Costa Rica, June 17, 2019

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by Abby Eisold ’20

Today was full of many wonderful excursions. After waking up and eating a lovely breakfast together, we took a boat back up the canal to where our bus, and dear friend Ronald, was waiting for us. About 90 minutes later, we arrived at lunch to eat another balanced meal. On our way to our next lodge, we made three spectacular stops. One was to a banana plantation where we learned how bananas are grown, harvested, and selected. Seeing the system in place and learning of the history of Costa Rica as a “Banana Republic,” we were all able to take away a useful piece of information from this short stop. I was particularly interested in what Mario said as he explained how bananas and pineapples are two of the most important exports for Costa Rica. This stop was very important because it showed us how much Costa Rica relies on these crops.

Our other two trips of the day included destinations for food. The first was a common grocery store. Here we felt more comfortable, as it was something familiar to us, because it resembled the Walmart we stopped at previously and the grocery stores we have at home. Next though, we made a quick stop at a local fruit market, and the experience was very different than the previous grocery store, but in only positive ways. This stop has honestly been my single favorite event thus far, and it was mostly spontaneous. One of us on the trip wanted to get a fresh mango, so our guide, Mario, called ahead to a fruit stand he was familiar with and arranged for a tasting of exotic fruits! At this fruit stand we were immediately welcomed to fresher and cheaper fruits, and it was an overall better experience. Upon arrival there were many fresh fruits and coconut products for us to try. I tried more than ten new foods and was not disappointed with a single one of them. Offering cheaper prices, and better products, we were more than willing to buy the produce we tried and loved. This was one experience that showed me how the ‘Pura Vida’ way of life is found everywhere in Costa Rica. This fruit stand was generous to us in ways I have rarely experienced, and the kindness we were shown was positive for everyone who was there. We all left happy and our stomachs full, as we discussed our favorites of the fruits we tried. This brought me even closer to my friends because we tried this new and exciting experience together.

After returning, having a rest, then getting an orientation to our service projects in the community, we went on an adventurous night walk. Here we saw the Red Eyed Tree Frog and other interesting insects such as a cicada. This night hike was unlike any other we have done because we were not focused on the breathtaking views, but payed close attention to what was right in front of us. Previously our nature adventures involved looking at birds and animals, but tonight we focused mainly on insects, a very important part of the ecosystem. These insects, although sometimes pesky, are extremely beneficial. This time spent was eye-opening and created a greater understanding of these animals that we so often complain about. Today I learned new lessons and was continuously blown away by the beauty and history of Costa Rica. Being immersed in this culture, our group acquired a greater understanding of Costa Rica’s economy and culture.

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Day 8, Montreal

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By Rachel and Johanna 

Today was the first day of service with the students in the “be the change” group here in Montreal. We started the day off by meeting the deputy Frantz Benjamin and the city council member Josue Corvil. They told us what their job entailed, as well as a little description of the current political situation in Montreal and Quebec. It was a very nice conversation that we had, learning a lot about the special situation of Quebec compared to other Canadian cities and their promise to do their best to help when the public need them, about which we had time to ask questions. We ended out conversation with a nice lunch that had been prepared for us, and then received a flag of Quebec before leaving.

After lunch, Melissa, Jada, and I rode in Donna DeLuca’s car, who is a leader of Be the Change, and who is also a teacher at Louis-Joseph Papineau, which is the school where the students we met went to. She gave us a tour of the city as we rode in the car with her, and she explained that the location where the school is, is a very impoverished area of Montreal. Then we arrived at the school where we were greeted by many students such as Grace who is a student there, around our age who spoke very quick French. We talked about our favorite animals, and how many credits she has in high school. (She has 74 credits, while the normal maximum is 72 which was very impressive.) Yasmine and Bayard were our tour guides and showed us around the school which included places such as the library, auditorium, and a classroom. We also learned about 5 values that are important for the organization, Be The Change. These values include “Amour, Famille, Respect, Paix, et Joie” which is “Love, Family, Respect, Peace, and Joy.” They hold these values very close. Afterwards, we got a tour of the garden that we are going to be working tomorrow and Wednesday. Then we went back to our Air BnB, briefly, to go pick up Kim Hebron, who is our co-chaperone/leader for the week. We were all very excited to see her! Soon after we got Kim, we took the subway to Downtown Montreal. We met the students there and we got a tour of the city which included walking through Chinatown and ended up staying at the Vieux-Port which reminded me of a boardwalk with many shops and a light-up Ferris wheel. When the students from Louis-Joseph Papineau left, we went to go get dinner at the food trucks. We all ended up getting Fish and Chips, and I had the best lemonade of my life! The rest of the night consisted of strolling around the Port, shopping, eating ice cream, and watching seagulls as we sat by the water. We then made our way back to the Air Bnb, ready for the service that awaits us for the next 4 days.

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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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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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