Tag Archives: new experiences

Kari Welniak: A Perfect Filling

Throughout the past year, a few things were certain about Kari Welniak: She’d had a smile on her face nearly all the time, she was working hard in her classes, and she had a Back Pack Journalism poster hanging on her bedroom wall.
“I took it off the bulletin board,” she said with a sly laugh. “I saw, ‘Do you want to travel to Alaska?’ and I knew I wanted to go, so I kept it.”

A natural out in the field. Photo credit Scott Prewitt
A natural out in the field. Photo credit Scott Prewitt
This is a normal trend for Welniak. Her decision to go to Alaska wasn’t the first she’d known for sure as something she wanted to do.
Born and raised in Omaha, she knew almost right away that Creighton was the best fit for her for school, and also a pretty obvious choice for her to pursue her dream of becoming a dentist.
Although she was unsure where exactly she wanted to end up as a dentist, her passion was evident. This year, she began working as an assistant for the dental practice through Creighton’s dental school. The school offers discounted dental appointments to members of the local community throughout the year. As a sophomore, Welniak holds tools and assists the dental students, but even talking about that simple act would cause her eyes to light up.
A similar light came to her eyes when the group drove past a dental clinic in Bethel, Alaska. Her eyes fixated on the building, she began asking questions about the clinic, the patients, and the needs of the community.
“While we were up there, Stan talked to me about it. And you know they need dentists up there,” Welniak shared. With a large population living in the villages, far from any kind of medical care, the thought of all the lives that could be changed simply with a dentist in town captivated Welniak.
“I don’t know, there’s just something so cool about the work that you do with your hands, and difference you can make in someone’s life.”
Participating in service for others and to her community has been a deep, growing passion for Welniak. In addition to working in the dental school’s clinics, she has also partaken in a number of service opportunities throughout her life. The Yup’ik way of sharing, and taking care of each other then really inspired Welniak.
“The community in Bethel was so awesome. Like, it’s made me want to find that kind of community here in Omaha, and at Creighton. The kind that really works together to help others.”
An experience of a lifetime, it’s hard to say where her time in Alaska will take her in life.

Kari in front of a glacier at the end of her Alaskan experience.
Kari in front of the Aialik Glacier at the end of her Alaskan experience.

As long as she can share her talents and soon-coming dental skills with those who need it; that all she hopes for. When asked what she’ll miss about Alaska, besides the community, Welniak couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’ll miss the cold. When I was little when it’d snow here and it’d be like 30 below and everyone would be inside, I’d be outside playing.”
With her love of the cold, and strong passion for serving others, if Alaska ever needed a kind-hearted dentist, sounds like she’d be a perfect filling.

Vixia Style…

My vixia waiting the plane in newtok next to Tim's Mark 3. The student and the teacher.
My vixia (on the right) waiting the plane in Newtok next to Tim’s Mark 3. The student and the teacher.

For whom not familiar with photography, Vixia is another video cam we brought during our trip to Alaska… At first glance, Vixia looks like a portable hair dryer, not even a fancy one… Everyone avoided it, and they prefer their DSLR cameras, the ones we used for all interviews, and most fancy B-rolls. Only me, a Bald man, had an intimate relation with his hair dryer for two weeks… Continue reading Vixia Style…

The day I embraced the mosquitoes

Tim Guthrie, Alaska, 2014
Tim Guthrie, Alaska, 2014

As any other kid who born and raised in a big city – I born in Aleppo, Syria.With a population of 4.5 millions – it took me years and years to understand the nature, though I always wanted to be in unity with nature, as much as I can, because I still have a lot to learn. Continue reading The day I embraced the mosquitoes

New Perspectives

Anyone who has asked me about my interests knows that I am the “sciency” type. I get overly enthusiastic about topics like evolution or pollination mechanisms. A natural history museum is my Chuck E. Cheese.  I wasn’t too surprised then when I received some puzzled faces when I said I would be taking a course entitled “Backpack Journalism.” It’s definitely not my usual type of course.

Overly excited at the Arthropods exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Overly excited at the Arthropods exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

I didn’t even know what backpack journalism was until I happened to go to the Study Abroad Fair last fall. At that time, I was completely set on going on a different trip. It was rigidly scheduled and would give me a way to help people in a tangible way. All of that really appealed to my scientific mind. However, on a whim (and because I knew O’Keefe from class), I stopped at the table for Alaska. After hearing a little bit about it, I was pretty interested, so I put my name down for more information.

Before I knew it, it was time for me to make my choice between Alaska and my original plan. As I was wrestling with the decision, it suddenly occurred to me that I was been thinking about backpack journalism completely wrong. I realized that we won’t be in Bethel just to observe and film what we find, we’ll be learning alongside each other. We’ll be learning a new culture, a new type of theology, and a new way of being. This idea of being immersed in something entirely new and having the opportunity to dig even deeper into my questions through journalism is why I chose this course. It’s funny, now that I think about it, that I didn’t realize what a perfect trip this is for me. Asking new questions and jumping into different situations is what scientists do best.

We talked in class today a little bit about our Western way of thinking  and how it can be very narrow at times.  I recognize that my own Western and scientific way of thinking constrains me to narrow definitions of things. Through this experience in Alaska, I want to shed a few of those constrains. I want to fully cement in my mind that success doesn’t always mean solving. During our two weeks in Alaska, we won’t be able to solve the problem of poverty, but I hope that we will be able to find the beauty in the people experiencing it. Through the discussions, the interviews, and the filming, we’ll start to form a human connection with the people around us. Hopefully, we’ll take that back with us so we can see the beauty and humanity where we previously thought there was a void. If we can do that, then this course will be a success no matter what else happens.


Ready or not, I’m going!

Honestly, I have trouble giving a definite answer to the question, “Why are you going on this trip?” A random assortment of influences combined into one major decision. Rest assured, I did not decide on a whim to travel thousands of miles away to play with fancy cameras just for kicks.

I am not sure when the concept of “bucket lists” became so prevalent in society, but for the past five years or so, I have made countless attempts at creating one for myself to see what the hype was about. My lists generally looked somewhat like this, give or take a few additions:

  • Run up a down escalator (Really living life on the edge in this one)
  • Become a Barista
  • Run a half marathon
  • Learn how to play guitar
  • Come up with a better bucket list (One of my personal favorites)
The official bucket list of MTV's "The Buried Life", four men who are successfully crossing off their items.

However, every single attempt would have “GO. TO. AFRICA.” written as the very first item. So I guess, I am actually trying to prove to myself that even though I am incapable of creating a full bucket list, at least I will be able to draw a solid line through my number one.

As shy or timid as I may seem from the outside, I have an adventurous spirit deep down. It is this spirit that inspired me to apply for the program approximately one week before the already extended deadline (better late than never, right?) I specifically remember calling my Mom to tell her I was going rather than ask her like a polite daughter should have (Sorry, Mom) because there was nothing that was going to stop me from accepting the opportunity for this experience. Experiences such as these, travelling to a new country and seeing a different side of the world, give me the opportunity to be gently shoved out of my comfort zone which is terrifying, but rewarding in the end.

Obviously this trip is more than just crossing an item off a bucket list that does not actually exist at the moment. It’s a way for me to go out and see another small part of this giant world we live in, meet new people with different perspectives and through the process learn a little something about myself as well. Lucky for you all, we have these handy blogs and a future documentary film to share a little piece of the experience with you.

Keep on keepin’ on,


Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver


Baby I Was Born This Way!

At an amusement park in Japan. I am to the far right!

I believe I was born with a travel gene. My parents  both started traveling internationally at an early age. My mother spent her 18th birthday exploring Europe and my father took family trips exploring Mexico and Ireland. My mom lived in both The Ivory Coast and Japan.   When my parents were first married they spent months traveling around the world. As I child they taught me an appreciation for other cultures and the important things a person learns from the world in traveling. I was able to travel to both Japan and Mexico as a child. I have fond memories wandering a Japanese toy store looking at the Japanese Barbie Dolls, and playing in a park covered in cherry blossoms.  In high school, I was given the opportunity to travel to both Panama and Costa Rica with a program called Global Challenge. Since then I have had a severe case of wanderlust.

Going into college I knew that I wanted to study abroad at some point and time. Unfortunately, that did not ultimately work out. I kept looking into various programs Creighton and the Catholic Volunteer Network had to offer. I have had many friends who have gone on the previous backpack journalism trips. Between facebook creeping albums in an attempt to live vicariously through pictures, or speaking to students if even just briefly about their experiences in either Uganda or the Dominican Republic, I knew that the program was something I needed to seriously look into.

After looking into the trip I decided that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Though I knew nothing about video making or journalism, the chance to learn about a culture so different from my own was something I just couldn’t pass up.

Now, approximately 32 hours before I leave, I am looking at the clothes, medicine, cameras, and other backpack journalism essentials sprawled across my floor and I am quite honestly a little overwhelmed. So much to pack. So much unknown. I have been learning the ins and outs of making a documentary these past couple days and still have a lot to learn, but I know with practice and help, it will all come together.

I am unbelievably excited to start a new adventure. I can’t wait to board the plane and get there already!


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.