All posts by Morgan Ryan

Morgan Ryan

About Morgan Ryan

My Name is Morgan Ryan. Senior at Creighton University studying graphic design and journalism. Interested in digital and social media, making the world a better place and sharing experiences with people.

Learning to Live in the Moment

Yesterday, we created a small B-roll team to go shoot some footage around Omaha (it makes sense for the documentary, I promise). Myself and five others squished into Hannah’s vehicle, excited for the chance to take the cameras out again. We quickly realized something though: here in Omaha, people are terrified of cameras in public places. Everyone was very paranoid about our presence, and our filming was nearly always halted by security guards and managers.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but the greatest thing about Bethel was how open and accepting everyone was.

It seemed like everyone was willing to help us with our film. And we were able to take cameras everywhere: stores, public buildings, neighborhoods, wherever we needed, basically. And everyone we interviewed was honest, open and willing to share their stories. It was incredible.

Coming back home, it’s easy to see how differently we live as opposed to the people in Bethel. People here don’t seem as open or friendly. Everyone seems very closed off and in their own world. In Bethel, no one hesitated to ask about our cameras, our purpose, our background. Yesterday while we were out, no one cared what we were doing. In fact, it felt like everyone just wanted us to leave. Everyone was too busy moving onto the next thing they had to do, or walking around absent minded, distracted in the world of emails, texts or Twitter.

And I myself, am included in this. It’s very hard to break habits.

In Bethel, as you probably know, we didn’t really have cell service. For short amounts of time, we were able to connect to wi-fi, able to connect to friends and family. During the day, we were completely disconnected though, and sometimes it was really nice. We were present, we were observant, we were living in the moment.

Before our trip began, I had a feeling that we would learn a lot from this experience. I never knew how much it would teach us about the way we live, however. As I said before, it’s really hard to truly be present in the moment. I’m honestly terrible at it, craving a glance at my Twitter feed or needing to eliminate notification icons immediately.

I don’t want to continue these habits though. Bethel taught me how important it is to simply pay attention to your surroundings. When you step away from the problems of your own life, that’s when you gain the most from the world around you. That’s how you learn about the people around you. And that’s how you learn the most about yourself.

Stephanie Tedesco: A Collision of Passions

With a love for both helping others and digital creativity, Stephanie Tedesco never knew how to combine her two passions.

But then she found herself on the southern edge of Alaska filming people for a documentary that would help share their culture, their hopes and fears, their story.

It was like the magic at Disney World; behind the lens of a camera, Stephanie had found her solution.

Walking along the Kuskokwim River, Stephanie couldn’t help herself from taking pictures and documenting the entire trip. She was attached to her camera, discovering the best angles and lighting to capture the moment in.

Stephanie, viewing the world through her camera. Photo credit to Leah Renaud.
Stephanie, viewing the world through her camera. Photo credit to Leah Renaud.

A group was talking about the different jobs required of us during interviews and how difficult some of them were. Stephanie shared her hopes for the trip, saying, “I want to try everything at least once: interviewing, holding the audio equipment, running the cameras. When else am I going to get this opportunity?” She was determined to step out of her comfort zone to get the most experience out of the trip.

Stephanie was one of 16 students who had the opportunity to travel to Bethel, Alaska to create a documentary and share the story of the native Yup’ik people. The program she was a part of, Creighton Backpack Journalism, aims to teach students what goes into creating a documentary while also exploring theological aspects of the native culture.

The best part of the program for Stephanie was the experience she was able to gain that related to her studies. “Doing a project like this, instead of just for class, it helps everything sink in. We’re actually going out into the world and doing a real project that matters.”

Stephanie on the Kuskokwim River. Photo credit to Leah Renaud.
Stephanie on the Kuskokwim River. Photo credit to Leah Renaud.

Photography has had a place in Stephanie’s heart since early childhood. “I’ve just always liked taking pictures,” she recalled. Then in high school, she was able to take a design course to explore design concepts. Now at Creighton University, Stephanie studies both Photojournalism and Graphic Design.

When Stephanie heard about Backpack Journalism, she didn’t have to think twice about signing up. “It was something I definitely wanted to do,” she remembers. An opportunity to travel and practice what she loves was exactly the type of study abroad experience she was looking for.

The Backpack Journalism trip affirmed for Stephanie that this is the type of work she loves to do. When asked about the future, she couldn’t help but reflect on the experiences that this trip to Alaska gave her. “Going out somewhere that you’re not used to and finding those stories and capturing them on video….doing this as a job, that’s my dream.”

Childhood Dreams

Don’t ask me why, but my grade school from little Papillion, Nebraska was obsessed with the Iditarod. Each student would choose three mushers to follow throughout the race, cheering them on from our computer lab as we tracked their progress online. My mushers were never in the lead, but it was captivating to imagine what the race was like. My childish mind couldn’t help but imagine Balto leading the sleds as these people traveled across Alaska.

Then for whatever reason (probably because Nebraska is quite distant from the race) the Iditarod was never mentioned again as a I grew up. As life took over, the race slipped from my mind and I hadn’t thought about it for a long time. Being here in Alaska though has brought these fun memories back, front and center of my mind.

And yesterday a childhood dream came true: I actually got the chance to ride behind the dogs.

It was exhilarating, and it wasn’t even a real ride; just for practice and exercise for the dogs. While they got hooked up to the giant harness/rope, Claire and I climbed into the back of a four-wheeler that the dogs were attached too. To my surprise, this is a pretty normal method of practice. The true sled is only meant for trails and snow, so in the summer time four-wheelers act as substitutes. We did only a short loop around town, but it was crazy awesome.

And the dogs were SO excited to get out on a run. It was infectious. Once they understood what was happening, they couldn’t help but run, jump, bark and share their favorite thing in the world with us. They were the definition of the phrase, “so excited that you can’t contain it.”

I’m literally so thankful that I got to experience it. As a bit of a last minute plan, I didn’t even know what exactly was happening. I was in charge of shooting B-roll, but I thought we were just going to see the dogs; I had no idea we were actually going on a practice run. Those dogs brought me back in time to those childish fantasies that rarely have the opportunity to become reality. It was absolutely perfect.



Nearing the End

Tonight marks Tuesday night, which means we only have two full days left here in Bethel. That also means that in two days, our documentary will officially be in our possession.

Not edited and finished though, of course.

As you may or may not know, Friday morning our time in Bethel ends as we embark on a journey to Seward, Alaska. Our job as film makers will be put on hold while we zone into our inner tourists/little kids and simply explore the sites to see. What this also symbolizes is the end of our filming. Once we leave, there is no coming back. Hidden inside the many hours of footage that have been captured during our stay lies the film that we’ll title and share with all of you.

I realized this thought late last night, on yet another sunset walk. Like the setting sun, it’s bitter sweet to imagine that in so many ways, this experience is lurching towards the end. While I’m beyond excited to begin the editing process and complete our film, I’m terribly sad that the filming side is almost done.

Exploring Bethel to film B-roll has been an absolute treasure. Something about looking through a lens makes you see the world differently. As you stare at a location through the eye of the camera, it forces you to slow down and take it all in. The shapes, the colors, and how objects relate to one another. This trip has given me the opportunity to view Bethel in the most beautiful way possible and even though I’m terribly sad to leave it so soon, I’m ecstatic to share what we’ve witnessed with everyone back home.

Sleeping with Masks

Yesterday was unique because we had the entire afternoon and evening to just do whatever we pleased. Everyone took a different approach to exploring Bethel, but once night fell, we were all pretty exhausted from our week of activities. Around 10:30 PM, AKA right as I was about to go to bed, Tony and Nichole announced that they were going on a sunset walk. Naturally, sleep became unimportant and several of us tagged along.

The sunset was unbelievable. Casting the most gorgeous rays across the sky, I felt like we were walking directly into the sun itself. As night began to fall, the sky became a canvas of purple, pink and blue brush strokes. Blending into a masterpiece right before our very eyes, I couldn’t help but feel the magic of this town.

On our walk back though, I was heavily reminded of the real reason we’re here. Three children, ages roughly 16, 12 and 8, the first of which I had met earlier that day, walked us back to the Church. We were talking and getting to know each other, each parties equally interested in the lifestyle of the other. We asked the oldest how late she normally stays out, and she responded with 2 or 3 AM. Naturally we asked how late she sleeps in and she responded with, “about 1 PM; my mom usually is drinking by then. Not my dad though.” And the youngest told us that he is already chewing tobacco. Heartbreaking.

We’ve all had such an amazing trip so far, but it’s easy to forget that despite how many native people we connect with, our trip is not the reality of life here in Bethel. People are struggling with poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, historical trauma and trying to live a life based on subsistence and culture despite the pressure to change to the western way of thinking.

It’s like sleeping with masks on to block out the sun. We’re able to dream of wonderful things and focus on the beauty while ignoring the painful reality around us.

The Definition of Hospitality

Creighton brings in students from many different places around the country. One thing that everyone mentions is that “classic Midwest hospitality.” But the hospitality we’re experiencing here in Bethel outdoes anything I’ve ever experienced.

Despite the struggles of poverty and the tough living conditions in Bethel, people have been so incredibly generous towards us. For example, people here have water tanks that get refilled weekly. What that means is that if you use too much water, until your tank is refilled you’re out of luck. As you can imagine, the 20 of us need quite a lot of water and make a pretty big dent in the water supply. That doesn’t stop people from offering their showers and washing machines though. One lady even stopped me today with the sole concern of making sure we had enough opportunities to shower, and I reassured her that we do indeed have at least two different shower locations.

The people of Bethel have also been very generous with their food. We’ve had 3 frozen (but like fresh frozen, still has eyes kind of frozen) salmon, prepared salmon and sheefish (Google it, that’s not a typo), the most delicious salmon dip there’s ever been in the entire world, plentiful snacks and cookies, fresh veggies, salmon jerky (dad please learn how to make this) a freshly salmon straight from the river and eaten 20 minutes later, and even a fish egg pasta (which was so weird but so great!)

Sorry we ate you little guy!
Sorry we ate you little guy!

And just the people we encounter while we’re roaming around the town. Everyone is so friendly and curious about our purpose, where we’re from, what we study. It’s been incredible just to talk and get to know some of the people here.

A common thread that we’ve been hearing is that everyone loves Bethel because of the people here, and I can absolutely see why why. The hospitality has truly been one of the greatest aspects of this trip and I will forever be grateful that I got to experience it.

The Best Day of My Life

People throw the phrase “best day of my life” around pretty carelessly. And yes, I’m guilty of it also. Free food? Best day of my life. Get to see a lot of cats in one day? Best day of my life. But Friday the 13th, June 2014 was actually the literal best day of my life.

The morning started with a small bowl of oatmeal and honey (Dad look, I like oatmeal now!) Then a small group of us loaded up the cars to go interview a native high school girl. My role in this interview: holder of the boom mic. (But no, I neglected to have someone get a picture of me in action.) While she didn’t have anything very profound to say (I mean she just graduated high school) it was cool to gain a glimpse of what life is like for someone close to my age here in Bethel.

We finished the interview in time for lunch and for the first time during this trip we had free time during the day AND the sun was out. As people began to settle in to start playing our usual round of games (BS or Bananagrams) I suggested something different: let’s go on a walk. Thank goodness Leah, Hannah and Stephanie said yes because we had the greatest walk of my life.

It started off pretty typical for students who are on a documentary trip. Camera out, strange objects being used as tripods, weird squats happening to “get the shot.” We were on a mission to enjoy the sun, enjoy each other’s company and just maybe get that B-Roll that the documentary needs. Then we ran into some native people who were so incredibly nice, the hospitality here has just been amazing. As we were talking to one man, he freezes mid-sentence to yell “MOOSE!” We spun around, and off in the distance across the river there were two small objects running on the grass. I was confused, because they were way too small to be moose. But then the mom came walking out of the trees and I realized we were watching the baby moose playing as mom watched over them. I lost it. We all lost it. Commence tourist mode as we squealed and attempted to get a shot of this action (our lenses were not quite strong enough to get great footage sadly).

Feeling so jazzed up about the moose sighting, we felt invincible as we walked back to the church. But that’s not where the excitement ending. As we walked back, a lady, noticing our cameras, yelled, “do you want to take a photo?” So we turned, and then noticed the most beautiful yellow finch just sitting in her hand. Back into photographer mode, we raced with our cameras to capture the moment. She explained that the bird had flown into the window and they were trying to help it fly again. My heart melted. And that was only half of the day.

Then I had the opportunity to ride a boat to visit a fish camp and one of the local villages near Bethel. Oh. My. Goodness. The grass was greener, the sky stretched forever, water was smooth as glass (well, some directions) and even though we didn’t get back until after midnight, the sun was shining and giving us the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. It was absolutely breathtaking.

A view of the Kuskokwim River from the fish camp we visited.
A view of the Kuskokwim River from the fish camp we visited.

The fish camp had such a simplistic beauty about it and felt very serene as it was almost hidden within all of the trees along the river. The owner was kind enough to make us hot dogs on pretzel bread also, which was amazing! (Mom, please buy pretzel buns for me). And then the village was a hoot. All of the children wanted to see what we were doing and see how the cameras worked! They’d run up behind us and peer over our shoulders in an attempt to understand what we were doing.

The shore of the village we visited.
The shore of the village we visited.

Absolutely incredible. This blog was an attempt to share this day with everyone, but will never do this day justice. But I think that’s how the best day of your life should be: indescribably wonderful and perfect.

The Truth About the Sunlight

Before coming to Alaska, everyone warned me about the amount of sunlight here, as though days full of light are a bad thing. “You won’t be able to sleep!” “You’re going to get sunburnt!” “Are you ready for that?”

No one prepared me to absolutely fall in love with it though.

It’s true, the sunlight is really weird when it lasts almost all day long. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve actually seen darkness here. It only occurs after I’ve gone to bed and before I’ve woken up. And it is really bizarre to wake up in the middle of the night and yet the sun has already come back up.

It’s absolutely amazing though.

With so much daylight, our days here have unlimited potential. Even if we don’t get done with everything until 9:30 PM, I can still go for a walk and take photos if I please. Night time is such a restricting aspect of life in the lower 48. Not dealing with it has been such a freeing experience.

Honestly, I’m going to be really sad going back to Nebraska where it gets dark so early. Maybe that’s what everyone should have prepared us for: adjusting to darkness when we go back home.

Chasing Sunsets

Where do I even begin? It’s Tuesday night now, which means we’ve spent Sunday last minute packing and traveling, Monday napping and planning, and today full of interviews and filming. These three days have gone so fast, it’s incredible that tomorrow is Wednesday already.

Time moves rather interestingly here in Bethel. Or rather, due to a three hour time difference and a lack of using our cell phones, I just never know what time it is. Add in the strange hours of the sunset/sunrise and I have no idea what’s happening.

Before we get too far into the week though, I want to talk about our flights. Perhaps due to thrill of the trip or just feeding off of each other’s excitement, our flights here were amazing. From Minneapolis to Anchorage, we were chasing the sunset. What started as a night flight soon became a dusk, then early evening flight. Time was moving backwards and we were gliding in the middle of it.

We passed city lights, complete darkness from lack of cities and then the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen. (Side note: someone take a vacation to the mountains up in Canada with me). I didn’t think it could get any better until I realized that the beautiful, rolling “snow” between the peaks was actually just clouds, and I still have yet to see the other half of that world.

Pause the incredible flights for a second though and queue the Anchorage Airport: home of people sleeping anywhere and everywhere, the first place I wore a sleep mask and the best Cinnabon cinnamon roll you’ve ever had at 1AM/4AM, depending on whose time zone you’re talking. For about 6 hours we joined this public slumber party and then boarded our final flight.

While there were many more clouds and not really any mountains, our trip to Bethel was wild because we flew over lots of water and fishing boats. For a while, some of us were concerned because we didn’t really see the land we were supposedly landing on.

We made it though, and after getting settled into our living arrangements, we promptly laid our sleeping bags out and woke up four hours later. Which was only two in the afternoon, despite our insistence that it had to be more like 8 PM. I think eventually we’ll adjust, but for now, we continue to chase the sunset, that now seems to never come.

Bootcamp Complete

But wait, we actually leave in 2 days?

This has been one of those weeks that is both incredibly long and yet nowhere near long enough. In just one week, we’ve learned the equipment, had theological discussions, prepared our potential story and learned about leafy spurge. We’ve created videos, shared views on culture and expressed our hopes and fears. So, are we actually ready?

Today, we had our first reflection in which two Backpack Journalism alums came to join. The shared that they too were overwhelmed at this point and asked the same question: can we actually pull this off?

But they reassured us. Because despite all of our fears, we’re all in this together. And I can’t think of a better group of people to be together with. Perhaps because of the many hours we’ve spent together already, somehow after just one week we have developed into our own Backpack Journalism family.

Other than all of the proper lessons and discussions, we’ve laughed and stumbled together. Bags of rice were divided up and a small portion of us discovered that we’re all Hufflepuffs (according to Pottermore). We’ve shared excitement over discovering that our iPad Minis have Photobooth (get ready for lots of selfies!) and we’ve compared hours wasted on Buzzfeed.

So yes, I think we are ready for Alaska.

Except for maybe packing, that is.

As you can see, my packing is not very far along yet.
As you can see, my packing is not very far along yet.