Tag Archives: culture

Happiness Can Be Found

It’s already day four here in Alaska, and each day continues to teach me something new about myself, the Yup’ik people and their culture. We have been shown such hospitality and kindness in the short amount of time that we’ve been here.

When we first arrived in Bethel, I had a certain image in my mind of what we were going to see. We had been preparing for our trip months before through articles, videos, photos, and stories, but nothing could prepare me for what we’d actually be encountering.

As we’ve progressed through interviews, and heard a variety of different testimonials, I’ve noticed a common theme amongst many of the people here. We as journalists, as a group here to film a documentary and create and share a story, we’ve been asking a lot of the hard questions. We came here to address the issues facing Bethel; issues of historical trauma, institutional racism, depression, disconnection, and climate change. Yet it’s in situations like these that we forget to look at the positive side as well.

In high school, I remember that when a hard or sad situation was depicted in an area, those feelings of sadness and hardship are all I would associate that area with afterwards. It wasn’t until I got to college, and I got out into the world and heard stories of life, happiness, and positive assets to those communities. It gave me a new perspective and a better understanding. It opened my eyes to seeing both sides of a community, that a place will always been more than its negative qualities.

Bethel is so much more than its issues. It’s about its people; Their dedication to their culture, their tradition, their way of life. It is a society founded on connections, and family, trudging through the struggles of life together, on a beautifully simple path.

During my time here, as I continued to be reminded of this through my experiences and the people I meet and listen to, it helps me to see Bethel as an even greater place. This society is not one that needs me or anyone else to fix it, or address its problems, but instead is a good place.

As we’ve heard so many times in the last few days, from so many amazing people, Bethel is a place with so much to offer. It’s a place rich in culture, values, and love; and I’m falling more and more in love with it.

Ray Daw, one of the inspirational people we’ve gotten to hear from this week.



Touchdown ALASKA!!!

My first Alaskan sun from the airport really took some getting used to. It was only dark from about 12:30 AM till 4 AM. Photo by Kari Welniak
My first Alaskan sun from the airport really took some getting used to. It was only dark from about 12:30 AM till 4 AM. Photo by Kari Welniak

Touchdown ALASKA!!!

Well folks we finally made it! There has been a lot packed into these past two days so I’ll give you a short briefing.

I survived my fear of planes on all three flights along with my plane buddy and fellow classmate, Stephanie Tedesco. It kind of threw me off when we saw the sun set in Minneapolis, but saw it come back up on our flight to Anchorage. It did not quite settle in yet that I was going to Alaska until I saw the snow covered mountains and ice filled rivers from thousands of feet above. We finally arrived in Anchorage at around 12 AM, but in actuality it really felt like 3 AM Omaha time. It was quite the scene seeing 20 students and professors along with all the travelers spending the night on the seats all throughout the airport. That was a first for me! It was amazing how the sun worked because it never fully set even at 3 AM. This really threw me off, but I did not care because we were all sleep deprived so we passed out pretty well.

Now it really settled in once I saw the Alaska logo on the outside of our plane. We were welcomed to Bethel with signs all over the airport saying “EXIT, WELCOME, and BATHROOM”, in the Yup’ik language. After our short tour of Bethel from the airport to the Immaculate Conception of the Catholic Church we finally caught up on some sleep with a nice long four hour nap. Somehow we managed to squish three mattresses into our little room for six people. I love my new sleeping bag that makes me look like I’m in caccoon!

After being all rested up, I put my new rain boots to good use and took a walking tour of Bethel with our group. Some of the things I noticed included the following:
1. All the buildings are on stilts.
2. There were a lot of dogs! People mush them in the winter time.
3. People walk everywhere as much as they can. There’s my exercise for the week!
4. The main boardwalk is beautiful and walks right over some tundra. This part was my favorite!
5. Tundra. Tundra. Tundra. Tundra. Tundra is everywhere!
6. There are a lot of “American Chinese” food places.
7. People rolled down their windows and were yelling, “Ya Creighton!” Yes, the Creighton crew has officially arrived!
8. All of the trashcans are decorated and painted.
9. There are signs all along the roads that are in the shape of salmon and have sayings to help protest the restrictions on salmon fishing.
Towards the end it was raining hard (The rain always comes and goes even when its sunny out!). Yeup! We are in Bethel, Alaska! We finally came back and had pizza and socialized with some people that we were going to interview, meet with, and help us with our documentary. The person I found the most inspiring was our friend, Alisha. The reason why she came to Bethel was because she wanted to get away from materialism and consumerism and found a true good culture. She found people who actually do things for each other and care for one another because everyone benefits form everyone. She also showed us a small video of why she fell in love with Bethel. Just listening to her and my first day in Bethel, I could already feel the beginnings of my love for Bethel start to grow.

To be continued!…

Adventure is out there!

What a whirlwind of a week it has been! After five days of “video boot camp,” with several journalism and theology lectures mixed in, I have already learned so much in a short span of time.

Practicing with a camera during "video boot camp" using Rembrandt lighting. Photo by John O'Keefe
Practicing with a camera during “video boot camp” using Rembrandt lighting. Photo by John O’Keefe

The Backpack Journalism team will be leaving for Bethel in less than 48 hours, and now the trip is starting to feel real as I bring out my luggage and start packing. Even though my to-do list is long and I don’t know how I will fit everything in my bags, I can hardly contain my anticipation for this incredible adventure.

I view my decision to go on this trip as by far my most adventurous life choice, so it is only fitting that my motto for this experience is “Adventure is out there!” which comes from the delightful Pixar movie “Up.” If you haven’t seen it, please go watch it because it is the perfect film about taking risks, learning from the people around you and pursuing your dreams (this just so happens to be the Backpack Journalism Project in a nutshell for me). Here is a short movie clip from “Up” about the spirit of adventure.

Just like young Carl in the video, I am stepping out into the unknown as I spend two weeks in a completely new place filming a documentary. I have never left the country, nor been away from Nebraska for this length of time. I’m not going to hide the fact that I am pretty nervous, but I don’t want it to keep me from learning and growing.

As someone who loves to listen and soak in everything around me, I hope to be present and appreciate every moment while I am there without feeling too overwhelmed. I know that the first few days will be a lot to take in, but it will all be a part of the process of gaining greater awareness about the Bethel community and the world.

I also want to maintain joy and enthusiasm like the character Ellie during this, at times, very intense experience. During our class discussions throughout the week, we talked about potential storylines for our film. One topic we will explore in Alaska is climate change and its effects on the Yup’ik culture and way of life. Climate change is an issue I care about very deeply, so I’m fascinated to witness this challenge firsthand and excited to potentially bring the story to light. In the midst of long days of setting up video equipment, looking for the best shots and finding the next person to interview, I don’t want to forget our purpose for being there and the passion I have for this project.

Although I’m still not completely sure what to expect when I arrive in Bethel, I am already inspired by the Backpack Journalism team. We will be guided by great teachers and will have the support of each other as we experience Alaska together.

I am ready to dive in, forget my discomfort and experience the adventure that will be Alaska.


This week has been a whirlwind filled with learning, laughing, frustration with technology, and yawning. Lots and lots of yawning. (Oh and bagels today, thanks Carol you rock don’t ever change.)

Even after all of the preparation, the fact that we are going to Bethel for 15 days is still so surreal to me.

Throughout each of our eight hour days, I’ve learned how to shoot video, record audio, to interview, and how to combine those three skills. Well, I say that I’ve learned, but to be honest I still only barely grasp the basics…even after five days of camera tutorial by Tim.

Carol taught us about the ins and outs of interviewing. AND she gave us each our very own notebooks that look super journalist-y…like the ones journalists in movies use. Totally cool. (Once again you rock, don’t ever change…and I should definitely get an A on this post as compensation for all of this praise.)

We’ve also been able to learn about culture and religion and the relationship between the two through Dr. O’Keefe’s lectures. He made sure to educate us about the Yup’ic people. We are all now much more self-aware of the effects our obnoxious American presence could have, which was a concern of mine.

All of that learning has made me most excited to be in the type of place where the language has a single word, “ella,” that translates to English in three words: weather, the Earth, and the universe. It’ll be fascinating to be immersed in the Yup’ic culture, one that views nature as sacred. The spiritual value of nature is largely a lost concept in our society of technology, manufacturing, and concrete jungles.

The reflection this afternoon inspired me. Hearing from students that have participated in this program in the past, they all had generally the same message of the importance of staying fully present where you are, wherever that may be.

Those students also said that the most vital thing to remember is to be unafraid to step outside of your comfort zone…something I seem to be doing a lot of lately.

I can’t believe I’m going to ALASKA.

Okay that’s all for now. Time to finish packing!


Living out My Love for Learning

When I first heard about the Backpack Journalism Project as a freshman at Creighton, I was immediately intrigued and knew that someday I would love to be a part of this experience. Now more than two years later, I am just beginning what I consider to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

What first attracted me to Backpack Journalism, beyond the practical reasons like it fitting with my major, was the chance to travel to a new and compelling place with a group of Creighton students and faculty. In addition, I have always loved movies, and the idea of filming a documentary sparked my interest in the program even more.

When the 2014 trip was set for Alaska, I was thrilled for many reasons: no passport needed, beautiful scenery, cooler temperatures and the chance to see my favorite animal, the moose.

My encounter with several moose near the Snowy Mountain Range in Wyoming
My encounter with several moose near the Snowy Mountain Range in Wyoming

Once I committed to the program and continued to learn about Backpack Journalism, I realized how much more there is to this project than what meets the eye.

Even though this year’s group won’t be leaving the country, our destination will feel like a whole new world. Bethel, the town in which we will be spending most of our trip, is not in the “pretty” part of Alaska. The landscape is flat and wet (we were all instructed to purchase mud boots to pack), and it is one of the poorest regions of the United States. We will be immersed in a culture far different than the Midwest and encounter a new way of life.

Bethel is a place full of people with stories to be told. As we learn about important issues in this community, we will be reaching out to people to tell us about their experiences. The finished product of the trip, a documentary, will be a way to share these stories to a larger community and give a voice to the people of Bethel.

I know that I will gain so much from this experience far beyond filmmaking and writing. Being a part of Backpack Journalism is encouraging my love of learning in a new way. Stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing a completely new place will be a tremendous challenge but one that will make a lasting impact on my life. Throughout this trip, I am excited to be exploring issues that interest me, including poverty, religion and the impacts of climate change. Beyond these topics and others, I look forward to learning by being with people and establishing relationships.

I have been anticipating this trip for so long now, and I am incredibly excited for this journey.

“Your identity” From Thursday June 21st & Sunday June 24th

We ate our last meal in Africa at a hotel near the airport in Entebbe where we interviewed Herbert. This was the only time the whole trip that we got to order individually. I found it interesting that although there were more “American” foods on the menu than we were usually used to (like sandwiches for example), most of us ordered rice and chicken or fish and chapatti. It was at this point (while watching a terribly dubbed television show with poor acting that seemed to be about Native Americans’ fight for North America, but included caucasian cowboys, Africans and Hispanics as well) that I noticed: I have no culture.

I have beautiful traditions, inside jokes and things that will always remind me of home in Minnesota with my family, but I don’t have “a people.” I don’t have an elite language, a name that binds me to a group outside my immediate family (+ 2 uncles) and I don’t have a tribe. I have no tie to a certain place or specific ancestral origin. And interestingly enough, I am glad. Because I don’t have a culture, I get to live in awe.  I feel like what I miss out on by not having a one, I gain through amazement and experiences.

After arriving in Amsterdam the next morning with Joe, to visit my mom’s cousin, I had a bit of culture shock. Probably the only similarly between Africa and Amsterdam is that people ride bikes everywhere. But Amsterdam was windy and freezing, full of sweet pastries and dairy and bursting with brand names and recent fashion trends; three things that I didn’t experience even slightly in Africa. I knew that it was advised that we not go there and that the transition on the way back from the developing world is harder than the transition on the way there. But I am so glad that I went. While in Amsterdam,  I realized that even though culture is relative and changing constantly (evolving and developing as Sybil said), I am excited to shape my own. I am excited to live through other people’s cultures, classify myself as a mover and I am excited to continue to learn about the world with a minimal (if existent) cultural filter, anchor or mind block.

My identity? Is Prater. Is Alison. Is Christian. Is caucasian. Is daughter of Scott and Cheryl. Is tall. Is all of my personal attributes. But it isn’t innately American. And doesn’t have to be. And I like that.

This is a picture of all the bikes in Amsterdam. The strongest tie that I had to Africa on my weekend pit-stop mid-transition back to the U.S.Here is a bike in Africa. They were always on the streets here too, but more often in Africa, you would see them parked alone.

There’s a Reason You Are Here

Our class on the last day in Uganda (Photo Credit: Alison Prater)

To say this trip has been an emotional roller coaster would not only be slightly cliche, it would be an understatement. It’s more like the roller coaster broke down while we were upside down…then it started to pour rain. I’ve seen the pain in people’s eyes behind their smiles, the harsh and unfair conditions in which much of this world lives, and unimaginable suffering. I’ve been overwhelmed, impatient, and frustrated. There’s been times when I just wished I could pause the world long enough to gather my thoughts, but someone pushes fast forward instead.

During our reflection a few nights ago, Dr, O’Keefe said, “You all came here for a reason.” And we did. I did. I was not entirely sure for the majority of this trip (hence the awkward “Meet Gabby” video, there’s a reason I spend my time behind the camera) and I don’t think I will ever be able to reach a definite conclusion, but I’m getting there. I know I brought the mood down in that opening paragraph, but sometimes you have to be overwhelmed to understand and to feel weak to discover strength.

I’ve seen the power of giving, the power of forgiveness, and the power of kindness. I’ve laughed, danced, sang, and smiled. I came here to remind myself who I am, what I want to do, and where I want to go. So yes, these have been two of the most emotionally tolling and challenging weeks of my life, but they have also been two of the best. I’ve had the opportunity to experience a new culture filled with generosity and a welcoming spirit, pretend to be a famous filmmaker with my fancy camera, and learned to appreciate all that I have in my life. Not to mention, I’ve formed new friendships with all the students and teachers on this trip, but I am sure I will dedicate an entire blog to them later.

I can’t believe it’s our last night in Uganda and that I will be on a plane in just about 24 hours. It’s all happened so fast, yet when I look back at it I feel like I have been here for months. I may be ready to go home, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to leave Uganda. Then again, Uganda has earned a special place in my heart so it’s not really going anywhere.

Keep on keepin’ on


Don’t let your hearts grow numb. Stay alert.” –Albert Schweitzer


You know, the fact that I’m going to Uganda hasn’t really hit me yet. I’ve spent most of (well, ALL of, really) my life traveling. I’ve lived in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Central America, and many different parts of the U.S. and Canada. I think I’ve become a little desensitized to the idea of traveling to a new destination. Which probably seems strange, but the way I see it: no pre-flight butterflies and panic attacks is pretty awesome sometimes.

A year ago, if you had asked me what I thought would be a new and exciting experience for me, I would probably say this, “God, I would really love to be on my own somewhere in Europe, meet a lot of people, travel a lot, and learn about my roots.” Since this isn’t a year ago though and since I already had that experience when I studied abroad in Ireland last year, my answer to that question is probably more along the lines of “well, I’ve been hearing a lot about East Africa lately…”

But in all seriousness, I think the opportunity to do what I’m about to do is one I’ve been looking for for awhile. In the past few months, I’ve gotten very involved in issues of social justice as well as read up on issues facing different parts of the world, such as the conflict in the Arab Spring, or the ethnic cleansing in the Sudan. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a direct exposure to these kinds of problems, which is something I believe is necessary in understanding how to solve said problems. It is my hope that by going on this trip, I’ll be able to have that exposure I need, while also being able to tell an interesting story through media that others should hear.

Being a Computer Science major, I relish the opportunity to solve complex problems using systems. Being a Journalism major, I’m incredibly interested in information, people, ideas, and cultures. In my mind, the world is one big system, made up of all the people in the world sharing information, culture, and ideas with each other. When it comes to solving problems the world is facing, such as poverty, genocide, economic and social injustice, war, or corruption, I always think that, with such a complex system with infinite potential at our fingertips, why shouldn’t we be able to solve the problems of the world?

It’s my hope then that by going on this trip, I’ll be able to:

1. learn about issues that I’ve read a lot about, but have had no direct exposure to,

2. learn new skills like video shooting and editing,

3. develop my existing skills like writing and interviewing,

4. learn about the people of Uganda and what their story tells,

5. hopefully have some good laughs and good conversation with some interesting people.

Let's hope these people are as fun as this picture makes them seem.


As well, I have some other, more personal goals I’d like to share, which will be part of another blog post I intend to write pre-departure.