South America, Spring 2019

TTS34 Semester Blog

The content on this blog will remain private throughout the semester.  We maintain this privacy for risk management purposes as well as to ensure that you are the first to discover what your daughters are experiencing on semester.  Contact info@travelingschool.com if you would like to share the blog log-in information with extended family or close friends.  Please do not re-post entire blog entries or share pictures and locations on social media until the semester concludes in December.

 

NOTE: To access the blog in chronological order, please read from the bottom up.

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Semester Photos

Hello TTS34 alumnae!

Before departing the home office, Maddie dutifully uploaded her semester pictures to Google Photos. I am sharing the album links below. As you explore the pictures, please be mindful that the albums are in “edit” mode and it is possible to delete content. Reach out to the home office if any pictures accidentally go missing.

These albums will be removed from the blog before it is made public (you will receive notification before this change).

Happy reminiscing!

TTS34 Zambia

TTS34 Botswana

TTS34 Namibia

TTS34 South Africa

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~ Gratitude ~

 

With only a few days left in our semester, we’re making the most of every moment! As we reflect back on our time together, we consider what we are grateful for.  Our list of things we are thankful for is endless, but three big concepts stand out: the gift of travel, engaged learning, and the love felt within our group.

The Gift of Travel: 

We are thankful for the opportunity to travel the world and learn through experience. Travel fills us with gratitude for our new friends, as well as those we “left behind” in order to travel. It teaches us to go with the flow, roll with the punches, and let go of the things that don’t matter. It helps us face our fears, push our comfort zones, challenge our limits, and even fail a bit. It teaches us to laugh through blips and celebrate successes. Traveling stretches our world view, makes us feel small in the best of ways, and shows us a myriad of lived experiences beyond our wildest imaginations. Traveling teaches us to come together and celebrate our differences, and it allows us to rely on one another. It re-defines home, re-wires our preconceived notions, and leaves us rethinking our life’s trajectories. It’s full life living!

We feel gratitude for the opportunities travel has allowed us. We are grateful that we have seen one of the seven wonders of the world, rafted down a world-class river, dug up water roots with indigenous San people, visited classes at African Leadership Academy, oogled at massive hippos nearby, and been welcomed into the homes of host parents in Cape Town. Our experiences have propelled us into a world of excitement and allowed us to see the world. We have seen how life can be lived differently, and learned to appreciate the common threads that connect us as humans. 

Engaging Classes: 

We are terrifically thankful for engaged learning. At TTS, we’re all about inquiry-based learning, student-driven learning, project-based learning, critical thinking and place-based learning. Basically, these mumbo-jumbo education terms all sum up/lead to our main objective: foster a love of learning. Our teacher team has been blown away by the engagement we have been met with. 

This semester, our teacher team has been motivated by the girls’ pursuit of justice after learning about historical and political events. We’ve been inspired by the girls’ plans for how they will make positive change once returning home. We’ve been thrilled to hear endless giggles coming from math classes. We’ve been excited (and humored) that the student group wanted to wake up at midnight for a history simulation. Where else can you find this type of enthusiasm for learning?! Our teacher team jokes around that our biggest frustrations relate to the girls spending too long on their homework. How lucky are we?

We are so thankful that our girls have poured themselves full-heartedly into learning. It’s been a pleasure to teach a group of students who are present, engaged, and interested. 

Love: 

Everyone knows that we all need love. This semester, sixteen brave young women (yes, I’m counting the teachers in this!) left “their people” (parents, grandparents, cherished friends, significant others, etc.) to embark on a transformative adventure far away from home. Before the semester began, I asked myself: among this group of literal strangers, how do we plan to create an environment centered on group-mindedness, respect, openness, inclusivity, and love?  How will we cultivate an atmosphere of love and fulfill this crucial human need? How will love grow in a challenging, nomadic, group-living environment? 

For 3.5 months we’ve co-existed in small spaces, shared tents, and constantly been surrounded by the same fifteen people. Through this challenge, a group usually experiences one of two polarizing feelings: a feeling of unity, or a feeling of frustration.  It is with a great sense of pride, gratitude and happiness that I can say our group has risen to the challenge of group living and found a beautiful sense of togetherness.  

We are thankful for the opportunity to be in an environment in which we needed to rely on one another. Through this, we came together and cultivated group-mindedness, selflessness, and communal respect.  

What’s more, we cultivated an environment based on LOVE. For this I am eternally thankful! 

There is so much love in our group’s actions. Our students help out the clean crew on busy afternoons, they share their clothes every day, they make heaping plates of food for their peers who are on parent phone calls before serving themselves. Girls braid each other’s hair and give each other hugs. They cry together when life gets stressful, and they give each other pep-talks straight out of a blockbuster sports movie. Girls cheer with genuine joy when a peer gets into college and give heartfelt high fives after class presentations. One of my favorite demonstrations of love was when our entire group gathered in a bathroom at 9:30 pm for better acoustics so they could listen to their friend sing a song from their favorite musical. 

All these little things aren’t so little. They are meaningful and powerful. These actions are love, and I am so thankful for this love. 

For our TTS girls for when they read this blog at home: 

Know that the love that created our community was OUR WATER!! This is water, this is water, this is water! Sometimes, yes, our water is a frustrating internal default setting in which we process the world with. AND (spoken with the C4 emphasis on and), sometimes our water is the ubiquitous environment around us that we forget to notice, acknowledge and appreciate. Our water was (and always will be!) an environment defined by our family-like community, group-mindedness, engaged learners, respect, and LOVE. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the love you’ve shared with one another and the community you created. 

The teacher team compiled a list of a few things we are thankful for: 

~ Freedom to write and tweak curricula in order to support and encourage student inquiry 

~ Classes without a classroom — in museums, in canyons, on rivers, interacting with locals, or sitting in a circle under the shade of a tree 

~ An inspiring, dedicated, hard working and goofy teacher team who are FAR more than just co-workers, they’re life long friends 

~ the fact we all love birds now!!! 

~ The salt flats – for the greatest steak of all times and the sound of endless giggles as girls huddled together for warmth

~ The ‘Ments! 

~ morning coffee before breakfast begins

~ The opportunity to see lions in the Okavango Delta

~ Soko and Samukange for spending 3 months of the year leaving their home to be a part of the TTS family 

~ How many wonderful people we have met along our travels that have welcomed us into their countries and their communities 

~ The ability to travel to these countries without question on our North American passports 

~Getting to see these gen Z girls unplug from technology and lean into community living

~ Nights on the Orange River listening to stories under the stars

~ All the songs we’ve belted from canoes, Safari trucks and Big Blue

~ The beautiful support these girls give one another when tough emotions, injuries, sickness or conflict arises

~ All the spaghetti bolognese and pasta carbonara we’ve consumed

~ Seeing amazing growth in students’ writing from the beginning of the semester to now

~ Mid-semester whiteboard marker replenishments

~ Sitting down to write comments and realizing how well we know these students: their struggles, successes, and social, intellectual and academic growth

~ Laying out under the Southern night sky

~ Peaceful safari drives

~ Taking shelter from the rain together on our expedition

~ The shrieks of excitement when we saw hills for the first time after leaving Botswana

~ Having everyone’s authentic, goofy, true and weird selves come out in full force

~ The opportunity to see how students have grown and changed throughout the program, and getting to support them throughout that development!

Thank you for sharing your daughters, granddaughters, nieces, sisters, and friends with us. It couldn’t have been easy for you to send such amazing young girls to the other side of the world with such limited contact. We are endlessly grateful that you trusted the girls in our care and encouraged our global adventure. Each girl added unique energy to this experience, and the semester would have been drastically different without each individual. Thank you for your tremendous support along the way and for being a part of our beloved community.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. 

Best Wishes,

Arden, Allie, Maddie, Erin

 

 

 

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Transitions

by Erin, TTS34 Math and Travel Journalism Teacher

Transition. A noun from the Latin, transire, meaning to go across. As we wrap up our semester, the sixteen women of TTS34 are preparing for a crossing.  Our flight from Johannesburg looms a mere six days away, and as daunting as a 24+ hour plane journey may feel, the physical journey is dwarfed by our emotional and intellectual transitions.  We are moving on from our lives in Southern Africa and back to our loving homes, moving from Big Blue to our familiar cars, shaking off our sleeping bags in favor of our cozy beds, and exchanging our TTS “classrooms” for a four-walled school. We have loved this journey, and now it is time for us to go across.

Students had a first taste of life back in a traditional school during our visit to the African Leadership Academy. Our students spent four days immersed in this unique and powerful institution that strives to cultivate the future leaders of the African continent. The girls stayed in dormitories with their “Chommie” and sampled the school’s traditions including attending a capella performances, watching dance competitions, and taking cover from the fierce prank wars that pit one residence hall against another.  Students also delved into the academic side of ALA.  The girls could attend ALA classes of their choosing as well as an African Studies class the faculty created just for us that examined the similarities between segregation in the United States and Apartheid in South Africa. The girls also honed their entrepreneurial skills through workshops that added structure and a critical lens to their domestic changemaker project, a culminating project in which students are tasked with implementing a tangible change within their home communities.

After leaving ALA, we rode to a valley dotted with sheer cliffs and settled into our last destination at Waterval Boven. We put studying on the shelf for a moment to celebrate Thanksgiving. We cranked up the much-anticipated Christmas Carols and danced around the kitchen making Apple and Sweet Potato pies (because it’s hard to find pumpkins in South Africa!). After the pies had baked and cooled, we shared a delicious meal around a table, sharing the things that we were grateful for as well as swapping stories about our Thanksgiving traditions at home. We also took some time to look at the history of Thanksgiving and asked the girls to apply the same critical lens that they developed over the semester to this beloved holiday.

Teachers are hard at work, setting the stage for a smooth transition through the activities we have planned for our final expedition. Expeditions provide us with an opportunity to slow down the pace, take stock, and enjoy each other’s company. We have high hopes that our hike out to a cabin in the mountains will similarly provide us with the opportunity to come together and celebrate our amazing time together.

One of our main objectives is to prepare the girls for reverse culture shock; it is sometimes jarring stepping back into a world that is both familiar and foreign. Allie has already gotten this idea started in a circle where the girls were prompted to write anonymously about their fears about returning home and provide advice to one another. We continue to build on this by practicing how to explain our experience abroad by creating a short “elevator pitch.” In doing this and other short activities, we hope to equip our students to navigate those initially awkward conversations at home.

Secondly, we want to honor the growth and development that we have seen on semester. I have been stunned by the transformation and growth in each and every student, and the girls will have many opportunities to recognize that growth in each other. Each girl is tasked with saying goodbye to one another in the form of written letters so that each of us will have a physical reminder of the others that have so greatly touched our lives. We will create a space to recognize our bonds and the incredible journey we have shared. We will dive into a meditation that will take us on a journey through our time in Southern Africa.  Our events will culminate in our graduation ceremony on the last night, where we will have skits, awards and a speech from our newly elected Semester Representative, Jane.

It has been a pleasure savoring these final days and moments together with the group. I look forward to bringing the girls back home a little stronger, more independent, more compassionate and more conscious citizens of the world.  It’s time for us to go across; across the Atlantic, across the broader world, and across to you, our loved ones. See you soon!

 

 

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Final Academic Pursuits

Members of The Traveling School community sometimes say that each day at TTS feels like a week due to the plethora of activities, classes, and interactions packed into a single day; but each week of TTS seems to fly by and feel like a day. There’s a lot of truth in that statement, and it’s crazy to realize how quickly this semester is passing. Frankly, it’s surreal that it’s already time for finals, transference and transitions!

We’re currently in Port Elizabeth, a beautiful coastal town along the Garden Route in South Africa. From our tents, we can see the roaring ocean and an occasional playful dolphin. The girls are deep in finals prep with substantial blocks of structured work time. In a few days we will say goodbye to Soko, Samukangey and Big Blue and head to Johannesburg to spend time investigating the historically turbulent history while meeting interesting people to further inform us of the changes in the country.

The upcoming finals are a refreshing take on what cumulative assessment can look like. In Literature and Composition class, girls are crafting a series of vignettes inspired by the vignettes/short stories from Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime. Their final will be a dynamic and empowering Spoken Word Slam, performed for the group.

In science class the girls are creating non-profits. They are paired into groups of two and given an infectious disease such as polio, cholera, HIV-AID, or malaria. They are researching this disease thoroughly and creating a nonprofit that will best tackle or mitigate this disease. For example, the student team tackling cholera has created a mobile truck that will give out free vaccinations and information about proper water sanitation and food preparation to prevent cholera.

In history class we are wrapping up the semester with multiple project-based-learning assessments. One of these assessments asks the students to embody different emerging anti-apartheid freedom fighters from the Soweto Township in the year 1961. Alongside fellow freedom-fighters, they are building contextualized arguments to support their chosen method of resistance. They have been assigned one of the three most popular resistance options from this point in history: option 1 – continue the non-violent, multi-racial resistance, option 2 – continue multi-racial apartheid resistance but introduce structured and limited violence, and option 3- black Africans for Africans only, using guerilla warfare against the apartheid regime. To avoid arrest from the apartheid government, students in character must meet in secret at midnight to share their resistance action plans with fellow freedom fighters.

Global Studies class is wrapping up the semester via participation in Theater of The Oppressed. Introduced in the beginning of the semester, students will be challenged to incorporate their creative and critical thinking skills with engaged mindsets to act in a series of improv performances. Each improv set will invite the group to take action and engage with fellow improv actors to correct and right social injustices.

Given a broad and freeing assignment to write about their experience at The Traveling School, our up and coming travel journalists are set free to engage their creativity and passions. They are going through the drafting, editing and pre-publishing stages with Erin to ensure their article is meeting guidelines and on the right track. The particularly exciting part about this final? Students will be challenged to have it published in a local news outlet upon their arrival home.

As for math, both Algebra 2 and Precalculus will be taking cumulative tests.

Last but not least, P.E and iLife finals have been occuring throughout the second half of the semester. Girls have designed a lesson plan for a solo-led P.E. and are honing their leadership and direction-giving skills in their execution of these classes. As well, they have all practiced their leadership skills as Leader of the Day, creating and maintaining our schedules, navigating changes and making sure we’re all fed and happy. It’s been interesting for everyone to see different leadership styles, practice our directive skills and navigating leading peers.

With this array of finals and engaging academic activities on the near horizon, we’re all excited for what the last couple weeks will hold. We are full of enthusiasm knowing that this entire semester is the launch pad for what is to come. In a recent iLife session, Alex stated she believes the semester at TTS is “only half of the TTS experience. The other half is about what we do with what we learned when we return home. It’s up to us to create engagement and critical thinking among our communities back at home. Importantly, it’s also up to us to make our communities better places”.

We couldn’t agree more! Our final weeks will also prepare everyone to think about transitioning back home and presenting their new 2.0 self back into their familiar settings. From expanded global mindsets, curious about connecting past to present, to new leadership skills and memorable friendships, we have a lot to cover before leaving South Africa. Thanks for cheering us on from afar!

 

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YouTube Video:  Greetings from South Africa!

Check out this video compilation from Maddie! It showcases some course activity in South Africa. Enjoy!

 

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Geology in Real Time

At the Fish River Canyon, we talked through the geologic time scale and then got to move our way through the rock cycle with a series of stations and instructions. Based on the way they moved through stations in class, students were asked to create a comic that depicted the rock cycle in real time (each frame represents 10 million years!).

The photos associated with this post are no longer available – please use the Google links shared in the last blog entry to access the semester photos.

 

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Sample Course Work & Student Blog Posts

 

Science essay – Are humans a part of nature? Must “nature” and humans be separate in order for conservation to be possible? – Céleste

I think humans are a part of nature in the measure where they only kill animals to respond to their basic needs, as many nomadic tribes did before agricultural progress and as many indigenous people still do. As an example, the San people living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana, are an indigenous group who before the recent hunting ban in Botswana would hunt only enough animals to sustain and they would use every part of the animal: the bones to create tools, the skin for clothes, etc. In that situation, these humans are part of nature because they positively participate to the food chain: they are on top, but just kill as many lower animals as any significant predator – for example, a lion – would kill. In my opinion, the human part of nature stops where breeding starts. Breeding is a technology that is unique to human behavior and which other animals don’t use. Therefore, breeding is using advanced technology at human’s advantage, and brought humans to kill more animals than only what they need to survive because breeding makes animals more accessible. In that way, humans are not part of nature because they harm the food chain by killing more animals than another predator would and causing imbalance. I think humans and nature can’t be totally kept apart, but that they should be geographically as separated as possible for successful conservation. Urbanization should be kept apart from nature, and humans should participate in creating spaces for wildlife and for nature to operate without human’s direct presence but helping to balance the food chain, for example with precise hunting laws. In Namibia, hunting certain species is illegal in order to preserve wildlife. Trophy hunting permits are sold, this keeps certain species from overpopulating and the money goes back to conservation. This is a compromise between urbanization and nature that allows wildlife to find its balance. To conclude, humans can be a part of nature if they positively affect the balance of the food chain, and humans have a role to play in finding successful conservation strategies but also in staying physically apart from designated conservation spots.

 

THE AMAZING SASKIA’S BLOG POST

Rust brown sand shifted below me as I climbed out of Big Blue. Sun brushed every visible surface in the early part of the day. A light breeze picked up sand and danced with it into the distance. The town we had entered (although hardly a town at all) was desolated except for a few tour busses and cars. The multi-story 1890’s houses stood alone, inviting in visitors alike with broken in windows and doors. Large gaping holes riddled the proud buildings like Swiss cheese. The outside plaster peeled and most of the roofs had long since collapsed opening them up to the sky. Despite its abandonment in 1926, this ghost diamond town was stunning.

As we filed out into what was once the theater in the center of this town, we talked about diamonds. That morning we had participated in a class on the science of diamond mining and the subsequent social, environmental and economic affects. We had come to this old town to witness firsthand the power of a metamorphic clump of carbon. As our smiling tour guide led us through the town the immense wealth was astonishing. This town of roughly 350 Germans contained a bakery, butchery, two bowling alleys/casinos, a champagne bar, shops that sold caviar, a swimming pool and a trolley that would take people through the two-block town. Not to mention that all their water had to be shipped across the desert in barrels from Cape Town. In addition, by 1907, all the houses had electricity and phones. The houses were expansive, many of them more than two stories high. While diamonds were being mined in this town, the residence where living with increasing wealth. Well, some of them.

When our guide mentioned the “200-Namibian-Contract workers” my class knew the truth behind those sugar-coated lies. That’s the benefit of learning hard history, you’re faced with the bitter but true story.

In 1904 General Von-Trotha wrote an extermination declaration to wipe out the Herero ethnic group. What followed was 4 years of incredible violence on the Herero including concentration camps where 65,000 people were killed. Preprinted death certificates wrote “death my exhaustion”. After 1908, surviving Herero where contracted out to various companies as slave labor. “Contract workers” meant slavery.

Encouraged by Allie, Skye and I approached the guide after the tour and enquired further about the “contract workers”. She said there was no information about the lives of them, including where they stayed and what their lives were like because none of the Namibian works came forward to speak about their experience. She insisted that although they were indigenous Herero contracted from the colony, “Namibia didn’t have slaves”. We later talked about how that was not at all true. After the tour we all walked around the buildings being consumed by sand and sat down for a class on the economic effects of discovering a precious resource, like diamonds. We learned about the wealth disparity that often follows such a discovery. We related it to what we saw with Champagne bars and the little we knew about contract workers.

After walking around some more we returned to our current home in the seaside town of Lüderitz for one last diamond related class to learn about current issues. We silently walked around 7 or 8 stations reading articles and watching little videos. The most powerful video I saw was about the recent conflict in Serra Leon that is fueled by diamonds. The video highlighted the unthinkable violence that ripped apart the country. Atrocities I would never imagine one human could inflict on another, because of this stone.

All of today, diamond day, would mean little if I didn’t swallow the bitter pill that we as a society have contributed to this problem. As consumers we vote with our money and we have voted for diamonds.

After walking around the abandoned town, taking classes in the science, economic and social impacts of diamonds, after tracing the sparkle on your hands back to the ones who pulled it out of the ground and did whatever they needed to do to make a profit, I know how I will vote with my money. I am fortunate to be informed honestly by my incredible teachers and I won’t go about throwing that knowledge away.

 

Just For Fun – Lucy

All 16 of us crazily decided to take a 3.5 month semester on a completely different continent knowing that we would learn many new things about the world and environment. I, however, never guessed that I would learn such strange things about myself in the past two months. I’ve confirmed that I dislike sandwiches, I crave coca-cola like crazy when I’m hot and I get pretty carsick on Big Blue. All of these things are great to know! Here are some more TTS hacks I’ve learned:

  1. Shop with a buddy so they can dissuade you from buying junk food you don’t need. Make sure you find a buddy who won’t make you more susceptible to impulse buying. Leeia and I, for example, buy too much stuff when we shop together. We blame each other for our heavy bags of groceries. Shopping with a buddy is a rule too! Don’t break rules!
  2. Always have a free hand on Big Blue when driving on bumpy roads. Objects often find their way onto the ground or fly onto people. Make sure you have a free hand to catch or smack things away from you.
  3. Pack up early. When they say 30 minutes is for packing up, know that it will take years to stuff your large duffel and plan accordingly.
  4. Sprint! To the bus to claim a desired seat, sprint to the shower after PE, sprint to dinner when you’re late, sprint to your room when lights out was 5 minutes ago.
  5. Always have malaria clothes! Whether that’s in your hand or on your body. If you’re late for dinner or running out of time, grab your clothes with one hand and hold up your pants with the other.
  6. Do laundry discreetly. Five people in two wash buckets is rough! Find a shaded area to ensure people can’t see you. Once a bucket is filled, people migrate to it like magnets.
  7. Appreciate toasters and refrigerators. Double toasted toasted butter is amazing but rare! (Thanks, Jane!) Cold drinks are valuable, buy as many as you can (says the Coca-Cola enthusiast).
  8. Pick up rocks only if they are worth $100. Don’t add extra weight to your duffel with bags of rocks. Ask yourself whether you need them before you pick them up and get attached. I learned this the hard way.

 

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Sample Global Studies Assignment

Throughout Global Studies students investigate different perspectives as they study regional issues that can telescope out to the global community. In discussions, activities and assignments the class works to reconcile with the array of things they see, hear and experience. Some topics are challenging and some make our hearts hurt while other times we find joy in humanity and compassion for the world. Students wrote apology letters for their midterm – the assignment asked them to pause and think about an issue they feel strongly about, then each student wrote an apology from the perspective of oneself, a famous citizen, a fictitious character, etc. and apologize for a specific action that had a real and meaningful consequence on the world. Some example topics include an apology to future generations for climate change, a representative from the German government apologizing to Namibia for war crimes committed during colonization, or Botswana government apologizing to the San for a hunting ban that negatively affected the San’s livelihoods.

Here’s a glimpse into one apology letter…

APOLOGY LETTER – Alexandra Royall 

To: the African American community – the descendants of those who suffered enslavement, segregation and racism and who continue to believe in this country despite the ongoing atrocities of discrimination and micro aggressions.

From: the head of the police department 

It is evident to me that our founding fathers never held the weight of their truths beyond the convenience of paper; choosing to promote equality with the bleeding ink of their embellished calligraphy rather than in the heat of a cotton field. Hypocrisy became a prized heirloom to white America, gently passed to the outstretched palms of its youth. Although our ignorance was taught and American hypocrisy was established long before our time, we allowed oppression to reign in the classroom, the courtroom and beside our water fountains. And today in modern America racial discrimination continues to unlawfully terrorize our streets by the hands and guns of police officers. These wrongs have never been properly addressed and until they are made right, they will continue to plague our country. Although I cannot apologize on behalf of our government, I personally recognize the role I have played and stand before you now to ask for your forgiveness. I am sorry for failing to provide you with the same protection that is granted to white Americans. For being the reason that you sat your children down at the dinner table to teach them their rights and how to avoid getting shot – “hands on the dash and do your best to be respectful” you told them; they had to learn their rights just as you did because you couldn’t trust the police to protect them. I am sorry for allowing countless cases of police brutality to go by unaddressed and uninvestigated. I hold myself personally responsible for the executive inactivity regarding the premature deaths who lost their lives because of police brutality and recognize that my inaction further grieved the families of victims that seemed judicial retribution. The names of the victims are sealed on my conscience; Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Treyvon Martin along with many others who will soon be nationally recognized. 

We are in the process of constructing several memorials throughout the US to commemorate the lives of those who were unlawfully murdered by police officers. We will also launch immediate and thorough investigations regarding the misuse of law enforcement authority. In addition to this, my team and I are re-evaluating our policies in order to mitigate future discrimination or the infringement of rights. While I ask your forgiveness, I understand if it cannot be given. 

 

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Collaborative Student Post

Sesriem Blog – by Grayce

The sky stretched over the sandy hills like a picnic towel. Our group stepped off Big Blue, any sense of fatigue gone at what lay in front of us. That morning, we had woken up early to watch the sunrise from Dune 45. After what felt like the longest walk to ever befall the soles of our feet, we were up the famous dune and the sun showed her face in a blink. Currently, we were at the entrance to Hidden Vlei our second dune stop of the day. We began walking to our destination. The grainy earth filled my shoes and made picking up my feet a much more intensive task than it ever should’ve been. One thing I’ve definitely gained on this trip: the ability to walk through miles of soft sand without breaking a sweat.

We arrived at another valley of sand, and after a quick science lesson, were given our free time to run (the best that we could) among the dunes. Alex and I raced to the tip of the biggest one and kicked off our shoes to make the hike easier. The two of us reached the top and admired the view for a bit. With a sudden jump, Alex came rolling down the face of the dune. Her body pushed into my back and propelled me forward like a moped. We came crashing down to the bottom, breathless and laughing.

All of us did everything you could imagine a crazy group of teenagers would do: somersaults, starfishes, penguins, barrel rolls – whatever it took to get us down the steep dune, we did it. The sand crunching into our teeth and hair meant nothing to the joy we felt.

The group was bone-tired afterwards. You don’t think about how much energy it takes to climb up a moving hill 47 times and roll down for 48 until after you do it. We could barely lift a finger for the rest of the day. What can I say? Playing in the sand is a great form of experiential exercise.

 

Elephants – by Jane

I’ve always loved elephants. Elephant themed trinkets fill my shelves in my room, and almost every day of this semester so far I’ve rocked my flowy elephant pants. Elephant Sands, one of our first campsites in Botswana, was the elephant lover’s dream. There were elephants EVERYWHERE – babies with moms, loud males fighting for a spot around the bore hole, and lots of poop. At least thirty elephants surrounded the bore hole a day in the 100-degree heat.

Some elephants, tired of pushing for a spot by the hole, chose instead to wander slyly over to the open roofed bathrooms and stick their trunks into the exposed drain, sucking sewage into their mouths until they were chased away by a ranger with an ATV. Even at night, elephants would sneak off and around the bathroom wall, mere feet from people inside.

One night, Leeia, Lucy, Cassidy, Skye and I were lucky enough to watch two sets of elephants, moms and babies, drink from this drain. We turned on all the sinks and even a few showers to keep them there, standing on the toilet seats to see over the wall.

One mom and her baby started hitting the drain and the mom behind her was getting impatient. She kicked her feet and grumbled, nudging the mother elephant out of the way. We decided to lure the mom around to the front, where there was another drain, by turning on more sinks. Eventually she came, and we stood in the entrance watching her dog-sized baby. Our headlamps must have bothered her, because suddenly she became very protective of the baby and stood looking straight at us with her ears out. It was a death-stare like no other and we all shuffled back into the bathroom. She came slowly towards us, and we backed slowly away. The elephant grumbled and started pacing back and forth in front of the bathroom, blocking us from leaving.

I suggested climbing over to the men’s side, which was empty, and escaping that way. I was halfway over the wall, Leeia with one leg up struggling to push herself higher or get down, when the elephant grew impatient and came around the side, bumping her head into the beam above us. We heard splintering and panicked, shrieking and running in circles in the bathroom, probably making the elephant even more angry. We flashed our headlamps red and white, desperately shouting for someone to save us or hoping for the guy in the ATV to show up. Allie heard our shouting and came running. The elephant looked up at her and took a few steps forward. Frantically, we took our chance and darted from the bathroom, laughing in relief.

Don’t worry, I still love elephants, but they’ve lost their status as gentle giants to me. Kind, maybe, but not around disco headlamps and five teenage girls running around and yelling like the ground is on fire.

 

Funny Moments – by Maya

Throughout this semester we have developed a lot of jokes. So when I asked everyone what their favorite inside joke was they were at a loss for words. Thanks to Grayce’s recording down all of the jokes and everyone’s input, I was able to understand some of the common themed jokes that have been carried through the semester. One of the biggest jokes is of our frat bro personalities. We aren’t even 100% sure where this came from, it just kind of appeared one day during a workday for the teachers when we did not have many classes. All 12 students and 4 teachers created a frat alter-ego. There is Spencer (Carol), Cameron (Katie), Miles (Jane), Z-Man (Cassidy), Connor (Saskia), Jason (Alex), Leo (Leeia), J.P. (Lucy), Bryce (Grayce), Xander (Celeste), Kyle (Maya), and Chad (Skye).  The teachers decided on their own names. They eventually came up with Sparky (Maddie), Big Mack (Allie), Sterling (Erin), and Warren (Arden). The whole aspect of the frat has been a constant theme throughout our semester thus far. One joke that developed on the same day was “Yo, Kyle!” and this has been a commonly used phrase for us, especially after I got a volleyball thrown at me during a game of volleyball. The second most common joke has been the phrase “Yeah we are!”.  I could not tell you how this joke developed either, but now we all constantly say “yeah we do” or “yeah we are”. Overall, we have had a lot of jokes, most of which I am too lazy to write down for you or have lasted only about a week. But this semester has been so much fun, and we are all constantly laughing so hard! I know that we are going to continue to come up with the strangest things that make us laugh too hard and that it’s hard to explain a joke because you had to be there. So, I hope I did them justice.

 

Evening Wonder Circle – by Skye

“I wonder what that constellation is?” “I wonder what we’ll do when we grow up?” “I wonder where else I’ll travel to?” “I wonder what my parents are up to right now?” These are only some of the questions that we asked and pondered during our Wonder Circle in Bushcamp in Namibia. After a sweltering day in the sun, a delicious dinner and a productive study hall we were led up the small crumbling butte behind our campsite by Maddie. We clambered up onto the crest of the hill until climbing onto the tallest, flattest spot we could see before laying down in a circle on the cold, bumpy rock. With our heads close together, we looked at the stars and for three minutes the only sentences allowed to come out of our mouths were questions starting with “I wonder…”. We wondered about lots of things – space, the world, the past, home, us, and so much more! Each question was punctuated by a comfortable silence while everyone either thought of another question or thought about the last question asked. Once we were done asking questions, we sat up and had a moment to look around at the moon-lit landscape around us. It was beautiful. Small barren mountains surrounded our campsite, inside the valley green trees and bushes poked out of the ground with dark shadows beneath them. It took me a minute to spot Big Blue, our truck, and the tent town that we scrambled back down to a minute later. After a steep (but safe and controlled!) descent, back to our campsite we got ready for bed, read stories, and prepared for the next day.

We still don’t know the answers to lots of our questions but we’re still keeping you guys, the parents and friends at home, in our minds as we bop around Africa so don’t worry and stay great because we love you and we hope you’re doing great too!

 

Things I’ve Learned on Semester – “Keeping it mysterious so my parents can guess,” A TTS34 Student

Hi from a bunch of miles and hours away! I bet you are all wondering what we’re doing right now. Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’m dreaming about the French fries Samukange has in that pot upstairs. Food. I’m hungry. Don’t worry, they feed us plenty! Here’s the juicy stuff – things I’ve learned on semester so far. My special skill: consuming 7 pieces of buttered toast in 6 hours. The record may grow as I continue to master my double toasted toasted butter skills, which are indeed another thing I’ve learned. Time management is key. IF you allot 15 minutes to consuming yogurt/granola/oats, you still have 30 minutes for prime toasting, re-toasting, and deciding you need more toast! Time management is also a key skill I’ve learned to keep my schoolwork at bay. It’s true I have made some sacrifices, but rumor has it I am too on top of schoolwork and in fact have time to shower more. I think it is unanimous that we have all grown accustomed to the smell that floats around us and have learned to mitigate in the most creative ways. I’ve learned that sharing is not always an option. Sometimes, you just gotta say no and enjoy that ginger nut. While on safari, I learned that hippos can’t swim. But that doesn’t make them any less scary. Have you ever tried to write on a giant truck that bounces so much that you could get air if you wanted to? It’s intense. All of us have learned to do it.

Rapid fire time. I have learned to… Get down and hold on during a white water rapid. Check my clothes for scorpions. Do laundry with my hands. Share a single room with 11 other girls. Set up a tent in five minutes. Budget my money (I’m working on it!). Self-restraint when in the cookie aisle. In the words of Leeia, “I’ve learned to have fun *snorts*”.

The group has all learned and grown so much so far from our actual classes but also from the real world. I’m not sure that anywhere else on the planet 12 girls would pool their money together to make cookies in a toaster. And for anyone wondering, they are phenomenal.

 

Teacher Workday “Weekend” – by Cassidy

Today was the first “weekend” we ever had. Well it’s a Thursday, but our schedule resembled a typical weekend. We slept in until 8 and, trust me, that extra hour and a half was the best gift you could give us TTS girls! All morning we had free time, but for real free time. The teachers had a workday and our only rule was to stay in the hostel. Excited by our newly given freedom, we did the only thing we knew how to do. Just like every other day, we used our free time for socializing, laundry, productivity, dance parties, and chill time. We were stuck in our habitual routines, but it was amazing! I worked together with a few friends to recreate the board game “Sorry” with rocks and flowers as pawns and Uno cards for the deck. We had the speaker with us, just enjoying the lack of stress we had. For what felt like the first time all semester, not a single one of my assignments was on my mind. I wasn’t worried about midterms anymore, or essays, or journals or readings or RRQs. I didn’t have any upcoming tests, no big assignments. All the weight of the workload was taken off my shoulders and I was just a teen. In the blissful energy of our freedom, we sang along to the music as we waited for our toast to heat. All 12 of us piled into the kitchen, yelling the lyrics of songs, and I forgot I was at school and I felt as though I was with family. I can’t imagine coming home and leaving behind moments like these. Even through all the times when the one thing I crave is alone time, I can’t picture my life without these women there, always. Smiling faces, popping into my tent, the hugs and laughter, our karaoke on Big Blue with the windows down, blowing dust into our eyes. I feel home here, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Today when I had genuine alone time, it felt wrong. That was the first time all semester when I actually was alone, and I missed everyone. I would take this crazy bunch of girls over alone time in a heartbeat, and I love that. I have become so accustomed to the way our group functions that this so-called “weekend” felt so out of place. Yet even out of place, I still was surrounded by the 11 giggling girls that make me me. No matter what we may face together, I know that I have these amazing young women to support me through it all, and I’ve never felt safer. I love you all!

 

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Multimedia from the Campus Visit

 

Audio Clip: Group reading of I Am From Poem plus their version of the Cup Song

 

Group I am From Poem

By Maya, Grayce, Cassidy, Leeia, Carol, Lucy, Celeste, Katie, Saskia, Jane, Alex, Skye and Maddie – TTS34

 

Je suis d’une ruelle complète qui luit sous la pluie torrente

D’un toupet mal coupé et d’une

jupe par dessus une paire de jeans

I am from the orange stucco house with the rod iron fence and the loud dogs

From the tile roof and the bulging plum tree that would leave jars of jam in our pantry all year long

I am from rooftop wonders, where we sit in silence watching the sunrise above the light blue mountains

I am from blood red sunsets reaching for my

jagged fingers

as I lay on my exposed spine to watch the clouds

From the world we created, every touch, every smile

I am from brunches and lunches with full stomachs, inside jokes and laughter so loud the other tables stare

I am from the nights when I feel

so alive I could explode in a shower of euphoric adrenaline

From campfires where the flames lick our dirty converse shoes, melting the rubber bottom soles

From truck bed sunsets, where we laid under the sky that slowly changed from blue to orange

I am from throwing a baseball with my dad

before giving up on a sport a girl ‘can’t’ play

I am from throwing a ball against a wall and expecting it to come back

one too many times

I am from adolescence never making much sense

And looking both ways before letting someone cross my mind

I am from being young dumb and in love with him him him and now him

hoping this time I got it right

I am from wrong feelings and right feelings and too many feelings so all I feel is numb

I am from fear of loss and fear of losing

I’m fighting unarmed

From MRIs with the knee that’s a little too broken

and the girl who’s a little too tense

I am from a scattered brain and jumbled words that don’t sound right in my head but

hopefully you get the gist

I am from wordless responses because my eyes are tired and my tongue is lazy

I am from 6:30am when the fog rolls hesitantly onto the highway, flooding the sunlight

just daring to peek over the hills of

dead grass

I am from the comfort and endless love that seeps in with my mom and dad’s embrace

I am from her camera capturing every moment from dawn until pjs

her motherhood so patient

she needed every moment twice

I am from his eggs on the stove, his popovers browning

From them humming Baroque chewing bacon

“Good enough for Church”

I am from a little sister who shouts to be heard

Then apologizes after

I am from running to her bed when the thunder cracked

From fear of the old man shadows

who walked across my wall

From dungeon and dragons and 1,000 piece puzzles

I am from a broken home shattered into a billion pieces

Each shard shedding light into my life

I am from knowing my limits but never listening to them

Je suis de ne pas savoir où aller, mais de marcher avec confiance

Je suis d’un océan à l’àutre

Jennifer’s Photos from the Campus Visit

The photos associated with this post are no longer available – please use the Google links shared in the last blog entry to access the semester photos.

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Update from the Campus Visit

On Oct 1, eight visitors converged in Windhoek, Namibia excited to catch a glimpse of the TTS34 group in action. The parent group flew together across the desolate Namibian terrain – red, dusty and seemingly barren – having suffered the past 7+ years in serious drought. We eventually found ourselves in an oasis – with palm trees, manicured lawns and a bright blue swimming pool – more importantly, in this seemingly barren desert, we found a vibrant group of 12 girls, 4 teachers, a lanky driver and his diminutive sidekick and cook, who welcomed us with open arms, smiles and so many stories. We circled up to each share a special moment from the past few months – the girls anticipated each other’s magical moments with laughter and filled each other’s sentences. Next the students presented their community standards – affectionately known as “Ments” – which we later learned was short for commandments. The student group came up with these and their presentation in their first weeks together, and as the weeks have turned into months, they have added a few more. This is indicative of the tight community they’ve developed since their first awkward meeting in NY. This group is nothing if not engaged and intentional about inclusivity and shared experiences.

We were busy during our 6 days with your girls! We spent time at a local rural school with their eco club – planting a garden, painting a mural, sharing songs and learning about human-wildlife conflict from each other. We were lucky enough to spot a black rhino in the wild and also came across a herd of elephants, giraffe, springbok antelope and oryx. Students met with a patroller affiliated with Save the Rhino Trust an organization that aims to monitor and protect the remaining rhino population in Namibia. This patroller works with local police to locate, apprehend and prosecute poachers and identify poaching syndicates. As well, the group met from Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) local conservancy employees who spend time in local communities dealing with human-wildlife conflict, which has spiked due the long-endured drought. Cliff spoke about the impact of the drought on the predators, prey and community members and IRDNC’s work to mitigate loss of livestock to predators who are increasingly lacking food sources.

We were invited to classes – Travel Journalism students pitched their idea to a potential funder for a magazine for female travelers; Science students solidified their roles for their upcoming meeting to develop a plan for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve; in Lit, students led a Socratic seminar around The Poisonwood Bible and helped each other hone thesis statements for analytical essays; Global Studies focused on Community-based asset development, focusing on a hypothetical community development program and extending the discussion to specific programs they’ve seen in their travels . . . there was so much more!

We shared meals: learning how to eat traditional sadza, enjoying a proper braai, even roasting marshmallows. We sat around the fire and told stories, listened to songs and poetry, soaking up the group’s positive energy. Some of us even got to ride in Big Blue – which is always a highlight! Our visit ended as it began – with a closing circle to seal our time together and to add intention to our visit.

As usual, I come home exhausted, with my head and heart full! I bring back stories of all your girls have done and seen so far during their journeys. I am in awe of the challenges they face and overcome together and in the loving and supportive community they have developed. I’m awed at the energy and care of the teacher team; they accomplish more each day than is imaginable. I’m awed by each of you parents too – in your trust in our program and your support of your daughters to experience such a remarkable adventure. These girls are thriving – that’s not to say they haven’t or won’t be challenged. However, they have each other to lean on and the relationships they have developed will be longstanding.

As your girls finish up their midterm projects and exams this week, it will mark the halfway point of their journey. I feel sure they will continue to soak up each of the next days and weeks of their semester. I can only wait with you for the stories to unfold.

I hope you’ve received the letters I brought home. The girls worked tirelessly to get these finished. I’m not sure where they found the time or the stamina. They poured over your letters and photos – laughing, crying and sharing your words. Those letters will be well-worn by the end of the semester.

Many thanks to you all. Your daughters are remarkable. I feel honored to have spent these days with them during their journey.

With gratitude,

Jennifer

 

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Photos From The Field

The photos associated with this post are no longer available – please use the Google links shared in the last blog entry to access the semester photos.

 

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A Glimpse into Global Studies Class

by Arden, TTS34 Global Studies and History Teacher

At the heart of The Traveling School’s academics is Global Studies — an interdisciplinary course aimed to develop informed, thoughtful, ethical, and reflective engagement with the world around us. 

Global Studies has four main units in the following order: 1) Critical Thinking, 2) Indigeneity, and 3) UN and Foreign Aid. The fourth unit, Race, Power, Privilege is intertwined throughout the semester and has manifested itself in a variety of different ways – in class discussions, reflections, and activities such as Privilege walks or “identity cards” — where the group shared and discussed various aspects of our identities. 

In the beginning of the semester, the students had a lively and intellectual Socratic Seminar (a student driven discussion) about The Banking Concept of Education. This famous writing by Paulo Frerie presents an argument against passive, authoritarian, absorption-based education, and advocates for problem-based, relevant, and experiential education. In this writing, Frerie also argued that teaching is inherently a process of social justice and that education can either be an oppressive or liberating presence in one’s life. In preparation for this Socratic Seminar, the girls also learned about Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, an educational process near and dear to TTS’s heart and at the core of everything we do. Take a peek at the learning cycle below! 

This learning cycle comes to life in every TTS class, and quite concretely in Global Studies! More often than not, a Global Studies class is a field trip or excursion in which we are interacting with locals and discovering and learning through experience. Just today, Global Studies “class” consisted of the girls spending six or so hours at a local school nearby Palmwag, Namibia interacting with local students. Our local student counterparts were members of an “Enviro Club”, a chapter of Children in the Wilderness – which is an NGO that supports local youth. Alongside the Enviro Club students and led by a local teacher, TTS students learned from their local friends about their personal experiences with Human Animal Contact, watched a skit performed by the local students about rhino poaching, planted a garden, and contributed to a mural in the student’s cafeteria. Our group left feeling grateful to the students and teachers at the school for their generous time, welcoming arms, and the opportunity to learn from one another. Our group is well aware that it is a true privilege to be welcomed again and again into local communities and are tremendously thankful for the kindness we have been met with. 

One could see this experience as the first stage of Kolb’s experiential cycle — the “Concrete Experience” – the doing, the living, the hands-on engagement. Next comes the Reflective Observation – reviewing and reflecting on the experience. This takes place in multiple forms – in a group reflection as well as in an RRQ – which we will talk about in one moment =). 

In the next couple days, the girls will gather to reflect as a group upon their experience with the students from the enviro club. “What feelings did you leave the school with?”, “What was good about your experience with the enviro club?”, “Was anything uncomfortable in your interactions?” “Did we have a positive impact on the enviro club’s community?”, “What do you think is making a bigger difference here – the money we’ve contributed or the time we spent with the community?”, “How would you feel if a group from Namibia came to your school to have the same interactions?”, “What benefits did this interaction have on us? On them?”, etc. In these group discussions, our TTS students have wowed us with their insight, introspection and critical thinking. We have grown as a group and arrived at a place where girls can reference a plethora of past interactions, classes or discussions to inform and contextualize their statements, where differing opinions are voiced and discussed, and where the girls actively conceptualize “What could have gone better?”, and  “What will I do next time?”. 

The girls also have the opportunity to partake in reflective observation through their weekly RRQ assignment. RRQ stands for “reaction, reflection, questions”. Every week, girls choose one lived experience of the week that made them feel a strong reaction. It could have made them feel uncomfortable, been a learning moment, an “aha” moment, could have arisen many questions or a new perspective, etc.. In their reaction, girls use specific, descriptive language to describe a snapshot image for the reader explaining what the situation was, exactly what caused one to react, and one’s immediate thoughts and feelings. These topics have ranged from interactions with local children asking for money, to local women asking for photos of us, to interpersonal interactions, to the myriad of specific ethical complications of being a tourist abroad — and the list goes on. Writing an RRQ can often be a challenging and emotionally invested process. As with any week, the girls are welcome to write an RRQ about anything they desire — including but not limited to any specific interaction experienced while spending time with the Eco Club. 

The next section of the RRQ is reflection, which brings us to the next stage in Kolb’s experiential learning cycle: Abstract Conceptualization. In this stage of the learning cycle/RRQ, the girls are challenged to conclude and learn from the experience by writing about why they think they may be experiencing certain feelings, questions the moment brought up, how the moment connects to one’s life, and how this experience and reaction makes one think about things differently. In this section of the RRQ, girls are challenged to explore larger meanings and go deep into the “why” behind the situation and their feelings. 

The third section of the RRQ is the question section – where girls are asked to exchange their papers with a partner, read the partner’s paper, ask two open-ended questions for their partner, switch back, and then respond to the partner’s questions. The goal of this exchange is to provide an opportunity to extend the dialogue laterally through the community rather than simply teacher to student, while developing critical questioning skills. 

All in all, the RRQ requires girls to move through the experiential learning cycle processing their interactions, exploring their experiences and feelings, and working with one another to unpack the complexities in our eye-opening everyday life. 

But — what about the next steps of the experiential learning cycle? Next comes active experimentation — planning and trying out what one has learned. After active experimentation, we arrive back to concrete experience — doing/having an experience. Let’s say a student wrote their RRQ about their interaction with the students from the Children In the Wilderness Enviro Club. Sure, we aren’t going back to visit that specific enviro club within the semester, but meeting with local students to work together (be it to paint a mural, plant a garden, or some other task) and learn from one another is far from a stand-alone experience on our semester. As we continue to travel throughout Namibia and South Africa, as a group we will continue to develop the capacities toward inspired, informed, intentional and ethical interactions with the world around us and the people with whom we are fortunate enough to interact with. 

 

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Dqae Qare: Heat, sand, a first-hand glimpse at indigeneity, and more heat. Did I mention it was hot?

by Erin, TTS34 Math and Travel Journalism Teacher

Greetings from the road! As Big Blue rolls towards Namibia, and midterms are fast approaching, we wanted to give an update on our academic accomplishments this week.

This week, the Traveling School centered on indigeneity; through Global Studies, Science and History, the girls have been investigating the experiences of indigenous populations as they come into contact with colonial or Western forces. Our studies brought us to a campground run by San people in northwestern corner of Botswana. The San, a minority ethnic group in Botswana, were a practicing hunter-gatherer society as recently as 1993.  In the past twenty-five years, the San have been removed from their ancestral homeland in the Kalahari Game Reserve to allow for access to the lucrative resources (diamonds, copper, big game) that lie within. This week, San guides shared parts of their culture and traditions with the Traveling School. We heard San storytelling, watched their traditional healing dance, helped them craft jewelry from Ostrich egg shells, and sampled the nourishing water plant, the root men ate for hydration on their long hunting trips.  Our activities served as a fitting complement to our academic agenda this week, as the girls wrestled with major global issues.

Global Studies class asked students to think critically about the causes and effects of contemporary issues.  After an overview of San History, students mapped their knowledge on a “Root Cause” tree.  This type of concept map is pictured as a tree with the roots representing the root cause of an issue and the branches represent the effects.  The Root Cause trees provided an opportunity for the girls to unpack societal forces that affect indigenous populations such as resource extraction and the legal system.

Science class provides context for a recent change to the San lifestyle: the hunting ban.  In 2013, in an effort to promote the conservation of wildlife, the government of Botswana prohibited all hunting, including the subsistence hunting practiced by the San people. This constitutes a stark contrast to Namibia (where we are heading next), which sells hunting tags to high bidders as a means of generating funds for conservation projects. The girls will be unpacking the differences between the conservation practices of Namibia and Botswana as they build towards their midterm project (stay tuned for more!).

History serves as a lens for understanding how the treatment of the San people fits within the broader context of Southern Africa. Students investigated Historiography and looked critically at who gets to write history. They read Clint Smith’s evocative poem, “History Reconsidered,” and their current project is to create a visual response and reflection to the poem, which will be displayed in the class’s walking gallery later this week.  History will soon be moving more deeply into colonization as we move to the European-styled town of Windhoek.

In Literature, the girls stretch their creative legs this week, as the time to present their “I am from” poems draws near. These poems, which invite the girls to share about their home, values and important influences, have been a living project for a few weeks now, and the girls must polish their final drafts and share them this week. Additionally, they are working through the Poisonwood Bible, a novel that brings to life the experience of Christian Missionaries working in the Congo. As they explore the literary themes and rich characters of the novel, they are preparing to begin their Analytical Essay for their midterm paper.

The students of Travel Journalism have been busy this week interviewing people connected to our semester.  Some chose teachers, others interviewed each other, and one chose our truck driver, Soko.  They probed for a deeper understanding of their subjects – their background, their influences, their beliefs – with the hope of encapsulating them in a profile-style article.  These profile articles are one of the types of features that the girls will be writing heading into the midterm.

Meanwhile, Math keeps on chugging!  Precalculus has begun their unit on Polynomial Functions and Algebra II is delving into Systems of Linear Equations. Both math classes use a mix of traditional teaching and the Socratic method, whereby the girls teach themselves and their classmates through experimentation. Math students continue to appreciate the small class sizes.  With three students in precalculus and four in Algebra II, the girls are reaping the benefits of a small class size!

It is wild to think that we are almost one-third done with the semester – the time is flying by! We look forward to giving y’all another update soon.  TTS 34, teachers and students alike, send our love!

 

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The Breath of the Delta

by Grayce McCarley

The beginning of our Okavango adventure began in a way quite the opposite to what you would expect an exciting waterfall of experiences to – the 6:15AM wake up time definitely made the docket, along with Katie spilling an entire mug of Lychee juice onto her Elephant Pants.  In summary, the morning sun rose with the same amount of endearing chaos as normally follows our band of eccentric and constantly hungry teenagers.

The jeeps driven by our perky guides showed up right on schedule, and we all piled into our designated cars like siblings fighting for the last cookie in the cookie jar.  Maya and I jostled for the back seat, where I unfortunately lost the battle for and was banished to the middle row of dusty cushions with Celeste and Lucy.  It ended up working out in my favor, though; Maddie gave Celeste speaker rights and she made an incredible playlist of 2010’s best songs.  We were thoroughly impressed!  “I Was Born This Way” by Lady Gaga awoke some kind of beast in Celeste and she hit some high notes that I did not know were humanly possible.

We arrived at our entrance to the Delta about an hour and a half later.  The guide was seemingly uninspired by our awestruck expressions.  Grasses as high as the sun itself wove their bodies through the delicate current of deep blue water. The sky was spotless and proud, shrouding us in a boiling mass of heat. CarolAnn’s hand reached out towards the sun cascading along the ridges of our skin as if she could cup it in her hand and take it home with her.  Though the air was free of bugs, it thrummed with the energy akin to the brush of a guitar string.  The earth was breathing, and we could sense it.

You could ask anyone about the hour long Mokoro rides from the Mokoro Station to our campground and they would all describe it the same way: peaceful.  The wooden canoes danced their way through the grass. Chilly, clear water smoothed around us as if we were welcome guests to its home.  Papyrus and clover built walls around the path, and the gentle sway of the boat nearly caressed my eyes to sleep.  If there was any moment I could return to, it would be this one; Mother Nature’s hands are softer than the sandy earth may imply.

The next few days consisted of multiple walking Safaris, more cups of complimentary tea than deemed morally healthy, and too many laughs to justifiably document and recount.  During our walking Safaris, we saw many animals trekking about their homes, including hippos, elephants, impalas, giraffes, baboons, zebra, and every single thorn bush imaginable.  Our second day of walking contained more punches than the first. A hippo took a keen interest in our group, a moment that afforded Alex the most incredible picture. We saw a herd of water buffalo 500 or more in number crossing the river, and we saw lions!  Everyone was thrilled at our luck for the last spotting, as we had been hoping to see a wild cat on the trip.

“Kitties!” Jane and I exclaimed (to everyone’s displeasure). We began running toward the guides and followed the lion’s journey from a safe distance for nearly half an hour.  Our day wrapped up with another Mokoro ride to watch the scorching sun fall beneath the line of trees, the clicking wings of bugs transporting us to another universe entirely.

Leaving the next morning felt like leaving part of ourselves behind; pieces of our smiles left as gifts to the body of the Okavango Delta.  We returned to Maun quickly, and watching everyone all together was enough to free us from our trance.  Cassidy sat to my left, cracking one witty joke after another into my left ear, and Skye’s laughter rang like a chime in the other.  Saskia and Leeia chuckled into their dinner and all the girls pitched into the activity words blurring our vision like a vapor.  This is home, I realized then, among the handmade food and big blue truck.  This is home and I am content.

The photos associated with this post are no longer available – please use the Google links shared in the last blog entry to access the semester photos.

 

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Our Time in the Salt Pan

 by Saskia Cousins-Joyce

With the flaky salt crumbling beneath my every step, and the snow-white pan stretching out in every direction, the sky an even dome coming to rest on the ends of my world, it was incomprehensible that my day had begun like the previous five, nestled beneath the Baobab trees.  I think it was the cold that woke me up that morning. That’s one thing I was not expecting; Africa gets very cold!  That part was definitely NOT in the Lion King. Although 6AM Pilates is exciting, the day really began when we scrambled into the green 4×4 with squashy ripped cushions. For the beginning of our rambling drive, we stuck to the track, weaving between Baobab trees and taller than my house. Ostriches loped away from our metal box tearing across the land. At some point, our guide veered off the track, bumping us over rocks and elephant dung, tree branches reaching into our vehicle, narrowly missing me, Grayce, Leeia, Lucy, sitting on the edges.  If only an off-road vehicle commercial could see us now.  As we jolted through the arid landscape, kicking up a plume of dust behind us, we all enjoyed an “African Massage” (the playful nickname of rough and bumpy rides through the bush). It’ll tweak your neck left and then right, jostle and compress your spine, and put a smile on your dust-covered face.

Our next stop, much to the delight of Katie and Jane, who almost fell out of the 4×4 in their rush, was to see the meerkats. Meerkats, for those who don’t know, are the little rodents that stand up with their little hands pressed against their little bodies with a questioning look on their face. Strange, if you ask me. Either way, I was satisfied, especially when Carol brought out one of her chocolate bar snacks.  This stop could not have prepared me for our next destination, the Ntwetwe Salt Pan.

As if by a sprinkle of magic timing or pure serendipity, the golden apple sun bobbed on the perfectly level horizon as we entered the flats. We rolled to a halt and I was awestruck.  I could see the communal disbelief reflected in the eyes of the others.  It was as if the flats extended into infinity.  The only relief came from the sky which contrasting the white world we walked on, then ran on, into to sunset. It was then that I, doubled over laughing, ecstasy in the air, that I realized how much i had grown in the past 20 days.  After an hour of splendor, the Traveling School women clambered reluctantly back into our seats and sped away in a billow of smoke.

We arrived at our campsite, the “5 Star Hotel” under the stars.  The campfire was already made, and our bedrolls spread out on the frosty ground, with only the stars for company.  That night, we pushed our bedrolls together at the suggestion of Cassidy, and together all star gazed.  With no lights around, the world was a juxtaposition of white earth and black sky filled with shooting stars and one great beautiful supernova, spotted by Alex and Grayce.  By some fate, I woke up just as the sun was beginning to wash the sky with color. I nudged to life Leeia and Carol, and we watched together as the sun began its daily journey from East to West.  This is Africa, and it is breathtaking.

The photos associated with this post are no longer available – please use the Google links shared in the last blog entry to access the semester photos.

 

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A Quick Update

The home office received word that the group has returned to Maun, Botswana after an exciting adventure in the Okavango Delta.  We will share a more detailed account of their walking safari soon (complete with buffalo, giraffes and lions – oh my!).  In the meantime please enjoy these snapshots and time-lapse footage from the group’s overnight on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.

Time laps video: Sunrise on the Salt Pans

The photos associated with this post are no longer available – please use the Google links shared in the last blog entry to access the semester photos.

 

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Academic Post

Greetings from Botswana! It’s day 16 of our semester and we are already deep into a world of place-based, engaging, experiential academics. I invite you to join us at Elephant Sands, a lodge in Botswana, situated near a popular waterhole for elephants. Follow us through a jam-packed day and take a sneak peek into each class.

First off, P.E. class. We like to get our exercise finished before the heat of the day sets in. P.E. class starts at a punctual 7:00 today – don’t be late! We start with some sleepy yoga sunrise salutations taught by our very own yoga instructor, Maddie. Next, we begin a quick strength circuit. Jumping jacks, lunges, pushups and burpees keep our muscles strong and our appetites big. Can you guess the best way to end P.E. class? A silent dance party! Earphones in, song of your choice on, and everyone dances it out. As we dance in the sand, elephants walk by our campsite and the heat of the day starts to kick in.

Next up, breakfast. Today, Samukangye prepared a hot breakfast of pancakes and syrup alongside tea and coffee. After breakfast, it’s time to head off to Literature class. Led by Maddie, this class is tackling identity poetry, short stories, and beginning the first book of the semester. The girls have been challenged to explore their identities in reflective poems. One of their prompts is a “Where I’m From” poem. Underneath flowering trees curled up in Crazy Creek chairs, girls have reflected on their roots and shared exciting nuggets of individuality through their creative poetry. Soon, everyone will hone in their writing skills during an interdisciplinary writing workshop in collaboration with the Travel Journalism class. Literature students are also beginning to sharpen their analytical skills through reading and discussion of short stories, including “Hitting Budapest”. Last but not least, the girls have begun The Poisonwood Bible, a novel by Barbara Kingsolver about American missionaries in The Congo during the early 60s. On Friday, the girls will engage in another interdisciplinary class with History, where they will learn about colonialism and independence in the Congo To give insight and background to the novel.

Next, hop into History class with Arden. History students have learned about the history and current politics of Zambia through a guided visit to the Livingstone Museum, timeline creations, and map assignments. Various assignments have required students to chat with local community members in order to gather information about upcoming elections and major historical events. Due to this, the girls can often be found with a notebook in hand, chatting and investigating recent histories. Along with the history of Zambia, the Congo, and upcoming Botswana, the girls are also unpacking the following quote: “History depends on who wrote it,” and discussing the concept of Historiography – meaning the “history of history”. How are we studying historiography you ask? We’re becoming historical investigators – exploring and discussing the perspectives and potential biases of historians, the way in which history is recorded and knowledge is disseminated, omissions in textbooks and the cause behind these omissions, and so much more. In today’s class, we’ll continue working on a timeline of Zambian history, and we’ll create working definitions of social justice, historiography, and the overlap between the two. In history class, critical thinking skills, ardent discussion, an investigative mindset, and an enthusiastic readiness to engage with the world are the keys to success.

Next up, Travel Journalism led by Erin. So far, highlights of the class have included an investigative journalism assignment about the Batoka Dam on the Zambezi river. For this assignment, students were presented an overview about the Batoka dam’s possible development on the Zambezi river below Victoria Falls that would simultaneously offer power to southern Africa and eliminate commercial rafting — alongside other potential effects. As Travel Journalism students enjoyed a three-day white-water rafting excursion on the Zambezi river, they interviewed local guides about the dam. Other exciting assignments included animal photography in Chobe National Park! Today’s class will continue learning about photo composition and  photography techniques. Today’s subjects? The elephants that stroll by our campsite, beautiful local birds (including hornbills), and the luminous desert sunset.

Travel Journalism class time is up! Off to lunch! Today’s cook crew prepared a fresh veggie bean salad. After we enjoy lunch, we’ll head off to math class. Today, math classes (PreCalculus and Algebra 2) are cranking out problems while elephants stroll past. PreCalculus class, led by Erin, has three students, and Algebra 2 taught by Allie has a whopping four! The beauty of these particularly small classes means plenty of personal guidance, individualized attention and differentiated instruction.

Delicious lunch. Engaging math. Now time to put on some sunscreen before your next class, Natural Science. Today, Allie, the science teacher, is guiding students in four hours of elephant observations [TTS34 Elephant Footage]. In this assignment, the girls are learning about scientific methods and observations, data collection, and are gaining a glimpse into the life of a researcher. In preparation for their elephant observations, students have designed their own research projects. One group is observing how the males interact with each other and deal with conflict – in particular, how the male elephants establish social hierarchy. Another group is researching how elephants cool off with water and dust by tracking how many times they spray each other with the respective elements. Science students are also learning how to keep a field journal and are filling it with pictures and descriptions of a variety of wildlife they have seen on semester thus far. A peek into students’ field journals will reveal a wide range of flora and fauna from hippos to ostriches, dung beetles, warthogs, zebras, baboons, African fish eagles, and beautiful flowers and plants around our campsites. Between safaris in Chobe National Park, to elephant observations at Elephant Sands, to rafting down the Zambezi, science class is certainly a classroom without walls. Next up science class will explore resource and land management. Who knows, (hint hint) maybe there will be some interdisciplinary classes with Global Studies in the near future, as Global Studies will soon tackle indigeneity and meet up with the San People in a rural village in Dqae Qare.

Woah! Turns out that four hours of elephant observations flies by!  It’s time to head off for Global Studies class! Global Studies class is co-led by Arden, Maddie and Allie. Class thus far has presented a general introduction to the geography of Africa and developed students’ intercultural competence and critical thinking. One of the most powerful global studies field trips yet has been a day trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe alongside high school girls from rural Zimbabwe. The Traveling School Girls counterparts were members of an organization called Children in the Wilderness – a non-profit organization supported by ecotourism that “facilitates sustainable conservation through leadership development and education of rural children in Africa.”

Today’s Global Studies class aims to develop critical thinking skills through an introduction to what is called “Theorem Theater,” an action-based theater/improv lesson. In Theorem Theater, girls practice intervention tactics to support and create a more inclusive and equitable community/world and discuss the practical and theoretical implications of the scenarios they will act out.

This week students submitted their first recurring assignment called an RRQ. RRQ stands for Reaction, Reflection, Question. Every week, students are challenged to reflect on an issue, event, feeling, interaction, etc. that they experienced within the past week. This assignment is aimed to catalyze introspection, intentional thought, critical thinking and initiate a conscious processing of the myriad of experiences the students live throughout the semester.

Dinner time! Wow –this day is feeling busy! Don’t worry – this sneak-peek day is just about the only day that every class would fit in a day!

After a local dinner of peanut sauce veggies, sausages, and sudza (a local maize starch dish), the students have an hour long study hall, followed by an iLife session. So far this semester, iLife classes have ranged from communication strategies, to self-care techniques, laundry-in-a-bucket lessons, risk management, the creation of community standards, and the list just goes on! iLife is a powerful way for our group to gather together and develop important life skills beneficial for personal development and the creation of a more inclusive, supportive, and close -knit community.  Tonight’s iLife session is the creation and brainstorming of personal goals which the girls strive to achieve throughout the semester. We call them S.M.A.R.T. goals – specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, and tangible or timely. Each mentor looks forward to working with the girls toward achieving these goals.

With iLife wrapped up, the girls spend some time chatting with friends before winding down to bed. After a busy day like today, tomorrow the girls will get some well-deserved down time and enjoy an activity. Next on our activity schedule we’re heading off to star gaze while camping on Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.

Cheers,

TTS34

 

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Every 60 seconds in Africa…

by Aunge Thomas, Program Director

Every 60 seconds in Africa…

So began Global Studies class. And, in the following minutes students brainstormed what could possibly happen in those ticking seconds. Is it different than those same 60 seconds on other continents? Africa happens to be bigger than Canada, the USA and China – put together! What monumental event happens every passing minute in Africa?

Ideas flowed, some with laughter, others with serious conversations. Through this we started to break down generalizations and beliefs – how did we come up with the ideas? What do we really know about Africa? What do we want to learn? In the end, the only decisive conclusion we could state with absolute certainty is this: Every 60 seconds in Africa…another minute passes.

Moving forward with curiosity and interest in the region we jumped beyond Livingstone to explore the mighty Zambezi River with our trusted raft guides – Kay J, Scottie, and Melvin – who have paddled Traveling School groups through the canyon for many years. After an adventurous hike down the steep canyon wall, we played in the calm eddy waters near camp, shared stories and started to learn about the spirit of the Nyami-Nyami. This legendary creature watches over the river, keeping adventurers safe while continuing to seek his other half, with whom he was separated from when the Lake Kariba Dam was built many years ago. Inquisitive students asked questions as they caressed their new Nyami-Nyami necklaces. After a glorious night under the stars we gathered into our paddle boat teams and set forth down river, learning the commands and practicing rowing in unison. Soon, we were drenched, surprised by how big the rapids really were! Laughter rung throughout the canyon as Traveling School rafts conquered rapids 10 – 25, albeit with a few people joining the Zambezi Swim Team – some by surprise and others by choice.

After this adrenaline filled day, we camped on a large sandy beach. As the campfire glowed, Travel Journalism girls sought to gain perspective about the proposed dam which would end the rafting in the canyon. Guides shared nuanced viewpoints about the dam, which has been in the works for many, many years and requires collaboration and compromise between the Zambia and Zimbabwean governments. The goal of the dam is to provide better electricity to both countries to help alleviate the current power cuts which last up to 10 hours every day. Students soon discovered there is no easy answer to this question because there are many political aspects mixed with thriving adventure tourism in the area. Slowly these conversations drifted into the darkness as s’mores began to crackle and stars popped up through the night sky.

Following our Zambezi River adventure, we hopped over the border to meet an awesome group of Zimbabwean teenagers attending a YES Leadership camp. Our shared lunch turned into a time for swapping stories, learning about how similar yet different teens from across the globe can be as they trek through their high school years. Before we knew it, the Zim girls were up and dancing, filling the restaurant with harmonious tunes and soul stomping music. Then, they egged TTS on and soon we were up on stage, trying to figure out a song/dance everyone knew… low and behold out came the Macarena. And it was a hit! We ended the afternoon with a joint field trip to Victoria Falls – a first for everyone. It was a powerful experience to watch 30 teenage girls bounce from viewpoint to viewpoint snapping photos while giggling with new friends.

Back over in Zambia that evening we enjoyed our first dinner made by Samukwangye before settling into tents. Amidst all these adventures, Soko and Samukwangye had arrived in Big Blue, bringing our traveling home in the form of a monstrous blue overland truck. Now, it really feels like the semester is rolling and everyone is charged for adventure. Good thing because Saturday morning brought our first ride in Big Blue… we were off to Botswana.

Alarms started buzzing on Sunday morning around 5:15am for the much anticipated safari ride. With sleep filled eyes we loaded the open air safari truck and zoomed off for Chobe National Park. As the sun crept over the trees we searched for animals – finding hippos snoozing in muddy waters, crocs basking in the warming sun, elephants wandering into the shade, grazing antelope (kudu and impala), and numerous types of birds rustling about. A leopard teased us, leaving only visible tracks – letting us know she had recently been near, but not about to disclose her daytime location. The lack of rains and prevailing drought has impacted the wildlife, causing them to move to different areas in the park, all competing for water and territory. Our guides worked to find the elusive cats and wished us luck on our afternoon boat cruise to find more animals along the banks of the Chobe River. While the elusive cats still evaded us on the river, we found more animals, including a giraffe in the distance, as the sun faded into the reeds and another day passed.

Through these adventures, this group continues to impress with their curious minds and willingness to hop into any adventure. Whether it be a literature class in the shade of a tree, a math quiz with hippo noises in the background or exploring beyond the books, these ladies are quickly forming a cohesive group prepared for the unexpected and getting used to the fluidity of a Traveling School day.

Stay tuned for photos and more academic stories.

 

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Rafting Adventures

The group embarked on a rafting adventure on the Zambezi this week.  The experience was filled with loads of laughter, lots of oar high fives, and some big dumps into the water (the most memorable one involving our fearless program leader, Aunge, about 8.5 minutes into the video below).

More updates and images to come, but we thought you all might enjoy watching your amazing daughters take on some rapids as you transition into the long weekend.

Zambezi Rafting Video.

The organization that runs the rafting trips also put together these photo albums of the three boats in action.  Here’s a little additional information directly from them:

Please share them far and wide; and let the world know about this incredible river. There is a plan in place to dam the mighty Zambezi within the next five years. The only way to prevent this happening is to ensure the ecology of the Batoka Gorge, a world heritage area, continues to provide employment and tax revenue through tourism.

Raft 1 Album

Raft 2 Album

Raft 3 Album

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Field Notes

by Allie, TTS34 Science and Math Teacher

After we said goodbye to families and the United States in New York, we headed off to the airport and readied ourselves for a flight of almost 15 hours! Although it seemed daunting, we were happy to be sitting in a group together, and stayed entertained with games of UNO, lots of movies, and sharing a bit about ourselves and our lives back home. We arrived for a quick layover in Johannesburg where it was already morning (due to the six hour time difference) and then on to Livingstone, Zambia feeling exhausted and excited.

We all stared out the window in silence, watching the city pass by us as we made our way to the hostel which would be our home for the next few days. Mango trees lined the street, and people walked and biked along the road. The town center was bustling, and our driver pointed out shops, restaurants, and markets along the way. Everywhere seemed to be lined with bright colors and patterns.

When we arrived, we were anxious to go to sleep but managed to make it through the afternoon with some activities. We dressed scarecrows up in sun protection clothes, learned some more about each other, and started talking safety! After dinner, we were thrilled to go to sleep and made it to bed by about 7:30!!

Day two started, thankfully, with much more energy. We talked orientation all morning: an overview of the next 10 days, brainstorming what it means to be living and traveling as a community, and how we want to communicate with each other. It was another fun and interactive day as we look forward to getting into school! We even had our first class, an introduction to Africa and learned a bit about the geography of this continent.

On our third day, we had our first chance to venture out of the hostel! We woke up early and in the chilly morning we set out for our first PE class – a run! The streets were packed with people walking to wherever they were going, greeting us with a smile and a “good morning.” We had our first classes for math, science, and literature, and walked into the local market in the afternoon. There we had the chance to really speak with community members as we moved through the space in small groups. The market had a focus on trading, so we were invited to trade items with the vendors, even things such as hair ties!

The evening was filled with a surprise event. Some of the people from the hostel came by – a drummer and dancer – to share with us a bit of their local dance culture. We danced around a circle, singing chants that were in the local Nyanja language, and laughing the whole time. Our new friend, the dance teacher, celebrated our successes and when we struggled to get the moves right she reminded us, “This is easy!” (I don’t know if we all agreed). What a fun introduction to the dances in Zambia! At the end, each of us had the chance to join the drummers and play along to the beat.

Among many other activities, we’ve had so much fun hanging around our hostel playing games, chasing away spiders in our rooms, and enjoying delicious meals with some new foods! We’ve even had the chance to visit the Livingstone Museum, and are starting to find routine in classes and meetings in circles, sitting in camp chairs. We are looking forward to our river trip and can’t wait to tell everyone about how it goes!

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First Images From Abroad

Welcome to Africa! Orientation continues in Livingstone with group games, conversations about community standards, reviewing the student handbook, and a first look at the bigger picture: Africa.  The teachers and students are establishing group norms, organizing work crews, and discussing self-care on the road. Tomorrow students will get their first “taste” of classes with an abbreviated class schedule.

The photos associated with this post are no longer available – please use the Google links shared in the last blog entry to access the semester photos.

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US Orientation, In A Nutshell

A new semester begins! After months of preparation and anticipation the young women of TTS34 convened in Jamaica, New York for US Orientation. Teetering between nervousness and excitement, students participated in name games, duffle checks, their first group dinner, “before you fly” teacher skits, and (most reluctantly) cupcakes to celebrate Cassidy’s birthday. The next morning the group loaded the hotel shuttle (the first of many such packing sessions this semester), said final goodbyes to the remaining parents, and headed to the airport to begin the next stage of their journey.

TTS34 Itinerary Slideshow

TIME-LAPSE Video: Loading the Shuttle!

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And So It Begins….

Carolyn Hamilton is an alumna parent. Her daughter, Frances, was on the 2018 semester in southern Africa. As the next adventurous and curious band of young women embark on their own adventure, she wanted to share some advice and perspective…

On this winter morning, I ask myself again, how does this happen? How does a young woman find her voice, set her footing, locate her path to impact, celebrate friendships, provide context for her own feelings, and give form to her dreams in a single semester?

Frances has been home from Southern Africa for a month. And in that time, with her face framed in the new bangs she cut as the resident hair stylist for TTS32, I have witnessed her upload 3,000 photos, FaceTime her TTS sisters daily, describe the personal impact of Apartheid on her host mother, Sylvia, whose striped cotton pants Frances wears with love. Frances has shared insights on diamonds, black rhinos, flora alongside the trail up Lions Head, and the fading relevance of the brilliant San People. When nudged, she whispers about important personal moments, like the time she stood alone above the Orange River; sang a cappella with another student in a concrete public bathroom; connected “through the language of emotion” with a child on a dirt street in Soweto. Daily, I’ve watched her radiate a sense of self, dip into her new reservoir of patience, wield new tools for contending with life’s dissonance, and wonder about how to keep her TTS experience close. Lately, she’s actively straddling her experience by raising funds for a cause in Namibia and making brave decisions about her own future.

For clues about how this can happen, I read three months of my sent emails this morning, most of which were directed to the home office, many to family and also friends. In each case, I noticed gratitude, the origins of which I’ll share with you here.

In writing this welcome, I feel like I’m handing you my favorite book to read for the first time: I’m jealous of what you’re about to experience and I cannot wait until you’re finished so we can talk! Until that time, I am grateful for:

  • TTS Office Staff. (Jennifer, Aunge, Leah, Dalton, Laura and Elsie) For nearly a year, I watched their names sail into my inbox with group updates or responses to my questions. Knowing what we needed and when, they guided us with cheer, pragmatism and maternal instinct. I told them I was going to have withdrawals. I have them. Some days I just email to say hi. Among a hundred other things, these women published the blog and Instagram posts, which served as vicarious expeditions for us parents. We crouched over our devices, sighting our wild, precious daughters – her headband! her smile! her handwriting! From these posts, I learned to let go and hold on at the same time. One night, I scanned a photo of our daughters in a delta I couldn’t name, balancing in boats I couldn’t name, on which day I wasn’t sure; but there was a glimpse of my kid, concentrating. I zoomed in and stared. Letting go, holding on. TTS staff works tirelessly and cares deeply, period. Once, Dalton lovingly sent me a high-resolution blog photo of Frances just because I asked for it.
  • Fellow Parents of TTS32.We became friends! We mused about our girls’ sunrise dune hike or the art in their field journals, but also about dreams, worries, politics, and dinner plans. One friend started our parent Facebook page, becoming our Town Crier. With her spoken and written Mississippi accent, she announced updates, sending us racing to our screens. I swear, I am plotting a parent-reunion!
  • TTS Teachers.These four women held our daughters for 105 days and simultaneously held space for them to be, evolve, take stands, forge connections, and be vulnerable. I can never know what they did hourly, but I will be forever grateful for the mentor comments these women wrote, which implied that, hourly, they were fully present. How else could they know my daughter so intimately and describe her with such care and precision? More than once, Frances conveyed sitting with a teacher just to talk. Once, she said she didn’t just love a particular teacher, but wanted to be her. These women taught, jumped, probed, dreamed, ate, hiked, reflected, and ached with our daughters, while guiding them to personal and academic depths and asking during long drives if anyone needed a bathroom break!
  • The TTS MissionNot just a set of inspirational words, but alive with intention and the capacity for fulfillment. I promise you, nothing happens that hasn’t been considered as it relates to the emergence into the world of your daughter as a strong, sensitive, aware, capable human.
  • Inspiring TTS Young WomenI learned all of their names and asked about them on phone calls. I wanted to be closer to them because they were doing it! Their courage, determination and desire to connect with the world led them to TTS. Their resilience, friendships, curiosity, and spirit kept them moving – inward and outward. Their writing and reflections revealed their raw, critical, poetic, and hilarious sides; and their accounting of the world shines with the understanding that to be vital on the planet is to be open. They are my child’s dearest friends.
  • YOUAs your daughters adventure beyond you, you will adventure beyond them. You will play, work, grow and worry; you’ll be proud and you’ll hear deep vibrating silence in your home. Your heart will balloon and deflate. Your daughters will soar and they will ache…and you won’t be able to fix it. But they will, alongside their sisters and teachers, find their way. And so will you. Days will creep by, months will fly. And, suddenly, you will arrive at the end, all filled up with gratitude, and in so many ways brand new!

Parting words. Some phone calls with Frances were more lighthearted, some more paced and contemplative; one call included a story of Frances looking up during class and locking eyes with a bushbaby in the tree above her. But I will never forget the first call. Three of us sat around the computer, her older sister not yet gone to college. The tone of international connection. The fuzz. The pause. And then Frances, breathing in gusts, a whirlwind of words, declaring she had a list so she wouldn’t forget a thing.  “So! Mom and Dad! Just so you know! I want to live here forever – in Africa — happily ever after!”

And so it began. And, so you begin. And, yes, I am so jealous.

Frances Hamilton, Fall 2018 Alumna