Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spain Exchange- Adios

This weekend ended up being the worst part of my experience in Spain. By this I mean that we had to leave our hosts and say our goodbyes which is always hard to do. However, before we said our goodbyes we were able to spend the whole Saturday with our host families. For my last day with my family, they took me out to eat at an amazing restaurant in Griñón. I was surely surprised to eat out with them since all of my previous meals were at their house. After the excellent brunch, we made our way home, and I took my daily midday nap to prepare for the "discoteca" that was on our agenda for the day. Once I woke up, we all hopped in the car for what was supposed to be an approximately 45 minute trip that would end up being a one hour trip due to navigation issues. When we finally arrived we had a blast. I am sure that everyone who also went could agree. After the discoteca which left everyone tired, we each went our separate ways to prepare for the day ahead of us which includes hours of traveling.

Aron Sobers

The weather in Spain is pretty unstable. It would be hot one day where you couldn't even where a sweatshirt but the next day it snowed. In Spain every meal we had was huge except for breakfast. Breakfast time we only had some bread and cheese. The weekend was fun and on our last full day we went to party.  The next morning was a very sad morning. We had to say our goodbyes and get on the bus but it was a time to reflect on the fun we had together in Spain.

Jared White
The girls

The boys and their hosts at the discoteca

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Kenya - Day 9

By: Katerina Silis

Sadly, our visit to Kenya and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy comes to an end today. We woke up at 5:30 like we do every morning, nibbled on our digestive biscuits with coffee/tea, and set off on our last morning game drive as we watched the sun rise.

We spotted buffalo and elands along the dirt road in the midst of other wildlife. Though we had seen cats including lions, jackals, and leopards on our trip, we had not seen cheetahs up to this point. However, on this drive we spotted two cheetahs, one obscured by the grass with penetrating red eyes. Then, we ventured to a peaceful pond where we attempted to observe hippos. When they did not appear, we instead watched spoon billed birds and moved on to take a group photo in front of the scenic view of Mount Kenya to be published in the Lewa yearly report.

Afterwards, we returned to camp to indulge in a scrumptious breakfast prepared by the head of hospitality, Frida. Then, with full stomachs, we took time during our final day to visit an archeological site home to axeheads comparable to arrowheads in North America used in Pre-historic times.

The sharpened stones were fashioned in this "factory" by blacksmiths, making them the first people to use tools. Stanley, our guide who had worked with Lewa for twenty years and Nissa taught us about the different minerals in the area. He explained that obsidian had been used as a currency, and talked about the mineral makeup of different stones. Quartz was found in many of the stones on the site while basalt was primarily used to make the axe heads.

Also, we found the skull of a common zebra in the high grass with the artifacts. We learned that many of the axe heads had been damaged by visitors but were still left out in the open at the mercy of the elements to stay in their most natural form. Basalt axe heads were primarily used to skin animals.

On the drive back, we talked about radio communication with code names for different animals to minimize competition between vehicles and create surprise with different animal sightings. We also talked about "temporin", which is an oily substance secreted by elephants when they are stressed. Then, we tailed an elephant family with two young babies as we prepared to leave Lewa.

Once we arrived at camp, we packed, ate lunch, and left for the airport. We soon boarded the small jumper plane we privately chartered to take us to Nairobi. You had to hunch over to not hit your head on the way in and there were just enough seats for each of us to sit on the plane. We then took off on a bumpy flight with jolts and turbulence that kept us on our toes.

We arrived in Nairobi and passed gated communities while driving to the market where we would master the art of bargaining while buying souvenirs.
From there we took a short trip to an elephant orphanage where we had pledged to support and adopt abandoned elephants to be released in the wild.
Many of these elephants are not accepted by their wild counterparts upon reintegration into nature.

The elephant babies were angelic and sweet. The diet of the baby elephants consisted of special formula milk (not cow's milk) with a secret formula. After our visit, we returned to the mall for our last dinner in Kenya of Italian food and smoothies.

It has been such a pleasure visiting Kenya in what I hope will be one of many trips. The incredible hospitality and kindness offered by our hosts during our stay made us feel at home while in Kenya.

The Lewa wildlife conservancy has taken steps to ensure the protection and care of wildlife coupled with community partnerships that make it a model of effective conservation. I hope that upon our return, the SSSAS community will continue to offer its support of conservation efforts including those in Lewa.

On behalf of the group, I would like to thank Kate Spencer for her infinite knowledge, quips, and spunk, without whom this trip would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Nissa and Moses, our wonderful guides and drivers who made this trip unforgettable. Finally, I must thank Mr. Cotter and Ms. Leins for putting up with our hijinks for eight days.

Kwaheri Kenya! 

Katerina Silis

Kenya - Day 8

By: Carroll Phillips

We started our last full day in Lewa with a morning game drive seeing storks, leopard paw prints, hyenas, and more.

Next Mike Watson, Lewa's CEO, came to our camp and talked to us about the message Lewa wants to convey, what message visitors take home, and how important it is to have good relationships with surrounding communities and the Kenyan government. For example, Lewa provides numerous jobs for people in the nearby communities who in return pass on tips they hear about poachers, helping to protect and conserve Lewa. On the other hand, the Kenyan government adds a bigger support system so together it and Lewa can more easily protect the land and continue conservation. As Mike Watson repeatedly stated "it's all about people and relationships" and that's how Lewa can work so successfully.

We then left and visited a woman named Purity who talked to our group about the Manyangalo project. The Manyangalo project through Lewa provides communities water to grow crops and introduces them to new technologies in agriculture such as the drip water system. Their main focus is providing people with water, but they also help ensure locals have a feeling of ownership over the water so that they will feel responsible for it and maintain it. The Manyangalo project has helped with not only providing water, but also teaching people how to be more independent so they are not as reliant on Lewa.

We then continued onto discussing micro lending which provides loans between $100-$5,000 to a woman or group of women to start their own businesses. They also provide advice and help with planning so the business is successful. Micro lending has helped in empowering women and a cultural shift away from traditional husband-wife roles so now more women are able to make money and support their family. Men know about and support their wife's business which was unexpected for us to hear since the change for women to make as much or even more money than their husband is a hard shift for most men. If the woman can't pay back loan in 3 years 3 months then the time to pay the money back is extended and they pay later. Groups of women taking loans split up the loan and check on each other, holding one another accountable for paying their portion of the loan. Therefore micro lending program doesn't have to check on specific people and has a good built in safety mechanism. It was clear from when we met with the women and went to a shop, farm, and butcher that they were all empowered and want their daughters to do even better.

We then went shopping for souvenirs and relaxed sipping coffee and tea during a rainstorm at Wilderness, one of Lewa's lodges. We spent a lot of time sitting and chatting with Karmushu, the head of Wilderness and discussed his job, where he comes from, and the importance about what Lewa does for the community. This was followed by watching the sunset at the top of pombe rocks with drinks and snacks and then a leopard sighting on the way back to camp. We concluded our last full day with an authentic Kenyan dinner and sitting around the campfire together.

Eastern Europe, Last Day: Krakow & Auschwitz

"Thumbs up" at The Jewish Museum bookstore
This morning's activity was a workshop at The Jewish Museum. It had been raining all day, and we were excited to finally get inside. Indoors, there was a bookshop and small cafe. We took some time to browse the different books among the shelfs. There were many quite terrifying novels/texts describing the Holocaust, however there were also works that looked to find hope in the future. After taking the time to look around, we moved to a room to begin the workshop. We were given biographies of different people or families during the Holocaust. Some of them were Nazi supporters like the insane doctor, Josef Mengele, or the victimized Polish family who lost their lives protecting Jewish friends in their town. We were encouraged to think about each situation from as many points of view as we could. While some of the people were obviously guilty or innocent, it was interesting to look at cases that were more ambiguous. For example, the Polish man that betrayed a family of Jews. While it is awful that he did this, it what important to remember the pressure that he was under during that time and how he was trying to keep himself alive. This workshop was very interesting because we were able to take a closer look at the lives of humans during the war and try to understand what they were facing. ~Baker Casagrande

Prosecution & defense of Holocaust Poles & Germans, part 1

Prosecution & defense of Holocaust Poles and Germans, part 2

Devouring Polish pancakes at the tram stop

Auschwitz I

Our Auschwitz guide

Zyklon B canisters

Suitcases left behind

Execution wall

Auschwitz II - Birkenau

Auschwitz II - Birkenau

A film by Davis Whitley: Our Group at Auschwitz I and II 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Spain Exchange- last day at school

Today was the last day we got to go to the school. I'm already dreading the moment when I have to leave my new friends and family. Looking back on what I did today, I'm really glad I lived in the moment, rather than being worried about leaving. I enjoyed the last moments I had with my new friends. My favorite part of today was in the morning when we went to an art class and made picture frames for our hosts. I put so much effort into my frame cause I wanted to show how much I appreciate what my family has done for me. I really enjoyed going to younger classes and answering the questions the children asked me. I loved how Sam, Julia, Jordan, Trinity and I sang songs to the little kids. Our cover of The Itsy Bitsy Spider was amazing. I thought all of us could become professionals. Just kidding!  Seeing all of the kids smiling faces put one on mine too. Overall I had an amazing day. I will never forget it!

Mede Alexandre

China - Day 7

Here are some more pictures from the China group from Ms. Vascott.

More food

On Mount Emei trail coming down from the Buddhist monastery.

Today (Friday) on boat to see largest stone Buddha in the world.

Kenya - Day 7

(This post is by Julia Wood.)

Our morning started off at 5:30 to dress for our morning game drive and to fill up on caffeine. Although, getting up at 5:30 is rather easy to the noise of our wildlife filled surroundings. Our game drive was filled with elephants, zebras, buffalo, rhinos, and more. We also witnessed a territorial fight between two male impala. After our game drive and breakfast we headed to Lewa's education center and met with Ephantus, who taught us about the importance of environmental protection and its impact on wildlife. After visiting Lewa's bead shop, we also met with Matthew, Lewa's veterinarian, who taught us his technique for restoring wounded wildlife. We were all stunned to learn that the medicine injected into wounded animals bodies is often four hundred times stronger than morphine. Our last visit of the day was with Phoebe, a nurse, who showed us around Lewa's clinic. The highlight of our day was meeting Kitui, a baby rhino whose mother, Mawingo is blind. We were able to pet and take close up pictures with Kitui. It was especially special to meet him as our group helped fundraise prior to the trip, to help provide Kitui a long term caretaker as his blind mother is not able to always provide for him. Our day ended with another amazing game drive. I am excited to see what our last two days have in store in Kenya, as our experience so far has been remarkable. 

⁃ Julia Wood

Thursday, March 23, 2017

China - Blog Entry Catch Up

(I have two blog entries, though I cannot match them to the pictures provided on previous dates. The entries are dated below. - Mr. Yee)


Today was our first of many domestic flights in China and flew from Beijing to Xi’an where we had a busy day filled with amazing food and breathtaking sights. Immediately after our flight, we went to see the mind-boggling terra cotta army. Some of us have seen the warriors in the past when they came to DC at National Geographic Museum. But this was an absolutely amazing experience that doesn’t compare to the small exhibit. Our tour guide, Ivy, was giving us plenty of information about these warriors. Later we went to the Xi’an North Wall. After a small chat, we proceeded to ride yellow bikes along the wall. The cold wind hitting our face didn’t stop any of us from going as fast as we could and having fun. Before we went back to our hotel, we ate dinner and headed towards the Islam Quarter. It was a long strip of street markets with flashing lights and crowed streets. Our final stop of the day was our hotel, finally. After sleeping in a small hostel, we were extremely excited to be sleeping in a “fancy” hotel. Being on the top floors, we were able to have a nice view the city tops of Xi’an. After being on beds that were like hard futons, it was the best feeling in the world to end the day on a comfortable bed.


We started off the day bright and early, with a flight from Xi’an to Chengdu, which is in Sichuan. Immediately we headed to lunch, where our group was split between two tables: spicy and non-spicy. Both tables ate delicious food, and one student sampled fish eyeballs! We then headed to the highly anticipated Chengdu Panda Breeding Center. Although we were disappointed to see rain, our tour guide told us that the pandas prefer it, and would we more likely to see them. She was right! We saw tons of pandas, all eating or sleeping. We were also lucky enough to see plenty of panda babies. We watched a mother and baby play-fight, and another group of 6 babies playing together. There were plenty of baby pandas stuck sleeping at the top of trees in the park, and we also got to see red pandas and peacocks. We then headed to the People’s Park, where we drank tea while watching men play mahjong. During our tea detour, we watched a typical ear checkup done to a patron at the teahouse.
After a traditional Sichuan hot pot dinner that included fish, dumplings, meatballs, ad plenty of vegetables (we are getting our veggies in!), we finally made it to our new hostel (LazyBones Hostel), where our hosts welcomed us.

Kenya - Day 6

(This post is by Lilly Cady.)

The morning started bright and early with a 5:45am wake up. After seeing three lionesses last night, the group was hungry for more. The morning's game drive did not disappoint in the slightest. About five minutes in, we rounded a bend in the road and were face to face with a lion. Barely distinguishable from the grassy hillside, he stalked away from us with only a cursory glance. Everyone was spellbound by the moment, ecstatic with our second sighting.

The excitement only continued from there. After quietly observing the lion's path, we followed it towards the edge of the swamp. We came upon a scene straight out of National Geographic: a lioness, her two male cubs, and the lion we had already seen were lounging in the grass, watching us with mild curiosity. A few moments later, they slinked away into the marsh.

Entirely thrilled, we drove back to camp for a quick breakfast before getting ready for the day's hike. We embarked on a walk through the dry, rocky valleys of the park with two of Lewa's rangers, Tony and Cosiani. Putting our fitness to the test, we climbed up and down steep embankments, admiring the scenery for around 2 hours before finally reaching the ranger's station. After an informative q &a session we finished our hike with a visit to the watering hole. A herd of elephants approached the water as we drew near, and began to bathe in front of us. The smallest of the group, a 4 month old baby, frolicked in the shallows, splashing and spraying and squealing with joy.

Sad to leave, we said goodbye to the rangers and began our drive back to camp. Not even 100 yards down the road, Nissa spotted two lionesses sunning themselves on the far side of the hill. In pursuit, we slowly drove off the road and up the incline until the lions lay 20 feet away. Enamored, we snapped pictures until they padded off into the distance. Another amazing find by Nissa immediately stole our attention: a third lioness sat in a nearby tree, trapped there by a group of grazing elephants. Looking for an opening on the ground, she crouched down, muscles tensing. The seconds crawled by. We stood in rapture, the elephants below the canopy oblivious to the situation above. Finally, with a leap she sprang down, startling the elephants before trotting down the hill to rejoin her compatriots.

After lunch, we decided rest and relaxation was in order. The group headed to Kifaru, one of Lewa's luxury lodges, for a swim. We were treated to an amazing infinity pool and a fabulous view. Everyone took the opportunity to soak up the equatorial sun, lounging under the acacia trees. As the sun began to dip down in the sky we headed back to camp, taking a break for tea and coffee before heading out on our evening drive. The day capped off with a final lion sighting, which included a tense interaction between a skulking hyena and a lioness. We're excited for what tomorrow's adventures will bring.

-Lilly Cady

Spain Exchange- Madrid

When we packed for the trip we looked at the weather and we saw that it was supposed to be in the seventies and sixties, and so we packed for that. Never did we think we were going to get snow. In the morning on March 23 we all hopped onto the bus and were already tired. Gabby said that she had seen the forecast and she wanted to put on sweatpants and call it a day. We drove into Madrid learning about the history of the city and the stories behind it. We learned that there were fountains for the three main soccer teams in Spain. Our first stop was the stadium of Real Madrid soccer team. We got a bird's eye view to begin with and then went into the museum of Real Madrid. The museum went into a tour of the stadium as well as a tour of the facilities. We had lunch and went to the Prado Museum, which had too many paintings for us to see all in one hour. I liked The Third of May by Goya, Knight With Hand on his Chest by El Greco, and the all the Rubens. A few of us also watched a painter start his copy of one of Tiepolo's pieces. After we left the Prado, we walked around the city a bit and came to the center plaza, and learned the history of the square while it snowed. We shared churros and chocolate while we warmed up. The chocolate is unique to Spain because it is richer and has a dip consistency, but it is still meant to be drunk. We all huddled in the bus for the ride back to school and ended our day together playing heads up in the lobby while we waited to meet up with our Spaniards.

Catherine Owens


Bernabeu Soccer Stadium

Romania: Goodbye's Are Not Forever...

We spent the morning and early afternoon sprinting to complete projects before we left for Bucharest. The wood pile, which will provide heat for the children this winter, continues to grow, and we filled tall planters at the entrance of the compound with top soil to sustain the plants and flowers we planted.

We cannot believe how quickly our time here a Pro Vita has flown. We have made lasting memories and friendships, and many want to return here in two years to complete their Senior Project. There were happy tears and tons of hugs prior to our departure, and we are so grateful to Melanie and Mihail Tenase, who make Pro Vita work every day, for opening their hearts and loving community to us. Romania and the wonderful people of Romania will live in our hearts forever 🇹🇩

Nicole Harding & Tim Doyle

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

China - Day 5

The China Trip is still having difficulty with the Great Chinese Firewall, so they only have pictures to offer for now.  I will update these entries when I receive the text.

Eastern Europe, Day 6: Krakow

   Our second day in Krakow began early at 7AM sharp. Following a quick breakfast at the hotel, we left promptly at 8 and got on the bus to go to the salt mines. Our journey into the mines covered 3 km of walking and 135 m of vertical change. Following another bus ride and a quick lunch at a local cafe, we went on a self-guided tour of Oskar Schindler's factory. On the tour we learned all about the history of Krakow during the time of Nazi occupation. After a tram ride and walk we arrived at the Wawel Castle and Cathedral. At the castle we went on a tour and then took a look around the cathedral. Following some free time we enjoyed an excellent dinner then returned to the hotel very tired. This concluded a busy and very exhausting day in Krakow. ~Turner Gray

Heading down, down into the old salt mine at Wieliczka
In Oskar Schindler's office
I would open this with some jokes about spices, but I don't want to in-salt anyone. Get it? Insult? Moving on, today we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mines of Krakow, Poland. We traveled down around 378 stairs just to begin our tour. The mines had more than just tasty table salt, there were musical performances, multiple underground lakes, a chapel (where you can still get married), sculptures, and the decapitated head of a dragon. The mine used to even have horses! The last horse retired in 2002 and is actually still alive! You could even lick salt off the walls it was so fresh. The only accident involving tourism in the mine was in 1915 when some German soldiers were riding on a boat on one of the many man-made underground lakes when the boat capsized. Seven soldiers were trapped under the boat and the salty water (which makes people float) would not allow them to swim underneath it and so they suffocated. However, the mines are very safe. The mine even has an elevator that takes only seconds to get back to the surface. After visiting the mines, we went to Oskar Schindler's factory in Krakow. This museum had an interesting set up, each room transporting you to another world including: Schindler's office, a concentration camp, and the walls of a ghetto that resemble Jewish tombstones. Hearing about Schindler is much different than seeing all the names of the people he managed to save. All in all it was a great day, the only complaint was I wish I had more time! ~Paige Stewart

Admiring Oskar

Strolling into Wawel Palace

Eastern Europe, Day 5: Overnight Train & Krakow

   So, we boarded our overnight train around 11 PM, piled into our compartments, three berths each, and woke up in Krakow after an interesting night of track noises and train rocking. Some of us slept like babes, while others tossed restlessly, but I guess that goes without saying.

Monday night was the first time I had ever been on an overnight train. I had heard a lot about it in the nights preceding our journey; some said it would be fun, others said it would be terrible. We arrived at the Prague station about two hours before we departed. The first thing on my mind was to find an outlet to charge my phone, then to pick up some snacks, knowing it would be an eight hour ride. An hour later, we boarded the train and found our compartments. They were exactly how they sounded: a compartment, a container, a cell. It was barely big enough to comfortably accommodate one person. I had to share mine with two others. The three bunk beds were stacked on top of each other with only enough room to fit the width of our bodies. We squeezed into our bunks for the night and tried to get some well needed rest and relaxation as the train took off. ~Darius Phillips

Julia in concert at the train station, Prague
   Then, we introduced ourselves to old Krakow, shopped for souvenirs, and enjoyed Polish dishes like pierogi and kielbasa. Yum!
Portraits in the Old Town Market Square, Rynek Glowny

   After we checked into our hotel and took showers, we took the tram to the Jewish quarter. We walked around for a little bit and learned about the history. Then, we took the tram to the central square and had dinner. After dinner we took the tram back to the hotel. Today was nice because we got to relax and explore Krakow at our own pace. ~Maddie Koch

Romania: Hold On To Your Garlic

This morning we all headed down for a breakfast filled with sweet sugary donuts and hot coffee. After admiring the beauty of the Romanian hills and valleys that surrounded us, we packed our bags and made our way toward the bus. It took about 25 minutes of driving down the twisty pavement before we reached the castle of Vlad the Impaler. We quickly toured the streets leading to the castle and walked up the steep hill. Inside, were gold crowns, old armory, and creepy torture devices. It was fascinating to see Bram Stohker's story come to life. 

After looking through the gift shop, we continued to buy little trinkets from the market vendors. Father Cavanaugh introduced us to a traditional Romanian dessert called, kurtos. A parked car quickly sped off into the distance and startled us all as we devoured our delicious snack. The group moved toward the bus and drove for what seemed like hours to a Serbian restaurant. Even though some felt car sick on the bumpy ride, we all enjoyed the gorgeous scenery. 

After lunch, we made a short 10 minute trip down the road to our next destination, Peles castle. It was the lavish summer palace for the former Romanian king and queen. It was beautiful but extremely hot inside. We all had to wear shoe covers to keep the tile floors clean. The tour was quick but eventful. Each room mixed different European styles. 

We then walked down a hill which was lined with venders selling various handmade nick-nacks. Everyone loved playing with an energetic german shepherd puppy that roamed the sidewalk to kill time. We drove the bus to Carrefour, which is similar to Costco to spend the rest of our lei. We bought candies and other Romanian sweets along with some toys to give back to the community. We enjoyed our ice cream as we completed our trip back to Pro Vita where we were greeted with hugs and kisses from the kids. We washed up, ate dinner, and played outside with the children with some of the new soccer balls we had purchased at Carrefour. After reviewing our adventurous and fun filled day, we headed off to bed only to see what the next day had in store for us!

Rae Parsons, Annabeth Howton & Andrew Kiama