Category Archives: dorm life

Costa Rica

by Kim Major 

As we sit on the runway in Atlanta it’s hard to not feel a bit wistful for the trip that is on the cusp of its finale. No gallo pinto tomorrow. No strong and amazingly flavorful coffee. No monkeys, exotic birds, or the deepest of greens all around. No smiles and holas from Erick and Enrique our guide and driver. No new adventures around the corner with sights that make me draw my breath in with a not-so-silent gasp.

No, it is back to life as I knew it. But, really, it’s not. Just like the students with whom I travelled, this experience has changed me. In our reflections, we often asked our students to frame their Costa Rica experience with a series of “what” questions: WHAT did I do (narrative), SO WHAT – how did this experience impact me, NOW WHAT – now that I’ve learned this, what will I do with this knowledge.

The WHAT has been thoroughly and beautifully covered by trip participants throughout the blog. I think the SO WHATs have been scattered with subtle awe throughout as well. For our students, I think the NOW WHAT is still forming – it won’t be until after re-immersion into day-to-day life that the impact can truly be known. As for me, over the course of the last 12 days, the NOW WHATS have come to me in dribbles and then, at times, in waves of what I like to call BFOs (blinding flashes of the obvious). Writing this blog entry gives me the opportunity to try to collect them in some coherent way. So here goes…

I studied French in school a long (very long) time ago. Aside from the occasional adios, I knew no Spanish. So, for months before the trip I tried my best to teach myself the basics of the language. After putting that to practice [some] and hearing it spoken all around me, I realized I want to learn the language not for the trip or future travel but because it is beautiful and I want to be the person who knows multiple languages, not the one who thinks everyone should speak mine. Now what? Now I continue to study the language with greater depth.

I have led service trips before with another school, but never internationally. In fact, aside from Canada (and sorry, dear husband of mine, Canada does not count) I had never before traveled internationally. Before this experience, I thought my top travel destinations were typical sightseeing spots in Europe or pure “fun” beach or ski vacations. But after visiting the cloud forest in Monteverde and the remote beaches of Tortuguero, and after immersing myself in the culture of a community off the beaten path, what I really want in future travel is to go to the places not as well traveled. To see flora and fauna that may not exist if we do not care for the environment. Sure, I want some time reading a book on a beach, but just as much, I want to look for more eco and adventure travel experiences – particularly those that, like in Costa Rica, serve to both enhance the local economy and provide resources to protect the environment.

Speaking of the environment, I was blown away by how Ticos and Ticas respect the environment. Ticos practice an environmental stewardship model of environmentalism by conserving, appreciating and valuing nature as ancient cultures did. I love George School, and we do an OK job with recycling but we have so much more we can do—particularly in the dorms. As a dorm parent, I want to do more to encourage my residents to consistently recycle. I have always cared for and about our natural resources, but I know I can do a lot more.

A more subtle NOW WHAT came through reading student journals. Students often remarked that they thought they would do more service on the trip, and then later noted all the learning about themselves and the outside world that had taken place. A big lesson for me is that if I have the opportunity to chaperone service learning trips in the future (my hand is already raised to volunteer), I can do a better job of framing the goals. In reality, in an 11-day trip, the total impact of the service a group our size can do is small. Minuscule, really. But, that does not mean it doesn’t matter. However, the purpose of the trip is not just service in the community—it is promoting shifts in thinking. If our students push themselves out of their comfort zones, they expand their worldview and may be more likely to stretch themselves to help others in the future. If they gain deeper understanding of and appreciation for different cultures and communities, they are more likely to reach out to strangers because they have seen firsthand that the differences between people really are not as vast as they might think they are on the surface. If they stand in awe of nature in a new way, they are more likely to work to respect and steward the environment at home. Sure, beach cleanups, playground rejuvenation and school visits have meaning, but I argue that the most far-reaching change that comes from trips like ours is the change inside each of us. I hope to do a better job of articulating that on future trips.

I am sure that for me, like our students, more lessons will come to me as the summer progresses. Parents, I encourage you to talk to your children about their NOW WHATs. Ask them to go beyond the store of photos in their phones. Ask them to describe the trip beyond the lodge reviews and review of the sites. Ask them about the impact on themselves. I know I will continue to ask myself what change will come in me from the trip. For now, however, I am so grateful that George School views experiences like this one as critical for students, I am glad I was able to participate in THIS trip, with THIS group, at THIS time. It was magical. And, I am certain of two things. First, I will return to Costa Rica. While I know I saw, experienced, and appreciated so much, I also know that the next time around I will see, feel, appreciate, and respect the country and its people even more. Like reading a great book, in the first pass you see it in broad, beautiful and inspiring strokes. The second? You notice the details, the nuances, the hidden beauty and deeper meaning you missed the first time. Costa Rica inspired me to see its details and, if I am lucky, more of the details in the world around me at home.

The other certainty? By the end of the summer I will find the winning gallo pinto recipe….

Thank you, George School, and 2017 Costa Rica service learning trip participants for a trip I will never forget!

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Filed under dorm life, Faculty and Staff, Service, Students

Weekend Boarder Life

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Students build a snowman during a weekend winter snowstorm.

by Bea Feicenbiner ’19

As a boarding student, sometimes I am left wondering what I can do on weekends. Every weekend has a theme, but some have more activities than others. Weekends like Harvest Weekend and Student Council Weekend are jam packed with things to do. All of the weekends can be fun for the students, but some, like Alumni Weekend, have less activities than others.

Of course, my roommate is always there and I have friends in my dorm. On weekends, more often than not, I have a friend sleepover in my room or I sleep in hers. I can walk into Newtown to get some ice cream or go to Starbucks. Sometimes we will walk over to the shopping center across the street and get lunch before running errands to Giant or Rite Aid. Newtown Book and Record has a great variety of entertainment if I need something new. There is a lot to do around town on the weekends.

My personal favorite weekend is Student Council Weekend. SAGE, another club I am a part of, also has a weekend. We do fun activities that include bonding opportunities with members of the community that otherwise you might not have met. Harvest Weekend is super fun, especially for boarders. Day students are invited too, but for domestic boarders who do not get to spend as much time with their family. Carving pumpkins and making buttercream brings people together. For international students, the Harvest Weekend activities might be the first time they are experiencing these things. Other weekends are club affiliated. Umoja Weekend and Footbag Weekend happened not long ago and they both included events that were fun for the whole campus.

There are other things to do instead of weekend activities and day trips to Newtown. The Deans’ office is always open to hang out in and the SAGE room is open Friday and Saturday too. During the warmer months, there is four-square on Red Square and during the colder months, you can borrow sleds from the Deans’ Office and sled down South Lawn. If you’re looking for a quiet place to study, the library is open on both Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes dorm parents and prefects will host activities, like tea parties or clothing swaps.

No matter what the weekend is, there is plenty to do, so you should not worry about being bored.

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Filed under A Day in the Life, dorm life, Student Work, Students, The Curious George

Open Doors and Closed Minds: The Problems the Heteronormativity Task Force Addresses

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Eden enjoying a snow day during February 2017.

by Bea Feichtenbiner ’19

Imagine having a best friend opposite in gender to you. Your friend is a boarder but you are a day student. This friend has recently received traumatic news and just wants to lie in bed. You know they need and want to talk to you, but something is stopping you. And it has nothing to do with either you or your friend. Rather, it is George School’s visitation policy. You and your friend are not the same gender and, since the visitation policy is so limited, they cannot spend time in your room. Not even with the door open. What do you do?

That is the question that the Heteronormativity Task Force has been trying to answer.

Heteronormativity. Let us break this word into its two parts. Hetero means “other,” as in opposite gender couples, and “normativity” means what is expected. Together, in respect to sexuality, the word means the normalization of heterosexual relationships. The use of this word has become more prevalent with the rise of the LGBTQ+ movement.

George School, never behind in the area of social progress, began to recognize this term and its effect on the campus and community. Since then, a task force has been created in order to equally normalize all the different sexualities. Every Sunday, about ten people meet to discuss areas where they see heteronormativity on campus and how to change heteronormative policies. Led by Eden McEwen ‘17, the group works hard to brainstorm solutions to all sorts of heteronormative behavior and policies.

The task force was created last year as an initiative by Sam Balka ’16 through Student Council. To date, there are three Student Council Representatives on the task force, along with two returning members who are also on Student Council.

According to Eden, “The Heteronormativity Task Force was created by Student Council to address concerns from the community about the safety and integration of LGBTQ students in the dorms and in the classroom. Last year the task force took strides towards its goals to identify specific places in George School where there are heterosexist biases, to help create a clear LGBTQ policy regarding students in the dorms, and to raise overall conversation in residential and academic life about the preceding issues. The main goal of the task force is to develop a policy for queer students in the dorms that will make George School an overall safer place.”

Some issues the task force is addressing this year are dorm visitation policies and the inclusivity of the curriculum.

The current dorm visitation policy requires that doors must remain open to discourage sexual activity and limit the possibility of pregnancy and the breaking of a major school rule (no sex on campus). Upperclassmen and women are allowed to have members of the opposite gender in their rooms, but, even then, the visitation times are limited. This system conveys a lack of trust to the students and puts those who are friends with someone of the opposite gender in an awkward position.

As for the task force’s focus on curriculum, the English curriculum has little queer literature and the history department tiptoes around major events in the queer community. Additionally, the health curriculum seems to move too fast to properly address different sexualities, orientations, and genders. The Heteronormativity Task Force would like to come up with ways of addressing these issues and, even more importantly, creating a more inclusive and safe space for LGBTQ+ youth.

Next year, the task force will be open to more members of the community without an application process. Additionally, it has been working on outreach lately, collaborating with Open Doors to get a better feel for what changes the community wants to see.

If you have any questions or concerns about heteronormativity, the task force, or life at George School in general, feel free to approach any member  of the task force. Members include Eden, Brooke Angle ’18, Duffy ’18, Samaya Mayes ’18, Ben McCormick ’18, Ben McCormick ’18, Will Street ’18, Kat Stein ‘18,  Jacob Hoopes ’19, Kalani Chen-Hayes ’20, Sidney Gibson ’20, and me, Bea Feichtenbiner ’19.

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Filed under dorm life, Student Work, Students, The Deans' Office

Life as a Boarder: A Reflection

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Photo by Kim Major.

by Bea Feichtenbiner ’19

Life in the dorms is nothing like I expected. Coming to George School, I was terrified. What if I didn’t like my roommate or what if she didn’t like me? What if I didn’t make friends or I missed home? Questions along these lines ran through my head as I packed my stuff to leave. I don’t know what I was expecting, I think it was probably a combination of the dorm life from Pitch Perfect or Legally Blonde, where everyone meets for study groups, clubs, and parties, and Mean Girls which—to me was an example of what high school was like.

When I got to George School, I was shocked. I didn’t hate my roommate and she didn’t hate me. Making friends was easy. I missed home, but not so much that I actually wanted to go home. But more importantly, high school wasn’t like Mean Girls. It wasn’t full of scheming and plotting against those around me. Living in the dorms was like Pitch Perfect or Legally Blonde. I didn’t have to be part of a clique to fit in. I just had to be myself. I don’t spend a lot of time in the dorm, I prefer being out and about during whatever free time I can manage.

George School purposefully keeps you busy. There is hardly time to think of those “what ifs” that I couldn’t get out of my mind at the beginning of the year. When I do get free time, I use it to get ahead on homework. I call my parents on a regular schedule, so I never really missed them that much.

Of course, there were some things with which I struggle. I miss my dog, my bed, and my friends from home. I miss my sisters and home-cooked meals. I recently got sick and I missed having someone to take care of me. Going to a boarding school changes the way you view things. Things that were once important, take a back burner; especially when you go back home. You begin to appreciate life a little more. Small things become important. Like my Mom cooking my favorite meal when I went home for the first time after my birthday or my Dad getting me something that we were talking about on the phone a couple weeks prior.

Being a boarder at George School was like moving from one home to another. My parents and siblings will always be my family, but now I also have dozens of sisters and handfuls of brothers. My dorm parents are my parents away from home. Of all the things George School teaches its students, boarding or day, the most important is that family isn’t about genetics – it’s about who stands by you when you need it the most but deserve it the least.

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Filed under A Day in the Life, dorm life, Students, The Curious George