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Asking The Arctic

Kevin Fox Blog

by Kevin S. Fox, Geography Teacher, George School

In June 2019, as one of National Geographic’s Grosvenor Teacher Fellows (GTF), I took part in a ship-based expedition aboard the National Geographic Explorer, circumnavigating Arctic Svalbard (Norway) for seven days.  Before heading north, I worked with my students at George School, a Quaker day and boarding school near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to challenge our collective lack of geographical knowledge about the region and to help develop possible research questions through our Asking the Arctic project.  Combined with my own radio expeditions (see Season 5), this shaped my Arctic experience and continues to frame the different ways I bring home the knowledge gained.

On October 4, 2019 I reported on and presented expedition experiences to George School students, faculty, and staff at the all-school Friday assembly while initiating a post-expedition call to action to engage the explorer mindset and make public our potential individual research questions and destinations.  The goal of this project has been to showcase student work, model geographical inquiry, and tell the story of the Arctic expedition through the framework of a TOK-style exploration of how we know what we know about this particular region and its people.


The first part of our pre-expedition Asking the Arctic project challenged over fifty of my AP Human Geography students during their last two weeks of the course to face their own limited “geographical imaginations” of the Arctic through a series of mental mapping activities.  We then discussed and debated the popular TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, in order to recognize that we already had the tools from “doing” geography all year to go deeper and move beyond the single story of any place around the world.

The second part of the project had each student exploring their own interests and curiosities about the more or less unknown Arctic region. They were given the following prompt:

If you had one month in the Arctic, what specific place would you visit and what specific question would you ask?

For this hypothetical field-based research project, students needed to come up with a set of (human geography) research questions while choosing one that was doable in that timeframe and possible with the modest resources available.

The Asking the Arctic map places each of the students’ final research questions around the Arctic region.  Click on any pin to reveal a possible line of student inquiry and see how the process of developing questions can significantly expand our geographical imaginations of the Arctic.


Expeditions can bring together a range of perspectives on the same place.  For a closer look at Svalbard and what going on an expedition means to the three teacher fellows who traveled there, check out the GTF video filmed during our time aboard the National Geographic Explorer.


What do you know about the Arctic?  The larger George School community of fellow faculty and staff, as well as students not enrolled in my classes, tested their background knowledge and took this short quiz.  How much do you know?  Take the quiz.

Have you ever seen a walrus up close?  While you watch, ask yourself: How would I narrate this short film of the walrus?  Or, what song might I play to highlight its movements?

No doubt the reindeer enters the popular imagination through the Santa Claus legend.  The Svalbard subspecies is the northernmost living herbivore mammal in the world.  David Attenborough hasn’t answered my calls yet.  How would he frame this encounter with the reindeer?  How would he narrate it?

This “audiograph” is a still photographic image paired with sound.  I like the format but, more so, I found the sound to be just the kind of sensory experience I was seeking out in this terra incognita, or unknown land in the North.  According to the USGS Glossary of Glacier Terminology, a “Bergy Seltzer” is a crackling or sizzling similar to that made by seltzer water but louder. It is the sound made as air bubbles are released during the melting of glacier ice.  What would you call this sound?


As an extension or continuation of the Asking the Arctic project, my current students in AP Human Geography are developing a set of research questions for their own “expeditions” around the globe.  During assembly, I invited everyone to join them in identifying their own place.

Imagine you received enough funding to make a two-month expedition to a region/country you want to understand on a deeper level in order to get beyond the “single story” that you might have of its people and places.

Curious about the range of George School’s research interests and/or the global spread of those future expeditions?  Check out the easy-to-make Google My Maps display of our Asking the World responses.

Feeling that wanderlust?  Respond to the same short three-question survey.  Ask yourself, “where would I go?  What would I ask?”

 Kevin is a cultural geographer who grew up in the Housatonic watershed.  Through The Geographical Imaginations Expedition & Institute, he makes monthly Radio Expeditions into the Geographies of Everything and Nothing.  He has taught geography, cartography, psychology, Spanish, English, and beekeeping in the United States, Bolivia, Paraguay, Spain, Austria, and Tanzania. He currently teaches AP Human Geography to George School ninth graders. 

 Learn more about George School.


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College Application Tips from a College Counselor


by Beth Ann Burkmar, Director of College Counseling, George School

As a College Counselor, students often tell me they feel overwhelmed by the college application process. While it can feel overwhelming, there are some ways students can help themselves make sure the process goes smoothly. Here are my best tips for applying to college!

Managing stress: Schedule your downtime. The fall of senior year is filled with “To Dos”, both in and out of class. Work backwards from your first deadline—schedule when you will work on your applications, when you will do your schoolwork, and fit in some downtime. You control how you spend your time, don’t let time control you!

Common Application Essay. Colleges want to know something about you that they cannot see in another part of your application. Who are you? Will you be a good friend or roommate? Essays do not have to be a grand story or experience. Admission officers will tell you that some of the most effective essays are about simple things. Make it your own and highlight an aspect of yourself that is meaningful to you.

Supplemental essays. Answer the question being asked! Often students want to cut corners, cutting and pasting one essay to answer the question of another. Beware of this tactic.  A popular question is, “why do you want to go to XX University?” They want to know that you did your homework beyond the landing page on their website. Dig into the school’s website and find things at that university that connect to your interests, both in and out of class. Be specific.

The interview. This is probably the most nerve-wracking part for most students, and yet it shouldn’t be! No one knows you and your interests more than you do. You should look at the interview as more of a conversation. Sometimes, the interviewer is someone from the admission department, but often it’s an alumnus of the university. Colleges want to get a perspective of someone who does not know you as your teachers, and counselors do. Get your interviewer talking about their experience with the school, it will make the conversation feel more relaxed.

Submit your best work. What happens after that, isn’t up to you! Know that you have submitted your best work and applied to a balanced list of schools. Be true to yourself and make sure you’re applying to a school that is a good fit for you. The REAL you!

Beth Ann has served as the Director of College Counseling at George School, in Newtown, Pennsylvania, since 2016. She previously served as the Associate Director of College Counseling at the Hun School of Princeton and worked at Drexel University in college admissions, and the University of Pennsylvania in international admissions. Beth Ann has reviewed thousands of applications for admission to these institutions and is an active member of NACAC and the International ACAC. Beth Ann and the College Counseling team visit universities throughout the US and abroad to provide firsthand experience to students as they discern their college process.

Learn more about college counseling at George School.

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How to find Your Next Digital Book


by Marion Wells p ’13, George School Library Director 

Everyone seems to be reading these days. Well, at least that is the perception when you look around and see everyone looking at screens. Walk through a park, stroll through a store, navigate a busy sidewalk in a city and you will see that everyone is reading!

Do you ever wonder what everyone is reading? It used to be you could see book covers. Fewer and fewer book covers can be seen these days, so one is left to wonder. What about the jogger I saw who was actually running while holding a tablet in front of his face? What was he reading that was so compelling that he had to read it during his run?

I still subscribe to reading print books and enjoy the many conversations I have with people who are interested in what I am reading. They see the book cover and feel compelled to ask me about the book, or let me know that they have read the book. We compare criticisms of the work without spoiling the ending. The reverse is true, too, where I will chat with a perfect stranger about a book they are reading. There suddenly is no divide. We are on a friendly playing field having a good conversation about literature. The print book is somewhat of a peace offering, a cup of tea, a handshake. It can bring people together.

For those that read books digitally, how do you find your next book? Do you have a list of books that you want to read? If so, how did those titles make the list? Do you stick to the list, or do you stray, go rogue and find a book that you did not expect to read? Perhaps you are a devotee of the New York Times Book Review and follow the review paths. Or, maybe you feel obligated to read a book that someone recommends.

Have you used your local, public library recently? Public libraries have evolved over the years to become places where one finds reading materials and research resources that cover a wide range of interests. If you want quick access to eBooks, search the online catalog of your local library and much like you would do with a print book, you can checkout the digital book for a loan period that is set by the library. Within minutes, you can have your next book downloaded and ready to go. Public libraries are also community hubs where you can take advantage of a wide range of programming, which can include lectures, presentations, musical and dance performances, technology classes, literacy training, and so much more. Consider visiting the website of your local library to find out about upcoming events and be sure to search the online catalog to locate your favorite print and digital books.

Other places to find digital books is on Google Play Books where you can often find books that are in the public domain, so they are freely available or can be purchased for as low as a few dollars. Goodreads is a popular site for book lovers where you can create your own reading lists, see what other people are reading, read reviews, get tips on running a book club, and more!

The important thing is that we keep reading. In my perfect world, everyone loves to read!

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Last Day in Bonaire

by Laurent Yiu

I didn’t know what to expect this morning. We were told that we were going to work with someone to help build a fence. What I was expecting was for us to do it the old-fashioned way, using a lot of wood and a lot of hammering. Instead, we used black, rubber coated chain-link fence that could be rolled out and stretched. As a group, we divided the labor, some of us carrying rolled up fence, some unrolling it, and some of us stretching. It took a few hours to set up the fence in the dirty, hot weather. I was relieved when we were finally done, but it didn’t feel like it was a long time, as a everyone was constantly working. We got treated to sodas and fruit juices and afterwards we went to a food truck named Cactus Blue, which served lionfish burgers and wraps. The afternoon was nice because we went to the Dive Friends dive shop and to Van Den Tweel (coolest supermarket in Bonaire). The best of the entire day was the dive with the ostracods. In order for this dive to be successful, some conditions had to be met: it had to be 3-5 days after a full moon, 30 minutes after sunset, flashlights off, and the area has to have soft coral. The experience was like magic because there were bioluminescent creatures that glowed after being exposed to Chris’ flashlight.  After shining his flashlight around in front of the group, he turned it off for a few moments and then we saw it light up in little blips of dazzling blue light before fading away.  This experience was easily one of the coolest things that I had ever seen, and it really makes me wonder how people discover these things with such specific conditions? Were they looking for something else and stumbled upon this? Why was the timing so perfect and why did they have their flashlights off? Afterwards, we closed off the night by to Gio’s for gelato.

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Homestay Reflection 

Ava Homestay

by Pheobe Day

Most students will say the most notable part of a service trip is the homestay. They will say they were nervous to stay with strangers for a night. If there is a language barrier, they will say they were scared they would not be able to communicate with their family. However, despite these fears and nerves, they will be beyond excited to be explore a day in the life of a civilian.

I can say I experienced all of these emotions while driving to the community where I would be spending the next night. Since I am not the best Spanish student George School has ever seen walk the halls, I was nervous to spend the night with a family who knew little to no English. I didn’t know if I would be able to hold a conversation over dinner, tell them about myself, or even be remotely interesting.

My nerves immediately evaporated once I arrived and was greeted by my host family. They welcomed me into their home and offered me juice and snacks. After a tour of the house we met the other members of the family who lived adjacent to their home. We all decided to go for a walk so they could show us around their community. The six year old, Joesph, wanted to show us the monkeys that were visible from their cousins house up the road. As we walked up the road to visit the monkeys, our host family members waved to those in houses that we passed. It was clear they were friends with everyone who lived in the community.

On our way back, Joesph and I exchanged information about our hometowns. I told him about the cold winters we experience in the north and how, sadly, we cannot find monkeys in our backyards. Joesph shared how even in their winter months, he is still comfortable wearing a T-shirt and that he can always find monkeys in his backyard. It was fun to share with him how life is the United States and watch his face fill with confusion and awe when I told him it can be to below freezing in some places in the States.

During dinner, we went to their aunt’s house and had dinner with the whole family. The house was filled with cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. We told each other about our families and they were shocked when I shared half of my family lived across the country from me. They said they couldn’t imagine not seeing each other everyday and sharing their lives together. As the night went on and I witnessed more how close their family was not only in proximity, but also emotionally, I wished my family was as close as theirs and that I could share my life more with them.

As I have reflected on my homestay experience, I have learned the importance of community and family support. Everyone within the community I visited supports each other whether they are family or not. I hope to carry this kind of support when I return to the George School community in the fall.

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Bonaire,June 19

by Charlotta Moller

I feel kissed by the sun. My love of the sea takes the form of newly formed freckles and a gentle smile.

We picked up trash by the sea and I cried at night for all the damage I, and those I love have done (taking into account our plastic usage and our carnivore existence). I have decided that I will no longer eat meat.

The fish are so beautiful. You would think that you would get tired looking at them, but I could look for the rest of my life and die happy.

Underwater it feels like there is only light. Not in a literal sense, but in our hearts. Our heartbeats are exchanged for air bubbles, and sometimes, while everyone looks at all the creatures of the sea, I watch them breathe. In and out the bubbles surface and I marvel at this technology human beings created to, as Emma would put it, “cheat God.” Francisco and Claire hold hands beneath the crystal blue, and I wish we could all be this happy forever.

We saw a Hawksbill Sea Turtle and I truly believe that (s)he is the one that has it all figured out and not us. The turtle let us watch as s(he) ate, and eventually, while everyone else was distracted looking at something new, Olivia and I watched as it swim away. It was like a magic I have never known before.

About a week ago we listened to a talk by the Sea Turtle Conservancy of Bonaire and I thought about how we only have one life (maybe) and it would be so boring to do only one thing. I’d like to think that someday I could become a sea turtle specialist or a dive instructor or perhaps just heavily involved in the push for environmental preservation alongside other career paths. To me, this would just be allowing myself to experience everything I love.

On this trip I have learned a lot of things that really matter, but perhaps the one that haunts my dreams the most is the inherent selfishness of human beings. However, today at lunch in Lac Bai we asked the waitress not to put straws in our smoothies and I realized that this trip had changed us, even in small ways like that.

I saw someone drink out of a plastic bottle today and thought about the hundreds we picked up over the past two weeks and how it would never be enough until we stop using plastic all together. It hurts my heart that people don’t care but a few years ago I also didn’t care enough, and I wonder if this needs to be changed through education or experience. Perhaps both.

At lunch in Lac Bai, Emma, Francisco, Claire, and I swam out in the clear water and soaked in Mother Nature’s creation. Sometimes, it feels like it’s here for just us – but I also have a burning passion to share it with everyone I can. I wonder if this is how Chris feels about scuba diving. Like it’s everything and without it, we are blind.

Today was the first day we arrived at a beach that wasn’t polluted, and I felt hope in every breath I took.

I hope in ten years beaches will be clear, but I fear that by then everything we have seen here will only deteriorate and that makes me very sad but maybe more afraid than anything else.

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Last Day in Montreal


by David Xi and Jada Wooten

This morning we were pleasantly surprised to wake up to croissants for breakfast. It was a fitting choice for our last breakfast all together. After we were fueled by the croissants, we were ready for our last day of service.

We took the crowded metro in order to get to McGill children center. Once we arrived, we were greeted by a swarm of kids and parents. They provided us with a boost of energy, before we went off to do our various jobs. Some of us painted a classroom, while others were working with the children. We were assigned to work on the mural. We had to think on our feet in order to get the mural done within the limited time frame. The project required us to make a lot of changes to our initial design and work with different types of tools, all while fielding questions from the eager kids. We were fortunate to have the help of many people throughout the process including our friends from Be The Change and staff at McGill. Even though there was unexpected moments, it was a great opportunity because it was exciting work with interesting people.

The excitement continued at our picnic lunch with our friends from Be The Change. It was slightly a steep walk to lunch, but it was totally worth it. We enjoyed delicious snacks and sandwiches. We amused ourselves by playing games such as Uno Flip. We even learned a new game called pow. We ended the picnic with a discussion of our experiences in Montrèal and a gift exchange. Unfortunately, the goodbye was cut short because we had to rush back to finish our service.

After the picnic, we went back to the children’s center and continued our mural. By the time we got back, the paint was dry so we did a second layer and perfected the details of the design. After that, Jada added the sketch of children holding hands in front of the trees. We painted the children in dark grey by mixing brown and blue to ensure that they could have universal representation and be symbolic of all people. Upon finishing the mural, we decided to leave the children a message and further enrich our work, so we wrote “The future of the world is in this playground” on the sides of the mural. This message—representative of the meaning of our painting—embodies our hope that those children, when they grow up, will make the world a better place and carry on the responsibility of human evolution and social progression. In their innocent eyes, we saw the possibilities of a future without hatred, prejudice, and conflict. Although their innocence likely won’t survive the cruel reality of the adult world, their current existence proves the kind, loving nature of humanity and reminds us of an alternative path of social evolution we can pursue, one that is honest, natural, and pure. And so, with an immense sense of fulfillment, hoping that our work will be an inspiration for these kids, we left the children’s center and concluded our service in Montreal.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Deville Diner in downtown. Since this was the last time we gathered together, Kim proposed that each of us say something nice to Marie-Laure to express our gratitude. We kept the plan for this little farewell ceremony a secret and waited until the end, when Marie-Laure was about to get up and pay for our dinner. We thanked her for putting so much effort into organizing this trip, for pushing our limits by requiring us to speak French, and for maintaining a positive atmosphere among the group no matter how difficult the situation was. We’ve had ups and downs, and there were times when we wanted to give up our set service goals, but Marie-Laure was always there to motivate and encourage us, knowing that this experience can only be meaningful if we try to make it so. We also expressed our gratitude for Renee and Kim, who took great care of us and were always there to keep us safe, reminding us of proper behavior when we were overly excited, and lightening the mood when we were low-spirited. Without them, this experience would’ve never been as rewarding and memorable as the past two weeks.

As this service trip came to an end, we must look back and reflect: what have we accomplished? How did the experience impact our own growths? What can we learn from this trip going forward? While this journey will be remembered and viewed differently by everyone in the group, what we can all agree on is that for the past two weeks, we brought positive changes to the local communities through our service at the food bank and at the school garden; in addition to that, our visit to the retirement home and the children’s center elevated the meaning of our service to the level of interpersonal and spiritual connection through the formation of our loving friendships. Our collaboration with local students allowed for the exchange and mutual-appreciation of our cultures as we saw so many similarities between us despite our different backgrounds, beliefs, and walks of life. Our love for life, our enthusiasm for service, our curiosity for new experiences, and our passion for activism is the proof that when united, the only difference between us that matters is the unique ways we can all contribute to the making of a better future. On this trip, we’ve witnessed the hardships of survival, experienced the power of grit and perseverance, and learned to understand the absolute necessity for human communications as it is the only way to eliminate bigotry and truly bring people together. If there’s one thing we wish all members of the GS community can take away from our service trip, it is that to change the world, we must begin by understanding each other—and ultimately, learn to love all people for who they are. In doing so, not only can we fundamentally obliterate the existence of unjust acts, we will be able to eradicate the source of those injustices and shine a light in the hearts of all humankind.

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Costa Rica, Last Full Day

Ava Homestay

By Ava Doty ’20

Today I woke up in my homestay family’s house. At first, Phoebe and I woke up at 4:30 am to the sound of roosters crowing. We were able to fall back asleep, but last night Michelle – one of the girls who lives in the house – told us that the roosters wake up the whole family that early every day! Her school is a 20 minute walk from the house and she wakes up at 5 to get ready. We said goodbye to her last night before bed. She wakes up at 5:00 am to get ready for school and doesn’t get back home until 5:00 pm! After we got up for the day our host mom made us a delicious breakfast of plantains, sausage, beans, rice, eggs, and sliced mango. As we ate, the 4-month-old puppy in the house gnawed on our legs and constantly fought with the kitten. Without Michelle (the English speaker in the house) at breakfast this morning it was harder to communicate. I know zero Spanish so I had to rely on Phoebe, and when she wasn’t able to translate for me I found myself mostly saying “perro y gato! (dog and cat)” Thankfully our host mom didn’t seem to think that was too weird. We said our goodbyes around 8:30 and headed over to the school with everyone else.

We got to see the Festival de las Artes at the school where we did our service. The kids were adorable! They showed off dances, songs, and costumes they made! The show was held in the covered outdoor area we had painted just yesterday. It was so nice to see all the kids perform, and to see their families watch them. We couldn’t stay for the whole show, but some of the acts we saw are posted on Instagram!

We took a long, long drive to San Jose – sadly made longer by a traffic jam on the mountain road we were on. We dropped off Cosi at the airport and then drove to the hotel. After dinner we sat and reflected on our favorite parts of the trip. I can’t believe it’s our last full day. Our guide Mario has been so kind and we said our goodbyes to him tonight. I really don’t want to go home, but our current hotel is a Wyndham so it sort of already feels like we’re back in the US. Costa Rica has been so amazing!!

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Costa Rica, June 19


by Cosi Janssen ’20

Today was a day full of lots of new experiences and adventures! I am Cosi Janssen and I will be sharing today’s happenings from my perspective.

After a night influenced by heavy chicken, bird, and rain noises, Lizzy and I woke up in our host family to a typical Costa Rican breakfast, including rice and beans, eggs, meat, plantains, papaya, and a fantastic coffee. Reflecting on the time with the host family, it was nice to get to know the rural Costa Rican lifestyle and language. Even though I am a non-Spanish speaker and was really nervous about going, I was, with Lizzy’s awesome help, able to tell them a little bit about myself. We tried to find other ways of communication such as playing games, soccer, and showing pictures of our families. The house was typical for the community and provided a place to sleep for about ten people of all ages. Lizzy and I could see drastic differences to how we live but, surprisingly, all of them, starting when about fifteen years old, owned a smartphone with functionary data. This really got me thinking about where people set their focuses regarding living conditions in the current time – but I also realized that in this day and age, cell phones have become a necessity for living.

After we said goodbye to our host family, we met the group on the bus and drove to the school for our second day of community service. The school is in a conservative area and teaches students from pre-kindergarten until sixth grade. The Costa Rican government provides free education including the building, supplies, uniforms, and food. Students are required to wear uniforms: in the kindergarten the children wear light blue shirts and dark blue shirts, in primary school they wear white blouses and dark blue pants or skirts, and in sixth grade they are allowed to wear an additional blue tie since they are the oldest at the school.

Today’s service projects were painting the ground of the gymnasium in green, and painting the playground, tire obstacles, and hopscotch in different colors. All of these needed several layers which took a good amount of time and was interrupted by a heavy rainfall. After we finished all the planned projects, we had lunch in the schools dining hall which was the typical rice with chicken and a pasta salad with tuna. Sadly, we did not see any students today, because every school can take one day off during the week. Still, all of us were passionate about their work, because we enjoyed so much talking to and singing with them the day before. It felt great to make the school look prettier and renovate things in order to provide these children a good time at school. Reflecting on the service, all of us had a lot of fun, even though we were soaked in sweat, dirt, and paint, and, additionally very exhausted. It was amazing to see how much of a difference we could achieve in these two days. We tried to embrace the ‘Pura Vida’ way of thinking!

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Montreal, Day 10

day 10

by Lorelei and Leila

This morning we were up bright and early. After breakfast we headed over to Louis Joseph Papineau to do some more gardening. We were split into two groups again, one started with shoveling mulch and the other watered flowers and then moved on to painting more of the pergola. One of the girls from Be The Change, named Rosa, was working with us. It was really nice to talk with her in French, and she even helped me with grammar. I had a wonderful time getting to know her and practicing French. By the end of the day, the pile of mulch was significantly smaller and the pergola looked so colorful and lovely! Then we all had a really good lunch under the shade of one of the trees next to the garden before heading home for a break. After the rest at home we set out again at around 5:30. We met up with Kim and Marie-Laure briefly to discuss plans and check-in then went to dinner in a smaller group at the boardwalk. Each of us promptly honed in on the same dish. With our garlic grilled cheese and truffle fries we sat by the water to eat a peaceful but brief dinner. We then walked by the boardwalk again to make the last decision on any final purchases. I bought a small silver ring and a Montreal T-shirt. We met up with the others again and took a stroll down the street filled with strings of rainbow lanterns almost forming a second sky for pride month. We also stopped by a large plaza with salsa music and lots of people dancing. It was really cool seeing everyone out at night having so much fun with their friends. I managed to snag one on the lanterns (unlit) before we left. We headed home by subway and settled in for the night.

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