Archives for November 2016

Genius and the Mundane in Italy by Danielle Bridges


​In the summer before my junior year, I lived in Florence, Italy for a month to learn about the Renaissance. I spent the weeks before leaving reading up on the places we would be visiting and practicing rudimentary Italian. I was prepared to see incredible works of art, exquisite architecture, and many historic sites. Italy did not disappoint. For four solid weeks, I got to do amazing things like climbing to the top of the Santa Maria del Fiore’s dome, touring the Vatican Museum, and visiting David’s Michelangelo. I experienced the delicate beauty of Bernini’s statues firsthand in Rome, then toured the Roman Forum and the Pantheon. In class, we learned about the genius of men like Brunelleschi, who finally figured out how to build the largest octagonal free-standing dome of his time. I walked the same streets as powerful people like Brunelleschi, Verrocchio, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Medici.

All of this was expected, but I also met genius that I didn’t expect during my time in Italy. As a vocal music education major, I wanted to attend as many (free) concerts as I could, but due to our heavy itinerary, I could only make it to two. The first concert, through wonderful, was fairly uneventful. I happened to see a poster for the second concert, featuring the Santa Barbara Choral Society, while I was walking back to my apartment one evening. The advertised repertoire list included work by some of my favorite composers, including Palestrina, Aaron Copland, and Morten Lauridsen. Lauridsen’s music, especially his piece “O Magnum Mysterium,” was the catalyst for my decision to become a music education major, so I knew I had to go. My roommate, Carolina, came with me, and we sat in the third row of the beautiful church called Santa Trinita. The front two rows were reserved and empty, but a few minutes after we sat down, Lauridsen himself walked in and sat directly in front of us! I got to meet the man who inspired me to pursue a career in music, ask him questions, and listen to the Santa Barbara choirs sing “O Magnum Mysterium” while he was in the room (pictured above). It was another incredible, unexpected encounter with genius during my summer abroad.

For all the genius I experienced in Italy, for all the heights of human achievement I saw and the beautiful music I heard, I also loved acquainting myself with the everyday, mundane aspects of Italian life. I lived in an Italian apartment without a clothes dryer or air conditioning. My roommates and I went shopping at an unbelievably crowded grocery store without knowing which brands we should buy, or even knowing what each can of food was. We spent a couple of weeks trying to find the best pizza place in Florence (if anyone is wondering, it’s called Divina Pizza. It’s a few blocks away from Santa Croce, has fantastically weird artisanal pizza, and the staff are some of the friendliest people we met while in Italy). We had to learn how to live in a foreign culture, which included adjusting to all kinds of rules that are different from America’s rules. For example, it is an absolute necessity to “validate” train tickets before using them by inserting them in a punch machine. If tickets aren’t validated, a huge fine could be incurred. Fruit must be weighed and labeled by a special machine in the grocery store before it can be bought. In our apartment, at least, there was a limit to how much electricity we could use at one time. If we used too much, it would shut off. These mundane oddities, and many more, made every day in Italy an adventure.

We packed four weeks with the best of many different places in Italy, from Rome all the way to Bolzano. I hiked in Cinque Terre, ate wiener schnitzel in the Alps, biked in Lucca, and walked the medieval streets of Siena. By the end of it all, I was exhausted. This is where the best part of the entire trip came: I went home with open eyes. It’s easy to get stuck in one way of living, forgetting all of the good and the bad that comes with it. That was certainly true of my life in America before I spent a month abroad. Living in Italy forced me to step outside my comfort zone, and I discovered how much my friends, family, and career mean to me. I came back with a greater appreciation for the genius of my home here and a newfound joy in the mundane parts of my life.


Raise a Dog, Change a Life by Micaela Motzko

It was a windy, overcast Wednesday morning—but warm enough to wear short sleeves. I rode with my mom to the Little Rock airport, buzzing with excitement the entire drive. I had to skip my classes to make the trip, but I wasn’t even thinking about what I’d have to make up later. I was given his flight tracking number and I anxiously watched as the plane departed California and approached the Clinton National Airport. I was told his name beforehand, but nothing else—not even a picture. The plane landed and we made our way inside to get my “package.” I peered over the cargo loading zone to see a crate that looked empty, until suddenly, a sweet little puppy head popped up with wide, brown eyes. And that was the moment Gibson changed my life.

IMG_9200  I’m a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which is a nonprofit organization that provides highly trained companion dogs to people with disabilities. CCI raises and trains service, assistance, hearing, and facility dogs, each with their own role in a person’s life. I found CCI when I was seeking an opportunity to integrate working dogs into a thesis project, and I’m so glad that I did. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that a CCI dog can have on someone’s life and I’m proud to be a small part of this organization.
My job as a puppy raiser is to love, raise, train, and socialize Gibson so that he will have the best chance possible at becoming a service dog. The quality of my work will directly influence whether he’s able to change the life someone else. Besides the usual puppy care and potty training, I also trim his nails, brush his teeth, and clean his ears every week. I attend regular training sessions with a professional dog trainer, who helps me teach Gibson his 30 commands. I spend time each day reinforcing those commands so that they’re nearly perfect when he returns to CCI. I also take him on public outings to practice his behavior in various settings, which I would say is the most important part of my job.

IMG_9199Gibson is a little over a year old now and his outings are increasingly becoming a regular part of my life. I bring Gibson with me every chance that I get—to the grocery store, restaurants, classes, movie theaters, and even to the voting booth last week. People in public usually respond well and understand that he’s training, but of course I’ve had lots of staring, rude remarks, and even people turning me away from their business. However, he gets a little better each time I take him with me because he becomes more and more familiar with different situations. Sometimes we’ll stand up to leave from a restaurant and I’ll hear people say they didn’t even realize a dog was under our table—which is the biggest compliment somebody could give us, since it took a ton of work to get him to that point.


Raising Gibson for my thesis project has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, but not without hard work. Because my “work” with Gibson is mostly fun, I forget how much time and energy I put into this project. I track the time I’ve spent using an app on my phone, and as of last week, I’ve spent a little over 815 hours on my thesis—and it continues to grow each day. However, I’ve been lucky that my role as puppy raiser doesn’t ever feel like real work.IMG_9204

Next August, I’ll return to California with Gibson to participate in his puppy graduation ceremony. From there, CCI analyzes his behavior in order to place him in the program that best fits his personality. Finally, they will pair Gibson with a person with a disability and they will complete formal training together, tailoring commands to the individual’s needs.

Although the thought of letting him go hurts deeply, knowing that he’ll have a positive impact on someone else’s life makes it worth the heartbreak. I love watching him grow up and seeing the progress for which we’ve both worked so hard. He’s unbelievably smart, patient, sweet, and playful—and I love him like my own. Gibson has brought so much joy and laughter in the short twelve months he’s been in my life; he’s the best kind of study break and it’s impossible to feel stressed when I’m around him. Even though he isn’t mine to keep, I’ll never forget the impact he’s had on my life—all this time I thought I was raising him to change someone else’s life and it turns out he’s changed mine along the way.

If you would like to keep up with our adventures, I post weekly on

Service and Safari in Tanzania by Laura Craig


I had the opportunity to spend a month volunteering through Projects Abroad and shooting a documentary in Arusha, Tanzania this summer as part of my thesis with the aid of a Travel Abroad Grant from the Honors College. While this wasn’t my first time abroad, it was my first trip to a developing country; I didn’t know what to expect.

One of the first things I learned was that Tanzanian people are very friendly. When walking around the city center or from my host family’s house to work (at the Kilimanjaro Film Institute), I would constantly be greeted by those I passed- from school children to adults. The most common greeting is, “Mambo.” There are several appropriate responses, but the most common one is “Poa!” I would say this at least five times on my short walk to work every morning.

Working at the Kilimanjaro Film Institute (KFI) was a priceless experience. At KFI, I did motion graphics work for their TV channel, Tazma TZ. I absolutely love motion graphics, so I was quite excited; however, we often lost power at work, and when we had no power, we couldn’t work on our computers or access the wireless Internet connection. I also had the opportunity to lead a workshop for some students on scriptwriting, and I trained some of the staff on using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects. I do not normally view myself as a leader, so this experience served as a growth opportunity for me personally. This, I feel, is characteristic of volunteering abroad. You go to use your skills to provide a service or educate those in the developing world (or simply in a different culture), but in the process you grow as a person and learn so much about yourself.

Besides working at KFI, I also worked with other Projects Abroad volunteers to paint the walls of the Juvenile Detention Center in Arusha. As part of filming my documentary, I had the opportunity to go along on a medical outreach and visit an orphanage as well. I will always cherish the friendships I made with the other volunteers from these experiences.

IMG_9138My time in Tanzania wasn’t all work and no play. On the weekends, I got to travel to the Hot Springs at Moshi and go on a safari to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater with some of the friends I had made. Words cannot describe how beautiful Tanzania is. We swam in the hot springs for hours getting tickled by tiny fishes and fighting the current to explore secluded pools. I have never seen such crystal clear and azure water in my life. The next morning we drove to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, where we hiked to the Ndoro waterfalls and visited the gate where hikers start to climb Kili.

IMG_9137I went on a three-day safari that started with a game drive in the Serengeti. The wildlife we saw was astounding- cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, lions, antelope, a leopard, hyenas, hippos, ostriches, buffalo, baboons, and zebras. We spent two nights camping while on safari- one in the Serengeti and one in the Ngorongoro Crater. I had never been tent camping before, but I absolutely loved seeing the stars so clearly without any light pollution from the city. Because we spent the night at the top of the Ngorongoro Crater, which was created through the collapse of a volcano, it was extremely cold. We bundled together, and I wore my Massai wrap around my shoulders everywhere I went.

IMG_9136I will never be the same person I was before I traveled to Tanzania. I have experienced a new culture, a new way of life, and new natural beauty that have opened my mind and expanded my worldview. If you’re ever given the opportunity, travel. Travel to places that scare you and excite you, because you will gain so much from those experiences. And if you get the chance, volunteer abroad, because it truly allows you to integrate into another culture and appreciate your own.