Tag Archives: summer service trips

Homestay Reflection 

Ava Homestay

by Pheobe Day

Most students will say the most notable part of a service trip is the homestay. They will say they were nervous to stay with strangers for a night. If there is a language barrier, they will say they were scared they would not be able to communicate with their family. However, despite these fears and nerves, they will be beyond excited to be explore a day in the life of a civilian.

I can say I experienced all of these emotions while driving to the community where I would be spending the next night. Since I am not the best Spanish student George School has ever seen walk the halls, I was nervous to spend the night with a family who knew little to no English. I didn’t know if I would be able to hold a conversation over dinner, tell them about myself, or even be remotely interesting.

My nerves immediately evaporated once I arrived and was greeted by my host family. They welcomed me into their home and offered me juice and snacks. After a tour of the house we met the other members of the family who lived adjacent to their home. We all decided to go for a walk so they could show us around their community. The six year old, Joesph, wanted to show us the monkeys that were visible from their cousins house up the road. As we walked up the road to visit the monkeys, our host family members waved to those in houses that we passed. It was clear they were friends with everyone who lived in the community.

On our way back, Joesph and I exchanged information about our hometowns. I told him about the cold winters we experience in the north and how, sadly, we cannot find monkeys in our backyards. Joesph shared how even in their winter months, he is still comfortable wearing a T-shirt and that he can always find monkeys in his backyard. It was fun to share with him how life is the United States and watch his face fill with confusion and awe when I told him it can be to below freezing in some places in the States.

During dinner, we went to their aunt’s house and had dinner with the whole family. The house was filled with cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. We told each other about our families and they were shocked when I shared half of my family lived across the country from me. They said they couldn’t imagine not seeing each other everyday and sharing their lives together. As the night went on and I witnessed more how close their family was not only in proximity, but also emotionally, I wished my family was as close as theirs and that I could share my life more with them.

As I have reflected on my homestay experience, I have learned the importance of community and family support. Everyone within the community I visited supports each other whether they are family or not. I hope to carry this kind of support when I return to the George School community in the fall.

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Costa Rica, Last Full Day

Ava Homestay

By Ava Doty ’20

Today I woke up in my homestay family’s house. At first, Phoebe and I woke up at 4:30 am to the sound of roosters crowing. We were able to fall back asleep, but last night Michelle – one of the girls who lives in the house – told us that the roosters wake up the whole family that early every day! Her school is a 20 minute walk from the house and she wakes up at 5 to get ready. We said goodbye to her last night before bed. She wakes up at 5:00 am to get ready for school and doesn’t get back home until 5:00 pm! After we got up for the day our host mom made us a delicious breakfast of plantains, sausage, beans, rice, eggs, and sliced mango. As we ate, the 4-month-old puppy in the house gnawed on our legs and constantly fought with the kitten. Without Michelle (the English speaker in the house) at breakfast this morning it was harder to communicate. I know zero Spanish so I had to rely on Phoebe, and when she wasn’t able to translate for me I found myself mostly saying “perro y gato! (dog and cat)” Thankfully our host mom didn’t seem to think that was too weird. We said our goodbyes around 8:30 and headed over to the school with everyone else.

We got to see the Festival de las Artes at the school where we did our service. The kids were adorable! They showed off dances, songs, and costumes they made! The show was held in the covered outdoor area we had painted just yesterday. It was so nice to see all the kids perform, and to see their families watch them. We couldn’t stay for the whole show, but some of the acts we saw are posted on Instagram!

We took a long, long drive to San Jose – sadly made longer by a traffic jam on the mountain road we were on. We dropped off Cosi at the airport and then drove to the hotel. After dinner we sat and reflected on our favorite parts of the trip. I can’t believe it’s our last full day. Our guide Mario has been so kind and we said our goodbyes to him tonight. I really don’t want to go home, but our current hotel is a Wyndham so it sort of already feels like we’re back in the US. Costa Rica has been so amazing!!

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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 14, 2019

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by Urgen Sherpa ’20

What’s up yaw? Its Urgen Sherpa ’20 and I am your blogger for today. After spending the second night at Hotel Montana Monteverde, we sadly made our departure to our next stop, Arenal. However, prior to our departure, we were able to make full use out of what the hotel had offered us: Breakfast. To those who are not familiar with me, I typically eat a heavy breakfast to start my day right. Luckily, Hotel Montana was able to offer just that, a heavy breakfast. We then continued to our next stop, with a slight adjustment, that being the switch with bus drivers. Our beloved Ronald made an even earlier departure then our group in order to ensure the safe arrival of our luggage in Arenal. Thus, Antonio, our replacement driver, drove us to our next destination – Arenal. The journey was long, but scenic in every imaginable way. We drove up, down, left and right, passing by schools, churches, fields, mountains, and even “fresh” cows. Antonio’s determination was touched by everyone heart during the ride to Arenal. And we finally made it to Lake Arenal!

Upon our arrival to Lake Arenal, our group gave our regards to Antonio, and opened arms for a new mate, Carlos. Carlos, much like Antonio, contained the gushing determination that was touched by everyone during our boat ride through Lake Arenal. During the boat ride, our tour guide, Mario, began introducing key facts about Lake Arenal. I for one, took notes on his informational lecture and would like to share some of this notes that I took during our smooth boat ride. Did you know that Lake Arenal was a man-made lake, built in 1970 stretching over 34 square miles? And did you know that Lake Arenal produces 30% of the electricity used in Costa Rica daily? Lake Arenal is also known for its contribution towards Costa Rica’s hydroelectricity as it contributes around 70%. Lake Arenal is also home to wildlife such as, fish, otters, and caymans. Though the boat ride was smooth, I noticed that water levels in the lake were low. Mario stated that the decrease in water levels in recent years was due to insignificant amount of rainfall which is caused by the pressing issue of global warming. Mixed emotions were felt upon our arrival to the other side of Lake Arenal. However, the cooped-up emotion was disregarded when we met up with Ronald! With the help of Ronald’s astonishing driving skills our group then proceeded to our next destination, Hotel Arenal Paraiso, the hotel we are staying at right now. We ate lunch and then made way for our final stop during our day – a hike to the base of a volcano.

As we drove through the security gate, we made our way through the national reserve. We could smell the change in air as we drew closer to the volcano. Because the volcano is 1700 meters, it took time for our group to hike up to the lookout point. As we journeyed along the volcano, I took in some informational facts about the volcano. Did you know that it last erupted on July 29, 1968? The eruption formed about 5000 small craters along the volcano. And being that the eruption was somewhat recent, vegetation around the volcano is relatively new. Mario explained to us about the concept of Ecological War. And luckily, we were able to glance Ecological War at first hand. What does it mean? It means that species of plants compete with each other for space in the forests and we could see the tall grasses beginning to take over! After about 45 minutes into the hike, we made it to the summit where we were able to view the volcano (sadly, the top was in clouds all day) and Lake Arenal. As the hike came to an end we came back to our hotel. Which is where I began to start this blog. Pura Vida!

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Costa Rica Day #1

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by Ashleigh Curry ’20

Hey everyone! It’s Ashleigh Curry ’20 and I was the blogger for our first full day in Costa Rica! After an early morning start, we traveled Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park for a three-hour hike through the luscious forest. The hike included a spectacular view of the park, several bubbling mud pools, and sights of several species of insects, birds (including several toucan sightings!) and monkeys.

We learned that while the country of Costa Rica is 19,700 square miles, it contains nearly 920 species of birds. The United States, which measures 3.797 million square miles, has roughly the same amount of bird species. The biodiversity of Costa Rica fascinated us as we realized that this small country contained nearly 9% of the word’s bird species. Some of the birds we saw on the hike included the Motmot, Toucan, and the Lesser Ground Cuckoo. At the volcanic lagoons, we also learned that only 5% of the electricity in Costa Rica comes from fossil fuels – the rest is from renewable energy sources!

After the hike, we gathered back for a delicious lunch at the hotel before going on a horseback ride to a nearby waterfall. All the horses led us swiftly to the waterfall, occasionally speeding to a fast trot or diverging from the path for a snack. At the waterfall, we had the opportunity to swim and spend time relaxing in the natural plunge pool.

Our final activity of the day included a visit to the Rio Negro Hot Springs and Mud Baths. At the destination, we soaked in the hot water and even dipped our hands in the 90-degree Celsius spring (for an instant only!). We also had the opportunity to paint ourselves in mud for a full-body facial. The hot springs were a perfect way to end the busy day and allow us to unwind before dinner.

We are looking forward to our first service project tomorrow – a cleanup at a beach on the Pacific coast.

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Montreal Day 2–More Chocolate

by Johanna 

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Today was our first service day, where we spent the majority of our day working at Moisson Montreal, a food bank dedicated to help and make people’s lives easier by preparing them food that would otherwise have been thrown away by supermarkets. After arriving at Moisson Montreal we were shown an introductory/safety video and were explained the reason and beginning of their food bank. Safety was an important aspect since the majority of the people working there were volunteers, which included wearing steel tips on our shoes for protection. Our group was assigned to pack multiple different chocolate mixes into smaller boxes to be later distributed to people who can’t afford it otherwise. It was a very big amount of chocolate that we packed that would have otherwise been thrown out because they weren’t bought within a certain amount of time to stay fresh. Throughout the day we made our assignment into a game/competition, as we tried to fill as many boxes as possible in the fastest amount of time (which got very stressful as many in our group are quite competitive, in a friendly way.)

We managed to pack a lot of boxes during our time, and although our hands and feet were hurting, we kept going, knowing that the more boxes we packed the more people we helped. We definitely got a few stares as we chaotically packed those boxes as fast as we could, however, they all seemed to enjoy us as we “demanded” more chocolate.

I think we can all agree that our service day was a successful one, but now we are very tired, longing for our beds.

 

Thank you,

Johanna

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Last Day in Cuba

The day started out with a healthy dose of 3-10 year olds, as we assisted Ileabeth in teaching the church’s children group. We helped the kids make craft lanterns, and sang with them, “Caminemos en la luz de Dios” (“We are walking in the light of God”). Working with the kids was really fun, even despite that we had more assistants than seemed logical, and I resorted to picking up then kids’ trash from right in front of them rather than helping the craft. We then transitioned to the church service, where many of us exchanged cheerful greetings with our host families from Friday’s dinner. Ileabeth, Sara, and I sang with the church choir. (And I sang a solo for the church! 😉 ). I was surprised by the ability of the choir to learn and perfect the song in such a short time (we started learning it on Tuesday, but it definitely helped that of the eleven in the choir, four were or had been professional opera singers.

After the service, and a hearty lunch, we returned to Floro Perez to finish painting the meetinghouse. This time, instead of biting ants, we found adversaries in the many spiders hiding in the corners of the church. We just barely finished painting the first coat before our truck arrived, and it was sad to think that, since we had to rush out, we will likely never see the finished product of the newly painted meetinghouse. We followed our long and treacherously bumpy ride home with dinner at a (Cuban) Japanese restaurant down the street from the church, where the food was well worth the long wait (and maybe worth a bit of complaining from the others).

Ike class of 2019

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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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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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