By: Alaina Morman
When I say I traveled around the world and back, I’m not exaggerating. The summer of 2014 will go down as one in which I learned the most about the world and about myself. It’s comical in a way how four months can put four-plus years of higher education to shame. Or rather, I should say, one might think they’ve grasped the workings of the world—until they travel abroad and realize there is so much more to learn by experiencing cultures in situ.
This summer I was fortunate enough to experience the cultures of Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Crow Nation.
My journey began with the Balkans study abroad trip hosted by Ohio University and facilitated by International Peace Park Expeditions. The purpose of the Balkans trip was to study cross border collaboration efforts among Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo with regards to environmental peacebuilding. Environmental peacebuilding is a frame through which to analyze the environmental predicament of a certain region and assess how strategic moves can be made to aid in the development of peace and stability, rather than the escalation of conflict.
As one of the last biodiversity hotspot in Europe, the tri-country region is teeming with breathtaking landscapes which are home to a host of unique flora and fauna. From these former Soviet bloc nations—a region recovering from a decade old civil war and emerging from over 60 years of communism—stakeholders are finding ways to communicate and support each other and their local communities in order to protect the environment. Entrepreneurship opportunities, many centered around ecotourism, are providing an alternative model for sustainable development and livelihood creation, especially in rural areas that have historically been neglected. From national parks to mountaineering clubs to environmental education non-profits, everyone has a stake in preserving the integrity of the landscape.
The adventure was complemented by vigorous hikes, warm hospitality, and eye-opening experiences. One such experience was seeing numerous historic bunkers and learning how a bunker architect was selected (suffice it to say it was not through a typical application process). I also got to savor many delectable traditional dishes, such as a number of different burek recipes. The food is one main reason I would recommend going and one that keeps me wanting to go back as soon as possible.
Immediately upon landing back in the States, I jumped in my car and headed cross country to Crow Agency in southeastern Montana to begin my Student Conservation Association (SCA) position with Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (LIBI) as the cultural resources intern. For someone who has been interested in Native American studies since starting college, this was a dream. LIBI is located in the heart of Crow Agency, the area designated by the United States federal government for the Apsáalooke (the word for crow in the traditional language) people. In addition, the Northern Cheyenne reservation is to the northeast of LIBI. Early in my internship I had the opportunity to attend an activist gathering in Northern Cheyenne territory working to raise awareness of a proposed coal mine that would compromise Otter Creek, a sacred site and local water source.
Environmental justice issues like Otter Creek are the focus of my thesis research. I am researching the effectiveness of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) through a postcolonial lens and my target population includes native peoples of North America. The UNDRIP has numerous articles addressing the environmental rights of indigenous peoples, but the jury is still out as to whether or not these articles can be used successfully in remedying environmental injustices. Attending the Northern Cheyenne gathering helped me begin to understand the issues tribes face and establish relationships with people who will be critical to my research.
Among the most exciting events of my internship was the 138th Anniversary of the battle and the rededication of the Indian Memorial. The day, filled with events from sunrise to sunset, is the most important for LIBI and for the Native American tribes which fought in the battle. I designed a site bulletin for the Indian Memorial, and am honored to have had the opportunity to highlight it for such a special event. Additionally, I worked on some interesting projects with LIBI’s museum curator and in-house archeologist. The National Park Service is often undervalued in terms of all that it does for American society—there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to educate and preserve our natural and cultural heritage.
The events of the summer made me realize how much I still have to learn. I implore you to be a lifelong learner, as the path to learning is full of adventure. Whether you go abroad or to the other side of the country, I encourage you to wander outside of your comfort zone and off the beaten path. These trips comprised the first serious travel I have ever done and now I do not want to stop. I hope everyone, at some point in their life, gets bitten by the travel bug.