Today is the last class of Backpack Journalism, Alaska 2014. I recall when the project was in its beginning stages. When those involved were names on a list and email exchanges, and when the program plans were tentative notes on sheets of paper. Now it’s a year and thousands of miles later. It’s hours of video and many faces later, and over the last few weeks those faces have been paired with the names and stories.
Some of these stories have merged into one in the mini documentary. Other stories will be remembered from our experiences with the program. I am still struggling to find an adequate answer for how Alaska was. Alaska was amazing, but Backpack Journalism is a large part of this Alaskan experience. I have been referring people to the blogs, because there is no short answer to describe the program.
Backpack Journalism is a layered learning experience inside and outside of the classroom. Students learn about film making, interviewing, writing, and reporting through a Theological kaleidoscope. The program is also about experiencing another culture and hearing people’s stories and their histories. It’s about getting to know peers and professors, and it is also about understanding the world we live in and learning truths about oneself.
Learning happens all lifelong. This year I have realized that new feelings, good and bad, will also arise throughout life’s happenings. Alaska was full of these moments. Before Alaska I’d never experienced the challenge of walking across tundra. I spent my childhood digging in Nebraska dirt, but never knew what tundra felt like on my fingers. I’d never tasted moose or seal, and had never seen a whale. One night as I dug into the tundra with my bare hands, just because I was curious, there was a moment when I thought I might know what it’s like to be my three year old niece. I understood, and maybe remembered, why digging into the land could be intriguing. As I watched whales for the first time on one of our touristy days I understood why, for a three year old, dandelions, butterflies, and any bird flying over head were reasons for awe and sometimes a tiny celebration of sorts. All these happy distractions are new to her. The tundra and whale watching were new to me. I could not stop smiling as I watched some of them dart through the waves and a pod of Orcas at rest. If I were three I probably would’ve tried to go overboard.
In Alaska we had many moments of humor and lightheartedness that helped to get us through the intense times. We heard a personal story of family tragedy and historical trauma that for many is more like a current trauma. And during a town hall meeting we heard an elder Yup’ik man explain the need for subsistence living off of the Kuskokwim River, but with the help of an English translator. Here was an American, a Native Alaskan, who was speaking his Native language in America, and it wasn’t English. Having first experienced the Bethel, Alaska, and then going to the touristy part of Alaska in Seward I had an unexpected feeling that we didn’t belong there.
The irony of that feeling is that there wasn’t one moment in any part of Alaska where we did not feel welcomed. While we were in a land caught between different cultures, languages, and different value systems there seemed to be a search for a balance between the Yup’ik and Native traditions and Eurocentric traditions.
I had tried to go into the program without any expectations about how it would go, but my thoughts were that it would be students learning how to interview and how to film. However, from what I have witnessed, heard, and experienced myself it is so much more than that. It has been an eye opener about another culture and about American history, and it has been a time for personal growth and awareness. The program also provides an opportunity to get to know individuals in a way that could not happen in a regular semester. Backpack Journalism is five weeks of almost non-stop interaction with one another, from the long hours together to the constant connection through the GroupMe App for text messaging and updates at all hours.
Something great that I learned about this group of people is that they are funny – the levels of sarcasm and laughter were high. I think an important part of life is to take something away from every experience you have and to learn something from the people you meet along the way. I believe that years down the road there will be moments from Backpack Journalism that we will be reminded of, whether it’s the intense moments of a tragic story, the welcoming Alaskan people, the hilarious or insightful moments from Creighton students, or the simple things like touching the tundra. There will also be a great documentary on important issues as a result of the student’s hard work and as proof of the faculty’s dedication to this layered learning experience.