Adjusting to Life Abroad

Hi, my name is McKinley. This summer abroad is my last semester of undergraduate studies. I study cultural and medical anthropology as well as sociology at Utah State University. This is my first experience leaving the United States, and I’m spending it in an ethnographic field school in Huanchaco, Peru.

A little more about me: I am a painter, photographer, classical singer, and I have a lot of rare medical conditions causing a physical disability. Many of my experiences and observations in Peru are influenced by my health. Hopefully I’ll be able to give some suggestions to make your study abroad with health challenges a bit easier.

I was incredibly excited to study abroad, and had very few reservations about my trip. My biggest worries were about my health. I wasn’t sure if my medications would be allowed in Peru (they were). I checked with the U.S. embassy in Peru to see if my prescriptions were legal. I called my airline as well to check their restrictions for how to package my medications and how best to stow my cane during the flight. (It is also possible to board early and get assistance if traveling with a wheelchair or other health concerns). I also worried that I would be too sick to participate in classes or activities. So I made preparations with my doctors and with my professors so if I felt subpar, I could still complete my work. I’ve already fallen ill, and was well taken care of. I have even been greeted with traditional Peruvian healing remedies. I was also concerned about exposure to water-borne illnesses from recent flooding in the area. I bought a water filter to screw on top of my water bottle when I drink. Some of my classmates purchased steripens to filter their water. Our professor likewise provided large water filters for us to fill water bottles with. I was pleasantly surprised to find that water sanitation is a priority in my hostel and in many of the shops I’ve visited. 

 

spread of traditional healing herbs

spread of traditional healing herbs2

Spread of traditional healing herbs. A local woman who is a traditional healer showed my class her collection of plants and herbs which she uses to treat and cure everything from joint inflammation, respiratory issues, and stomach/digestion problems, to helping stroke patients recover from paralysis. When I fell ill, I used some of her medicinal herbs!

 

I’ve been in Peru for one week now and have noticed a few differences from the U.S. As an an anthropologist, it’s very important not to generalize. Therefore, these observations are specific to my interactions in La Libertad region of Peru in June 2017.  First, there are few, if any, accessibility ramps for people with disabilities. Second, two lanes of traffic often become five, and cars definitely have the right-of-way before pedestrians. The traffic laws are barely enforced by police, but there is a social norm in driving that helps people be slightly more safe. Third, smiling at strangers of the opposite sex can potentially be interpreted as romantic interest (my friend learned this the hard way). Fourth, the women (and sometimes men) greet and say goodbye with a kiss to the right cheek. Fifth, most of the food is locally produced, making meals clean and healthy. Sixth, some Peruvians run on “la hora Peruana,” or “Peruvian time.” This is a habit of running late (by a few hours). Finally, there seems to be a multi-generational commitment to the central family unit. Grandparents, patents, and children are frequently seen together enjoying family time. Likewise, there is a genuine concern about close friends. 

I’m quite smitten with Huanchaco. It’s a quiet city right on the beach. The crime rate is very low, so I feel safer here than in the bigger cities (Lima, Trujillo). Everyone I’ve met has been really kind and helpful. Still, I had to adjust to speaking and listening in Spanish full-time (talk about a brain workout). It made me anxious the first two or three days, worrying that I wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t know what to say. But it has already become easier, and I expect my language abilities will only continue to increase (so don’t give up hope). I haven’t felt terribly homesick yet, likely because I’ve become good friends with my classmates. My best tip is to make a friend and stick close together until you both become more comfortable. 

 

Huanchaco coat of arms

The crest of the city of Huanchaco. This one is located in the Plaza de Armas in Huanchaco, which is located right outside my hostel. The four images are la Iglesia de Huanchaco (top left), Chimu culture (top right), Moche culture (bottom left), and caballitos de totora or reed wave riders (bottom right).

 

I’ve set some goals for my study abroad experience in Peru. I want to track my personal, educational, and professional progress. These goals include completing original research and producing an ethnography, surfing, trying Peruvian foods, learning about traditional ethnomedical beliefs, and helping provide humanitarian aid to a town destroyed by flooding. It’s important to me to keep my sights set high, but within the limits of what my health will allow. This week, I’m working on my writing skills as I work on my ethnography. I’m particularly inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s words:

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

I wish you all the best from Huanchaco. Keep dreaming, keep achieving, keep reaching. There are so many good things ahead. Happy and healthy journeys to you all!

Leave a comment

Filed under McKinley in Peru, south america

Elizabeth’s Recap of London

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Elizabeth in England, Western Europe

Then and Now

a

When I began this journey, I expected that I would change and grow as an individual, but I did not know the extent that study abroad would actually affect me. Of course, if you dramatically alter your typical routine and move to a new country, you’re bound to notice a change in how you used to act and think about things. Still, I had no concept of just how much I would find myself changed.

I have around eleven days left in Ghana. These past few weeks have brought long days with ample time to think about myself, and the time I chose to spend an important part of my life in. It truly is kind of insane to think about taking four months to go somewhere you’ve never been to spend time with people you’ve never met and immerse yourself in a culture you know nothing about. Yet, I did it, and it all went by at an unbelievably fast pace.

Admittedly, I have recently been in a kind of rut. I lost my phone in a car, mosquitoes have officially taken over my legs, and I feel as if I’m handling the weather worse than I had before. May has seemed to blend together in one long day where it seems there is no ending or beginning. Finals are stretched out over three weeks, and most of us have seen/experienced the majority of what we had planned to do already. I yearn for my favorite foods, my friends back home, and my university. Naturally, the empty space has allowed me a bit of time to reflect on my study abroad adventure. At the beginning of the semester, I took a self-assessment test to evaluate how mentally prepared I was for studying abroad. Recently, I took it again to reflect and value how much I have grown since my arrival.

b

Instantly, a question that caught my eye when retaking the test was a query about my willingness to confront problems and look for alternative solutions. I would say this is something that I struggled with prior to coming to Ghana, but being here has forced me to deal with challenges head-on. Often when trying to get somewhere on time, there is a delay in the public transportation system, or a simple trip to get food takes way longer than you imagined it would. Instead of getting angry and giving up on whatever I had wanted to accomplish, I was forced to find an alternate way to get where I needed to go, or to get what I wanted.

One other major difference that I noticed in myself was under the resilience category of the test. It asked what your ability was to keep a sense of humor when placed in a stressful situation. Stressful situations are inescapable, and they have happened to me more than a few times during my experience in Ghana. For example, language barriers have constantly been an issue that I have considered to be stressful, especially when it is problematic trying to buy food. Most of the time, it just takes a little patience and kindness to turn around this setback. This is a valuable skill to have no matter the location, and it makes a person deal with an issue that is bound to happen at some point in their life.

I hope you find yourself in a place you’re not familiar with to do things you’ve never done before. I promise it’s worthwhile.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

Rondas

For my Independent Study Project, I have been in Putre for the past two weeks. The majority of that time I have been traveling with the healthcare team to many of the smaller towns for what they call Rondas. Essentially what that means is that the entire team of the Family Health Center or Centro de Salud Familiar (CESFAM) travels in a van with the basic equipment needed to provide healthcare services to the more rural towns in the Andes. The team includes a doctor, medical technician, nurse, nutritionist, psychologist, child education/development specialist, as well as a Qulliri and Yatiri, who are the traditional healers. The full Rondas with the entire CESFAM team travels to each town once a month. During this time they set up in the town for anywhere between 2 to 5 hours. Patients are usually waiting or trickle in during the time we are there. I went with the team for all 6 days of full Rondas this month. We went to a total of 10 towns in 6 days. For the majority of the patients we saw, this is the only time they have access to healthcare unless they have a vehicle to drive to Putre. Putre is on average about 2 hours away from these towns but many people come from even farther just to visit with doctors during the Rondas. This is even more complicated when you factor that most of the patients tend to llamas and alpacas. Generally, they don’t have another person around to take over the care of their animals and are forced to put them in a pen on Ronda days.

 

IMG_4354

Some of the alpacas roaming around.

IMG_4358

The van that the Ronda team travels in.

 

During my time in each town, I have a short questionnaire of 10 questions that focus on what type of healthcare and treatments the patients tend to use since they have access to traditional doctors and a clinical doctor during this time. What I found was that almost 80% of patients visit with both doctors during the Rondas and that roughly 70% use both traditional remedies, as well as prescribed medication. However, the majority of the people I talked with also told me that they generally take traditional remedies and only take pills if they have a chronic disease or if their sickness has not cleared up while taking traditional treatments. This was not surprising to me though. I had anticipated that traditional medicine would still be a large part of the culture in the Andes. What did surprise me was the conversations I had with the traditional doctors. I had expected that they would believe the current intercultural healthcare system was a step in the right direction but would have many suggestions for improvements. What I found instead was that for the most part, they are exceptionally pleased with how the system is currently working. This has changed a lot of the outlook of my Independent Study Project.

 

IMG_4320

A volcano in Lauca National Park behind a small town.

 

Going on the Rondas has been a very eye-opening experience for me. It completely redefined what I think of as rural. Many of the people I met live with only their family members close to them. They don’t have access to stores to buy food and need to choose their vegetables carefully to have ones that will last until the next opportunity they have to go shopping. They live off of the animals that they care for and that is the majority of what they consume. Also, at first I thought that seeing a doctor once a month might not be necessary. I don’t go to the doctor that frequently and nor do many of the people that I know. However, I realized that’s the difference between having the privilege and luxury of deciding when I need to go to a doctor. These people don’t have an option many times to go to a doctor whenever they feel sick. They have a single day every month to get any prescription pills they need to handle any sudden illnesses. Additionally, only three of the towns that we went to had children in them. The majority of the patients we were seeing were elderly and many were battling with some sort of chronic illness that needs to be controlled. Even with the Rondas, often patients have to come to Putre, or even as far as Arica which is an additional two hours away from Putre, to get some sort of testing done. While the Rondas help bring more accessible healthcare to these people, maintaining a healthy life is still an obstacle for many of these people.

 

IMG_4315.jpg

A church found in one of the more rural towns.

Leave a comment

Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

South Island’s Greatest Hits

The mid-semester break at University of Canterbury has come and gone. Returning to class after so much time off is a hard reality, because I know that no lecture or lab can compare to my ten-day road trip of South Island.

It was an old-school road trip. My German flatmate and I navigated 1700 miles of two-lane highways with little more than a road atlas and the advice of visitor centers. We knew where we wanted to go, but we weren’t sure what we would find once we got there. We didn’t plan any activity more than a day in advance, we rarely looked anything up online, and we never used GPS. We were driving by the seats of our pants. What could go wrong!

For a plan that was so last-minute, I was lucky to have so compatible a travel companion. Considering that we grew up on different continents, Marius and I have a lot in common. We’re both quiet. We’re the same age, have similar music taste, and share a strong sense of responsibility. As we stocked up on groceries the night before our departure, I could tell that we were going to work well together. Our cooperation would be important, because for the next week and a half we would be spending day and night inside the cozy confines of his newly acquired camper van.

 

20170419 Angie at Queen Street Holiday Park

 

Despite our lack of planning, the trip went smoothly. The worst of our troubles was a leaky transmission that had to be repaired when we got to Nelson, our first stop,on the north coast of South Island. That cost us a full day, but we gained it back later.

 

20170421 giant pine cone

A giant pine cone.

 

 

Walking around Nelson while we waited on the repair was a pleasant way to pass the time, but the reason we’d driven that far north was to visit Abel Tasman National Park. Once we got the car back, that’s where we headed. We spent our second night on the road inside the park at Totaranui Campground. The campground is right on the ocean, and a short walk from the Abel Tasman Coast Track, the park’s most famous hiking trail.

 

20170420 Abel Tasman Coast Track (2)

Abel Tasman Coast Track.

20170420 Abel Tasman Coast Track (1)

Abel Tasman Coast Track.

 

We got up early the next morning and spent all day hiking what we were told is the most scenic portion of the 37-mile Coast Track. The trail wound its way through the jungle, over gentle hills, and down onto the beaches. The meandering route added to the sense of adventure.

Our fourth and fifth days were mostly spent in the car. We backtracked from Nelson until we reached the West Coast, then headed south. We stopped for a sunset walk at the famous Pancake Rocks (which I had already seen in January), then drove on to Greymouth, where we spent the night. The next day, we continued south on Highway 6 all the way to Wanaka.

 

20170421 Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks.

 

Along the way, we did a bit of hiking at Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. The two have a reputation for being the world’s most accessible glaciers, but Marius and I were unimpressed. They’ve both receded so much in recent years that there’s not much left to see. A new sign at Franz Josef says that the only safe way to get onto the glacier now is by helicopter.

 

20170422 Franz Josef scenery

Franz Josef scenery.

In Wanaka on day six, we hiked to the top of Roy’s Peak, a 5177-ft mountain that gives spectacular views down the length of Lake Wanaka. It was the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done. By lunch the next day we were in Milford Sound, our turnaround point on this ten-day journey.

 

20170423 Roy's Peak scenery (2)

Roy’s Peak scenery.

20170423 Roy's Peak scenery (6)

Roy’s Peak scenery.

 

For an international tourist destination, Milford Sound is incredibly remote. The Sound is actually a fiord. It’s part of Fiordland National Park, and it’s those sheer-sided fiords all around it that make it so geographically isolated. It wasn’t discovered by Europeans until 1812, and there wasn’t any road access until Homer Tunnel was completed in the 1950s. In the 65 years since then, not much has changed.

 

20170424 Milford Sound (1b)

Milford Sound.

20170424 Milford Sound (2)

Milford Sound.

 

Marius and I were surprised by how few facilities there are at Milford Sound. The only substantial buildings are a café, and a cruise ship terminal where a handful of companies compete to sign up tourists for daytrips aboard their vessels.

We’d hoped to rent kayaks for an hour or two, but were disappointed to learn that the only way to get out on the water is as part of a guided tour. The least expensive option available that afternoon was a cruise/kayak package that cost a lot more than we had planned to spend. The cruise was better than expected, but the kayaking was boring. There is nothing adventurous about a leisurely paddle with a group of tourists.

Aside from our pricey day at Milford Sound, we traveled cheaply, splitting costs every step of the way. Food, fuel and accommodation cost me an average of $43 per day.

Our second-to-last stop, Queenstown, was my favorite. On the afternoon that we arrived, Marius and I took the Skyline Gondola to get a bird’s-eye view of the city and Lake Wakatipu beyond. There’s a fancy restaurant at the top of the Gondola, and, more excitingly, a downhill racetrack for gravity powered carts. Marius couldn’t match my years of racing experience, but he put up a good fight, and we both had loads of fun.

 

20170425-26 Skyline Gondola and The Ledge Bungy

Skyline Gondola.

Driving is my greatest passion. Sadly, I misplaced by license on the way to New Zealand, and haven’t been allowed to drive since. That’s my biggest regret of the semester, but it made the Skyline Luge that much more gratifying. I finally got to scratch the itch.

 

20170425-26 Skyline Luge (1)

Skyline Luge.

20170425-26 Skyline Luge (2)

Skyline Luge.

I had the next day in Queenstown all to myself, because Marius was going skydiving without me. (While I’m sure skydiving is an incredible adrenaline rush, I have no interest in paying hundreds of dollars for so passive an experience.) On our Gondola ride down the mountain the day before, a Canadian sitting across from us had recommended the Ben Lomond Track, which goes all the way to the top of the mountain above the restaurant and luge. Having spent most of the last week in a car, I had a lot of pent-up energy, so I decided to go for it. The sign at the trailhead said it would take 6-8 hours round trip. I did it in 4.5, and that’s including a one-hour lunch break! It’s a beautiful thing to be young and healthy. It felt great.

 

20170426 Ben Lomond scenery (1)

Ben Lomond scenery.

20170426 Ben Lomond scenery (2)

Ben Lomond scenery.

20170426 Ben Lomond scenery (3)

Ben Lomond scenery.

When Marius and I met back at the car, I learned that his skydive had been cancelled due to unpredictable winds. I felt sorry for him, because I knew how much he was looking forward to it. That was going to be the highlight of the trip for him. Missing out on it seemed to take the wind out of his sails. We had planned to spend another two or three days on the road, but he said he wanted to be home by nightfall the next day. That was okay with me. We both had a lot of homework to do before classes resumed, and we would still have time for one last stop.

I had hoped we would return via Dunedin, South Island’s second largest city, but Marius is more interested in New Zealand’s nature than its culture. After seeing how disappointed he was, agreeing to return via Mount Cook was the least I could do.

The visitor center at Mount Cook National Park is a fascinating little museum. I could have spent half a day just admiring all the exhibits, but time was ticking, so we took the advice of the woman at the information counter and drove to the trailhead for the Hooker Valley Track. It was a windy, but pleasant 90-minute walk that led us over several suspension bridges and ended at Hooker Lake. New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook (12,218 feet), loomed tall in the distance. Before leaving the park, we also drove to Tasman Lake for a shorter walk.

 

20170427 Mt Cook National Park (1)

Mt Cook National Park.

20170427 Mt Cook National Park (2)

Mt Cook National Park.

20170427 Mt Cook National Park (3)

Mt Cook National Park.

20170427 Mt Cook National Park (4)

Mt Cook National Park.

 

We made it back to Christchurch without incident. We pulled up to our flat shortly after sunset and unloaded the car, satisfied with our trip, and happy to be home.

Leave a comment

Filed under Oceania, Trevor in New Zealand

Your Guide to Ghana

As my classes come to a close, I’ve begun to reflect on my time spent in the country that I’ve called my home for the past three months. It has been packed to the brim with adventure, amazement, and wonderful memories. Now that I have become familiar with many aspects of Ghana, I want to offer a guide of my personal favorite suggestions of where to go and visit if you choose to study abroad in this part of West Africa.

  1. Cape Three Points

Last night, I arrived home after a tiresome journey from the furthest southern point in Ghana. It is called Cape Three Points and it holds the most picturesque beaches that I have seen in this country. At Cape Three Points one can participate in a variety of activities from surfing to taking in the views from a quaint lighthouse after a hike through a nearby village.

 

C8

I could not believe the color of the water, it was intense and inviting. We all had to soak up the views for a few minutes to take it all in.

C7

The lighthouse. It takes about twenty-five minutes to hike through the village and up the mountain.

 

  1. Cape Coast

Another point of interest that any traveler should venture to see is a place called Cape Coast. This popular and historic spot is known for its national park, a natural rainforest where visitors can tiptoe through the treetops on a stunning canopy walk. Along with that, be sure to take a tour in the old slave castles that were used in the Triangular Trade.

 

C9

High up in the treetops, I enjoyed the view of the lush rainforest. As long as heights don’t frighten you, this walk is fairly extraordinary. If you’re lucky, some visitors spot elephants down below!

C5

In a slave castle called Elmina, this door is haunted with the memories of slaves who entered and never returned. It was an enlightening and somber experience to walk through the walls of the castle so riddled with unforgettable atrocities. 

 

  1. Mole National Park

Mole is a national park destination where visitors can stay in northern Ghana. The park is home to a wide variety of animals such as elephants, baboons, and warthogs. One can can take an early morning or late night safari on a hike (or a jeep!) and see the wonders that occupy the African savanna.

C4

Our late night tour started around 9 o’clock and lasted for around two hours. We saw a multitude of animals while touring the dark sanctuary. 

C3

This was one of the magnificent elephants we encountered on the early morning hike. It was an remarkable occasion to have witnessed a real African elephant so close and observe his daily routine at the water hole.

 

  1. Bojo Beach

If you find yourself looking for a pleasant and peaceful day trip, Bojo is the place to go. The private beach is only accessible by a short canoe ride. The island makes the perfect place for a cool dip in the Atlantic Ocean, or tanning spot while reading your favorite novel.

  1. Wli Falls

Located in the Volta Region, this waterfall is essential on the must-see list. The falls take about a twenty-minute hike to reach, but the view is well worth the excursion. Even the chilly water is welcoming to take a break from the heat.

C2

All of the members of my study abroad program came together for a group photo in front of the falls. (Also including two other Gilman recipients!) Swimming in this splendor was surreal, and probably one of my favorite moments in Ghana.

 

  1. Afajato

The tallest mountain in the country dwells in the Volta Region. Though exhausting, the hike up is more than worth the journey. On top, the view full of natural beauty represents the spirit and wonder of the country.

 

3.4

I could not help but pose with the Ghanaian flag after feeling particularly accomplished following the tricky mountain trek.

 

  1. Kumasi

Next to Accra, Kumasi is one of the largest cities in Ghana. There is an abundance of activities to do, but Kumasi is known for its unique shops and art centers. At the village of Bonwire, one will find the traditional kente cloth weaving. Not far from this spot exists a market where handmade wood carvings are sold in designs so detailed it’s hard to believe the craftsmanship.

 

C

This is one of the expert weavers of kente. He may spend days or weeks on the same piece of cloth, depending on the number of colors and intricacies that are woven into it. It is a skill that is hard to master, and takes years of practice to perfect.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

Integrating Into South Korean Culture

Leave a comment

Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea