Tag Archives: Summer 2017

Arizona – Day 12

by Precious ’18

It’s day twelve on our trip in Arizona and school has ended, but it’s not over yet.

Today, we went to go help a friend of a friend (Leena’s brother, Jerome) on his farm. Unfortunately, because of poor weather the corn they had been growing didn’t grow well. So our job was to help replant the corn and weed the farmland. Oddly enough tumbleweeds are really strong. They don’t just tumble in the air like in western movies. Weird, right? Another group went to dig up tumbleweeds that may affect the corn that were planted. It took a few hours to complete both jobs.

After working hard through the early hours of the morning, we were rewarded with watermelon and hugs as thanks for helping out on the farm. Hugs are more rewarding than I thought. The group then visited a flea market in Tuba City. It was very hot and we were all sweating by the end of it. Many of us bought items such as blankets and jewelry. We then went back to the townhouse to go swim at the Kayenta Elementary School. It was very refreshing after hours of hard work in the fields.

There was also an opportunity to go to a powwow, and three people in our group danced in the middle of the circle to celebrate the Navajo veterans. Since we were hungry after, we went to the restaurant called The View, which is right near Monument Valley. We all had an amazing view while we were eating.

It was a great day all around, and we’re glad we could help one more person as our trip is rounding up. We’ll see everyone soon.

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By Owen 

On Thursday after school the group took a day trip to Monument Valley, we drove through the valley in our SUVs which probably were not designed for the type of off-roaring the monument Valley loop included. For dinner we are at the View hotel, many of us had Navajo tacos and frye bread, one of our first experiences of actual Navajo cooking. On Friday morning we left for the Grand Canyon we hiked the Bright Angel trail which was approximately 1.5 miles down into the canyon and 1.5 miles back up. The hike was possibly the longest 3 miles anyone in our group had experienced. On Saturday we went on a float trip of Glen canyon, the bus ride to the docks included a trip through a U tunnel. The float trip itself was peaceful as we learned more about geology of the canyon as well as some facts about the shrouding and Native American history. The float trip paused at as a sandy beach on the river bank, where we got the chance to jump into the 47 degree water like typical George School students. On Saturday for dinner we went to Dam Bar and Grill, which was delicious. Sunday before leaving Page, AZ we stopped at Walmart to purchase school supplies for our kids at school. We also toured the Lake Powell Dam before heading back to Kayenta. I personally did not go on the tour, but heard it was interesting. For lunch on Sunday we stopped at a Texas BBQ restaurant which was in an old gas station building. We were forced to sit outside because we were a group of 15, but the canopy over the outdoor seating provided ample shade. The BBQ was delicious and he restaurant lived up to the standards of a classic Texas BBQ joint. It was a welcome end to our weekend in Page.

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Costa Rica – Final Reflection

By Pacho Gutierrez ‘77

Twenty-three years ago I led the first GS student trip to Costa Rica, a country that inspired me not only for its natural richness, but also for its dedication to conservation, sustainability, peace and social justice, among other things.  This was my 12th time taking students to this magnificent country.  As always, I left it refreshed and inspired.

Almost a quarter of a century will bring great change to any country, but it seems to be magnified in Costa Rica since it used to be so pristine.  Its population has grown by 47 percent between 1994 and 2017.  As Ticos gain in affluence, they buy more vehicles, build more roads, and construct more businesses.  This become greatly apparent as one travels the roads, there is construction everywhere.  The modern world is taking over, even a country where simplicity and unhurried lifestyle has been the way of life.

Costa Rica is doing its best to be a world leader in many fronts.  For example, and as was mentioned in the blogs, it was the first nation to reach 100 percent renewable electricity production in 2015, making it a leader in energy sustainability.  Almost one third of its territory is protected in some form or another from development or exploitation.  Ninety seven percent of its population has access to electricity and potable water. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America. It enforces conservation laws better than most other Latin American countries.  It provides health services better than most developing countries.  It has low crime and poverty rates.

Progress continues to spread over the planet.  Modern conveniences and amenities are encroaching the Costa Rican countryside.  For example, it used to be there was little or no cell service in rural areas, now it seems like there is WiFi connectivity in every room in every lodge, no matter how remote (Tortuguero).  Those eco-tourists demand their connectivity!

Ticos continue to soldier on with their respect for nature, for wildlife and for each other.  Animals move about unafraid or unconcerned with humans.  It’s like what happens with the GS squirrels, they are emboldened by the way they are left free to roam.

Ticos are humble people with a strong sense of family and solidarity with their neighbors, something that really struck a chord with our students.  The respect and cohesiveness they show with one another is refreshing and awe inspiring.  Sure, they have problems like everyone else, but they have a tranquility about them that is unique.

Ticos say Pura Vida! (literally: Pure Life) for everything: as a greeting, as a response, as an expression, as an invitation to be positive and jovial.  Its contagious, one can’t help to be happy around Ticos.  Pura Vida all around!

I hope they never lose their joy to live their meaningful lives!



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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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by Julian

Today is our last day in Hanoi. We began with a visit to an orphanage in Bac Ninh, right outside Hanoi. Due to scheduling conflicts, we were not able to do as much service as we wanted to, but we still swept their courtyard clean and left a positive impact on the children there. The orphanage is currently taking care of 22 babies and a number of students who happen to be deaf.

Children of all ages with different abilities greeted us and watched us as we worked. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the babies there and I really admired the women who cared for them. Some of the babies had severe disabilities. Later in the afternoon, after a strange lunch with an overambitious host, we visited a highly prestigious high school in Ban Ninh. Their auditorium reminded me of George School’s, but it was decorated in red and had some busts of Ho Chi Minh and a few communist slogans. The school’s presentation of the opportunities they offer impressed me due to its location in a poor area of the city. I was overjoyed to interact with kids my age who were just as educationally apt as we were. We played games with the students and learned a lot about their everyday life at the school. Some of us exchanged social media info and they waved us good-bye with enthusiastic, kind gestures.

Later in the evening, we met up with Alex, my prefect this past year, who lives in Hanoi. His parents invited us all out to a very nice restaurant buffet/barbecue not far from our hotel. It was amazing to see my Vietnamese friends there (a few others from Hanoi/GS showed up) after two weeks of wanting to see them. We sang the George School hymn to Alex in honor of his graduation! I am excited to go back home, but I know I will miss moments like this one due to the quality of Vietnamese hospitality that we found in Hanoi and in every place we went.

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by | June 27, 2017 · 7:56 am


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by Tommy ’18

Today was the “free day” where we could go sightseeing and enjoy the city. As usual, we began with a delicious Skylark Hotel breakfast. After the satisfying meal, we hopped on the bus. We met our Vietnam-USA Society’s tour guide, Nga for the day. We headed to the taoist temple to see several shrines where people offered incense and food in an attempt to please the gods. We also witnessed two tai chi classes happening in the temple’s front courtyard. An annoying woman tried to sell us cheap fans for an atrocious amount of money. We next went to the West Lake buddhist pagoda. We saw more shrines where all statues of buddha were given offerings of fruit, cookies or money. After that, we treated ourselves to ice cream. The contrast between the temperature of my body and the ice cream resulted in a refreshing moment of balance for me. Devon went to a woman who was selling baby turtles and bought three of them. We walked over to the lake and threw them in, watching them swim away to freedom. We then boarded the bus and went for banh my or Vietnamese popular sandwiches on French bread. It was the perfect mix of ingredients. Since we were in a pedestrian district, we all walked around for about an hour. After we returned to the hotel, Paige, Juliette and I went clothes shopping around the Hoan Kiem Lake area, and ended up buying many articles of clothing. We ordered room service from the hotel. Paige and Juliette got pizza and I got a burger. I think burgers are the food that I miss the most from the USA. After dinner, we headed out to the night market and walked around the Hoan Kien area again. It was a much cooler night, the walk was very pleasant. We didn’t see a lot that interested us. We came back to the hotel and relaxed with some music in the girls’ room. At about 8:55 p.m., I headed down to my room and was totally exhausted, ready to go to bed.

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Costa Rica

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by Kevin

There is always something to be learned.  Isn’t that what we tell our students?  As adults and teachers we can generally anticipate their true needs as well as their desires.  Your children need to eat!  They desire connection to social media.  They need to set daily wake-up alarms.  Their desire is that we rouse them from their slumber in time to make it to breakfast.  Our students have been afforded the luxury of doing service in a country in which evaluating what is needed, verses what is desired, is a repeated thread in the fabric of the Tico’s way of life.

Today, after checking out of our tourist lodge, we visited an organic pineapple farm.  I was surprised to learn that I was woefully deficient in the actual facts involving the cultivation, organic needs, and eventual selection of the pineapples we purchase in the super market.  Four perfect pineapples were sacrificed to sate our desire for knowledge of the MD2 golden pineapple (Ananas Comosus) but the goal was accomplished.  Your children are now experts in how to pick the perfect pineapple and how to eat it!  This was a delicious learning experience.

I had the pleasure of delivering your children to their overnight homestays in San Isidro.  I hope that you will not think me unkind in the concealed joy that I took at observing them make their personal introductions to their families.  Moments later, as the adults were shaking hands with their overnight parents, you could see the uncertainty in their eyes and feel the desire, from most, to be spared this new experience.  For me, this was great theatre!  They will rarely be more present and truthful than in those moments.

What I relish in these closing hours of service are their final reflections.  As a group, they have done a marvelous job of bonding.  The overnight homestay visits touched each of your children in unique ways.  They understand now that they needed the visit to their rural families.  Families that have built their humble homes, from foundation to roof, with their own hands.  The pictures that we included in our blogs captured only the surface of a few moments that your child tasted, breathed and prayed their way through.  The changes were subtle.  They happened when they realized they were sleeping comfortably under three walls and an aluminum roof.  It happened as they were served freshly ground coffee dripping from a cloth filter with steamed milk.  It happened as they realized that Tico’s have opened their homes and way of life to the many and varied animals and plants that are native to Costa Rica.  Most noticed the way people in the community flow from house to house and the way Ticos focus on their families. Find the time to really listen to what your children have experienced.  When was the last time you were awakened by Howler monkeys, parrots, or a chorus of roosters on a fine weekday morning?  There have been so many new tastes, sounds and sights to compare and contrast.  In these closing hours before they return home to summer reading, chores, beaches, relatives and college visits, we will task them one last time to share and reflect on what they have lived with the hope that you will be the recipient of their trials and triumphs.

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Costa Rica

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by Brian

Homestay at San Isidro:

First things first, there are chickens; lots of chickens around the house of my homestay family. From 3:00 a.m. onwards, all I could hear were the clucking and cockle-doodle-doo-ing of the chickens as I tried to fall back asleep in my bed. I would even say they’re even louder than the howler monkeys that kept me up in Tortuguero. During the laborious process, I reminisced back to the exact moment I arrived at my homestay.
I was feeling uneasy as I walked up to the front porch of the house, giving a proper greeting and introduction to my hosts, Johana and Misael, in Spanish. The problem is, that introduction was all the Spanish I know, and I was spending the night with a Spanish-only speaking family.  As bad as it seems to be unable to communicate verbally at all whatsoever, both the hosts were none-judgmental of my lack of Spanish skills. I was promptly offered a drink and a tour around the premises, which housed a number of livestock, pets, wildlife, and plants. Misael seemed to enjoy educating me on the terms they used for the plants and animals in the area, like pato (duck) or cacao (cocoa). Despite the language barrier, the family and I somehow communicated well, with the common understanding of laughter and mindset to work towards a common goal. What really surprised me is how rustic the land they lived in was, with minimal construction and making full use of what nature has given them.

The evening really put emphasis in how they share their living spaces with nature. There were a variety of insects that swarm the air, howler monkeys bellowing in the distance and bats swoop about as they hunt for a 6-legged meal. This night, I wasn’t particularly bothered by mosquitoes, thanks to the mosquito netting over my bed.  Simply put, I enjoyed my homestay.  I honestly expected much worse, but now I am grateful to have had a hands-on experience of what it is like to live in rural Costa Rica.

Back in the present, I continued to struggle to sleep then came dawn.  I eventually slipped out of bed and walked outside to admire my surroundings and greet the early rising pets of the locals. I had breakfast and coffee on the porch, which was then interrupted by my travel group’s arrival.  As soon as I glanced over and saw the bus, I scrambled to grab my belongings and thanked my hosts for giving me a wonderful experience, and left.

Once again, we continuing our work painting community plaza at Llanos Grandes. Under partly conditions, we scraped old paint off slides, swings and seesaws with sandpaper and promptly got a hold of our absolute favorite tools-the paint brush. We colored the facilities in a variety of colors ranging from blue to orange to pink, and let me tell you, it was a chore to coordinate everyone working efficiently (ironically).

After a scrumptious lunch made by the community mothers, we went straight back to painting, but now we are painting flower patterns on tires instead, and there are plenty of tires to go around. However, heavy rain came pouring abruptly as some of us quickly scramble to cover and some are resilient in completing their masterpieces. As the rain stopped, we concluded that our work in the plaza in done and loaded ourselves back onto the bus and readied the next round of homestay students. Funnily enough, there’s this feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that I felt as I walked off the plaza, as if contributing a small amount of work can impact the children of a community greatly.

Saying ironic farewells to this group of homestays wasn’t long-lived, as there was a special gathering this night with all the homestay families, much thanks to the SCLC coordinator, Francene. It was extremely nice to return and spend a little time with my original homestay family that night, as we are now in a more crowded and lively environment instead. The mothers in that part of the community prepared a special dinner for us, and let me tell you, the bread is utterly amazing. I should really be disgusted with myself by the way I absolutely devoured half a loaf. Knowing it was the second to last night we are going to spend together, everyone took part of a salsa dancing session. People laughed and cheered as they danced in the only lamp that shined under the starry night sky of Costa Rica.

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Paige ’18

Today was our last day in the village and honestly if I did not have so much waiting for me at home, I would be staying. We had a delicious and traditional breakfast of pho and fruit that was fresh beyond belief. We packed up our stuff and said our last goodbyes to the place I consider another home away from home. The bus ride back brought beautiful views, a delicious snack of mango, and a much-needed nap. Once we arrived back in Hanoi, we had lunch at the first restaurant we ever ate at on this trip. Going there put my time here in perspective and made me realize that I would soon have to say goodbye to this amazing country. Sentimental, I know, but we had to say goodbye to our host families as well. It has been an emotional day. At dinner, we were greeted with tables stacked with wonderful food and a seemingly endless amount of handshakes and “thank you” for the service we have done. With the host families all gathered together, we shared one last meal with people that we had suddenly come to love. My goodbyes went quickly, corrected to “I will see you later” by the people around me. After exchanging songs with our audience of parents and members of the organization that made this possible, we gave our last hugs and headed back to the hotel. This bittersweet night made me realize how comfortable I have become and there is a spot in my heart for the people I have encountered. With only a little time left, we will continue to immerse ourselves in the culture and eventually say the final “see you later.”

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by Jedd Tam ’18

Today we went back to Washikemba to clean up more trash. It was different from the first time we went because the tropical storm altered the terrain. The dirt road we originally took was blocked. I could tell there was flooding from the storm because there was a large area of flooded dirt with a border of trash. Instead of the trash being concentrated in a dense pile on the beach like the first time, the trash was now spread out over a large area. The trash at Washikemba consists of plastic water bottles, Styrofoam, shoe soles, children’s toys, and more. A lot of the stuff that I find there was still usable at the time of disposal because they made it to the beach in okay condition. Other stuff, on the other hand, crumbled on contact. This is a testament to the long journey the trash has gone through. During that journey, the elements corroded the plastic. While our work was helpful in reducing the amount of trash in the environment, it is far from the solution. More trash will replace the trash we removed. What we need is to change our attitude with consuming resources and disposing trash. When we responsibly dispose of trash, nature can be beautiful again.

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