Category Archives: A Day in the Life

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

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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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Montreal, Day 10

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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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Montreal, Day 9

Garden

by Melissa Ford ’21

Today we started our first day of service at the school Louis Joseph Papineau. We arrived at the Jardin des Patriotes (Patriots Garden) and split into two groups that would alternate tasks every so often. A few of the students from Be the Change came and helped throughout the day as well. One group moved compost into the garden while the other group painted. We worked with Camilla who runs the garden and she was super sweet. If I was having difficulty speaking French, she helped me rephrase and get to what I wanted to say,

We ended twenty minutes earlier than we were supposed to because Camilla said we worked faster than she had expected. Even though it was a hot and sunny day, we were able to do our best. We took breaks often and made sure to stay hydrated.

We went to a circus next and got a tour of the building. We learned the history behind the building called la Tohu which was where we were. There were artists practicing on the stage and we got to watch some acrobats and dancers. By the time we left the main room, we were all in awe of what the artists could do. For each show the artists have to learn a new choreography, they were amazingly talented.

By the end of the tour, we were all tired and needed a rest. We went back to the house had dinner and either took a nap or rested. At 7:30 pm we were out again with Donna, the woman who runs Be the Change at the school. We venture to the sights of the “Oratoire” and the top of the Mont Royal which have the best view of the city. As the sun descended, we were met with a golden view of a gorgeous city. Then as it got dark and lights began to appear we marveled over the twinkling of the plethora of lights in the city. There were many tourists viewing the city lights, but there were even more lights showing us how active and lively the city truly is. From above we could recognize murals that we had seen earlier in this trip and so. we were able to see all the places we had been. It was honestly the most beautiful sight to end our fourth to the last day in Montreal.

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Costa Rica, June 18, 2019

Caitlyn

by Caitlyn Mihalik ’20

The day started off a little rainy and dark, but became very bright and hot as we started working. We went to a local school and started to help landscape the playground and brighten the area. A lot of hard work went into re-painting the playground, but it was worth it once we all finished the first coat and saw the finished product. We also got the chance to talk to and play games with the kids – and some of us tested our Spanish! We also made them laugh when we were unable to use Spanish as well as we would like. By visiting the school everyone’s spirits were lifted, and everyone left happy and eager to come back the next day to continue our work.

Later in the day, some of us set on the road today to get dropped off at our homestay families, and many people were very nervous. I was the first one to get dropped off, and although I was excited, I became a little nervous as I turned around and saw all the other people on the bus watching me leave. The family I stayed with greeted me with hugs and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, and they were patient with me as I tried to my best to use the skills I learned in my Spanish classes over the past three years. Being able to truly communicate with the kids at the house and play with them made all of us very happy. As we shared laughs and facts about us, they quickly began to feel like my family as well.

The whole experience today felt very surreal, we got to live in a whole different life, and we able to witness how people in such a different country went to school and lived day-to-day life. It was very interesting to see the similarities and differences with what we call our own home.

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Costa Rica June 16, 2019

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By Lexie Osbourne ’20

Today was filled with adventure and a learning experience. We started the day with a great breakfast at Pachira Lodge then headed off on a boat to the Tortuguero National Park to explore the canals. This was a two-hour long boat ride through the canals learning about the species that live along the river. In total this national park is 50,000 acres of protected land established to ensure the safety of the wildlife which live there. The area is most known for green sea turtles, however, there are many other amazing animals in the area. We were able the see neotropical river otters, green iguanas, caimans, howler monkeys, a rat snake, a basilisk (“Jesus Christ” – because it walks on water) lizard, bare tiger herons, green herons, an anhinga bird, and northern jacanas, as well as, many different types of trees. One thing that stuck with me is how important the protection of the area is given there is a high density of various animals but a low concentration of them all. I truly appreciate how the community was able to come together to work on the goal of protecting their environment through eco-tourism. This community effort is so important and should be more widespread.

After lunch, we worked on the beach of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and cleaned up the trash that could be injested by the animals. We were able to remove a lot of materials that could be recycled – we know because we sorted it all! Because it was Sunday, the recycling Center was closed, but we still wanted to make sure we were recycling, so we sorted the trash and left the recyclables outside of the recycling center in labeled bag. Even though this was a relatively small effort in the big picture, it still means a lot since we were able to help remove part of the problem. I did find it interesting that for an area that talks about protection of wildlife there was quite a bit trash. Whether that be from tourists or locals that don’t see the importance of not littering hopefully soon there can be more awareness to how harmful the trash can be. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is doing a great job of that and hopefully their amazing work gets further spread throughout the community.

During the beach clean I made a new best friend – a dog I named Marble. I met him on the beach and after the clean he followed me to stores and even to the boat that we were leaving from. He was so adorable, and I hope that someone takes care of him. It was so sad having to leave him since he was such a great addition to the trip. Later, we were able to walk through town to buy souvenirs and help the local community. The community is so beautiful and vibrate with colors and nice people. The visit to the canals and the beach clean-up has further showed me how important and beneficial taking care of the environment is. It will be very hard to go back to busy New York City since everything in Costa Rica has been amazing. I can’t wait to visit again and learn more.

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Costa Rica: June 15, 2019

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by Eden Jones ’20 

Hi everyone! My name is Eden Jones from the class of 2020, and I’ll be filling you in on today’s activities during our sixth day of the 2019 Service-Learning trip in Costa Rica. Today was a typical traveling day for everyone, with an early morning drive (early meaning 6:00 AM!!) from the town of Arenal to the port of the “Lucky River.” From there, we all boarded the boat, sailed through the river,  into the canal and headed towards the beautiful town of Tortuguero, located on the Caribbean/Atlantic side of Costa Rica.

Tortuguero is one of Costa Rica’s more secluded locations because it is only accessible by boat or plane. Also, tourists are not the only visitors to this amazing place. Sea turtles (five different species to be exact) arrive on the Caribbean shore of Tortuguero from the months of July to October. The females come to lay their eggs and begin the newest generation of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy, along with the people of Tortuguero and aspiring marine biologists, assist in the protection of the young sea turtles by prohibiting poaching or abuse to the animals during their nesting period. During our visit to the Conservatory, we learned important facts about the protection of Sea Turtles, along with now the people of Tortuguero help to make a larger impact. Through todays experiences, myself and everyone on the service trip included dove deeper into understanding Costa Rica’s emphasis on Eco-Tourism and the importance of protecting the environment. Along with learning this, I personally felt a strong sense of community and safety while exploring the town of Toruguero. The store front owners and those watching soccer on the television greeted everyone with a “Pura Vida!” or a kind “Buenos Tardes.” Everyone on the service trip clearly had a smile on their face after our day trip to the town.

After, we sailed back to our hotel, the Pachira Lodge, and enjoyed our second meal together in Toutuguero. Overall, our service-learning trip to Costa Rica has opened a new door to the wonders of renewable energy, the happiness that Eco-Tourism can bring to people, and for me, a view of the world that I’ve never seen before.

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History’s Witness—Scavenger Hunt in Quebec City

David Xi

by David Xi

Today we embarked on an exploration journey that took us around the Old Quebec City, originally built as a fort to defend the settlers from the invasion of other colonists (mainly those south to Quebec in modern-day United States). Our scavenger hunt started at the exterior of the city, where we saw the stone walls that have protected the city for hundreds of years. Ancient yet formidable, these walls were the guardians of Quebec City’s history and culture. Right next to the Old City was the Quebec National Assembly—a solemn and authoritative hallmark of western democracy. Surrounding the Assembly building were past generals and politicians whose statues were enshrined into its walls, their glorious heroism forever captured in history as a testimony of Québécois patriotism. The crosses on those statues revealed the pervasive influence of Christianity, as well as the pious and faithful spirituality of the locals. At the front of the Assembly gate sat a statue dedicated to the indigenous people. Holding bows and arrows, their presence reminded us of the tremendous suffering of the indigenous people in face of European occupation. While historical figures are often viewed as heroes by some people, they are also the source of great injustice in the eyes of the others. Touring around the National Assembly and submerging ourselves under the awesomeness of those statues, we learned that the essence of history is not glorification, but truth-telling. The perspectives of the minorities can provide us with a deeper cultural and political understanding of who we are as a society.

Going into the Old Quebec, we saw rows of cannons lying beside the dampened sidewalk, bringing us back to three hundred years ago, when countless battles were fought at the very spot where we were standing today. Raptly following the soldiers whose footsteps paved the way for future generations, we arrived at the Notre-Dame de Québec. Bells ringing, people praying, the church’s dominance was made obvious by its towering spire, creating an atmosphere of aloofness that was both sacred and intimidating. Right next to it was the statue of François de Laval, the first Bishop of Quebec. His was the proof that faith does not fade away as time passes; generations to generations, the continuation and elevation of Christianity is ensured as in those churches, monuments, and the hearts of countless faithful Christians are God’s words preserved.

Keep walking forward, a huge monument entered our sight. It was built to commemorate the inclusion of Old Quebec in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. A few blocks away, we found the hotel Le Château Frontenac, where in 1943 Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom gathered to discuss strategies vital to their victory in WWII. Who could have known that on a hot September evening seventy-six years ago in this very hotel, humanity’s future was permanently and inevitably changed. Reading this story on a bronze plate outside, we were pulled into that era of flames and chaos, imagining ourselves at the negotiation table and witnessing first-hand the most epic comeback in human history, one that put an end to the evil fascist regimes and salvaged our freedom. How evident it is that our actions today, however insignificant they may seem to us at this moment, might alter the course of the lives of millions of people.

As noon approached, we revisited the exterior walls of the Old City and went to an ancient military base nearby. It was used as the main defense center when first constructed and is now a major tourist site. Even though the fort is no longer in use, we still saw two soldiers guarding its entrance, defending the honor of this symbol of Québécois tenacity and valor. Finally, we journeyed southward to locate the Garden of Joan of Arc. At the center of the plaza sat the grand statue of Joan of Arc, the girl who liberated France in the Hundred Years War. Sword in one hand, the statue posed for an outcry of justice as the words of liberty echoed with its elegance. This statue was not just a monument to a monumental woman; it was the perfect combination of poise and passion, of beauty and bravery, of sublime and strength. What’s more gratifying than to learn that centuries after her execution, Joan of Arc’s heroism is still celebrated whilst the despicable deeds of her persecutors are burned into traceless ashes of history?

At the end of the scavenger hunt, we broke off into groups to enjoy lunch and to spend the afternoon revisiting sites that intrigued us. While the exploration was over, we left having a much deeper understanding and appreciation of Quebec City and its history, culture, and religion. It is through experiences like this—where all individuals can be submerged in this living monument of human evolution, intertwined with ancient complexity and modern easiness—can we truly comprehend the meaning of history—that we are not merely its witness, but also its creator.

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