of how I would ever make it to the top. The activity quickly changed from hiking to full on rock climbing, arms and all, folks.

We continued on.

Jumping onto huge rocks and pulling our entire body weight up with our arms. Dripping with enough sweat to fill a bathtub. Balancing with our arms out like an eagle. Laughing every few seconds at how impossible the task in front of us seemed. But we persevered.

After what I thought was a broken ankle, many tears, a ton of laughter, loads of sweat, a bit of frustration, and a whole lot of perseverance, together, fashionably late (Chilean style), at 2:05 p.m we arrived at the tippy top of this 2000-meter mountain. I was greeted with an astounding panoramic view of the ginormous Andes Mountains and the glistening Pacific Ocean. I was speechless – partially because I could no longer breathe, and partially because the view I was soaking in was truly astonishing and overwhelming.

Lo logramos! (We did it!) and it was definitely worth the blood, sweat, and tears (there surprisingly wasn’t actually any blood, but sweat and tears just doesn’t sound as good). I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the beauty of this country, and my view from the top of La Campana really helped me to do just that.  Viva Chile!



I wake with a foot planted on me. I am immediately angry. So is the owner of the foot. Who’s to blame: me for sleeping on a trail or them for stepping on a sleeping body?


I narrowly avoided the above situation. We had just come back from caves filled with tragic stories of indigenous exploitation and deep darkness. I was tired, so I dipped out, dodging camp prep to hideaway in my sleeping bag.


You see, for the 3 nights before our camping trip near Lava Beds National Monument, I had stayed up far too late talking. Talking is good and I’m often conflicted about bedtime as the best conversation seems to happen late at night, under the blessing of the stars. This week I’d thrown caution to the wind and now it had caught up to me.


So I slipped away and settled down on a trail. I’d figured there’d be less bugs around there and that no one would use said trail.


What I didn’t see then, and I see now, is the irony of my chosen spot. In my lack of care for myself, I had blocked the trail for them..


In my time here at the Oregon Extension and our reading about mushrooms, I’ve realized our inter-connectedness. We are not, and have never been islands.


In our modern lives we can delude ourselves into thinking this is not the case. Two summers ago I had convinced myself it was. Selfishly suicidal, I figured my life had little impact on anyone else. If I took my life or continued to live as if my life did not matter to others, I felt there could be no impact.


Here I see clearly the fallacy. With chores spread across us all to keep the place running, any absence or laziness must be made up for by another.


If I decide I don’t want to wash dishes today, my roommates bear the burden. If I neglect my farm chore, someone else must move the giant compost pile.


Here, I cannot skate by under the impression that I am independent of any other.


In modern life, it seems we can. A book we read, Nature’s Metropolis, broke down the fallacy that is the separation between the city of Chicago and the surrounding country. Often, they are viewed as entirely separate.


But a catastrophic crop failure in the country or paltry demand for food in the city will quickly expose this faulty premise. In fact, we see a parallel here. If the country is treated poorly and fails, then so too does the city.


So we come to a paradox. In order to care for others, you must first care for yourself. After all, a sick Jimmy can hardly move a giant compost. Nor can a sick Jimmy do without lots of tea and hot herbals and naps, none of which are very productive (though they are all enjoyable).

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Faithful friends. Furry animals. Fluorescent sun. Fearless snakes. Fierce lions. Fascinating toucans. A day spent at “Parque Safari” filled with new adventures and unforgettable moments.

The adventures of the day began with our first Safari where we piled onto what seemed to be an army truck – a truck with cages surrounding us completely. We had the opportunity to enter the home of many roaming lions, hungry after a long night without food. We drove into the exhibit and immediately, chink, thump, clatter.We looked up to see the paws of a heavy lion taking large and powerful steps on top of the cage of the truck. The guide was holding what seemed to be full, raw 18-ounce ribeye steaks for the lion to devour. We got to examine the detail of its paws, feel its fuzzy fur, and watch him roar. It was quite the up close and personal experience, and it was incredible to learn about this large and beautiful animal.

For our second Safari we rode in a trailer that was open and had feeding troughs on the sides, filled with grains for the animals to eat. We entered into the next exhibit and had the opportunity to pet, feed, and even kiss zebras, sheep, deer, giraffes, donkeys, cebraznos, and some other unidentifiable creatures, all while trying to avoid the angry spit of the jealous llamas (Don’t worry, we didn’t kiss the llamas!)

Great question. A cebrazno is a mix between a donkey and a zebra — strange, right? There are only cebraznos left in the entire world and two of them happen to reside in this safari in Chile, and I had the opportunity to feed and pet them. It was truly a magical experience.


The day was filled with many other adventurous moments. I had the opportunity to hold a beautiful toucan that was rescued from an abusive situation and is now the biggest and best photo opportunity in all of “Parque Safari”. I was also able to swallow my fear and let a giant snake wrap around my neck and arms. Although I was a bit terrified, it was awesome to feel its skin and hang out with him for a few minutes! Haha.

My close Chilean friend, Isa, and I also went kayaking in a small pond type thing where there were ducks swimming around us and the donkeys, zebras, sheep, and cebraznos were nearby wandering and watching us go in circles. It was a time full of smiles, laughter, and so much joy.

We concluded our time at “Parque Safari” by eating a famous anticucho, which is essentially a Chilean Shish Kabob, filled with only meat. We loaded onto our bus and began our 3-hour bus ride back to Valparaíso, telling stories and laughing about our day the whole way home.




Big Hope 2: Stories That Move, and “All You Need is Love”


As a newbie to the UK, I was filled with so much excitement when we were en route to land. When we arrived, I heard the accents of our lovely student greeters and immediately fell in love. There’s something about experiencing a new culture that makes me feel so alive. Being in an entirely new setting always brings me back to the feelings of being a child. Wandering around in awe as everything around me is so fresh and unfamiliar. For example, today we went to the Lake Districts as my day trip. We were driving in the biggest bus down the tiniest roads, and I would look to my left and see what seemed like painting after painting. Where I grew up, all I saw was flat land and boring buildings. Here, there were deep valleys, mass greenery, and waterfalls that reminded me of how crazy cool of a Creator we have. A quick food-for-thought, witnessing the Lake Districts provoked the notion to never set limitations on any dreams and/or aspirations. God made the biggest and most imaginative things come to life, and through Him, we’re able to do that too.

Along with all the beauty, I just had so much fun. Today especially, the company made the long bus rides and overall experience so memorable. I spent a great amount of time with two students from China. We exchanged slang, language, and dance moves, but we also spent time discussing experiences with race and stereotypes. We talked about the difference of being Asian living in America and Asian living in Asia. It was, in an odd way, comforting and exciting for me, because I don’t often get the chance to have those kinds of genuine conversations especially in the States. We were able to connect in such an immediate and purely joyful manner, all because we both made the decision to travel and be intentional in getting to know one another.

Generally speaking, those kinds of intentional discussions are what made this trip so enjoyable and fruitful for me. My favorite part has simply been meeting people I would’ve never met otherwise, and learn from their diverse experiences and outlooks on the world. In particular, I loved my learning track and the people I worked with. I was in Stories That Move which sheds light on the realities of discrimination. Our team decided to use stories as a way to give people a platform to speak up about their experiences and what they want our society to do to combat such prejudices. We collectively believed that personal stories was the most powerful way in communicating the importance of ending discrimination. As a part of our project we went to the Slavery Museum in Liverpool to interview people who may have stories of their own they’d like to share. We had a successful trip and came back with their experiences, both direct and indirect, regarding stereotypes and unjust judgments. Along with their stories, we took portraits of them to give a face to their voice. We then did the same procedure with our own narratives and experiences. Finally, we made a Facebook page to give people the platform to share their stories, and we got our first story by someone yesterday! This project was incredibly encouraging because not only did it shed importance on the life of each individual, but it reminded me of the importance of mine. I was reminded that my story and voice has a place, and should be used in order to empower the present generation, and those to come.

I’d say the anthem of this week was “All You Need is Love”, as it was performed in the opening and closing ceremonies, the final concert, and hummed among others while walking from session to session. It’s safe to say this will be stuck in my head for weeks. The meaning of this song reigned true among many of those I met in this Big Hope 2 conference. Whether it was through laughter, inclusion, or purposeful conversation, I’ll always be grateful to those who shared their love with me this past week. No matter how cliché, overused, and  undermined the word “love” sounds to many, it’ll always be a profound and effective one to me. It was love that was behind many of the conversations had where people shared bits of their lives with one another. It was love behind people’s intentionality and desire to be present. It was love behind people’s passions to see this world become a better place. Love was the driving force of what made this conference come together in all the good ways that it did. See, I think people have forgotten about the power that comes when choosing to simply love. In this conference, the goals discussed such as world peace, equality, freedom, and human rights are only going to reign victorious when people choose to foster the radical and profound act of love. When we do that we’ll see a people who look at one’s identity before racial stereotypes. We’ll see people be first responders in places of violence and oppression. We’ll see a world that actually values selflessness and compassion, when we take love seriously.


— By Jillian Chang

Big Hope 2: Global Citizenship

The Big Hope 2 has been one of the best experiences of my life so far! I loved coming together with passionate and fun-loving people from all over the world to discuss global issues in the city of Liverpool. I felt so alive, motivated, and inspired during the whole week and my heart was fuller than it had been in a long time. This conference reaffirmed my beliefs and passion for cultures and global challenges. The speeches and discussions inspired me to be an active global citizen and to work for the common good, but my favorite thing was my learning track. Everyone got to choose a learning track, which was like a mini project, from 27 different options. I chose “Global Citizenship, Education, and Faith” and got to work on that one during the week.

The track was led by six Italian professors who were all eager to work with our group and share about their culture. Our group was probably the biggest one at the conference with around 25 students from different countries. I was fascinated by all the diversity represented in our classroom from language to skin color to religion to gender and more. Below you can see a video of our group saying “hello/good morning” in our native languages!

We focused on defining the concept of global citizenship based on our experiences and ideas. First, we all showed pictures and videos from our countries that were related to our idea of global citizenship. Then, we wrote down the themes represented in our pictures like family, faith, music, food, nature, and others. I enjoyed seeing how no matter where we were from, we all valued the same things even if it was to a different extent. It reminded me that our common humanity unites us despite our differences.

One of the days, we went down to the city center together and had a blast! We first went to a museum, and then we got a walking tour of the city. We were amazed by the beauty and history of the city and took advantage of it by taking lots of pictures together. It was such a fun day and it brought us closer together.

The other days we worked on a project to show to the rest of the groups in the conference. Since we were a big group, we made four projects which included a presentation with a video, two songs, comics, and a handmade symbol. I worked on the presentation and had a lot of fun putting everything together and combining all our ideas. I was also glad to help as a translator for the group coordinator who only spoke Italian and Spanish. We finished our projects on time and presented them to the rest of the people at the conference, and we even got to perform a song at the closing concert!

Looking back, I am so grateful I chose that learning track, but most of all, I’m thankful for the people who were in it. I learned a lot from them and now I have new friends in different countries! We befriended each other on social media to keep up with our lives; yet, I really hope I get to see them in person again. My main takeaway from the learning track and the conference in general was that our common humanity should go over nationality and anything else that distinguishes us from each other. We are all global citizens and our race is humanity. This does not mean we should abandon our other identities. It means we should recognize that we are also members of the world community; therefore, we all share the same global identity and are responsible for our community. For the years to come, I aspire to be an active citizen wherever I am, celebrating diversity and seeking solutions to global issues at a local and global scale. You can do that too!

— By Biana Reyes Alvarenga

Bianca is third person in this photo, left to right


Big Hope 2: Women in Leadership

The Women In Leadership discussion panel was impassioned, thought provoking, multi-layered, and empowering. I do not recall how many times I found myself saying “wow”, while nodding my head in agreement and clapping. The women on the panel were incredibly intelligent, experienced, relatable, and funny. I left the discussion feeling ready to take on the world. Thank you, Angela Samata, Dr. Abhaya Gurumurthy, Professor Cindy Hamilton, and Professor Lesley Regan for being role models to us during this convention, as well as to thousands of women globally.

Each speaker took on a different role/topic to discuss, with the help of their differing backgrounds to enrich and guide the way. Angela Samata, the chair of the survivors of the bereaved by suicide organization, discussed with us on a  professional level about the means she went through to create her organization, which started with just her and two others, but she was also very personal and open with us. She became a widow at age 32 with two kids who were at ages 3 and 13 at the time. They are now 18 and 29. Before attending this discussion panel I did not know that around 6,500 people commit suicide in the UK per year, so obviously organizations like hers are needed and greatly appreciated. Three key points she left with us were: 1) She achieved nothing alone. She said that you are only a leader if people want to follow you. Because she was able to cultivate the proper qualities of leadership, she was able to gather around her the right people needed to achieve their collective goals. During this talk she also said, “don’t assume all women are for you. [Sisterhood] doesn’t automatically exist.” 2) Don’t be afraid to say thank you. This is something we can all put into practice on a day to day basis. 3) Write down personal achievements in order to defeat “imposter syndrome”. This means doing whatever it takes to shut down feelings of inadequacy and answering questions like “Why am I here?” with “Because I deserve to be!”

The second speaker on the panel was Dr. Abhaya Gurumurthy, assistant professor at Christ University Bangalore. She was also later one of three teachers in my Storytelling, Identity, and Community learning track class. When introducing herself Dr. Gurumurthy shared a few stories of women around the world who “accidentally” became leaders, empowering themselves as well as other women to get things done and making positive impact for entire communities. One story she told us was of a woman named Mariama living in Guatemala. A Coca-Cola company had moved into Mariama’s town and ended up exploiting their resources like water. So, Mariama, a widow around the age of 15, took a group of women to the front doors of the factory holding water jugs in protest. This small act was able to shut down the factory and bring back resources for the community. With this story and others, Dr. Gurumurthy was able to show us how women are usually those who would take up social justice problems dealing with things like natural resources, education, alcohol abuse and misuse, driving etc. Women are always creating ways to help, even if they do not intentionally seek out to become leaders.

A third speaker was Cindy Hamilton, a retired professor from Liverpool Hope University. She is currently working with Dr. Gurumurthy by making documentaries themed “Empowering Women, Articulating Women”. Professor Hamilton gave us several tips on what makes a leader. Some of what she said includes: seeing vision and possibilities and then being able to articulate them, looking at the talents around you, activating them and using them towards a common goal, not commanding authority, and working with others and relying on others because they want a better future. Ms. Hamilton also brought up that there are different styles of leadership that do not need to keep us in a box simply because we are female. She talked about a way of leading that was “not exactly a feminist way of leading, but a way that was not patriarchal”.

The last woman on the discussion panel platform was Professor Lesley Regan. She teaches at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and is also head of the NHS trust at St Mary’s Hospital. With her medical background, Professor Regan kindly taught us a little bit about what she did ranging from helping women through miscarriage, abortion, still births, etc. She was very intelligent, bold and opinionated saying things that needed to be said like, “if you make them [abortions] difficult to access they just go underground. They don’t go away and then women die”. She worked to make sure that women around the world not only received disease intervention, but also the knowledge on how to live healthy lifestyles so they could take care of themselves. Her talk with us included many topics she’s dealt with like the gender imbalance in medicine. She had three main key points — three groups of people to have alongside your journey. The first being mentors, male and female. The second being people who believe in you and inspire you. Lastly, Professor Regan said it was important to have challengers. These people are not there to belittle you or make things difficult, but instead to motivate you to do better and achieve more. I found Professor Regan to be quite funny and one memorable quote was “never waste a good crisis, which is usually on a Friday afternoon after lunch… Always turn it around”.

— By Ernesta Cole