Cold, messy and totally worth it

By Andriana Fletcher ’10

I had never done anything like it before. It was thrilling. It was daring. It was freezing and, well, messy. But totally worth it. I squealed joyously as I slid down a glacier, belly side down mind you, not caring that I was about to land in penguin poop any second. One of my classmates was sliding next to me also not giving a crap about our shared outcome.

Not every day do you get the chance to go sledding on your stomach in Antarctica. And if you ever do, seize the moment. My jacket smelled odd for the rest of the J-Term trip, but I didn’t care, nor did anyone else. It was probably not just the jacket that smelled, but most of my clothes since we were on a ship for 10 days straight with no access to laundry facilities. But like I said before, totally worth it.

In January 2010, I traveled to Antarctica thanks to Pacific Lutheran University’s study away programs. It was an experience I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d get the chance to live, and to this day I still talk about it as though it was a dream.

The landscape was so pristine. Icebergs floated around you as humpback whales swam in the distance. Every day we’d board a Zodiac to visit an island or step foot on the continent to explore. Seals would lazily lie on the shore sunbathing and curious penguins would waddle around you as though you were just a weirdly shaped rock in the way of their daily routine.

By the way, penguins smell horrible and are obnoxiously loud, but they’re still ridiculously adorable — just to give you a reality check.

The entire 10-day voyage was breathtaking, to see a land where there weren’t city skylines or cars and more wildlife than people. Everything was snow white or glacial blue and gorgeous. It’s a place that should be conserved and kept wild. The trip renewed my sense of adventure and wonderment. It’s an experience I’ll truly never forget.

View more from Antarctica

First glimpse

By Allison Rise ’12

I lean my head against the hot glass of the bus window as jet lag takes hold. Through long blinks I see dusty dirt roads, brown hillsides dotted with tiny corrugated tin homes and wiry bushes, children in shorts and tank tops playing in the street, adults leaning in doorways. This is our first glimpse of the township in which we’ll spend the next two months teaching.

“Keep your eyes open. Remember this. You may never be here again.” The words at which I used to roll my eyes when my dad said them on our travels in Europe now echoed in my own voice. This is not this month’s featured National Geographic article. There is no glossy shine to these images.

Our tour guide Uanee’s voice blares through the bus’ speaker system, jolting me upright. He tells the group of 16 college students and two professors that Katutura was founded during apartheid. Black people were forcibly relocated outside the capital city. Katutura translates roughly to “the place we do not want to stay” in Herero, a native Namibian tribal language. Uanee says it is hard to accurately estimate Katutura’s population because so many family members can live in one structure. A two-bedroom house could sleep 12 or more, and we’ll meet hundreds of them in our schools in a few days.

Although the jet lag will, theoretically, wear off in a day or so, this is not a vacation. I’m not here to rest, I’m here to learn. I’m here to be uncomfortable. Hopefully my emerging teaching skills will help my learners, but I have the feeling that I’m going to come away with much more than I could ever give. The next few months will be filled with early mornings, long days and sights I can’t even imagine. For now I’ll focus on keeping my eyes open.

Afternoon rain

“Drizzle” is never an adjective to describe the rains in Namibia. Unlike the torturous, unceasing drizzle that plagues the Northwest, Windhoek prefers its rain to appear as if it were dumped from buckets miles above — intense, permeating, brief.

The buckets were particularly full this afternoon, and I watched the show from the pool house at Casa Blanca, a room filled with brown leather couches and windows where star-shaped lanterns hang in place of glass. My face was framed in one of these windows as I watched the thick, warm drops turn the pool into the most complicated dot-to-dot and soak everything else in sight. A gust of mist blew in my face, freckling the leather couch to my right. As the drops began to form puddles that bounced water back into the air when more drops descended, I thought about where else this afternoon rain was pouring.

I thought about the capital, Windhoek. A warm, cloudy afternoon had been instantly transformed into an outdoor shower, and images of people ducking for cover among the various eaves and stores filled my mind. But unlike in Seattle, the expressions on these people’s faces would not be of annoyance but of thankfulness. They are thankful for the blessing of rain in a manner only people who live in a parched landscape can.

I heard Katutura in my mind before I saw it. A place dotted with tiny, box-like homes constructed out of corrugated metal and other found materials, the rain created a cacophony — millions of warm, heavy drops landing on thousands of metal roofs. The sound was deafening and beautiful. I think about the children who live there, some of whom may be my learners when school begins, and how that sound must have filled their ears.

The rain slows and I watch the flagstone surrounding the pool dry from my perch on the leather couch. The final few raindrops find their way to the pool and I wonder where the next big rain will catch me.

Norway nostalgia

By Sonja Ruud ’12

Though it has now been five years since I studied away in Norway as a PLU student, memories of that semester readily spring to my mind on a fairly regular basis. Whenever I go cross-country skiing, for example, I remember a dear Norwegian friend of mine who took me on many outdoor adventures, always providing the necessary gear, transportation and delicious sustenance – such as homemade reindeer stew.

I was lucky to meet such a wonderful friend, but also had the fortune of finding myself surrounded by family. My great-grandparents were all Norwegian immigrants and my family in the U.S. has kept in touch with many relatives in Norway, so while I was there I was able to connect with several family members across the country, most of whom I had never met before. Amazingly enough, I even had relatives in the small town where I was studying, and they immediately welcomed me as part of their family. I went to regular dinners at their house, accompanied them to local festivals and learned from them how to cook and bake many delicious Norwegian recipes.

They, along with the other family members who graciously hosted me in their homes, demonstrated a warmth and hospitality that I found in all of the Norwegians whom I got to know; our professors and program coordinators also invited us into their homes, cooked for us and took very good care of us throughout our time in Norway.

Beyond these interpersonal relationships, which I cherish to this day and intend to maintain for years to come, I also gained knowledge and skills through my coursework that have proven useful to me in later academic endeavors. While I was in Norway, I conducted an independent field research project on Norwegian approaches to development aid, which involved personal interviews with several prominent scholars and practitioners. Now, in my graduate studies in the anthropology and sociology of development, I find myself returning to the theories and data that I encountered during that semester in Norway, as well as the lessons I learned about conducting field research.

Though I’ve been moving around a lot over the past few years, I carry these memories, relationships and experiences with me wherever I go. Whether or not they shifted the course of my current trajectory is hard to determine, but they have all made my life richer, and I can’t wait to return to Norway – hopefully in the near future!