Thursday, March 31, 2016

Saints in Romania-Photo Dump!

Enjoy photos from our trip abroad in Romania. Although a picture is worth a thousand words, no amount of words and pictures combined could fully capture our time together at Pro Vita.

Long layover in Franankfort!
First meal together in Pro Vita!
Touring the property.
Sanding and painting the front fence.
An afternoon of basketball and coloring.
A morning at the church and the hike back after.
Field games for the afternoon.
Dancing with the kindergarten class and observing a 3rd grade classroom.
Working in the garden.
Hiking to the top of the mountain!
Brasov, the Black Church, and Dracula's Castle
Fort Rasnov and Peles Palace
Deep cleaning the house (complete with dance parties!)
Picking up the kindergarteners from
Playing in the "clubhouse"
Donut making!

What a trip! We all had an amazing time and made memories and had experiences to last a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Saints in Romania-The Final Day at Pro Vita

We have made it home! After a long day of travel on Friday including a long layover in Frankfurt, all of our traveling Saints have made it home (including all of the luggage!). Thursday was a very long day with a change in plans in the evening. So let me turn back the clock as I review our crazy Thursday at the community...

Thursday morning, we woke up to a wonderful breakfast of the Romanian version of French toast. YUM! This was the perfect breakfast, since we needed our fuel for what would soon be a very fun, but also very long, day.

Our first task of the morning was the clean the ENTIRE house of Casa Tyrol. This mean scrubbing floors, washing baseboards, and organizing the kitchen cabinets. We split into groups and went to work. Our students worked so hard and did such an amazing job, that it made our house mom cry! When the cleaning was almost finished, a dance party erupted in the main lobby that brought smiles and laughs to everyone's face.

After cleaning, the students starting to clean up their rooms and pack their belongings as the plans for the evening had changed. We know were going to leave at 8:00pm to head to Bucharest as opposed to overnight. We started packing our supplies and donated all of our clothing and leftover toiletries to Pro Vita. Viorica assured us that she would hand out the clothes to those that needed it most.

Before lunch, we walked back up to the elementary school in Valea Screzii to collect the kindergarteners from school. It was crazy but also lots of fun! The students did not know we were coming, so it was fun to see the excitement on their faces as their new friends (our Saints) were there waiting to walk them home.  We walked them down the hill to Pro Vita, delivered them to their appropriate house, and then had a delicious lunch of soup and bread.

After lunch was when the real chaos began! We collected all the children from the different houses and brought them to the "clubhouse," a large open room above the dining hall where the children play when they cannot be outside. Because of the large amounts of rain over the past few days, outside was just too muddy and wet to safely run around so we were stuck inside for the time being. Playing in the clubhouse was insane! There were children running all around, yelling, paining, drawing, pushing each other on computer chairs, and trying to climb on three ellipticals and exercise bikes. However, even though it was utter chaos, the smiles and joy on the children's faces made the afternoon worth it.

10th grader Libby Davis described her experience of playing with the children.
(Libby's reflection will be added as soon as she gives it to me!)

After returning the children to the care of their house mothers, we walked up to the community kitchen to help make "donuts" for the entire village. We kneaded the dough, rolled out the donuts, fried the donuts, and removed them from the hot oil. All of our Saints came together to work on the project and their hard work paid off when we got to taste our creation! We all had a great time working in the industrial sized kitchen and seeing how hard the two ladies work who are there full time.

Lily Smith reflected on her experience being a chef at Pro Vita.

"This afternoon, we went to help make doughnuts in the big kitchen that supplies all of the food for Pro Vita. Marta was asked to mix a huge bowl of oil and flour with her hands. After mixing the dough up in a giant bowl, we let the dough rise for awhile, then took out about an eighth , rolled it out, cut that into strips a few inches wide, and then cut that into squares. Then, we made the doughnuts themselves. Just one eights of all of the dough had to have made over 100 doughnuts! Then, we put the doughnuts into a fryer, truing to not burn our arms in the oil. After a minute, we took the doughnuts out, piling them in a huge bucket. They looked delicious. At dinner that night, we had the doughnuts for dessert. They were so good!"

Following the dessert of the delicious doughnuts, it was time to finish packing and say our goodbyes to the people who quickly became part of our lives. There were many hugs, sharing of emails, and a few tears as we said goodbye to our new friends. This was an incredible week filled with incredible experiences and definitely opened all of our eyes to a different culture half way around the world. No matter the language we speak, the food we eat, or the religion we follow we were all able to make friends and memories with different people by smiling, playing, and laughing together.

Later today, I will upload many photos so you can all see the incredible time we all had.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saints in Nicaragua: Saying goodbye

Today was our last day in Nicaragua. For many, it is a day of bittersweet feelings. We are excited to see our families, but also don't want to leave. Today we went to the beach!!! It was such a nice day at the beach. We took our little grape-draped bus to the beach. It look about a 2 hour bus ride. We had to reverse around the street a couple times to avoid the massive number of cars driving down the small streets.

Besides the annoying vendors and our things flying down the beach, today was a good day. We swam in the pretty chilly water with many other Nicaraguans. We ate lunch at a beach-side restaurant. We had chicken wings, chicken fingers, cheeseburgers, and Caesar salads. At the end of the day, we took a 3 hour bus ride to the hotel in Managua. We finally have AC! We ended our stay with a meeting with our CASE guide. We said our thorn and rose from the trip, the thorn being the downside and rose being the upside. Many roses included the impact we had on the community and how welcoming everyone was to us. We are all excited to go home but are sad to leave. I just want to take a minute to thank all the people that helped us through this experience like our chaperones and our CASE leader Stephanie. See you tomorrow!

-Caroline Sweet

Greek Odyssey '16 -- Hellenic Pride

Athens hosted our group again to show off both its city and national pride on Greek Independence Day. The parade was a unique one as it featured not the bands and floats of an American-style parade, but the tanks, rockets, jets, and soldiers of the Greek military. Hellenic pride was on vivid display and the constant singing of nationalistic folk tunes helped our students understand that even if Greece is in economic crisis, they are united in their love of country. 

The modern military defending Greece rolls past the ancient arch honoring Hadrian. 

Our students visited Olympic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympics. The urge to "dab," apparently, was overwhelming. 

In the Acropolis Museum, we realized that Hellas was beginning to weep with us as our time in Greece grows short. 

Normandy Scholars - Day 8: Steps Around Paris

(Today's post is brought to you by Jessica Edwards '17 and Bit Brown '16.  Wifi issues have persisted into Paris, so here is the entry.  The photos will be posted when we get back!)

After a lengthy walk from Bayeux to Paris, we finally arrived to last night to enjoy a full day in Paris before returning home tomorrow....Just kidding! We didn't walk 160 miles, but it felt like we did! Due to the very unfortunate events in Belgium, we adjusted the trip agenda; no longer could we take the metro around the city, so it took three times as long for us to get where we needed to be. While painful and intense, perhaps walking everywhere worked out for the best. There were plenty of photo opportunities, a lack of errors through the public transportation system, and buildings that we visited that we may have not had we taken the metro.

We began our sightseeing adventure with what now seems like a short walk to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. To commemorate Good Friday, there was a large mass featuring some of the most beautiful, operatic singers I've ever heard live. Also, the fact that the cathedral's visitors showed so much respect for the service that the Notre-Dame allowed people to enter in the middle of a mass was awe inspiring, so much so that Bit and I accidentally left the group waiting outside the cathedral for us in the rain to give us more time to take in its rich history and beauty.

The cathedral wasn't the only picture-worthy architecture that we saw today; from the golden streaks that complemented the main performance area artwork in the Opera House of Paris to the intricate designs of the Arc d'Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, there's so much to see and not enough time.

This is my third Saints abroad trip, and I can happily say that while I would love to revisit Pro Vita in Valea Screzii and St. Paul's in Montrouis, Bayeux and Paris are also some of my top future travel destinations. I don't know how or when I will return, but I'd like to think that this exchange doesn't have to end after les élèves français leave Alexandria. Ce n'est pas 'au revoir,' mais c'est 'à toute à l'heure.'

- Jessica Edwards

37,615 steps. It took 16.43 miles to reach dinner today. 44 staircases (thanks Louvre), and 3,030 calories burned later, I can finally sit down and enjoy an overflow of bread, cheese, and hopefully tons of chocolate, without any remorse at all. And yet, even though my feet still hurt and hands ache from clicking a small silver button all day, I find it was completely worth it.

One of the things I was worried about when we came to Paris was the lack of the use of the metro. We wouldn't be able to see all the sights - but we kind of did. Yes, it took longer, and I will have a blissful dinner here being as sedentary as possible, but it was also beautiful. We walked, something I don't think I'm very accustomed to, what with having a car - and I saw so much more than I would've had I been in a four walled steel rectangle rushing to each and every site. It made the view of the Eiffel Tower more magnificent, and the sculptures in the Arc du Triomphe more special.

Then, finally, we reached the Louvre - and my tiny group of Eric, Sarah, and me spent it rushing our tired feet across as many floors as possible - Roman, Greek, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian. With Eric acting as our resident leader and map-holder, we managed to "kind of" see everything in the Louvre. The Mona Lisa, naturally, the Code of Hammurabi (the glyphs were easily legible, which was amazing if you know the language, but personally, I prefer French), Venus of Milo, the Sphinx's tomb, and Napoleon's apartments were all amazing, and so many other works of art that we didn't immediately recognize but still caught our eyes. On the other hand, the place was massive. And I'll have to go back, undoubtedly. Or just return to France ASAP, because there's so much more to see.

France has been amazing, and I loved Paris and the newfound ability to make others believe I'm truly French. It's been great, and I'm sad to leave. Good thing the teachers totally had this all planned so we'd be too tired tomorrow to do anything but sleepwalk all the way on to the plane. Au revoir, Paris, et tu me manques.

- Bit Brown

Friday, March 25, 2016

Saints in Nicaragua: La gente

Traveling is a popular pastime. In my lifetime I've been to two other continents and have enjoyed them thoroughly, yet the part that separates my experience of this trip is the people. Never before have I thoroughly engaged with the people of a different country. The experience is something larger than words.
I started off the trip terrified to confront native Spanish speakers with my broken Spanish. My expectations were not far fetched as it was difficult to communicate. Within 20 minutes of entering our new home, the frustration broke as one of our soon to be friends pulled out his iPad and quickly searched for google translate. After breaking the ice, it easier to speak in our disorganized, slow Spanish, and it worked. Hariel went from not knowing a single word in Spanish to having small conversations within three days. Isabelle and I couldn't stop speaking Spanish, even when talking to each other.
There are ten people currently living in our house, and each and every one of them is patient and willing to work to achieve communication. Though it was hard at first, immersing myself in my household caused a better flow of communication and opened more doors. The six kids in our house were so interested in spending time with us and knowing what we had to say that by the end of the first day, I was able to play soccer and later talk about my life with them. Not only did we three become close with our family, but our neighbors as well. It's crazy to go from one day, receiving glazed over and confused looks, to the next day, being greeted with a cheerful "Hola Maggie! Maggie! Maggie!" I can't explain how I can become so close with many families in only one week. I cannot put my experiences into better words, yet the feeling is much greater. Never before have I traveled to another country and felt so at home.

Maggie Bell

Saints in Nicaragua: Making the most of our homestays

As our bus drives through the narrow dust covered roads of the small town right outside of Granada, we set out to do our last day of work. We pass young children playing, old people watching us go by and families eating their breakfast. I begin to look out the window to catch a gust of wind to cool our stuffy bus and one house in particular catches my eye. The house is simply made of scraps of metal held together with barbed wire and old planks of wood. Outside this house there is an older man sitting in a half broken plastic chair and gripped in between his tired hands, worn out by the many struggles he has endured in his life, is a baby girl. Her giggle echoes through the air and into the bus. He pulls her close and muffles her laugh as he pulls her into his chest. The way he lifts her into the air and looks at her, smiles on both of their faces, fills me with joy. These people who have close to nothing have the things that they truly need. They have love, they have happiness and they have each other. Seeing this today reminded me why we are here and all that our group had to offer them. We are all sad that today was our last day working with our new friends and staying with our new families but I am truly proud of our hard work and our new experience. Today was a great way to end the trip and I will greatly miss the work we have done with the adobe!  Adios nuevas familias!

Isabelle Brocato

Saying goodbye to my parents was by far one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life. This trip caused me to realize how much I appreciate having my parents around but also to appreciate how much they have taught me. In a country where people don't speak any of the languages I do, I was able to make lifelong friends and go through daily life with moderate ease. After a difficult and frustrating first day I began to make a huge effort to learn as much Spanish as I could. As I reflect on this trip, I realize I was jealous of my roommates' abilities to communicate so successfully with my host family. I had to rely on Google Translate to hold a regular conversation and I hated having to rely on anyone or anything but myself. My parents instilled in me determination and drive to achieve anything I set my mind to accomplish. Because of this I slowly but surely began to integrate Spanish into my daily speech pattern. At first it was only hello and goodbye to my family and the workers at the site. Now I can proudly say that I can carry an (admittedly basic) conversation with anyone in my host family or the workers. The workers and my host family helped me by speaking basic Spanish to me all the time. I have loved the integration into Nicaraguan culture (muy bonita) and being able to expand my worldly knowledge at such a young age. I'm definitely going to miss my host family and playing football (soccer) in the streets with the neighborhood kids. The good thing is we can keep in contact with all of the wonderful people we have met through Whatsapp. Adios a mis nuevos amigos!

Hariel King

Saints in Nicaragua- beach day at San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur

Not everyone heeded Gasper and Peckham's warnings about reapplying sunscreen.

Greek Odyssey '16 -- Student Reflection

Our first day in Greece was very long. We did a lot of walking and I was still pretty jetlagged, but it was still awesome to go see the Parthenon. We discussed at dinner that evening that even though it was really cool to see the Parthenon, the Agora (the ancient city center) was actually the best part of our day and we liked it the most. The Parthenon was like a celebrity and the Agora was like a really cool person that you get to know well.

-- Meredith Lian, '16

The Parthenon: Celebrity Status

Reconstructed Agora / Stoa: Where Cool Kids Hang Out 

Greek Odyssey '16 -- Student Reflection

After a wonderful tour of a medieval church of the Byzantine Empire (the likes of which makes me wish the Eastern Roman Empire had never collapsed), we started to make our way back to Athens. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at a town which originally we were not going to and had an amazing time. The quaint little city was full of personality, from the people to the small stream running through the center of town, that made it such a wonderful place to break up our long trip back to Athens.

-- William Moore, '16

China, final day!

This was our final day in China, one we spent in Shanghai. Hear it from the students:

I loved going to the top of the financial center and seeing the skyline of Shanghai, it was so pretty. I also loved walking around and shopping in the town. The Tea Tasting was so amazing, I loved all the teas we tried and now I finally know how to perfectly steep tea. We were also filmed for a Chinese tv show when we were buying buns, it was pretty cool.  I will miss China so much and all the people who asked to take pictures with me, I felt like a celeb.

This has been a beautiful experience and I was blessed to have the opportunity to go on this trip with so many lovely people. I have had the opportunity to learn about the rich history and culture of this country and have developed strong friendships with people along the way. I know I will cultivate these friendships when I return to the U.S. and that this trip is something I will always treasure.

Today we went to a tea house and I broke the bank in the gift shop. I love tea. It was almost as good as The Great Wall, lol. I am kind of upset that we only got to spend 2 days in Shanghai. Never before have I been so fascinated by a city. I had a cough this entire trip due to the "quality" of the air. After being in Shanghai for a little over an hour I felt renewed. Not only that, but the city itself is just very beautiful. A mixture of different cultural architectures as well as breathtaking views. I will be sad to go home tomorrow. I will also be sad because this means I have to endure two 7 hours flights. This trip will remain in my memory as one of the greatest things I have had the opportunity of being a part of.

For our dinner tonight we had bullfrog. I said that is had a little kick to it but then i look over to my right where I see Mathew Lu with a cherry red face and is struggling to breath from the spice.

The dinner tonight was crazy with the bullfrog and chicken innards, yet still suprisingly very good. The city looks much better than the previous cities but I liked the food better in Xian. Overall... fantastic.

Today was my favorite day of the trip. We began by visiting an open air market. Dumplings, tea, and various trinkets lined the shelves of the crowded stores. In the same complex was the a traditional tea shop where we did a traditional tea tasting. I drank the best tea i've ever had and bought $70 worth of tea related paraphernalia. The rest of the day was relaxing. We strolled the financial district and ate a great dinner. Im not looking forward to the flights tomorrow, but it will be nice to eat something other than Chinese food.
-Nick Gerson

At the beginning of this trip I was having a bit of a tough time adjusting to the schedule and how everything was going, but now I really don't want to leave.  Today we went to a beautiful Ming dynasty garden in the middle of the city, and for someone like me who loves plants and water, this was absolutely incredible.  This oasis in the middle of a city that seems to never slow down really set the tone for the entire day.  We did a lot, but we all had so much fun doing it and it was all very relaxed.  From participating in a traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony, to going to the 100th floor observing deck of one of Shanghai's tallest buildings, to taking a ferry across the river that connects new Shanghai to old Shanghai, to exploring the waterfront and shopping (mostly window-shopping) in the beautiful new malls and boutiques of the old financial district, to eating all kinds of sheep parts, bullfrog, and chicken giblets at dinner, It has been one heck of a day.  I have sincerely loved this trip and I do hope that I can finagle my way off of the plane tomorrow and stay in Shanghai until my parents miss me too much to let me stay any longer, come to get me, and realize that we should all just stay here.  Thank you to all of our tour guides (Jack Dragon, Purple Ivy, and Blue David) and drivers, the amazing chaperones, Bryan Dragon, and all of my peers who have all made this spring break trip one that I will not soon forget.  (It's funny because it's true!!!)
-Nicki Gray

Im gonna miss Shanghai. The market we went to today was amazing and the view of the city from the top of the financial center was breathtaking. I wish we could have spent more time here because these two short days were not enough.
-Jack Brown

Leaving Shanghai tomorrow will be hard. The city feels international, has beautify architecture, good food, and an immersive culture. We finished off the trip today by touring a Ming garden and participating in a Chinese tea ceremony, before moving to the more modern metropolis and going to the top of China's tallest building, and then taking the ferry for some shopping at Shanghai's many luxurious malls. Shanghai is definitely a city I want to return to someday, whether for business or leisure, and capped an eventful week in China that was a life-changing experience.
-Jacob Reinsdorf

Going to the top of the second tallest tower in China and attending a tea ceremony were awesome experiences, and examples of both the past and future of China. I really wish that we had spent more time in Shanghai, because it is a cosmopolitan, interesting, and beautiful city. This trip has made me want to learn and experience much more Chinese culture, and hopefully I will be able to convince my parents to take us on a vacation here, because it is truly a great country. We were really lucky to be able to come here, and we learned so much in just eight days.
- Sam Dubke

Today was probably the best way to send us off. We started with a traditional tea ceremony, ate some amazing dumplings,  climbed to the tallest building in Shanghai, and ate some exotic Chinese food. I can't explain how amazing this trip has been, and I've learned so much in a short time. I am truly blessed.
- Rob

I really liked this last day! It was a pretty relaxing day, with waking up a little later than normal and going to places with nice views and atmospheres. The garden and the tall skyscraper had fun and pleasant views. It was cool seeing how many meters high we were when we were going up the elevator. I liked the xiaolongbao from the street vendor; it was tasty! Trying out different teas in the tea place was really fun. I like green tea the most and had some nice Longjing tea. I liked the other teas too :D
Coming to Shanghai with blue skies was very amazing even if it was cold. It was a nice day and I tried some really good but spicy frog legs for dinner. I had fun talking to friends :)
- Matthew Lu

As I stated in my previous blog post, Shanghai is, and always will be, my favorite city in China. As the rest of my peers have said, I wish we had more time here. The tea tasting today not only was a cultural experience but it emptied out half of my wallet. I felt particularly accomplished when we had some famous xiaolongbao from the street vendors and got on Shanghai TV. If only the weather were warmer, it would've been a perfect two days in Shanghai.

Mr. Lowinger was geeking himself all day. I have never seen one man laugh so hard for no reason whatsoever. Mr. Lowinger says that it is a skill that I need when I become advanced in age. I bought some tea from the tea place. It was Jasmine tea. I also bought a really cool shirt from an adidas store on Nanjing road. I had to use Chinese in order to buy said garment. The saleswoman told me that my Chinese was very good. Shanghai was my favorite city in China.

Greek Odyssey '16 -- Osios Loukos and Livadia

While we were supposed to hike in the hills around Delphi today, the weather gods conspired against us. A night of rain and a steady mist all morning made trails unpleasant. So we skipped the hike and headed straight to the Monastery of Osios Loukos (Blessed Luke). 

At the monastery, students experienced the world of Byzantine Christianity (Greek Orthodox) with its amazing frescoes and mosaics. Ms. Hardwick guided the students through a discussion of iconography and the design influences of Judaism on orthodox worship spaces. And Luke, being a saint and thus immune to decay, was still there in his glass coffin to receive pilgrims. 

The church clearly shows the use of repurposed building materials. These block were likely part of an earlier Greek temple. 

The mosaics are impressive and recreate the heavens for pilgrims gaping in awe. 

On our way from the monastery to Athens we made a quick decision to take lunch in a random town along the way, Livadia. And we were so grateful for having done so. The quaint town featured a wonderful river flowing through its center. The stone bridges and walkways were simultaneously vibrant and relaxing. Plus, hardly anyone seemed to speak English. While this made ordering lunch hard, it also made the experience a memorable one. 

But now we are once again on our way to Athens. We'll be just in time for the big Independence Day celebrations. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Saints in Nicaragua- Our farewell party

Hariel, Maggie, and Isabelle with their host family

Our farewell band

One of our host mothers showing the group her moves

Some of the construction workers and our students