Tag Archives: travel

Finding Beauty No Matter Where You Are

I have been home from Alaska for almost a week now, and I admit it still feels strange to be back in Nebraska. It seems that no time has passed, yet so much happened to me while I was away. I am definitely missing Alaska, from the community of Bethel to the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula.

Fortunately I haven’t had a lot of time to think about the twinge of sadness I feel as we dive head first into creating our documentary. I don’t feel a complete loss of connection to Alaska as I re-watch interviews and look at B-roll. I have enjoyed listening to the stories of people we interviewed early in our trip and finding the best quotes in our many hours of footage. It was a tiring week of transcribing and editing video, but we have made great progress in our project.

As I tell my family and friends about my Backpack Journalism experience, I feel a sense of excitement as I talk about the wonderful people we met in Bethel and the issues of the area that we learned about and witnessed firsthand. There is so much to tell, yet I can’t find the words to tell about everything. All I can do is try to express my love for the beautiful state.

I always seem to fall in love with the places I visit. My numerous trips to Chicago have led me to decide that it is my favorite city. Visiting Oregon and seeing its splendor helped me determine that I want to live there in the future. During my service trip to West Virginia, I was amazed by its beauty during the fall and inspired by its people.

Alaska was no different. I feel fortunate to have spent so much time in a part of the state rarely seen by tourists. I came to admire the Yup’ik culture and subsistence lifestyle. I saw tundra, ocean, glaciers and mountains, all in one place. The people I met and the stories I heard changed my life.

Being a Nebraska native, everywhere else seems to be more beautiful and exciting than the flat plains of the Cornhusker State. No mountains or oceans, just fields and rivers.

Yet being back, I have come to appreciate the beauty of where I grew up and the city I call my second home. On my first night back from Alaska, I looked out toward the sunset from my 10th floor apartment window. I thought about the stunning Alaska sky, but then I realized that Nebraska has pretty amazing sunsets, too.

From the outside looking in, the town of Bethel, Alaska, may not seem like the most exciting place. But for the people living there, it is home, and it is beautiful to them.

Our very last interview was with a woman named Susan, who worked at the Immaculate Conception Church where we stayed during our trip. She was born in Bethel and has lived there her entire life. Her love for the community showed, and there was no place she would rather be.

“Bethel is our paradise,” she eloquently stated.

No matter where I may end up living in my life, for now I will appreciate the beauty and comfort of Nebraska and the people here who have impacted my life. I hope that I have the opportunity to travel to Alaska again soon, but for now I am going to love the place where I am now.

Bethel in a nutshell: big sky, clouds, painted dumpsters, water, mud and wonderful people. Photo courtesy of Claudia Brock
Bethel in a nutshell: open sky, fluffy clouds, painted dumpsters, water, mud and wonderful people. Photo courtesy of Claudia Brock

World-Class Learning for Kurvers

From the mountains of Montana to the beaches of the Dominican Republic to the tundra of Alaska, Erin Kurvers has set out to see the world.

The Minnesota native loves to travel, a passion that has guided her and shaped much of her life.

Growing up, Kurvers traveled to Montana where she went skiing, visited Yellowstone National Park and spent time with family.

“My all-time favorite place would be Montana. My cousins live there, and every Thanksgiving we would drive out to see them. They have this cool house where our entire extended family would go and hang out. It’s just a home away from home,” the 20-year-old said with a smile.

Early in her life, she also developed compassion for others and their experiences, which has served her well during her travels.

“My parents taught me good values and how to be a good friend. I think they are really good at not judging people at all, which I think is something that I also learned. I knew not to make assumptions about people and to always keep an open mind and open heart when getting to know people.”

Her desire to travel and meet new people led her to attend college at Creighton University.

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Erin getting that B-roll in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams

“I knew I wanted to go somewhere out of the state of Minnesota. I love Minnesota, but I just needed to get out and see different parts of the world and different people from different places. And I liked that Creighton brought together people from lots of places,” Kurvers explained.

Once she was in college, finding a major that both interested her and fulfilled her love of travel was a challenge.

“I have always had a really hard time figuring out what I wanted to do because I kind of like everything. I loved my history classes in high school, but I also loved my science and English classes. I loved it all, so I didn’t know how to narrow it down,” Kurvers said.

In high school she had the idea of becoming an investigative journalist but wasn’t sure it was the best fit. She took a few journalism classes right away in college but wasn’t totally convinced until the spring semester of her sophomore year when she participated in EncuentroDominicano, a living and learning program in the Dominican Republic.

“I knew from the moment I first came here that I wanted to do the Backpack Journalism Program and also that I wanted to study abroad. Those two experiences made me want to do journalism more than after my first journalism classes.” she said.

In the DR, Kurvers took various classes, performed service and was immersed in a new culture. During her time in the country, she wrote about experiences for The Creightonian.

“When I was in the DR, I was doing exactly what I want to do: meeting people from different places and learning about their life and how different it is. The people there were just amazing. You learn how to open up your world view and realize that where we come from really affects us a lot. Then doing the Backpack Journalism Program made me realize that, wow, I really do like this and that this is something I would like to do for a career,” the Creighton junior said.

Although she is currently a journalism major, she is still exploring the possibility of minors in Spanish and international relations. In addition, she hopes to go into the Peace Corps for two years after graduating from Creighton.

“I think what I want to accomplish with my life, in general, is just that I want to do something that is benefiting the world in some way. My most terrifying thought would be working in a business where I am just sitting there doing stuff to make money for a company. I understand that that’s how the world works and we need that part of the world, but personally for me I want to actually be doing something physically that I can see is changing the world in some way,” she said.

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.

Surrealaska

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!

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A Multitude of Drops

As I write this, I’m sitting in my house watching the rain fall outside. The setting sun is peeking out from behind the clouds, dramatically illuminating thousands of water droplets, each a perfect diamond as it falls to the earth. The effect fades as the sun recedes.

Soon I’ll be watching the same sun, but it won’t be setting. At all.

It’s an odd thing, living in time and space. One minute, you’re here, the next minute, you’re there.

One week, I’m unpacking my first house in Omaha.

House
The house I moved into last weekend.

The next week I’m shooting footage for a documentary in Bethel, Alaska.

Part of the crew preparing for the shoot in Bethel.
Part of the crew preparing for the shoot in Bethel.

Though many assert that we are each a pillar of individuality, born with unchanging, innate traits, it seems that the contrary is true. Our identities, to a great extent, reflect the time and space we inhabit.

One minute, I’m this person, the next minute, as Pink Floyd would put it, I’m “shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”

We are reminded of the passing of time and its effect on our identity in nearly every moment. We can track this simply by looking at ourselves at different ages. When I was 6, I wanted to grow up to be a paleontologist. Now, I don’t want to grow up, but I do want to be a journalist.

What’s less consistent is the passing of space.

We tend to spend the majority of our time in the same spaces, fabricating and contextualizing our identities according to these familiar places. I know I, for one, rarely get to watch myself change while passing from one space to another. I get caught in the monotony of daily routine, doing the same things in the same places.

Once in a while, though, things change.

These events (For me they were things like the first day of kindergarten, moving to Springfield, the first day of high school, moving to Omaha, etc…) are like giant billboards that read, “Hey you. Yes, you. Life is about to change, so buckle up.”

This trip to Alaska is staring me in the face, so I’m buckling up. I’m stepping out of my bubble on a quest for authentic experience and exposure.

My hope is that going to Bethel, a place radically different from that of my every-day-life, will instigate change in me for the better.  A part of the world that has not yet penetrated my consciousness might do just that. And hopefully, when that happens, I can expand my conception of the world. I’ll find out just a little bit more about how I and others fit into what people call “the big picture.” I’m not sure what “the big picture” is, but every time I experience something new, the picture gets a little more clear.

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, has one of my favorite endings of any story. “Your life will have amounted to no more than a single drop in a limitless Ocean,” claims the protagonist’s father-in-law. To which the protagonist responds, “Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

How big is the ocean? Which drop am I? Will I fall in front of the setting sun, or the one that never sets?

Looking for Alaska? Looking for Purpose.

As a young, enthusiastic, and life-filled youth with the entire world under my feet, I’ve always wanted to travel. There are so many places I want to see and things I want to experience in my life time.

But not just travel anywhere. When I say I want to travel I mean to very specific places. These places are often locations that I feel drawn too, whether for a silly reason or a very specific symbolic one.  But no matter what the reason, I know I’m meant to be there.

In a way that’s what happened with this trip to Alaska. I had heard about Creighton’s Backpack Journalism trip on my first day in the journalism department, and I’ll admit, back then I wasn’t so sure I’d ever go. The idea was so profound and out-there for me, that I got an uncomfortable feeling; the kind where you know you’d be out of your comfort zone. So I ended up putting it out of my mind.

Fast forward about a year and all the sudden I was seeing posters again for this program; but something was different. Something was drawing me in, causing me to say “Yes, this is where I want to go; where I should go.”

Now I’m still not exactly sure what is was that drew me in. I’m still not sure what this trip will bring me, or what I’ll learn or experience. Trying to figure it out for myself, however, I realized something. I’ve gotten to go to some beautiful places in my life already, and there are many more I still need to see. But I have yet to go someplace that has challenged me to be more beautiful. *me trying to be all poetic

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But what I mean is, I have yet to go to a place where I can take something back with me to keep throughout my life that isn’t  some corny souvenir. I’m looking for an experience; an experience of a lifetime. A reason for being somewhere other than my own pleasure. A chance to maybe make some kind of difference, or to learn something that can lead me to that. A chance to really get out of my comfort zone, and experience something new. A chance to meet new people, and learn their culture and their story, while simultaneously learning about my own.

This is a trip with a purpose – obviously – and yet it isn’t. There is so much opportunity in this trip, and while there is still so much unknown, so much I can hope for, expect, and anticipate, one way or a another this trip with be three things: inspirational, reflective, and life-changing.

I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, and I don’t know exactly what I’ll see when I’m there, but what I do know is that this is will be no ordinary trip; but somehow it will be beautiful.

“Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there’. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
― John GreenLooking for Alaska

Yes Mom, I’m Really Going to Alaska

I’ve never been the kind of person to travel a lot. I’ve never had anything against it, but my family was just never the type to have a “yearly vacation spot” or even go camping on the weekends. The most adventurous place I’ve ever been was Cozumel, Mexico, where I braved the all-inclusive resort and battled the desire to eat everything in sight.

The resort I stayed at in Cozumel, Mexico.
El Cozumeleno, the resort I stayed at in Cozumel, Mexico.

Once I finished high school, I never even felt the need to go somewhere adventurous for college. Instead, I stayed close to home, close to family, close to my comfort zone. So, what brings me to the Backpack Journalism team? To travel. To see the world. To share experiences.

In class, I’ve joined discussions about the importance of bearing witness. I’ve learned how journalists can share others’ stories and make a difference. I’ve heard the stories of different parts of the world and imagined what life is like outside of Nebraska.

This trip to Alaska is my chance to actively experience these things that I’ve learned about in the classroom. I know that we probably won’t change the lives of the people we encounter in Alaska, but I have a strong feeling they might change ours. Personally, I have never experienced anything like what we’ll experience in Bethel, Alaska. I think this trip is going to be incredibly eye-opening for me and will give me a new perspective about life, especially how fortunate my life is.

So much to my family’s surprise, yes, I really am traveling to Alaska, and I couldn’t be more excited about it!

And So It Begins

As I sit in Carol’s room sitting to write this blog, the roosters crow in the background and I have a gorgeous view of the city of Kampala. What a whirlwind last couple of days. I have faced my fear of small planes and seen an area of the world that is completely new and different to anything I have ever seen.

Two nights ago, after a little over twenty six hours of travel,  layovers in Amsterdam and Detroit, and a stop in Rwanda, we made it to our hotel in Kampala. At that time I was so  exhausted it seemed almost surreal that was as actually in the middle of Africa.

The first plane ride was a  nerve racking, we were in a twenty six passenger plane. A plane so small that not all the bags would fit in the overhead bin.  I felt claustrophobic just sitting in my seat. I swear that first plane ride took longer than the  other plane rides combined.

I almost kissed the ground when we landed in Detroit. We had a short layover, enough time to get a quick snack and board. The flight between Detroit and Amsterdam seemed to fly by. (bad pun intended.) Landing in Amsterdam we got a gorgeous aerial  view of the fields and waterways. One of the coolest things I saw was wind meals  placed in the water.
I have to go to Europe, my short layover only showed me just how much I am missing.

Yesterday morning, I woke up slightly more rested, to a beautiful view of the city.  It became completely clear to me ready or not I’m here.   We had a light breakfast and then we went off in search of a bank to exchange money.  We went to a market to shop for souvenirs. I met a local artist and we talked about his work and the fact we both had brothers named Stephen. He told me some about his life and his faith. We visited both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Ugandan martyrs shrine.  My favorite part however has been driving around and seeing all the different parts of town and  looking briefly into  the lives of the  people. Seeing women carrying baskets on there heads, smelling trash burning and seeing children laugh and play music are sights completely new and exciting.

Today, we have a busy day ahead of us. I cannot wait to explore this beautiful country.

 

Notes from the Window Seat

I took a creative writing class last semester in which my teacher always suggested bringing a notebook around with you and write down any and every observation you make. Whenever I travel, I feel like little pieces here and there go missing, so I decided to embrace the idea of writing everything down, and wrote everything down. I chose a window seat on every single flight we are taking specifically because I didn’t want to end up being that awkward girl leaning forward in her seat for eight hours in order to see out the window.

I won’t post it all up here immediately because some of it is very minor details (such as noticing our flight attendant from Detroit to Amsterdam had a voice alarmingly similar to that of Kristen Wiig’s “Target Lady” character on Saturday Night Live) not to mention I am sharing this computer with eight other people. Here are some highlights for our brief, 26-hour travel day:

  • I think every person in the Detroit airport purposefully gets to the airport late. I have never seen so many people running (which is the least graceful activity when you have a suitcase or duffel bag flopping along side of you) to and from gates. We had about 20 minutes before our next flight boarded which also required us to move at a fast pace. Usually I would try and pull off the “I’m in a huge rush, but watch how swiftly I can still walk” look but since the majority of people were running, I didn’t need to worry about looking like an idiot.
  • As an avid sunset watcher, the one I just experienced probably ranks number one on my list of best sunsets. If I had any sort of influence on the producers of the show Planet Earth, I would suggest filming an entire series from this view point. We’re somewhere between Canada and Greenland, so there’s a bright red sun, with pink and orange clouds, all behind snowy mountain peaks. It doesn’t get much better than that and I would have loved to share a picture with you all, but naturally my camera battery was dead and the thought to use the camera on my iPod did not occur to me until later in the trip as we passed over the Sahara. But isn’t that life? One moment in time truly appreciated to its fullest because it will never be able to be recreated the same way again.
  • We just went directly from sunset to sunrise. Zero nighttime. Thumbs up to a stellar view, thumbs down to the major disruption to my internal clock. For example, according to my body I just ate my breakfast at approximately one o’clock in the morning. Definitely normal.
  • Walking off the plane into the Amsterdam airport was like walking into another world. There was so much for the senses to take in: bright orange and green signs everywhere, flight attendants wearing the PanAmerican style blue suits, hundreds of people walking by speaking all kinds of different languages, and countless announcements in Dutch which kind of just sounds like fancy gibberish if you ask me. No offense.
  • Note to self: first way to feel ridiculously American in a European airport, wear tie-dye.
  • Just flew over the Sahara Desert. That’s one of those places that has only existed as an answer to a question on a Geography map test for me, so seeing it from above was slightly surreal.

At this point, I shifted into zombie status due to the lack of following natural sleep patterns, but I did manage to write “say something creative about sleeping on planes.” Something creative about sleeping on planes. Moving on to the highlight of the travel day:

WE’RE IN AFRICA!

Keep on keeping’ on,

Gabby

Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” -Walker Evans

 

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,

Gabby

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