Category Archives: Service

Costa Rica, June 18, 2019


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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Bonaire, June 17, 2019

by Olivia Holzman

Today I was woken up at 4:59 a.m. to the beautiful sound of Arran’s voice, yelling “WAKE UP WE GOT TO GO!”. Startled and a bit disoriented, we threw on a swim suit and ran out the door to meet Claire, Barbie, Chris, and Avery for a quick dive briefing. We drove through the dark desert to a beautiful wreck dive at the Buddy Dive resort and started to gear up. The morning dives are so unique because you can see the shift between the nocturnal and diurnal creatures, highlighting the beauty of Bonaire’s oceanic ecosystem. We immediately spotted a Tarpon who had just finished hunting for the night and saw many stoplight parrotfish waking up to start the day. Halfway through the dive we swam over a sunken power boat, watching all the fish who use the wreck as a home. Watching the fish repurpose our wasted materials (plastics, ships, glass… etc.) amazes me. It shows that our carless actions not only damages land biomes, but it forces fish to adapt as well. This was something that has shocked me throughout the trip, our rubbish sticks to coral reefs and creates homes for the fish. Though this can be good short term, it will have long lasting effects on these animals, inspiring me to change my actions in the future to help the marine life, which helps support of all life.

After this amazing sunrise dive, we went back to Lizard inn, met the rest of the group and left around 8am for Jong Bonaire. We were given choices of five different activities to do with the kids. Francisco, Arran, Laurent, Long and went to go play football/soccer with the kids. I introduced myself in Dutch and asked the kids questions about where they were from and how they liked living on the island. I found it very interesting that many of the kids had grown up in Holland and moved to the island for a few years for their parent’s work. Many of us had similar childhoods growing up in Amsterdam and it shocked me to see how different their lives turned out than mine. Many said they did not enjoy living on the island because they had to sacrifice their education and friends in Holland. Playing with them made me realize how fortunate I am to go to a school like George School and have the opportunities that I do. We connected with the kids over football/soccer, we played four games with GS vs Jong. We were crushed by the kids every game; they obviously spend a lot of time playing outside.

We returned around 11 am and after an insane Avery yoga workout, lunch break, and walk into town we did a late afternoon dive at double reef system called Angel City. This was such a unique reef because it is constructed with two different reefs divided by sand channels reaching down to 60ft. We geared up, did a buddy check, and made our way into the water, trying to avoid the fire coral. This was a fish identification (fish ID) dive to help scientists monitor the health of the reefs worldwide and to recognize changes in indicator species. I have been working on fish ID all week and this was the first ID dive I went on without a fish ID card. I felt as if I finally had a very good understanding of each species of fish and their behavior. After descending, I immediately saw a spotted drum, lots of stoplight parrots, fairy bassets, squirrel, and trumpet fish. Though I have seen these fish almost every dive I never get tired of seeing their movements, scale patterns, and behavior. Watching them allows me to understand the importance of reef conservation and sustainable fishing in order to keep them alive and healthy for as long as possible. Later in the dive, I spotted six black dudgeon triggerfish which are endangered but fantastic creatures. It is a joy to see their movements and how they interact with each other. We also saw two Caribbean reef squids expanding to swim to the surface to get food for dinner. Watching the fish in their natural habitat has changed my understanding of the oceanic ecosystem, increasing my level of respect to these creatures, and my future actions above sea level. Already I have made efforts to clean rubbish everywhere I go and to reduce my overall carbon footprint, but these dives have inspired me to do more. We ended the night by watching the sunset over the crystal blue ocean, all laughing and messing around. An end to the perfect day in beautiful Bonaire.

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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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Montreal, Sunday, June 16

by Jada

Hi everyone, this is Jada. I am going to tell you what happened today, June 16th, on the Montréal service trip.

Fortunately, we had a late start. Some, including myself, saw this as an opportunity to get more rest. Meanwhile others used the extra time to bond by playing cards. All of us made sure to enjoy our last minutes in our Québec City Airbnb. Since, we not only adored the house, but also loved the city.

Our last moments in the city were spent at Le Billig, a crêperie. At brunch almost all of us struggled to order because we wanted to maximize our amount of crêpes, while staying within the budget. For some this meant sharing crêpes, while others simply ordered two crêpes. All of us enjoyed Le Billig both for the amazing food and their equally amazing staff. The employees even recommended a street fair to us, which we stopped at momentarily. However, we had to hurry because we made plans to see the waterfalls before our departure from Québec City.

We took the scenic route to the falls, which provided us with a nice preview of the falls. However, the preview did not compare to the waterfalls in person. They were absolutely stunning. I was not only amazed by the beauty of the falls and the surrounding nature, but also by the different people who visited them. We saw people of various backgrounds coming together to enjoy nature, which was nice to see in an era so focused on technology. For this reason and many more, it was hard to leave the falls, but we had to head back to Montréal.

The car ride back was full of discussions, music, naps, and food. For me, discussions revolved around French movies, tv shows, music and expressions. Needless to say, we listened to a lot of French music in the car. I was so focused on the conversation, the music, and navigating that I did not have time to take a nap. However, I was refreshed by the potatoes and tea that I got at Tim Hortons. Overall, the ride was long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. The fun didn’t stop when the car ride ended. We continued to amuse ourselves with food and games at our Airbnb in Montréal.

We ordered from Poutineville. Some of us took a chance and tried poutine, while others stuck with American cuisine. However, all of us enjoyed our meals and the time we spent gathered in the living room. We continued to bond by playing a singing game. The game required us to break into teams, the couch team and the table team, which in turn brought out our more competitive sides. However, the team also required cooperation within the teams. We ended the night with the table team, Renee’s team, winning. This was the perfect way to say goodbye to Renee who was a great supervisor and our song connoisseur. We will miss Renee very much, but we are excited to welcome Kim. We are also excited to see what the following days have in store.

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Bonaire, June 16

by Barbie Walsh

We had another fantastic dive today at Hamlet Oasis. This was the second time I dove the wall located there; however, it was the first time with a large group, which made this a whole new experience. In order to reach the otherworldly reef, you must perform a tricky entry. First you hobble down six stairs carved into the side of a hill that leads to a rocky beach. A jagged rock outcropping signals your spot of entry into the water. The path along the outcropping is deceptively sandy, but if you lose focus then you will be caught off guard by the occasional rock and may roll your ankle. Fencing you in on your other side is a field of extremely beautiful and painful fire coral. If you are nimble enough to come out unscathed, the last step before you descend is to put on your fins (a simple task), but your hands will brush the fire coral if you aren’t vigilant. My first time making this trek was effortless. Only three others joined me on the dive, so we all had ample room to maneuver.  However, with the increased number of persons on the second dive, there was a notable decrease in space. In order to traverse the difficult trudge, we had to work together as a seamless group. I had to anticipate both Mother Nature’s and the other divers’ next move. Fortunately, our group was victorious in reaching the reef unharmed due to our superior teamwork and Chris’s watchful eye.

I felt the trek mirrored the worlds current relationship with finding a solution to pollution in the ocean. When we met with Carolyn a few days ago to talk with her about her work to solve problem of increasing amounts of trash being found on Bonaire she brought up the issue of finding a centralized system of cataloging trash found. I was confused about what she meant, for I had thought the solution to ending pollution arriving at the worlds shores was simple: recycle and preform trash pick-ups. After today’s dive I understand the importance of having a worldwide accessible data base of where and when trash is found. When different counties and organizations do not work together to solve the problem, we run the risk of causing even more damage. Having an intricate system of well informed and eager organizations and countries overseen by one central group is one way we can begin to solve the ever-growing problem of polluted seas.

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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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Day 6, Montreal

Day 6

by Justin

We travel to Quebec City after four days of busy service in Montreal. The trip from Montreal to Quebec City takes around two and a half hours. Most of the group members are able to take a nap during the trip so that they can conserve some energy for afternoon activities. One significant difference after arriving at Quebec City that I have observed is how the language of the sign changes. In Montreal, there is a number of signs that are written in English. However, there is hardly anything that is written in English in Quebec City. There is even no English menu in the restaurant that I have lunch today. During lunch time, the group is able to do some shopping and have lunch at a large shopping mall in the downtown area. After moving into the new house that we live in, we take a brief rest and head directly to the old city area. Unlike the modern, tall buildings in Montreal, buildings in Quebec City are more similar to the ones in Europe and have a more classical structure than the ones in Montreal. One of the most grandiose architectures that I have seen today is Château Frontenac in the downtown area. There are also many statues situated around the castle, possibly to commemorate its creator. There are many signs of cultural influence in the old city: the ubiquitous French signs, the French architectural designs, etc. In today’s brief exploration of the old city, we find some restaurants, a few souvenir shops and an art store. I feel very tired as the days comes to an end. Still, I am exhilarated for tomorrow’s visit to the museums and to learn more about the history about the city.

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Bonaire, June 14, 2019

by Emma Huttemann

Today was a very chill day, I got to sleep in late which I am incredibly thankful for. After I woke up, I made myself some cereal and enjoyed the warm morning air. After that, we went over to Coco Beach and snorkeled until we were satisfied. After we had our fill of snorkeling, we ordered a bunch of pizzas and ate until it was time for the turtle preservation presentation. The presentation was at the Yellow Submarine and was taught by a local volunteer of the conservation. I learned about all of the types of sea turtles found on Bonaire and their life cycle, how they nest and the reasons for their decline. It’s so sad to see how humans hold such a strong effect on all living beings especially sea life and how we have affected them in negative ways rather than positive ones. It reminded me of the ecology group, 4Ocean, and how I feel like it is impossible for me to have a long-term positive effect of the sea life. I really wish I could do more to have a huge impact of saving them. I have decided that I am going to spend my cash for the trip on saving 25 sea turtle hatchlings. I think this is the best way for me to have a long term effected on the ocean.

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Costa Rica–Last Night in Monteverde

by Kelly ’20

Howdy everybody! It’s Kelly ’20 with today’s blog post. Tonight is our second and final night in Monteverde and I’ll outline what we did our last day in the area, before we travel to Arenal. After a hearty breakfast, we traveled to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (which is run by the local high school!) where we helped carry gravel to prevent erosion on visitor pathways. Our two guides, Walter and Jackson (aka MacGyver), showed us the path that we were paving and then we got to work. We carried sacks over our shoulders on a windy path and eventually it began to rain quite hard. After working for a while, we were cold and wet, but after our work we returned to the forest with Walter and MacGyver to see the quetzal, a colorful and shiny bird with a very long tail. Although we did not see the male, we did get to observe the female leave her nesting box; the female is not as visually striking as the male since she is grey with some reddish orange markings, but she was still exciting to see. (Side note! Today I just realized that “quetzal” is etymologically linked to “Quetzalcoatl,” the feathered serpent of ancient Mesoamerica, so the bird’s name literally means “feather.”)

After eating lunch and resting for a bit, we traveled to Monteverde Friends School. In the 1950’s a group of 11 Quaker families moved here after four members of their community were jailed for refusing to serve in the Korean War. They chose to settle in Costa Rica shortly after Costa Rica abolished their army and began encouraging foreigners to settle the land. The Quaker families started around 30 farms, including a cheese factory – the Monteverde Cheese Factory, which still exists today! While at the school, some of us played a very informal game of volleyball with a soccer ball that we had found, which had left some gnarly forearm bruises by the time we entered the school’s Meetinghouse for a brief Meeting for Worship. A short shower of rain passed by while we were there and I found the sound and sight of it through the door to be both centering and calming. At the end of meeting, Walter (from GS) observed that the beams of the room weren’t held together by nails of screws, but by fitted joints and pegs, which was very interesting. I don’t know much about construction, but I do know that the walls and ceiling of that room were unique.

Then, we went to a bat forest exhibit, where a woman named Anna taught us about the types of bats that could be found in the region, told us how bats are beneficial to the environment, and showed us the bats that were cared for there. I loved her enthusiasm and her clear enjoyment of her job, so I asked her a lot of questions about different types of fruit bats, especially Flying Foxes, which are the largest type of bat in the world (and do not live in Costa Rica). She also brought out her two dogs at the end of the tour for some of us to pet. One of them was named Coffee, because “she looked like a little coffee bean as a baby.”

Overall, today was a groovy time, especially since things that I enjoy – linguistics and wildlife conservation – which I didn’t think had a connection, actually did. Likewise, I also have always loved bats, so seeing and learning more about them was very fun. I’m going to miss Monteverde immensely, but I did see some farmland for sale up here, so maybe I’ll move back – and as Kim suggested, maybe teach at the Friends School!

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