Buena Onda: a 21 Day Update

Hola y Buenos Días! (I promise I have been practicing and learning more spanish than just these three words.) I’m writing to you today after having arrived three weeks; currently I am looking both backwards at the time I have spent in this beautiful country and the time I have left here. As I will continue to share in this post to you all today, I am both inspired from where I have been and what opportunities await me. A few fun points of learning I have had while here so far, and then I’ll dive right into a recap of my past three weeks, some photos, and an update on my project! So… I’ve learned how special it is to have stable housing (like I did in Denmark). As you will see, I moved four times in one week. I’ve learned to not really call the language here spanish, but rather, Chilean; Cachai? Sipo, yapo (You get me? Yeah, yeah for sure.)! I have learned to welcome and love the friendly, open, and warm culture that exists between people, and I have recognized the increased confidence in myself while being in a new place. As I reflect on why, I think it is both a result of my ability to speak the language here, but also having three months of experience under my belt. I have learned to accept a slow start in a new place. If there was one thing I learned in Denmark about working on my project, was that all good things come in time, and patience is important. I’d also like to give a special shoutout to Cory Willis, who helped me get my feet on the ground. Cory is a mutual friend from back in the states; he helped pick me up from the airport, show me around the city a bit, provided a bed, food, and wonderful porch to spend the evenings on. Cory, thank you!

  • Saturday, October 7: On my first day in Chile, after having tried to adjust a bit more to the time change, Cory and I grabbed a late breakfast and drove out towards El Cajon del Maipo, west of the city and into the Andes! Flying into Santiago, I caught a glimpse of the mountains, but I didn’t think I would be walking in them the next day! We drove until we couldn’t any more, often getting out to walk around, take pictures and marvel at the snow-crested mountain peaks that we found ourselves in. We grabbed dinner at a restaurant on the road back home, ate good, traditional Chilean food and called it a night.
  • Sunday, October 8: Day two consisted of a little orienteering. I bought a SIM Card and returned only to find it non-functioning, so I set out on a mission through the city, winding up in probably the largest mall I have ever been in, La Costanera Center, but I managed to make it work and navigated my way through it all in spanish! It felt good to be using my Spanish and know that I could carry a conversation when needed!
  • Monday, October 9: I spent the morning beginning a search for longer term housing that would suit for more time here. I went out on my first of what has already totaled to many Chilean runs, and set back out to see another part of the city that I had not seen yet.
  • Tuesday, October 10: In the morning I researched the Ambulance Services here in Santiago. Walking the streets in the first week, I was able to see that there was a clear multitude of services, which excited me about the possibly of gaining access to one or more of them over time! I spent the afternoon meeting a a potential group of people to live with. They welcomed me into their home and showed me around the place. In the evening, I went to an event I had found on Facebook called, Spanglish Party. The rules of the event are that you speak in spanish for 20 – 30 minutes and then switch to English. This rotation continues for about 2 hours and then people begin to have a little more fun, dancing, sharing drinks and good company! It is a great idea and it has been great to meet so many different people through this event!
  • Wednesday, October 11: In the morning I visited another potential house, explored the city a bit more and did some shopping for things I realized that I needed after having settled in a bit more.
  • Thursday, October 12: I spent this Thursday doing more project planning, finally having a more extensive list to work with. I began sending emails to different agencies around the city, hoping my spanish would convey my point accurately in appropriately! A nice afternoon run, with a little more exploration rounded out the day very nicely. I have found how nice it is to not try and see everything all at once, but rather approach each day with the intent of finding something new, something unseen. It has keep the adventure going and always gives me excitement for what else I will see while I am here!
  • Friday, October 13: A week into my stay in Chile, I got out on the town and began my visits to some local ambulance agencies. I went first to Help, a large private agency that covers the entire metropolitan region. I worked out a time for an appointment in the following week and was excited about what opportunities it may hold. I then went to SAMU, which is the public service here in Santiago. I talked to some people at the station, learned a little more about the work they do, and how it relates to the public versus private health sector. I also received some names of people to contact further, which I thought was a step in the right direction!
  • Saturday, October 14: As I wrote in my first Quarterly Report, I have tried to be more regular about time off, such as weekends. I know as I go, this structure may not always be divided between weekdays and weekends, but as I am here in Santiago, it matches up with the city, and there is a clear lull in traffic and work, and a large influx in outdoor activity! Cory and I went to a delicious place called El Camino BBQ, and I spent my evening grabbing a drink with someone I had met in the week before.
  • Sunday, October 15: In the morning, I went on an awesome long run through Cerro San Cristóbal, the big hill/park that’s sits within the city. On Saturdays and Sunday’s, there are tons of people out walking, running, and biking through the hills. It’s lovely to see how many people are out and enjoying themselves.
  • Monday, October 16: On the 16th, I moved in (for the 1st time) into a place I had previously checked out. I had my meeting with two members in Help, and planned to work with them on future opportunities on engagement and learning through their service. In the evening, for various circumstances, I grew increasingly unsettled with where I was staying, and had to make the tough choice of moving out. Luckily I still had a few days to stay in Cory’s (move #2), and I had to part ways. I know the quick change was not the best thing, but I learned something important in this moment. I need to find places to stay that I can feel safe, comfortable and okay returning to at the end of the day. Your bed deserves to be a place of comfort, no matter where you are, and I made the decision to look for a different one!
  • Tuesday, October 17: I actually already had another spot to stay lined up; it had been another option and I felt good about where I would be, so on the 17th, I moved again (for the 3rd time). Moving in, all felt well. I was in a good spot, it was with a family, and I was comfortable with where I was! It felt good to be able to say that. In the evening I headed back to the Spanglish Party event and enjoyed more good conversations with new faces in both english and spanish.
  • Wednesday, October 18: You may start laughing at this by now, but I learned I could stay at Cory’s. Long term, it would save me quite a bit, and give me a really great space to stay, so I moved again (move #4!). At this point I have become what I would call a semi-pro at packing, and unpacking, and it has also helped reveal a few things I may not need to keep with me for a full year abroad. In the evening I grabbed drinks with the cousin of a family friend from back home. Ian was friendly and welcoming, always asking what he could do to help me get adjusted to life here in Chile.
  • Thursday, October 19: I spent the morning catching up documenting some of what I have seen and learned, went on a nice run and set back out to find some ambulance services I could potentially talk to. Both had very closed doors, and I knew I had to rely (and hope) on an email response from them!
  • Friday, October 20: I visited the World Health Organization, hoping to maybe hear about any programs they are involved in here. I received an email to follow up with. (This is something I am growing much more accustomed to experiencing.) I then headed to another ambulance agency called Ambulancias Santiago where I was able to set up a meeting for the following week! Coming back closer to my apartment I stopped in a building that housed different non-profit organizations and enjoyed talking to a few different groups about their work and how I could potentially get engaged in the work they do!
  • Saturday, October 21: This past Saturday, I hiked up a volcano called Manquehue! The top was over a mile high and revealed a stunning view of all of Santiago. From up above, you can really see the smog that the Andes keeps trapped within the city, but as the day continued, it mostly was burned off by the sun!
  • Sunday, October 22: On Sunday I watched my home church’s service online from the porch and set out on another great long run through Cerro San Cristóbal! I took the evening to pack my things again.
  • Monday, October 23: On Monday I moved once more (#5!) and now feel really good about where I am! I live with a brother and sister near the a lot of great spots. It is quiet, yet central, and close to the metro! In the afternoon I went biking to a different park in the city with a friend I have met here!
  • Tuesday, October 24: Getting situated in my new home, I took the morning to run and get to know the area I was living in, in the afternoon I went out exploring some more unseen parts of the city. In the evening I went back to Spanglish Party. Having been the third time I have gone, it was really fun to see familiar faces, and pick back up on good conversations from the weeks before.
  • Wednesday, October 25: This past Wednesday morning, I went back for a meeting with Ambulancias Santiago. I got to spend some time learning abut their service as well as the others that work in this area. I left with having confirmed time on Monday to ride with two medics!
  • Thursday, October 26: Yesterday, I was took some time at a coffee shop to reflect on the past three weeks. I have come to enjoy time within my day to write, but I have not given myself as much time recently! It felt good to take the morning to do so. Back out in the city in the afternoon, explored the Plaza de Armas, Lastarria, and Cerro Santa Lucia.
  • Friday, October 27: This Friday was the National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches, and just about everything is closed! People take days off seriously here and welcome a day off when. I’m here in a great coffee shop called, The Original Green Roasters, writing and reflecting on these wonderful first three weeks.

Check out some great photos below and scroll on for more updates on my project!

Panoramic view of El Cajon del Maipo
Standing in El Cajon del Maipo!
Snow melt en El Cajon, lots of sediment and rocks being carried with the water
Panoramic view from atop Cerro San Cristóbal
View from atop Cerro San Cristóbal
Views from atop Manquehue
Views from atop Manquehue cont.
Views from atop Manquehue cont.
Staging for photos and loving every minute of the climb!
Standing on El Cumbre (the peak) of Manquehue
Taking in the view of 6 million below from a mile high!
Blurry but fun selfie with the family I hiked with!
Panoramic view in the Bicentennial Park: Costanera Center to the left, part of Cerro San Cristóbal center, and Manquehue off to the right!
Enjoying a ride through Bicentennial Park, Vitacura, Santiago
A glimpse into what bike shopping looks like here in Chile!
A photo at the peak of Cerro Santa Lucía in the center of Santiago

Time for some project updates!

As my first few weeks in Denmark went, so too has been my time here. I have felt a mixture of both ups and downs, but know that I am continuing to move in the right direction.

A few quick notes on what I have learned from observation: Perhaps it is because I am in a major city (over three times the size of Copenhagen), but ambulances are everywhere. I have definitely seen ambulances of the same service, but it seems almost as if I see a new ambulance here every day. They’re out on the roads all the time, and often always have their lights on, but very rarely have I seen the sirens blaring as well. Something that has stuck out to me though is that cars aren’t moving often when there is an ambulance with lights flashing behind them. I will be interested to learn more about this: whether lights flashing is standard, and thus cars react less, or its more a result of the way drivers share the road with each other. Something that has been repeated to me here in Santiago is that people are always so friendly, helpful, and open, but on the road and behind the wheel the story is different. Horns blaze and people drive much more sporadically than I am used to. Additionally, coming into Chile, I knew there were both public and private services, and I have been able to at talk to members on both sides of the spectrum, but it is clear who holds the dominate presence in Santiago: that is the multiple different private services. Solely from observation on the streets as well as some research online, these services are a mix of both hospital run ambulances as well as private services stationed in and around the city.

Some facts I have learned in conversation at different agencies: It was my first assumption that you had to subscribe to these different services in order for them to respond to you. Ambulances around the city all have different phone numbers tied to them, and I originally thought that individuals who subscribed to a specific service would call their service number for care. I have now learned that anyone can make the call; it is just that the bill comes later. To me, it sounds a little similar to what I know from back home, except that all of these private services have their own numbers, and dispatching centers that receive and direct calls. Now, only speaking for what I have seen with Ambulancias Santiago, but I learned a little bit more about the structure of the ambulance, medics, and what is/is not stocked on the ambulance. All medics who work for their service are trained and certified with a national level of certification. The ambulances in service are all the basic level, and consist of a medic and a driver. The back of the ambulance is stocked with your standard level of basic equipment, but one thing that stuck out to me was that there were no AEDs on the trucks. The station had them; I learned that in the instance of a cardiac issue, which would also be a call above the “basic” level of care, a higher trained tech would bring both medicine and an AED on board and respond to the call with the medic and driver who were already on board. I’ll be interested to learn a little more about this. As I shared from Denmark, the access to AEDs there were just about on every corner of every street. Talking more with Ambulancias Santiago, I continued to learn more about the public service, SAMU. The issue that was expressed to me is their lack of numbers. Frankly, there just are not enough ambulances in service at a given time to create reliable public access. It was hard to wrap my head around this because of what I saw when I visited SAMU’s dispatching center. The facility resembled what I had seen in Denmark: monitors everywhere, people who received the calls were trained health care professionals, and dispatchers were on the other side of the room directing the ambulances where they needed to be. Knowing these two things, it seems like there is a lot of potential for the service, but it currently is not quite at capacity to cover the six million strong population within this city.

Some thoughts I have learned from talking with people here: Chile has one of the largest disparity gaps among any country in the world. I can only imagine at this point that access to rapid medical care is a major factor into contributing and perpetuating this gap. A lot of people I have talked to here have had some choice words to say about the services here. It’s hard to fully understand, especially since I so often see ambulances driving around the city, but I think it is important to note the consistent trend I have observed in conversation. On the other hand, I know these are not the only thoughts, and I will continue to seek out different perspectives. For now, it has been really great to start engaging in more conversations about my project with other people I meet. I am looking forward to more and how my conversations will continue to grow and develop as I speak with more people.

Well, that gives a pretty good summary of how things have been going so far. It has all been so great: the language, the people, the places, the views, and myself in the midst of it all. I am excited to ride with the medics at the beginning of this week and for what else I will continue to do in the days to come. There are some big plans in the works for my time to come and I am excited to continue working to make them possible. I am working on heading to the southern parts of Chile. I am beginning to realize as well as long for different experiences of engagement. I have seen the big city, I have both grown up in one and lived in one while in Europe, and I have seen the rural aspects of life while at Sewanee. In my Watson Proposal, I planned to get into these communities more, and that’s the goal here! I’ll keep you updated.

As always, thanks for sticking around, checking in, and reading about this wild and amazing year. I expressed in my first Quarterly Report my gratitude towards the Foundation, but I also want to share my gratitude to you all. So, readers, thank you!!

Ciao, Nos vemos!

First Quarterly Report – October 8, 2017

Can you believe a week has gone by in Chile?! I can’t, but I can tell you I am loving it. I want to share a post with you all that differs a bit from the style of many of my past posts. The Watson Foundation asks that we report back to them every quarter of the year. They ask that we think of these reports, “as a long letter home reflecting on the successes [we’ve] enjoyed, obstacles [we] have faced, and questions that have arisen, in the previous three months.” Last Sunday, I submitted the first of three quarterly reports. I will do so again on January 8th and April 8th. The last report will be submitted as a final response in September upon my return.

Many of you who know me well, know that I am a pretty open book. I often don’t shy away from talking and I enjoy being open with people; today, I want to do the same here and share with you the report, or rather, the long letter home, I sent to Watson. In it you will find a recap of my first three months and a rather vulnerable reflection on what I have learned, and how I think I am growing.

Watson, where do I start? Hi committee! As I write to you, I am enroute across the Atlantic: having said goodbye to Denmark, I am destined towards Chile! I figured I’d address this letter to “Watson,” because I often in these first three months have felt I have developed a personal relationship with “Watson.” That is, “Watson,” the person, “Watson,” the year, and “Watson,” the Fellowship. I’ll start here…hi, Watson; thank you.

An update to where I have been, and what I have been doing: Three months in Denmark, and mostly Copenhagen have been a whirlwind. I have ebbed and flowed between feeling extremely productive and feeling like I have completely failed, but I am happy to say that in leaving, I feel content with how this first quarter went, but I leave knowing that there is more to be done, more that I can do, more that I am capable of. A highlight reel of my first three months: I spent my first six weeks in Copenhagen, mostly trying to create a network and often trying to figure out exactly how to “do” a Watson Year. I often found what felt like leads, only to hit another road block. Danish medical regulations were a challenge. By the start of Week 5, I managed a day of observation in the Emergency Room, and I had been able to talk to a small handful of doctors and medics involved in pre-hospital care. I took an extended three night weekend in Prague at the end of Week 7 to explore a new part of Europe, and returned to experience my first Ride-Along in a Danish Ambulance with a 24-hr shift at the start of Week 8. I took a day in Malmö, Sweden over the weekend and during Week 9, I returned to work another 24-hrs with medics. During the end of Week 9 and during Week 10, I headed out of Copenhagen, three nights in Aarhus, three nights in Aalborg, including a 12-hr day shift in Northern Denmark, and two days in Esbjerg. I returned to Copenhagen for the weekend and ran the Copenhagen Half Marathon! At the start of Week 11, I traveled to the Faroe Islands, took part in two 12-hr night shifts, toured the hospital systems, rescue boats, and helicopters. I spent an evening training with Fire, EMS, and Police and a day in the Hospital learning. Returning for Week 12 I spent one more 24-hr shift with the medics outside of Copenhagen, and traveled to Bergen Norway for three nights as one last “trip.” I spent Week 13 packing up and traveling to Madrid where the best flight out of Europe was. I caught a glimpse of my Brother and Sister-in-law for a short, but wonderful two days, and now I am here, in Santiago, Chile, at the end of Week 13.

Now that is a very schedule-oriented description of this quarter, but I think it describes much of how I have felt my “project” has gone. My project has felt very structured and detail-oriented. It has felt less people-oriented than I originally thought (and still want!) it to be. Original intentions and ideas put me in the back of an ambulance to experience pre-hospital care first hand abroad, but I kept being denied access due to regional regulations in Denmark. I felt lost. I continued to search different routes and eventually found a way in, and this really helped me in my feelings of accomplishment. My travel in mainland Denmark helped me better understand systemic differences in the five Health Regions of Denmark, but what it lacked was a better understanding of distinct cultural differences from place to place, and this is where I feel like I faltered a bit in my project. English was so accessible in Denmark, and it likely will be the place I can communicate with the most ease, but finding outlets to get to know Danes was incredibly hard. Living with a Host Family was of extreme benefit, but at the same time it was limited in who I got to know – other families of like type with younger children: not bad, just a similar demographic to what I already had gotten to know!

If you had to ask what my greatest battle was, it would be approaching people and engaging in conversation. Beyond the set-backs I felt in gaining visual access to ambulance care, I was most frustrated with myself for this. Generally feeling confident about my ability to engage in conversation with both people I know and with those I don’t, I wrestled with myself as to why I couldn’t do it in Denmark. For a long time, it controlled me. I spent my days out in the city, saying to myself, “Alright Mark, today is the day, you’re going to meet someone new, its going to be great.” I would bike home mad and disappointed in myself at my inability to engage in just one. So here is where I began to experience the instersection between my project and my personal self: where I am growing and what I have learned. I guess you knew that would happen though, right Watson? It all seems so intricately designed. This is where I kind of clearly separate my first half of this quarter and the second. At the end of Week 5, I found myself crying in a church, messaging my sister saying I had no idea what in the world I was doing. By the end of Week 11, I found myself weeping in joy and awe at arguably the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen. I had sat in a church, with a lack of faith, and a few short weeks later I was out in the wild, having a moment of pure peace, grace, and confidence about where I am. Learning Danish Culture was difficult to understand or accept, but I began to learn that small talk and conversation wasn’t quite their style, so I began to figure out other ways to feel fulfilled and engaged. I began watching more, observing interactions between others and reflecting on them – Yes, I do wish I cuold have been part of many of the interactions I saw, but I appreciated the new eye I had gained.

I learned that time off is important, that you can’t do your project 24/7, at least you can’t have the mindset that you are seeking out projectrelated work nonstop. I learned that running is as much a part of my life as anything else, and I learned that I feel better when I am treating my body well – when I allow time in my day to also focus on my running and my strength. I learned that my faith is less firm than I liked to think it was or admit. I learned that there are people I really, truly care about, that there are people in my life that I will always have and that I never want to let go of. I learned that I am more tied to technology than I would like to admit. I learned that I long for beautiful landscapes and that I am fulfilled by them. I learned how easy it is to settle into what is comfortable, and I learned how much better I felt when I was putting myself out there in the uncomfortable regions. I learned that sometimes weeks of planning last you only a week, and I learned that sometimes its better to enter without plans. I learned that approaching someone in person often goes farther than an email does, and I learned that I set incredibly high expectations for myself. I learned that this is my greatest pitfall. Goals are good, but expectations I make that I know I cannot meet are harmful. I am learning to recognize those irrational expectations and to allow myself some space for failure. I am learning to reflect more often, in writing and in thought, and I am learning to give thanks more often. I feel over conscious about what is appropriate to spend money on, and I find that it often adds stress to my day – that I am still learning how to handle better.

As I sat on the plane from Denmark to Spain, I wrote out the biggest question(s), truth(s), and hope(s) I have as I end of this first leg along a wild and crazy year. So I will end here.

Question: Have I done it right? Have I truly learned? Are there ways to do this project/this year that I havent even considered yet?

Truth: This year is wild. It is like nothing you can prepare yourself for and you must accept that. You must accept the shortcomings of your often too high expectations – it does not mean you will not get there or reach them in their own time.

Hope: A return to faith. My Sunday in Bergen, the feeling I received taking part in the Eucharist, the welcome I felt. It was sacred. The feeling I felt looking at the Fjords, the waterfalls, the feelings felt hiking 20+ miles solo in Vágar, the feelings that swept over me while watching the sunset outside of Torshavn…those were sacred feelings. I have had many sacred moments, but I haven’t often turned towards God and to my faith when I have had them. I rather have let them come and let them go. I want to hold onto them more and onto my phone less. I want be more flexible and let the days carry me instead of trying to carry the days. I want to celebrate conversation and I want to experience, the culture, the health, and the people within and beyond Santiago: in the cities, and the landscapes.

For now I can say I have housing in Chile, I anticipate it being for about two weeks or so as I get my feet on the ground, and I have accommodations in mid November, so I’m searching for space during that interim month. I am living in Las Condes, a nice area of Santiago at Calle Hamlet 4145, Las Condes, Santiago de Chile. I am living temporarily through a connection I made back home, and will move to a neighborhood called La Providencia in November. I plan in this week to grab coffee with some people I have reached out to through AirBnB and other homestay/accommodation websites – I am aiming to live in a place with people, as I have found it to be an excellent way to get to know people. What is both a result of the busy-ness of my final six weeks and a reflection of what worked and what did not in Denmark, my plans are much more open for Chile, and that excites me. Santiago has multiple EMS agencies; I have some initial contacts and addresses. Short term, I plan to make further contacts with these organizations and meet them in person. I hope to acquaint myself with the larger city of Santiago as well – the neighborhoods and the people. I have already seen how much I have enjoyed using the Spanish I know and it excites me to improve. It also gives me confidence in approaching people to have conversation. Long term, I aim to begin working with the EMS agencies, and hope to find other locations around Chile where they work. Once I do, I plan to head there – to see different landscapes, cities, and people. As this year continues to be an experiment, I am trying out a new mode of exploration. It is one that revels a little more in the unknown than before, and that excites me.

Watson, you are an incredible thing, and words cannot express my gratitude towards you. You have blown me away, and I suspect you have only just begun to do so. My blog has plenty of photos from my time in Denmark, but I am going to try and upload a video along with this report. Bear with the wind as I try to talk over it, but I believe it is a rare moment where I captured myself at my best.

Again, bear with the wind if you can, and enjoy a good laugh at it’s silliness. I sure do when I watch it again, but know how real these feelings of gratitude are, today and everyday. A suggestion for you in these next three months: find a sunset, run off into it, and be grateful for the beautiful world we are given.

Take care, nos vemos, saludos,


The Final Stretch: September 18 – October 6

We are shifting gears! Check out one last update before I touchdown on the other side of the world. I write to you now from 30,000 feet above. I am three and a half hours into a 13 hour flight across the Atlantic. I left Madrid, Spain this morning at 10:50 am and arrive in Santiago, Chile at 7:30 pm local time. I arrive in Chile. South America…The other side of the world! As my final weeks in Denmark began to be filled with busy days and lots of travel, I am finally getting to you one last update on my time away.

This final update includes: a trip to the Faroe Islands ( a portion of the greater Danish Kingdom), a final ride with the ambulances in Greve, a trip to Bergen, Norway, final goodbyes to my host family, Copenhagen, and Denmark, and a grand reunion with my brother, Rob, and my sister-in-law, Katherine, in Madrid!

Check out some details below:

  • Monday, September 18: Arriving in the Faroe Islands, I landed in Sorvagur and took a bus to the capital, Tórshavn, which was about an hour away. The Faroe Islands are a cluster of 18 Islands that are part of the Danish Kingdom (Fun Fact: so is Greenland!). Although they have their own government, they are functionally an extension of Denmark with a few differences: The Kroner have different faces, they speak Faroese, and they live way out in the middle of the North-Atlantic. Driving from Sorvagur to Torshavn was mesmerizing. It’s hard to put into words what I was seeing, so be sure to check out some photos below. Traversing across the land or through underwater tunnels, the landscape was unlike anything I had seen before. Steep cliffs jutted out of the waters, covered in long, green grass. Water cut wedges into the landscape and trickled down from every spot it could find…and sheep. Sheep roamed the land and made clear that this place was their home. We even had to slow down and honk at them to move them off of the road! In Torshavn, I checked into my AirBnB and found a spot along the harbor for dinner. Soon after, I traveled to the National Hospital in the center of the City. I was to meet Hjalgrím, who was a Paramedic I had previously communicated with. Starting at 8:00 PM on Monday, I joined Hjalgrím on a 12-hr Ambulance shift – a perfect start!
  • Tuesday, September 19: Waking up in an incredibly comfortable lounger at the Hospital, our shift ended the next morning. Having been up a few times in the night, I took an extended nap back home and set out late morning for a picnic lunch in the city. Torshavn is small: approx 20,000 of the 50,000 Faroese residents live there. It’s size meant I could see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. I had been invited to spend the afternoon fishing with Raní, the other medic who had been working with Hjalgrím. We spent much of the afternoon out on a boat with his kids. Although we received only a few bites, and no fish, I was entirely satisfied with the spectacular views I was receiving. Situated between the two largest islands, we were surrounded by beautiful landscapes and fantastic weather. Fishing is a huge part of the Faroese cultural history and continues to be a major part of their economy, so it was awesome to take part in that for a day. The evening looked a lot like my first; I joined Hjalgrím and Raní for another night shift in the city.
  • Wednesday, September 20: Finishing our shift, Hjalgrím and I had a day planned. We traveled north to Klaksvik, the second largest town (population 5,000) to see the second Hopsital and speak with some of the medics who worked there. In Klaksvik, I spoke and shared lunch with medics, toured the hospital, and got to speak with one of the members on the Search & Rescue Boat teams stationed just below the hospital in the city’s port. Before heading back to Torshavn, we stopped at Hjalgrím’s sister’s house. Treated to coffee and cake, I got to talk their family and hear some Faroese perspectives on my project, and how emergency care works in the Faroes. Heading back to Torshavn, the foggy rain that had plagued most of the day began to let up. Looking into the trail book I received at the airport, I decided to take a small hike. The hike led me along old Cairn Paths. Cairns are rocks piled together into a tower formation, and they serve as trail markers. This path connected Torshavn to an older city south of it. About halfway through the hike, my plan was uprooted when I discovered a pristine piece of land that looked westwards towards the sun. With steep slopes to my back and a few of the other Islands situated in front of me out on the sea, I looked out and witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. I sat there for a while, reflected on how in the world I got to this moment, and gave thanks.
  • Thursday, September 21: On the 21st, I met Hjalgrím for a morning tour of the Main Hospital, something we had yet to do. With a small, late-morning break, I spent some time at a Coffee Shop by the Harbor and wrote down some thoughts of my time in the Faroes thus far. Hjalgrím and I traveled to the airport in the early afternoon to meet the Helicopter Crew and learn about the search and rescue operations they perform when necessary. As the afternoon waned, Hjalgrím and I traveled to our next spot: A tunnel south of Klaksvik where we were going to take part in a training scenario. Police, Fire, and EMS staged a multiple casualty car incident that had occurred in one of the many tunnels found in the Islands. Making it as real as they possibly could, I got to watch medics respond to difficult situations and take part in the discussion that followed.
  • Friday, September 22: One final day with Hjalgrím, we joined some of the Emergency Hopsital Staff in training. Though the morning lecture was in Danish, I was able to understand the style and concepts of training the groups were working on. Their goal was improving response and handling in trauma situations. Having sat through lecture, we then got to play out some scenarios to practice what had just been learned. Finishing late afternoon, it was crazy to believe how much I had packed into 5 days, and it was time to say goodbye to Hjalgrím. I went to Barbara’s Fishouse for dinner and treated myself to an amazing meal to celebrate a really incredible week. This also meant that I greatly expanded my palate, as I used to say I wasn’t the biggest fish person. Needless to say, the food was superb.
  • Saturday, September 23: With one free day left, I had planned out a day to myself that would take me on a long hike around the Island of Vágar. Starting early morning in Sandavagur, I had taken the bus and hopped off ready to go. Finding the first Cairn at the top of a hill that lined a gorge, I was already so excited for the day ahead. As I walked, through patches of heavy wind and intermittent fog, Cairn after Cairn would appear in the distance. 17 km into the day, I had made it from the east side of the Island and had reached the northern city of Slættanes, which consisted of 6 houses, many sheep, and no people since the late 1980s. Oddly enough I met three men who had taken the weekend in one of the houses that belonged to one of their grandfathers. I was welcomed with warm tea; I tried dried whale, a delicacy in the Faroes, and was given smoked salmon on bread. It was a blessing, and I got to share an unexpected meal with a friendly man named Bouy. Trekking back out, I set out on the second half of my hike. What would prove to be the more difficult sections, I trekked across sometimes hairy patches of rock, but was always rewarded by unbelievable views to both look forward to and back upon. I came to love the sight of another Cairn off in the distance: a simple confirmation that I was on the right course. Making it over the last mountain range, I descended into Gasadalur, my destination city and set my eyes upon the beautiful Mulfossur Waterfall. The day ended up serving as incredible space and time for reflection on my year thus far and served as a rather perfect metaphor for my journey to date. 35 km under my feet and a bus rude back to my AirBnB, I spent one last night in the Faroes.
  • Sunday, September 24: Flying out in the morning, I peered out the window and thought to myself, “I will be back here, I am sure of it.” And still, I believe it. Arriving back in Copenhagen, I had a great reunion with my host family, and spent the rest of my day catching up with them.
  • Monday, Septmeber 25: Having finsihed an incredible segment of traveling through Denmark, followed by my trip to the Faroes, I had a lot to update, both for myself and for you all! With a break for a run and lunch at home, I spent my day at my two favorite coffee shops getting work done. Morning at Ingolf’s Kaffebar near home, and an afternoon at Den Lille Gule Kaffebar near the City Hall. An evening at home, I spent engaging in thoughtful conversation with Morten, my host dad, as we often do.
  • Tuesday, September 26: Early on the 26th, I set back out towards Greve. Just, the medic, had another 24-hr shift that I got to take part in. Having not been at the station in a few weeks due to my travel, it felt great to return. It even felt a little more natural and I could tell that I felt much more comfortable in being there and engaging with the other medics and firemen. The day was busier than some of my other shifts, so we spent much of the day out on the road, but also took some time back at the station to train. There were some students present, and I got to jump in on the training and practice with them!
  • Wednesday, September 27: Finsihing my shift with a quite night, I trekked back to Copenhagen. Following up on my time on the 25th, I got to work finishing out a blog update detailing my Jylland Adventures! In the evening I grabbed dinner with some friends at Paper Island, the food market, knowing it would likely be the last chance I would have to see them before I left. We had a great time, said our goodbyes and wished each other well. This was probably the first of my goodbyes that I am finding will become a regular occurrence.
  • Thursday, Septmeber 28: Previously, I had booked a trip to Bergen, Norway as one final excursion before leaving Europe. After a few weeks of heavy travel, it felt a little weird to be moving so soon again, but it turned out to be a great trip. It sort of balanced out my time in my first three months away. Six weeks in I had gone to Prague and 12 weeks in, I went to Bergen. I spent my evening in the city getting acquainted with the beautiful town.
  • Friday, September 29: Having signed up for a Fjord Tour, I took a full day outside of Bergen. In total, three train rides, a bus, and fjord cruise, I saw so many incredible sights and was breath-taken by the fjords and mountain ranges in front of me.
  • Saturday, September 30: Continuing in some outdoor adventuring, I had been communicating with a guy named Josué, who lives in Bergen and is an Ultra-marathoner. He took me out to run the seven mountains that borders Bergen. A full day out on the trail, we covered 38 km and 8,500 ft mixing running with hiking (and sometimes a few stumbles).
  • Sunday, October 1: A late afternoon flight gave me time to wander the city a little more. I happened upon a church with an English service and entered, although I was a little late! I made it in time to share in the Eucharist and was invited to a potluck lunch with the congregation, since it was Harvest Sunday. Something that could not have been more unplanned, I shared a meal with incredible people who were so caring and hospitable. It was a perfect way to end my trip to Bergen, and begin to seriously close out my time in Europe.
  • Monday, October 2: Monday felt like a checklist kind of day; I spent the morning running some errands and beginning to pack. I spent the afternoon fairly captivated by news back home. I sat angry, sad, and confused – realizing the difficulty of feeling these emotions while abroad. I hurt for Las Vegas, and those affected by gun violence. It prompted me to think a lot about my year and my project as well. Articles I was reading reflected the incredible work emergency personnel did through the night of the 1st, and into the morning of the 2nd. An evening with my family, we went out for one final meal, exchanged a few gifts and ate delicious ice cream.
  • Tuesday, October 3: Anticipatory for my departure in the afternoon, I finished packing and hung out around the home. Grabbing one last latte at Den Lille Gule, and one final bike ride through the city, time shortly came to head to the airport. Morten, Iben, and Rune Drove me over and helped carry my bags to the checkpoint. A sad hug, one last family selfie and they disappeared from view as I went through the gates. I felt both sadness and immense gratitude: for having to leave and for all my (new) family had done for me. With a flight to Madrid, I had officially left Denmark. The next step of my journey and year was beginning.
  • Wednesday, October 4: With EXTREME anticipation, and I do not say that lightly if you could not tell, I greeted Rob & Katherine, and celebrated: for their completion of the Camino, for two years of marriage, and for being together with then for the first time in over 3 months! Settling into our AirBnB, we grabbed delicious paella, and talked for hours. Sunset out in the city, we came back close to our apartment for dinner. Our conversations kept flowing, sharing stories, laughing at old memories and being thankful for the time we had together.
  • Thursday, October 5: Rob, Katherine, and I spent the day in excellent fashion. First, all of us purchased Adventure Hats (a must) and then we spent the day doing what one could only do after such a purchase: adventuring. We roamed the different streets of Madrid, stopped for small bites to eat at new places and marveled at the city. In the Evening we met a friend of Rob’s, named Marc, who he had worked with any Moondance. Marc had been living in Spain for the past 7 years and gave us an evening that couldn’t have been better. Beginning in his flat on the terrace, we shared drinks and good views. Meandering out to dinner, we found a place that felt extremely authentic and ended our evening trying Shandy, a favorite of Marc’s and something new for the three of us!
  • Friday, October 6: Now we are up-to-date. Perhaps not with brevity, but a thorough update at all of the fantastic things that have happened was more than necessary. Today I fly in to Santiago, Chile and will spend the night with a mutual friend from the States. Though this next legs feels a little slightly less structured than before, it is a new beginning, and the most important thing is in check: I have a bed.

Want to see some of those incredible sights I talked about? Check them out below — Not holding back this time, so scroll through and enjoy!

Downtown Torshavn
The Old City of Torshavn
Fishing Views pt. 1
Fishing Views pt. 2
Fishing Views pt. 3
Torshavn Sunset – One of the Best I’ve ever seen
Torshavn Sunset
Faroese Hike Pt.1 – One of the many Cairns that guided me
Faroese Hike pt. 2 – Slættanes, abandoned in the 1980’s
Faroese Hike pt. 3 – Sheep seemed to have reclaimed the land
Faroese Hike pt. 4 – Sheep living their best life
Faroese Hike pt. 5 – Buoy, retreating in Slættanes, he fed me whale, cod, salmon and hot tea!
Faroese Hike pt. 6 – Hiking the north face of Vágar
Faroese Hike pt. 7 – Views from the hike
Faroese Hike pt. 8 – Thankful for valleys (away from cliff-sides)
Faroese Hike pt. 9 – Views of the trail ahead
Faroese Hike pt. 10 – The Final Destination: Gasadalur & the Mulafossur Waterfall
Bergen, the old city, Norway
Views from the Norwegian Fjords
Waterfalls were everywhere in Norway
The Scenic Flåm Railway, Norway
Josué, my running partner, and I on the 7-Fjallen 38 km run
Squatting on top of Mountain 7 of 7 in Norway. Mountains 1, 2, and 3 are behind me
One last dinner with the Family! (We couldn’t find a better background)
Goodbye Selfies are important
Hello Selfies are important too! Hello Rob & Katherine!
We bought adventure hats
Adventure hat ready, bring it on Chile!

In all these jam-packed three weeks, a lot occurred, and a lot of great work towards my project was gained. All that I did made me feel so great closing out in Denmark. I will start with my time in the Faroes and expand out to some final thoughts on things learned in Denmark over these first 90 days of an incredible and wild year.

The biggest thing I learned and noticed about the Faroe Islands is the community’s size. With only a population of 50,000 people spread amongst 18 islands, the population is small and often quite separated from place to place. The Islands are geographically isolated, with any major city being at minimum an hours journey (and 2 hours to Copenhagen). Given the size, I also learned that Faroese very fittingly fulfill the definition for “Jack of All Trades.” Individuals who live on the Islands are not just one type of person; and it is true, neither are most of us; however, it seemed to me that those on the Islands do it all. Because of size, most people take on much of their own tasks that we often would outsource others to do; its part of the culture there, and its reflected in the home and in the work place. Perhaps this is also a small town culture versus large, because I have seen reflections of this style of work with some individuals who work and live in Sewanee. In the Faroes, the medics work for the Hospital System which is nationally run. While on shift, not only are they responsible for patients in the field, they also perform numerous in-house duties for the hospital. Sometimes changing beds, taking patients for imaging, or even taking out the trash, the medics had a few more roles that fit into their job descriptions than those I have met elsewhere. Although the medics are situated with these tasks that do not directly pertain to ambulance and pre-hospital care, I learned that most medics seem to generally like the system. A benefit for them is that they’re not external to the hospital: they are able to maintain good relationships with the trauma center and are even allowed to follow-up on calls. Sometimes medics are presented with unusual cases, and in the interest of learning, hearing abut differential diagnoses can greatly help the response to the same situation in the future. Similar to the medics who often do more than just work the ambulance, the same goes for those on the Search and Rescue Boats, or the Helicopter Response Unit. Search And Rescue Boat crew are volunteers working and living near the boat’s location. They hold separate jobs, but are within reach of the boat if they need to respond to a call. The helicopter is the same, the pilots and technicians on board do more than wait for calls to come out. They work as pilots, flight engineers, etc.

Though these are some benefits of the Faroes that I saw, not everything can work perfectly. Just as the small size often benefits the medics and the work they do by creating the small community feel, it can also be damaging. On a personal level, I learned from some of the medics that it can often be two small: too often you respond to a call with some knowledge of the person and their non-medical background. This can be challenging when trying to work efficiently and objectively. On an educational level, a small island also means that there will be inherently less calls on any given day. That correlates to less opportunity for experiential learning, especially for the cases that may not occur as often. On a structural and systemic level, there is a challenge of resources. You can’t just place ambulances everywhere. One is limited by the available medics and the funding provided to the service. Thus, there will be some gaps in coverage. Each station only has one ambulance in service at a given town. For the size of it, it makes sense. It would be a waste of money and resources if the Faroes were to employ more; however, it poses a risk when the local ambulance is out on a call or transporting a patient. The region of land specific a station covers experiences a lapse in coverage and thus the ambulances must shift to reallocate an equal division of coverage.

In talking with Hjalgrím, he mentioned a lot of these concerns and the work the Islands are doing to improve. Clear examples of this are both the B.E.S.T Training in the Hospital and the multiple causalty incident that occurred in the tunnel the day before. Practice and experience is one of the most direct ways to learn. It is absolutely necessary in this field if one is going to be able to respond appropriately in real scenarios. The training I witnessed was a perfect example of the work the Islands are doing to improve. It was an extremely coordinated event. It was professional and thorough. It was followed by collaborative debriefing among agencies and further individual organizational conversation. Policy makers and administrators were able to witness and think about the influence that their work and regulations has on response in the field.

I think as a resident, though it was not directly spoken to me, one must become okay with the isolation that the Faroe Islands create. To live there, one must want to. Given the way the Welfare system is structured in the Faroes, and greater Denmark, it essentially doesn’t work to say that someone isn’t able to get out or away from their current situation. The Faroes, based off of their geographic location clearly breeds a culture of community as a result. I never sensed any feelings of superiority or individualism among neighbors. That was special to be able to see and it is clear that this practice is continued in the medical field as well.

In Greve, on my last shift, we responded to a call of a youth being hit and thrown off the road by a car. From the sound of it, it was not a good situation and we responded rapidly. Barreling down single-laned highways, cars on either side quickly diverted for us. Arriving on scene, we were relieved to find that the situation was not nearly as dire as originally thought, but an ankle had still been broken. What struck me though was the interaction between the child and the elderly woman who had been driving the car. The exchange was incredible and it ended with the 14-year old reaching out their arms to hug the woman. As she leaned in, I could see a tear fall from her cheek. I can’t imagine the own personal trauma she was feeling in that moment or even to this day, but what I saw really stuck with me. This community, and when I say community here, I refer more so to the culture of living found in Denmark, cares for each other.

A life in a small town, or a poor town is no different than a life in a big city, or a rich city. A life is a life and it deserves to be preserved. The work that medics do are often at the forefront of this preservation. Yes, it is true that medics in more isolated areas may not respond nearly as much as the medics I spoke with in Copenhagen, but it does not negate the critical importance of their work. It is equal. As I close out my time looking into Denmark and the greater system within it, I have found that my project has often lead me to investigate more structural aspects of the service rather than the anecdotal evidence from members in the community and medics alike. I do not think I had originally thought that this would be the case, but as I am seeing now, it has provided me with an incredible base of knowledge about an extremely regulated and structured system. I learned that structure works. Discovering Life Amidst Emergencies is often what I have reflected upon at the center of my year. Where is their life within these communities, how does the community respond to these situations? For the most part, life continues as normal. Perhaps I will see this elsewhere, but perhaps the structure has an incredible influence on removing fears and replacing them with senses of security. Thus allowing for life to go on as normal. Of course, there are plenty of people I never heard from, but those I did always spoke positively. It always came down to structure, to the welfare state, to not having to worry. A large piece that I have taken away about Danish Culture and even more so, Scandinavian Culture is that people keep to themselves. Small talk at the bus stop is non existent. Most people keep their heads down or headphones in when walking down the street. I have even found that eye contact and a smile sometimes draws concerned look towards me. On the outside, it can seem like this culture is quite closed, but as you begin to understand it a little more, and understand the structure that is in place, you begin to see a little more. Much is provided; people often stay quite and reserved, but at the same time, everyone pays into it. No one is external or above the welfare state. Your neighbor and the family on the other side of town that you don’t know pays for your care and you pay for theirs. So yes, people are reserved, but they’re always providing for each other, and in the times they are called upon, which seems to be few given the successful structure, people step in. People show up. People respond. That, to me, is where life is.

Lastly, here are some project related photos from the past few weeks:

Ready for work in the Faroes!
Faroese Rescue Helicopter. Much larger than the life-flights back home
Equipped for it all, including high-angle rescue
Scenes from Faroese Tunnel Training – pt. 1
Scenes from Faroese Tunnel Training – pt. 2
Scenes from Faroese Tunnel Training – pt. 3
Last day with the medics in Greve, Denmark

And there you have it, my time in Denmark has officially come to a close and a new journey is about to begin. Full of unknowns, challenges, successes, failures, moments of awe, and many more emotions. I am excited to keep sharing with you all. Thanks for sticking around.

Vi ses og (y) vamanos.

– Mark