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China 2018

Our first days in Beijing were a new experience for many of us. As we walked into the airport, everyone was excited to be in China. Even though most of us could speak Chinese, we found it quite hard to interpret what people were saying until Larry, a rising junior who lives in China and also attends George School, arrived. He helped us through tough times and used his Chinese to make our lives easier. The first site we visited was the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall took years to build and is known to take people 2 years to walk the whole thing. The steps makes it even harder because some are very steep and dangerous while others are out of order and broken. Our time in Beijing had become more satisfying as we went to the world’s biggest square, The Tiananmen Square. Later during the day, we went to one of the most famous sites in China called the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the household of the emperors which lasted from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty which is around 500 years. The history of the Forbidden City was very influential as our tour guide explained its significance.

Jordan ’20

As we closed out our days in Beijing, the adventure and amazement with the city did not cease. Thursday morning found us at the Beijing Panda Zoo (after we became full of breakfast, of course). The main attraction of  lazy, yet very cute little bears made for an adorable gift shop and an outlier experience in our temple-dominant sight seeing. Both religious and political temples were painted with bold and consistent colors of red, blue, green, gold.  The temples were all beautiful, and almost identical, presenting differences in surrounding aura. You could sense the kind of power illustrated on mere things like architecture, layout, and color, resulting in our group becoming professionals in the field of ancient Chinese tradition. To close out our big city tourism, we stuck to the basics of Asian art by visiting a museum and then turned things transitioned to modern art as we strolled through a super urban art gallery; graffiti, sculpture, fashion— the works! Concluding it all, parents of Beijing-local GS students arranged a lunch in our honor and as a means for us to practice more of the beloved language. As hectic and busy as it was, the highlights of the city tours will remain engraved in memory. I am both sad to leave the city, and excited to delve into service, the Golden Dragon Tour Bus of Beijing will forever feel like home.

Reagan ’19

My first impression of my host family was great. I had been talking extensively with my host brother before the journey so when I met him I was already very comfortable talking with him. My host family lives in an apartment similar to the one my family lives in so I am in a comfortable and familiar environment.  His mother does not speak any English and his father only knows a few words, but I did not find this to be a problem. They are very kind and remind me of my own parents. They are also very accommodating as despite me volunteering to do things such as my own laundry and the dishes, they insist that they will do it for me. Spending time with my host and his friends and family has felt natural and overall I believe I have had the ideal start to our stay in Yangzhou.

Praveen ’20

When I first arrived in my host family’s house, I was greeted warmly by the mother of the house. She asked me to take off my shoes and gave a new pair of slippers that she had bought me for my arrival. I was shown to my new room, given a new mug, and told to sit down on the couch. My host sister started explaining the activities we had planned for the day. We started off by watching re-runs of the World Cup that had played the night before, and then proceeded to lunch. Her mother had prepared duck, duck eggs, shrimp, fish soup, rice, and some vegetables for us to eat. My family quickly took notice of the foods I seemed to enjoy more and continued to serve them throughout the following days. Me and my host sister then napped for a few hours and had an afternoon snack of cantaloupe before heading to a popular shopping street. There I was able to witness much of the Chinese culture including the different styles of dresses and foods they had in China. This was followed by dinner with my host sister and her friends. After a long day I was able to go back home and rest with my host family while watching a new World Cup match. Over the next few days me and my host family bonded a lot together. When it came time to do service without my host sister around, I felt slightly weird not having her there and quickly embraced her the next time I saw her. I told her that I missed her and she said she had been thinking of me all day and missed me,  too. I feel so fortunate to be able to have this opportunity in China to get to know and appreciate my host family and Chinese culture.

Jamila ’20

See pictures here!

 

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Rwanda

by Rishi Madnani ’19 

This morning, we met to have breakfast at 6:30 AM and left the Friends Peace Garden in Kigali for Akagera National Park at 7:00 AM. We are spending two days (one night), Saturday and Sunday, in Akagera to do wildlife safaris in which we can see lots of different animals such as zebras, giraffes, lions, hippopotamuses, elephants, and more. The ride there was around two and a half hours- two hours on flat road and a half hour on the “African massage” road. Once we arrived, everybody was in shock. The game lodge where we are staying is incredibly luxurious, especially compared to our previous accommodations on this trip. The lodge has a pool, a restaurant, wifi, large and comfortable rooms, and incredible facilities. We got there at around 10:15 AM, and had around an hour of free time before our behind-the-scenes tour of the park at 11:30 AM. In this time, students marveled at the lodge and some even took a swim. In the tour, we learned all about the operation of the park, including the animals, finances, management, and more. Immediately after, we had lunch in the lodge’s restaurant. The options for lunch were multiple variations of personal pizzas, sandwiches, and burgers. Again, this was a huge change, because we have been mostly eating traditional Rwandan food for most of our meals. The food was great, and the view that the restaurant overlooked was even better. Then, at 2:30 PM, seven members of our group embarked on a boat safari tour in the lake here in the park. The other ten members embarked on a short game drive (in a jeep) through the park. Tomorrow morning, the seven will do the short game drive, while the other ten will do the boat tour. I was part of the short game drive today, which lasted three and a half hours. The top of the jeep opened, allowing us to stand and look out of the top for the whole drive, which was very fun. We saw many animals, including zebras, baboons, giraffes, hippopotamuses, and multiple species of birds. It was ridiculous to see them so up close in person- for once, it felt like we were in the “Africa” that everyone imagines. The hills and plains in the savannah seemed to be endless, and the sunset was beautiful. We got back at 6 PM and had dinner at 7 PM in the hotel restaurant. Dinner was in the form of a buffet, and the food was delicious. It had internationally-recognized foods and even had a dessert section. None of us have had real cake in over two weeks, and I think I can speak for everybody when I say it was a divine experience. Curfew is at 10:30 PM tonight, rather than 11, because we have to get up at 6:30 AM tomorrow for more game drives and boat rides. The Akagera game lodge is proving to be a fantastic way to wrap up our time in Rwanda.

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Cuba

by Eric Yu ’19

Today was another fun day. Since we had so much fun at the beach last week, Ileabeth and Sara scheduled another trip to Guardalavaca. We had to be at breakfast by 7:15, so we could catch the 8 a.m. bus. Unlike yesterday’s 3-hour ride to Santiago de Cuba, the ride today was only an hour, which was still enough time for a good nap. When we got to the beach, we went to have breakfast before we all jumped into the beach, though we already had breakfast back at the church. We could choose our own dish and I decided to have some bacon and fried eggs. Just like any other places in Cuba, it took a long time for anything to come out. Of course, we had to wait patiently because as Ileabeth said, “Waiting is part of Cuban culture”. The food was decent and later on we also found out that we all had access to a snack bar that had various food and drinks. We then went to the beach to have more fun. The beach was relatively smaller than the one we went last week. Also, there were seaweeds all over the place, which limited the area we could go on. And Ike told me that he got stung by something walking over the seaweed. After about an hour, we all as a group decided to go to the snack bar and get some fries with hotdogs which we were all craving the whole trip. Like at the breakfast place earlier in the morning, it was so hard to get the waiters and waitresses´ attention to order some food. When a waitress finally got to our table, we ordered some burgers, hotdogs, and fries. While we were waiting for the food, me, Maddie, and Alice went to watch the Nigeria and Iceland game. The game ended with a 2:0 Nigeria win. After the game was over, we went back to our table expecting some good food. Unfortunately, it was not. The fries were soggy and the buns for burgers and hotdogs were too hard. Then, Ileabeth came over to tell us that we also go to the hotel buffet for some lunch. Still not full from those fries and burgers, me, Ahmed, Courtney, and Miranda went back to the hotel lobby where the buffet was. Buffet had so many options. Finally after filling our stomachs, we headed back to the pool area where we played volleyball. Then, we went to participate in a Bingo game which eventually became the highlight of our day. It was pretty simple, if you win the game, you take the prize.  Miranda and I were the first ones to get two bingos and the guy gave us a prize.  It was already 4:30 and we had to get ready for our bus by 5. While waiting for the bus, many of us went into the souvenir shop for more gifts. I chose to get coffee for all the relatives and family friends. The bus came a bit later than it should have, so we had to hurry for our second family dinner. I was grouped with Annarose, Angie, and Alice. Later on, Sara, Miranda, Aaron, and Courtney came to join us. The host was a photographer and his wife was a painter. Since it was a home of artists, there were lots of paintings and photos hanging on the walls. After a great dinner, we went to the living room for conversation. Since I couldn´t speak any Spanish, I had to stay with Alice and Angie the whole time for translation. Even though I had major language barriers, I still had a good time with a local Cuban family. Tomorrow we are meeting the youth of the church for various activities.

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Cuba

Time in Cuba has gone by quickly. Today we woke up with the feeling that our stay here is almost coming to an end. Our mornings have been filled with mango juice, eggs and bread. Carlos, Lianet, Alberto and María greet us cheerfully in the morning, and today was no different.

Today we had a day full of cultural exchanges with different groups. First, we had an outing at the park with the youth of the Quaker meeting in Holguín. At 9AM we all boarded the truck to the park.  The group was composed of kids, youth, and adults.  Our students have gotten to know the members of the church well. As we got to the park we knew it was going to be a good time. We were divided in groups to get to know each other better. We played soccer and volleyball, and rode elevated bicycles. After enjoying some time together, we walked to lunch.

The pace of life here is different than in the US.  Here, we´re not continuously bombarded by media, social networking, or advertising. We can really take time to enjoy each other’s company. I keep on thinking about how we will readjust, and if we will continue to take the time back home to just be present and not on our phones.

After a delicious lunch, we headed to a soccer game with the local youth team.  We cheered for Miranda, Ahmed, Eric, Courtney, Alice and Aaron. Sadly, we lost but we had a good time.

After sharing soda and smiles with the group, we headed back to the church to relax and have dinner.

Our Cuban friend, Leo, came to pick us up to go to the Vista Alegre Quaker meeting. We had a great time with the youth there. We played games and got to know them. The students got so involved in their conversations that it was hard to pull them away in the end.  Our dog friend, Chica, is still following around the streets of Holguí, and it is really cute.

Today was a great day, full of companionship with new friends.

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Rwanda

by Jeffrey Love ’19

Today we went to the lake about 30-40 minutes away from our “hotel” in Byumba or as it is now called Gichumbi. We were assigned to three different boats/Canoes in which we were grouped up. Our boatmen took us all the way around the lake as we look at the sparse wildlife. the only creatures we did see were two pairs of African Cranes, which happen to be the national animal for Rwanda. As we turned back after reaching the opposite edge of the lake it began to get windier and thus we began to get colder. All in All however it was an enjoyable ride. After the boat ride we traveled back to the library which we completed and had lunch. We also thanked the librarian Francis and gave him our donations. Afterwards we went to an Expo in the town center, but couldn’t stay very long as it began to pour upon us. After the expo we headed on our way back to Kigali and the peace garden where we had dinner and were briefed by our Safari guide in preparation for the next day. Later that evening we said goodbye to Fiacre as he was not to come with us on our Safari. Today was a great day and I can’t wait for our Safari tomorrow.

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Rwanda

by Clarence Kwong ’19

The work at the library has come to an end, and we make our finishing touches. The pictures on the wall look great as well. Organizing books into categories isn’t necessarily fun, but it makes everything easier to look through for English learners. In addition, we planted grass seeds and orange trees in the library backyard in hopes for a more lively landscape. We also learned about a group which created their own banking system. It was interesting to learn how they kept each other accountable as they also held their own responsibilities as members of the group. Later on, some of us played soccer, basketball, and helped kids to learn to use Microsoft Word. Afterwards, we listened to Congo refugees speak about their life at the refugee camps. It was disheartening to hear about the rough circumstances that they have previously and currently faced. However, I am glad that we have the exposure to refugees and their situations. At last, we have dinner where there were Rwandan tribal dancers. It is fascinating to see that these people hold so strongly onto their roots. Ultimately, today was an insane day, and I hope that we all have just as good of a time to come!

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Cuba Day 8

I woke up to Sara’s wake up call. I was running relatively late this morning.  We ate breakfast as usual and dove into hard work. Today, we started plucking wheat out from the ground; however, this did not take long and our truck arrived outside. It took about 10 minutes to arrive at our destination, we stopped by a government building with people waiting for us.

Our activity today was meeting “young communists” who were about 40 years old. One of them was a History professor at Holguín University.  He passionately talked about the rise of the Cuban system and how before the Revolution, the dictators were manipulated by the United States. One of the interesting things he said was that every year Cubans submit a plea to the United Nations, and within the proposal they ask to lift the Cuban Embargo that has devastated the Cuban economy decades. Every country in the UN voted for the embargo to be lifted, except Israel and the United States. Many of us were shocked. It is interesting to see the juxtaposition between Cubans in Cuba and Cubans in the United States, because they both have reasonable opinions about the government.

Being from China, I personally love the political system here where there are no social classes in Cuba. Education, health care, housing, and more are all provided by the government, which embodies the true definition of communism. In Cuba, there are no illiterate people and they have the most doctors per capita. This is truly a unique country that is progressive in human rights and equality. Moreover, Cubans do not believe in working for money. I know. It is a rather unique definition of freedom, but they believe there is no dignity in life once a person is enslaved by monetary limitations. He said a newly drafted constitution is in play and the first article is going to be about working for the sake of service and for the people. This sounds like a Utopian society where everyone lives equally, but let us see how it plays out.

Admittedly, I wanted to ask more questions, but it was 12:40 and I was too hungry to stay there any longer. We went back to the church and did more work after eating. One of the better experiences today was after dinner.  We all went salsa dancing at Leo’s dance studio. We had so much fun and the day finally came to an end.

I would love to talk to the students here in Cuba that are my age so I can get to learn about their perspectives of the education in this country. It was a tiring but fruitful day and I am willing to experience more of this country as we now only have 7 days left. I have fallen in love with Cuba and I will make sure to come back to visit Havana and this Church again.

See photos.

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Cuba

By AnnaRose ’19

Our service group and a group of church members took a day trip to Gibara, a coastal town about an hour away from Holguín.  On the bus ride there, our guide explained how the Cuban education system worked, and how Cubans attained jobs.  Education is free, and mandatory until ninth grade, although nearly all Cubans will continue their studies past then.

On the drive we passed many forts from the early nineteenth century. There was also a good view of the bay, which we would end up paddle-boating and kayaking in.  Ike, Angie, Priya, and JoceLyn n were in one paddle-boat, while Alice, Maddie, Courtney and I were in another.  Aaron and Ahmed, and Eric and Miranda, rowed about in kayaks, and they stuck by the paddle-boat I was in as we moved about the bay.  Courtney and Alice were the ones who were paddling, but they seemed to be good with the load.  It was fun to explore the bay, even though we couldn’t swim in it because of the water quality.  Ike, Angie, Priya, and JoceLynn were a couple minutes late getting back to shore, but then we were on our way to explore a cave.

The cave had more graffitti than I expected, and more bats, but it was a new experience to  aim my headlamp at the cave walls to see if there were any interesting rocks.  As we walked around the dirt floor, many people, including me, took pictures of stalagmites and columns.  At one point, on the way back to the cave entrance, we stopped for a minute to stand in the dark.  It was scary, but thrilling.

As we drove towards the restaurant for lunch, we saw many of Gibara’s houses and buildings. We stopped at a lookout to take pictures of the town and the bay encircling it.

The restaurant, named La Cueva, served us seafood, mostly shrimp and crabmeat. There were also platters of rice and beans, vegetables, and plantain chips.  Aaron continuously stopped by where Miranda, Courtney, Sara, Ileabeth, Roxy and I were sitting in order to get more plantain chips. It wasn’t just the plantain chips that were good; you could say the same for all the food. Spaghetti or pork was available for those who did not want to eat fish. There was a small zoo attached to the restaurant, and Miranda, Courtney and I stopped to look at a parrot.

After lunch, we traveled to Gibara’s main square, where we could walk around for half an hour before we had to go.  Most of us stopped at a grocery store to take a look around.  While there might not be as many products as in American stores, there didn’t appear to be a lack of products for sale.  Ike, Angie, Priya, JoceLynn, two sisters from the church named Maylen and Mitel, and I looked around for ice cream.  It took a while, but eventually we were able to find another convenience store that had ice cream. As we walked, Jocelynn, Angie, Maylen, and Mitel talked about their shared love of K-pop (Korean pop music), especially BTS.

As we returned to the church, it started to storm, and while the rain w as refreshing after a hot day, it made everything hard to hear.  We rested before dinner, and then went for a walk towards a nearby plaza.  Roxy joined us, and Ike stayed behind to practice singing with the church chorus.

Walking the short distance from the church to the plaza at night didn’t feel unsafe, especially as our resident street dog Chica was beside us, barking at any bicycle that passed.  We made our way to an ice cream parlor opposite the plaza.  Miranda, Maddie and Alice debated what questions they might ask a group of communists we would meet tomorrow, and Courtney and I talked about our upcoming trip to Santiago.  Eric was mostly interested in eating his sundae.

After returning to the church, we heard part of a song that the chorus was singing, and they sounded great.  Angie and Priya joined Ike, and they all seemed to be having fun, judging by the singing that I could hear.  Others headed upstairs to play card games or journal for a while. After the evening meeting, we went to bed, tired after a full day.

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Rwanda

by Nora

As you may have heard, Sofia, Camille, and I have a buggy and dank room. Nonetheless, we woke up well rested and excited to start the first work day in Byumba. But, as I turned to remind Sofia to get up, I saw a twitching, dying grasshopper. Then, Camille asked me to turn around to kill a spider on our bed. It was a buggy start to the first work day at Byumba.

At the library, we quickly organized ourselves and got to work. A group of us cleaned the walls, another bought paint, and the rest helped design the pictures for the walls. As soon as the paint arrived and wet walls dried, we began to paint. Now that we have had a set of workdays under our belts, painting went much faster. We finished the main room of the library, the hallways of the library, and almost all of the outside’s painting and design.

After an accomplished day at work, Jeffrey, Ashleigh, and I decided to run back to the guest house. It was mostly downhill (the main reason we ran back and not there) and many Rwandans laughed at us running by. We arrived before the bus (with the rest of the students) arrived!

I am looking forward to another work day and run tomorrow!

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Cuba Day 6

By Miranda ’19

Today we went back to work. Our day started out by having breakfast at 8, we had pineapple, eggs, packaged toast, and bread with butter. As soon as breakfast ended we headed back to work to finish what we had started on Friday. We pulled over 16 barrels full of sand to the second floor then we bucketed them up to the third floor (the roof) where we had previously put the rocks from last week. Throughout this tiresome process we had rotations to reduce the work and to give people a break.

We ended work around 12:40 and started our nap session shortly afterwards. During our nap session we munched on my goldfish, Ike’s Milano cookies, Maddie’s pop-tarts, and Alice’s crackers. Everyone was so tired to the point where they didn’t care where they slept. Alice, Priya and I made make-shift beds out of chairs; while Maddie, JoceLynn, Annarose and Angie all slept on beach towels. Courtney, Eric, Ahmed, and Aaron all slept in their beds.

After our hour and thirty minute “nap”, we all went straight back to work but this time filling up water for the community from 2 to 5. The two men, who help us build the church, showed up a little after five to help us continue construction. This time we moved 12 long metal bars and multiple tin roof top pieces from the ground level to the first floor then immediately to the second. Lastly we formed an assembly line to move cinder blocks from the ground up to the second floor.

After we finished all of our hard work it was supposed to be time for dinner but we had time to spare so we all decided to walk 15 minutes to La Loma de La Cruz ( which is a giant hill with over 462+ steps!).

After the hike we all feasted on rice with shredded beef and green peppers. For dessert we had jello and banana cake. Following dinner, Ahmed and I played Spit, the card game (I won by the way), and JoceLynn and Maddie also played afterwards. After our games we all went upstairs and played a mini game of apples to apples followed by our meeting that occurs every night. Overall today was tiring yet fun and I can’t wait to see what is in store tomorrow.

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