Thursday, December 4, 2014

Heartfelt thank yous!

Dear Friends and Family of TTS24,

The teacher team wishes to thank you. Below is a note from each fantastic role model.

To all those who care about these particular young women...

As Academic Program Director and returning TTS teacher, it is difficult to enter a semester without preconceived notions. Yet the ladies of TTS24 continued to amaze me with their maturity and respect for one another. Their curiosity never ended, so neither did their questions. Each one not only pushed themselves physically over the past four months, but grappled with something much more internal, shifting perspectives. Thank you for the role you played in getting them to be a part of The Traveling School. They are fierce, witty, compassionate, and hilarious. I grew alongside them, and loved each moment as their teacher, friend, nurse, big sister, and mentor. It was an honor to watch each student work hard academically not only to please the teachers, but to set new standards for themselves, redefining their understanding of education. It was also an honor to be the one to listen to their fears and deep thoughts.

Adventure is a path. Real adventure - self-determined, self-motivated, often risky - forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind - and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.
                                                                                                                -Mark Jenkins

With gratitude,

Greetings parental figures and other supportive life figures,

I am particularly thankful this holiday season for the supportive family I have found at TTS.  At the beginning of the semester, I emphasized that I am drawn to teaching because of a strong attachment to learning.  Together with your daughters, I have amplified and reconstructed my perceptions of this world.  Via interactions with these young women, I have fueled my dedication to creating meaningful and positive change through education.  Thank you for encouraging them to join us: these last four months wouldn't have been as incredible with even one person missing. It has truly been an honor to share in this experience with 20 talented, intelligent women - this semester has been nothing short of magic. 

My gratitude extends to the other teachers on the team: each of you played an important role in making the semester smooth, safe, and enjoyable.  I am grateful for the doses of sanity and relaxation we have shared at crucial moments.  I know you will all continue to inspire and teach in new and beautiful ways as you follow your paths.  Another network that has anchored our semester is the home office staff - thank you for letting me wake you up in the middle of the night, for asking the right questions, for your trust, and for your patient and diplomatic replies to my late blog entries.

I count myself lucky to have family, friends, and loved ones that are willing to support me in my work and travels. Thank you for your patience with my long bouts of no communication followed by ten word emails, for your thoughtful encouragement, and for the unconditional love I can look forward to when I get home.

Lastly, to the students of TTS24, you have each touched me in ways I will start to comprehend soon.  Thank you for taking ownership of your semester, for treating each other with respect and love, and for singing the science theme song every time.

All the best,
Logistics Program Director

To the family and friends of TTS24,

Zikomo. Majita. Siyabonga. Thank you!

Thanks for your trust. I can only imagine what it feels like to wave your teenager goodbye for a semester, not to mention a semester far away in southern Africa. You trusted us with her physical, emotional, and personal well-being as well as her academic progress at a key time in high school. You trusted us to extend her comfort zone while keeping her safe. We appreciated this every day; it is not something we took for granted.

Thanks for your support. We could not have had the amazing adventure we've had without our loving friends and family cheering us on from the other side of the ocean. It is hard for us to be away from you, and it must be even harder for you to wait patiently for the next phone call or blog post. The girls looked forward to sharing their stories over phone calls, and these check-ins gave them strength to stay present in the challenges and beauty of the semester.

Thanks for making this experience possible. I am so grateful for your daughters. They are a very special group of intelligent, strong young women. They consistently impressed me with their kindness, hard work, and thoughtfulness about each other and the world.

Try to have patience with us as we return and adjust to our home communities. We have grown and changed - and we can't wait to share everything with y'all. See you soon!

Mary Reid

Dear family, friends, and fans of the Traveling School,

It's been a wonderful adventure and I'm sad to say goodbye to the beautiful family that I've been a part of the past four months. I'm incredibly thankful for the opportunity to serve as a member of the TTS24 community and it would not have been the same without the sixteen young women, four wonderful colleagues, a driver, a cook, an amazing Bozeman office team, and the parents.

In particular I would like to thank the parents for raising such mature, responsible, and supportive young women before they even joined our program. The sixteen individuals entrusted to our teacher team have been a joy to live, learn, and travel the globe with because of the values you instilled in them long before applying to The Traveling School.  I'm so grateful for the love and support they've given to each other and the sense of community they created early in the semester, and I commend all of you for being wonderful role models to aspire to. While I know you have been missing your daughters over the past few months, your kindness, understanding, love, and trust is what helped carry us all to the end of the semester. You've raised intelligent, caring, generous, and brave young women, and I thank you for the opportunity for introducing them in my life.

No matter where our travels may take us in the future, I will be forever grateful of the moments shared with my TTS24 family. The learning exchanged between students and teachers, is more than I could have ever hoped for, and I appreciate everyone's contributions and generosity along the way!

Sala Kakuhle,


To the family and friends of the TTS 24 tough cookies,

It's near impossible to express my gratitude and appreciation within a simple email to all of you who have trusted us throughout this grand adventure. We would not have learned or grown as much as we did without your undying support. Although my time with our TTS family was shortened, I am grateful for the time I had with these open-minded, considerate and strong young women. They taught me a plethora of ideas, kindness and generosity, and every Disney song that's worth knowing. And for that I am grateful. Thank you for allowing these creative young women to explore a new continent and new paradigms with us. I can not wait to see where these women will go next. They are unstoppable with the community and support you have given them. 


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

transition thoughts from the office

Dear family and friends~

As many past TTS students have said, "there are only two sleeps left" until you re-unite with your daughter. She is as excited to run through those airport gates and into your arms. She is also nervous about leaving her tight knit TTS24 community, Africa, Big Blue and more. Some students understand how to balance this tight-rope walk of emotions from past experiences, but it is always a roller coaster ride to transition from one setting to another. 

I remember my shock as I prepared for my first TTS semester as a new teacher, and an experienced teacher summed up her TTS time, with the biggest smile and hug. "It was the hardest thing I ever did. I was dirty, I was tired, I was constantly moving. But, it was the most rewarding time of my life! I was constantly in awe, surrounded by amazing people, and energized to wake up everyday. Good luck, enjoy every moment and know that your life will never be the same." I didn't really know what to think of that advice, but I quickly realized how true those sentiments were and that there is no easy way to summarize a TTS semester. 

TTS24 is now preparing to face these emotions and prepare to return home. Each person is developing her response to the HUGE (and most common) question, "So, how was Africa?" Here are a few common post semester moments and ways for you to support the newest TTS alumnae!

1) She may be nervous about her first impression when she gets off of the plane. She may have already planned her "flight clothes" and is anxious about what everyone will say. Despite the fact that she is strong and beautiful as ever, she is scared to hear she is "different" somehow. The girls can be fragile to your comments, and we think parents often don’t give themselves enough credit for how much their words influence and affect their daughters. We're sure you are all very excited to see them. What we see now compared with the girls who joined us three and a half months ago is immeasurable - they are confident, proud, strong, and happy - we're sure you'll find the same.

2) It is often difficult for students to find the words to talk about their semester. It has been a very full 15 weeks with highs and lows and everything in between. The stories will come out slowly, perhaps over dinner or during a long car ride. It is a perfect chance to sit down and spend a few hours hearing about their adventures while your daughter downloads her photos. It will help if you ask specific questions – What were your Top Ten highlights of the semester? What word would you use to describe each girl or teacher? What was your favorite class? Talk about the people who influenced you during the semester. What outdoor activities did you like? Which parts of the semester were most challenging? What was the food like?  It also may be helpful for your daughter to select a compilation of her photos to create a book from the semester.

3) Everyone is very excited for their first meal, to sleep in their beds for the first time, and to see their friends and family. It is not unusual for them to struggle a bit following all of the excitement of coming home. As a group, they talked about the nuances of ending the semester and tried to prepare for the range of emotions. Students learned how to take the skills and experiences they had in southern Africa and transfer them back to their lives at home, and we've given them the tools to help make this happen. They should have very successful re-entries, and we want to help if they experience any bumps along the way. Please keep us in the loop about how she is doing throughout her transition back home, we are here to help.

4) Your daughter may return home to questions about Ebola and stigmas related to traveling in Africa during this global outbreak. While the group discussed answers to this question, you may need to help her broaden people’s understanding of the outbreak, the size of Africa and the realities of a global community. She may need to show a map to illustrate that the patient in Texas was closer to everywhere, USA than she was to the outbreak in Africa. She may talk about being a savvy traveler or about more concerning issues facing people of southern Africa such as Malaria and HIV/AIDS. As her supporter, you probably already have an Ebola answer after sending your daughter to Africa.

5) Your daughter is motivated right now. She is engaged with her surroundings and questioning the world with her critical thinking skills. She may want to seek out clubs in her school or community to pursue service work, participate in a new found sport or continue to study southern Africa. As another method to stay engaged, your daughter may enjoy reading thought provoking books from South Africa (My Traitor’s Heart or Country of My Skull), or books about inspiring people, especially women (Half the Sky or I am Malala). This October Malala was announced as the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people. At 17, not only is she in the same age range as our students, she is also the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and a role model for TTS24 for changing the world. 

Thank you for being the vicarous travelers of TTS24! Please stay in touch and let us know how the transitions go for everyone.


Transitioning from Africa to home & from students to alumnae

Hello TTS24 Fans~

As the semester comes to an end, we are busy grading finals, enjoying our time together, and thinking about what is to come at the end of the week. A critical step in the semester is preparing students for their transition home. Each day focuses on a different aspect of transitioning, allowing students the time and space to think on what might be relevant to them. What are their intentions in the last week of the program? How do they want to be remembered by their classmates and teachers? What are their anxieties and concerns about returning home? How will they respond to the inevitable question, “So, how was your trip?” How can they get involved in their local communities to remain engaged and connect their learning from the semester to their life at home?

For the past week and a half, we have been conducting various transition activities to help everyone accept the fact that TTS24 is wrapping up and we will soon say goodbye to this tight knit community. Here is a little taste of various pieces of our transitions. Enjoy - and get ready to see your lil'lady!

Zenith Project - The group will continue to meet about their Zenith Project, an action-plan to create change post-semester. Last week Ava was elected Class President. Her role is liaison, the main point of communication between TTS24 and the home office in terms of their project plan and follow-through. Though the group brainstormed ideas and narrowed down to their final idea, they will meet a few more times to hammer out details such as the goal, timeline, and specific roles for each student in the months to come. One of the more exciting aspects of the Zenith process is that it is completely student-run. The group is actively practicing their facilitation skills, making sure each voice is heard. The Zenith is also a great way to stay in touch with TTS friends and become involved at home.

Thanksgiving - In the last shopping trip students paired up to prepare and shop for necessary ingredients to cook their favorite Thanksgiving dishes. While everyone is missing their family traditions, they are excited to create their own. The group is pulling together to create side dishes such as apple salad, potato frittatas, sweet potatoes and marshmallows, no-bake peanut butter pie, no-bake pecan and apple pie, and a dessert called Pilgrim Hats. They are getting creative and, with no pie crusts in the store, and no oven, will mash Marie Biscuits together with butter to create the necessary bottom layer of the pies! Samkange is in charge of the main protein of the evening, and will cook Turkey! The Thanksgiving Chieflet will be in charge of the dinner ritual, pulling from student input.

Global Presentation Practice - Thanksgiving kicked off with the final math exams. What a way to start the morning! Each student  then wrote an outline for her Global Presentation and practiced oral speaking within their mentor groups to prepare for their presentations at home. They received feedback from their peers to aid in developing their ideas. After lunch we gathered for the ‘River of Life’ activity, a fun visioning session on their short and long-term goals and dreams to help provide direction to transition from this unique 15 week semester to returning home.

Warm & Fuzzies - Another TTS favorite and long-standing tradition – envelopes for warm & fuzzies. First each of us drew another student's or teacher's name from a hat. Then each of us created an amazing envelope with personal touches for our "secret person". During the graduation ceremony each student will present their envelop to the person for whom they created it, saying something they love about them. Later that night the envelopes will be spread on a table and the stuffing will commence. One of the most time-consuming activities is writing ‘warm & fuzzies’ (personal notes) to each person. These are the notes of love and appreciation that end up in the hand-crafted envelopes. The only rule is that no one is allowed to open their envelope to read their warm & fuzzies until they are away from the group, whether that be alone on a flight home, in their room, or a month later when they need support. Little do they know that the letter they wrote to themselves in the first week of the semester will be in their envelope!

Memory Collection - Thanksgiving was also a day when whiteboards adorned the campsite, one for each country we have visited. Throughout the afternoon (in between cooking) students wrote their favorite memories. Little did they know, they were creating the ground work for another visualization activity on the beaches of South Africa.

Fears - We talk about transitions, moving from one experience to another, and with that we must recognize the associated fears. And we have to acknowledge that having fear is normal, and also that we probably share common fears. Therefore, an important session during the final days is opening up a space to voice concerns about returning home. Common fears include: Will my friends still be my friends? Will they want to hang out with me? Will I want to hang out with them? How do I open up my friend group if I appreciate my old friends but want to branch out to look for more like-minded people? How do I transfer my TTS learning to my home community? What does that look like? How do I share my experiences with my family? I want to shift the relationship I have with my parents but don’t know how. I’m scared my parents won’t understand. I’m excited to learn and go to college, but am afraid to step back into an environment of pressure around a certain type of success. I’m worried that I’ll get bored in the traditional classroom when I return to school. How can I remain engaged in learning?

The Question - After hearing their concerns, students will engage in a practical session about how to sum up their thoughts and emotions. How do they respond to someone who wants to know: “how was your trip?” Students  understand there is a range of responses, depending on the audience. Rather than feeling flummoxed in the moment by the breadth of the question, students will learn how to take charge of the situation. They practice coming up with a few adjectives to respond to people in passing and create an elevator speech for those who might want to know a bit more. Students may invite people to tea to share photos, stories, and speak about those who impacted them.

Letters to TTS25 - TTS24 began their semester at orientation in Malawi. While there, when they were anxious about the upcoming experience, and didn’t know their peers or teachers. They opened and read letters from TTS23. The previous group gave all sorts of advice: although a TTS semester is challenging and a lot of work, it is worth it to experience the journey and end the semester with 20 new sisters. So now is the time for our group to write their most precious advice to the incoming group (TTS25), to pass on their well-earned wisdom as soon-to-be alums.

Other Fun Stuff – A TTS Scavenger Hunt is on the way. The teachers are organizing a fun evening full of laughter and inside jokes to reminisce on the moments that stood out, through ridiculous tasks carried out in mentor groups. Another end of the semester activity is a visualization, where all will lie in a circle on the ground with eyes closed as teachers guide the group through memories gathered over the entire semester (including the Thanksgiving whiteboard sentiments). There will also be time for silent acknowledgements, a meditative and beautiful activity in which each person understands their impact on others. People receive a touch on the shoulder from their peers depending on the prompt: “Tap someone who…made you laugh/ …was a shoulder to cry on/ ...offered good advice/ ...inspired you”. The last night we will enjoy a fancy dinner, have the graduation ceremony, and our final circle.

Family Support - Thank you for the continuous support and love during your daughter's preparation for TTS and throughout the semester. With the semester wrapping up, family support is critical in the transition back home. What TTS has seen over the years, and we as teachers and mentors understand, is that students may need time, patience, and a lot of listening from their loved ones. We know they will find ways to apply their learning to their home communities, and beyond in college. Along the way, however, they may experience a range of emotions: shock and sadness upon separation from a tight-knit community, discomfort about how to relate/re-integrate to family and friends, consideration of how to approach their lives slightly differently, striving to live with more intention, and thriving in a multitude of ways. Often students experience “reverse culture shock,” particularly in relation to the consumerism of the U.S. After sharing a tent and living out of a single bag for four months, home life can be challenging. What is most fascinating is the many feelings students may experience simultaneously post-semester. They might love the hot shower waiting for them in a private bathroom, the smell of their sheets on their own bed, meals and rituals with their family, eating or sleeping or relaxing whenever they choose. Yet sometimes the ease of living and lack of structure calls for nostalgia rather than application. How can each student begin to think of ways they want to live TTS at home? What was important to them from the semester? How can they begin to embody those things in their daily lives, no matter where they live? We encourage you (parents, relatives, friends) to listen without judgment and to ask questions in the upcoming months as this is an essential part of their success post-TTS. 

Thank you all for an amazing semester!

Sarah, Beth, Mary Reid, Kaite and Quinnie

Friday, November 28, 2014

final academic thoughts

Last week we listened to Anastasia tell her story as an active member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), Mandela's armed resistance when she was a teenage girl. Eloquent, articulate, she spoke of how growing up in the 1980's meant knowing how to strip, clean, and put together an AK-47 blindfolded in 30 seconds, and how to create and throw Molotov cocktails, without being equipped for the peaceful democracy for which fought.

Yesterday we watched a film called 'Promised Land', which opened up controversial discussions about whose responsibility it is to address historical injustices. The topic was land reform. The current situation in South Africa is often likened to land issues in the U.S. around Native American reservations, and students had much to say on the issue. We also encountered a guest speaker named Peter, an Afrikaner who spoke of apartheid as 'separate development'. Students understood the subtleties of language and how obscure language can mask racism.

As we move into Swaziland, students will create a permanent record of their journey in the form of an historical map, outlining their internal transformations overlaid by historical events.

Mathematical Concepts
MC students just finished a debate on the World Trade Organization. What are the arguments for the organization? What are the arguments against? Should there be international rules of trade?  How should they function?

Claudia just finished her economic indicator map for South Africa, delineating the country's mineral wealth. Moving into Swaziland we will learn about the lilangeni, a new currency tied to the Rand. How does an absolute monarchy affect the economy? What is the economics of happiness?

The course will culminate in a sit-down exam outlining topics such as the differences between the WTO, IMF, and World Bank, and the benefits and drawbacks of 'free trade'.

Literature & Composition
The final book of the semester is July's People, by South African author Nadine Gordimer. Written in the 1980's, the novel envisions a post-Apartheid future, turning traditional black/white, servant/employer roles upside down. The third major writing assignment, an analytic essay, involves a thesis workshop, outline class, and extensive peer-editing sessions. To lighten the writing mood, we recently created haikus using the novel as inspiration, digging into the text. Soon we will read short stories aloud to sink into the magic of literature. The semester will end with the Drabble project, a story written in 100 words, no more, no less.

Global Studies
One of the last Global Reflections consisted of an 'apology letter'. Students were able to choose the perspective they were apologizing from, what they were apologizing for, and who they were apologizing to. Below are two letters - one from Hannah L, (Junior, California) writing from herself and the second by Maris B (Junior, Wisconsin) writing as a mother to a daughter.

Dear Africa,

I would like to address the misconceptions I have formed of you, which have stemmed from my former blindness towards the continent. I am sorry that I viewed you as a whole, and did not recognize the individual countries you hold, each unique and rich in culture. "Be prepared to meet many who still see Africa as one large amorphous mass: the Dark Continent..." children have been warned. And that is precisely how I viewed you. I did not consider your complexities, your strengths, or the struggles your people faced. I assumed that you were one extended savannah running from Cape to Cairo, a home to the variety of animals ranging from Morocco to Madagascar, and a stage for the barefoot men in tribal, feathered outfits who chant and stomp their feet to the harsh beat of cow-hide drums.

Your history of hardship, and of perseverance, failed to cross my mind when the topic of "Africa" appeared in conversation or in academia. I have proven the words, "History is simply the events as seen by a particular group, usually the ones with the mightiest pens and the most indelible ink," to be true. I failed to see your side of the story that dates back to the beginning of humankind.

I thought nothing of the effect that colonialism had on you, although it shaped present-day Africa and caused Africans to "cease to dream, to have [their] own vision of happiness and success."

I underestimated the violence that occurred within you; the violence that cut deep into the rough, dark skin of the oppressed. The violence that came out of the mouths of the ignorant, and seeped into the ears of those who were used to the harsh words that were thrown at them. And the violence which blinded those consumed by the idea that the color of skin determined superiority. The violence that was not necessarily seen or heard, yet it existed, and it continues to exist to this day. Although the obstacle of violence stood in their way, your people fought for what they believed was theirs, and never lost hope. Yet I failed to notice as my inexperienced lens white-washed my vision.

Until I studied your history and witnessed the effects of it in everyday life, I was blind. I am sorry that I allowed my preconceived notions to blur out your beauty, and I am sorry that there are people out there who still see you as one large, dark amorphous mass.

Africa, I have one question for you:
What influences a person to form false, preconceived notions?

With love and remorse,


by Maris B, junior, Wisconsin
based on “Bedlam in the Blood” (National Geographic - 07/07) article on malaria in science textbook 

My darling Sofie,

Never has despair gripped my bones the way it does as I watch your little hand twitch and clench beneath the IV's tubes and needle. In the hospital, time seems to come to a stop. Sounds echo off its cavernous white walls and ceilings: ceilings that seem to be made to accommodate beasts much larger than ourselves. You have a window next to your bed with a plastic shade that you can pull up and down with a blue cord. I haven't mastered the contraption, though I yanked at it until a young nurse easily retracted it. I only wanted my girl to see the sinking orange sun. I tried to explain. Grandmother sits in the corner, wordlessly pinning sharp stitches into your loved teddy's leg. I know her heart goes numb. I know her heart grows numb. I have languished at your bedside for five long days. I won't let papa near you. The minute he started using your bednet for catching the slippery silver in the stream, I knew it would bring trouble to our doorstep. But no matter, this is not a letter of excuses, but a letter of apology. Apology for the awful pricks in your blue veins. Apology for the uncomfortable starch sheets, for the putrid smell of vinegar used on the floors, for the coma too.

The only thing I can think is: at least your arms don't ache from holding your panting baby brother at night. At least your legs aren't bruised from struggling with the cast iron pot of water. At least you can sigh into a cotton pillow and let your small body melt into the nested mattress like the lark on the wall paper around the headboard.

I write this letter so when you can't stir up dust with the other children, kicking around the ball, because your foot drags on the grass... when you are denied school because your eyes can't make meaning out of letters, you will still feel the sun on your face and the dirt in your toes. You will still wonder at the Mhbizi roaming the grasslands, the eagle in the sky, the darting fish in the stream, and life will still be large and brilliant and bright.

This is why, my Sofie, I watch the sun setting, knowing one day, if you open your eyes and rise from this bed, you may hear my apology, and in your heart, forgive me.


We pushed our earplugs into our ears, anticipating the grueling noise of rock grinding against rock. Pebbles poured in a stream from one level to the next. Our fluorescent yellow safety vests stood out in contrast to the graphite colored tubes and the cloudy sky, and our breath felt hot against the face masks we donned at the start of the tour. We ascended stairs to become mesmerized by monstrous vats of steaming gray liquid, bubbling and gurgling as it spilled over the edges.

Our science studies most recently took us to Nkomati mine, South Africa's only primary nickel producer. The mining consisted of underground and open field operations; we had the privilege to visit the open field – Pit B. Before the tour, the mining communications director organized presentations for our students about geology, rock engineering, and metallurgy. A fantastic opportunity to learn from our experiences, students grilled the scientists about geothermal gradients, physical stress on rocks, and the societal effects of mining on the surrounding population.

Meanwhile, in “official science class,” our theme song continues, and we have opened our investigation of water issues to problems of water scarcity. Students completed personal water use audits, comparing their water usage in their homestays, at TTS in general, and at home – this activity generated a fruitful discussion. After a brainstorm of all water usage, we ranked the importance of these needs and tried to clarify the relevance of these rankings. As we move into the final part of the semester, we are working to categorize all issues related to water based on their scope and duration – who does this issue affect and why? How long has this issue lasted? How realistic and costly is a solution? Whose responsibility is it to solve the problem?

Adventures in iLife continued: Students examined the quality and worth of active listening skills. An essential part of re-engaging with their lives at home, we practiced listening under various circumstances and challenged ourselves to become increasingly aware of the speaker. This focus on a dedication to hearing others will aid us in sharing our experience with our friends and family at home, by facilitating the sharing of stories, instead of merely the one-sided explanation of the trip. Currently, we are diving into an on-going discussion regarding the maintenance of healthy relationships and setting intentions for the last two weeks of the semester. iLife will take center stage in the last week of the semester, as we open up topics such as reverse culture shock, transitions, searching for passion, and processing the semester as a whole.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Math Concepts

Mathematical Concepts

Math Con students are practicing forming and asking questions to those they encounter in order to learn about local economies. They brainstormed questions for a tailor in Malawi, interviewed a mechanic in Zambia, and grilled our Zimbabwean driver and cook on their professions.

Each student has chosen a book to present on for their midterm. Claudia is reading Nickel and Dimed, a case study on poverty in the U.S. Sydney L. is reading Confessions of an Economic Hitman, which illustrates how the U.S strong-arms countries into trade agreements. Maia is reading Small is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered, a classic by E.F. Schumaker on re-visioning our world.

Last week students learned how to create economic indicator maps, using Malawi as the example. They created a visual representation of Malawi's economy, illustrating the former president involved in a cash gate scandal, the major exports, fast facts about population and GDP, and a pie chart showing employment sectors. Each student is responsible for creating an economic indicator map of one country we visit from here on out. Additonally, they will need to interview locals on the state of the economy in order to add relevant quotes to the visual data.

Today we played MC jeopardy, with students recapping the financial and economic terms learned thus far. Coming up is a simulation called the Game of Life, in which students take on fictional characters and their life circumstances, needing to pay bill and deal with unforeseen expenses.




The following poems were read during the historical walking tour in Soweto where each student embodied the philosophies and ideologies of an important historical figure from South Africa.

By Maia K, New York, Senior
Long, long ago
existing naturally
Adorning make-up
developing tools
The KHOISAN people inhabited the Cape

LOOK! Here they come.
dark specks silhouetted in the swaying sea
growing unnaturally out of the horizon

Dutch East India Company slams into African shores.

Intending to be passers-by - Possible?

Stock up
fill the RUMBLING stomachs of sailors

"Avoid contact", they said
"Don't get involved", they commanded.

MENTALITIES not lasting long
more More MORE

Europeans cannot pass by - Impossible
undistributable land distributed
unownable humans owned

walls of separation constructed from the ground to the sky
from human to human
brick by brick
piece by piece

Wars commence
Disease proliferates

European influence expanding, spreading
KHOISAN repopulation diminishing
foundations for future interactions poured and cemented


NOT Jan van Riebeeck

D.F. Malan
By Violet W, New York, Junior

We can achieve a separation
White from black
Milk from soot
A system
Those beneath will know their place
Squatting in mud huts, digging earth, serving tea
Those chosen by God will know.
The two will not mix
One skin will never feel the warmth of the other
Purity is Godly.
If the chasm is wide enough,
the superior will not experience the displeasure of the inferior
Only a glimpse of a dark shadow
When liquid the color of their skin
appears to dilute coffee, the color of the shadow.
South Africa,
Developed by the white man.

The Apartheid Museum blew everyone away. After four hours of walking through the exhibits, students clamored for more. It was exciting to watch each student absorbed in the text, journals out, scribbling haunting quotes, taking in the photos, crying during the films. History continues to take the forefront in Johannesburg, where students are beginning to understand the social and emotional repercussions of the Apartheid era legislation such as the Land Act, the Group Areas Act, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, and more. Events such as the Soweto Uprising and Sharpeville are becoming familiar.

We have also had the honor of speaking with former Freedom Fighters. Erol Ally was detained at age 14 for four months, spending much of that time in solitary confinement. Currently the CEO of the center we stayed at the first few nights in Johannesburg, he shared his story with us highlighting the role of youth in the resistance movement. As the students gathered closely around Erol, he pointed out the window to caves on the neighboring hill where Nelson Mandela hid when he went underground. Today we head to a different museum, this one commemorating students shot by the Apartheid police. Another Freedom Fighter, Anastasia, will meet us there to share her experiences growing up as a white woman in the resistance movement. We look forward to her thoughts on violence as a method to creating a just world.

Travel Journalism

Coming off the midterm assignment, The Legend of Nyami Nyami, our students were able to put together a comprehensive newspaper for our parent visit entitled TTS Times. From logos to crossword puzzles, our budding team of journalists created and curated The Traveling School's first newspaper for the semester.  Our students included activity reflections from our travels, a guide to TTS fashion, a crossword puzzle, iShuffle playlists, #TTS Probs, what is TTS to you?, and your Noodle identity. We hope to have this publication published on the website soon in order to share it with all of or families and friends who weren't able to join us in Chilo Gorge! More recently the students have completed a photography/caption assignment that took a spin on Humans of New York and focused on the people they met on their homestay. Looking towards the end of the semester our students are currently working on an opinion piece based on issues currently facing Southern Africa. We look forward to our students learning to use their writing style to illustrate their opinion and be able to voice their views on issues facing our current home.

Mathematical Concepts
What is development? What is globalization? What is poverty? These are the questions MC students are grappling with. After visiting SKY (Soweto Kliptown Youth), a youth empowerment center in a shantytown, students are not sure of the definition of poverty. According to the UN, poverty means living on less than $1 a day. The youth at SKY said they weren't poor, yet some were AIDS orphans, grew up with challenging health and sanitation environments in shacks built of corrugated tin and mattress springs, with no electricity or running water. What is spiritual, psychological, and educational poverty? What is the role of security and community in regards to poverty? What does access and choice have to do with poverty?

Recently, students compared different development perspectives, the needs-based approach versus the ABCD approach (asset-based community development) and brainstormed the pros and cons of entering communities with these various mindsets. Next up is understanding the WTO with a reading that outlines 10 benefits of the WTO and 10 arguments against the organization.


Precalculus class has been moving quickly since midterms. Students explored how to manipulate the basic parent functions, translating them up or down, reflecting them across the x- or y-axis, and stretching or compressing them vertically or horizontally. They also learned how to combine functions and how to find an inverse. After the Chapter 1 test on quadratic equations, students evaluated their own knowledge of polynomials in Chapter 2 to gauge their individual need and pace moving forward. Students refreshed their memories of complex numbers, and they solved quadratic functions with imaginary solutions. We graphed quadratic functions while identifying the intercepts, axis of symmetry, and maximum or minimum. This background sets us up to solve, analyze, and graph polynomial equations.

Algebra 2
After spending the first quarter evaluating linear equations, Algebra 2 has been diving into analyzing quadratic functions and multiple equations at once during the past few weeks. Students learned how to evaluate a "system" of equations using graphing, elimination, and substitution. They determined whether a system would have zero, one, or infinite solutions. To finish up Chapter 3, we graphed linear inequalities and used linear programming to evaluate word problems. Moving on, students explored how to translate and transform parent functions. Narrowing in on quadratic equations, we identified the maximum or minimum, axis of symmetry, and intercepts of functions. In this way, students built the skills to graph any quadratic function in standard or vertex form. Before jumping into polynomials, we are reviewing factoring methods and how to "solve" these functions by finding their x-intercepts.

Literature & Composition
Students finished reading Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, a memoir by Alexandra Fuller. We explored a wide range of themes, from the power of a specific landscape to the interconnection between race and status in several cultures. Students stood in the shoes of a particular character to see how one conflict affected each person, including the reader. We ran through several rounds of "speed dating," trading partners to discuss perspectives on diverse questions. In examining Fuller's writing, the class examined her ability to "show, not tell" through specific and clear prose. Upon completing this book, students continued on to July's People, a fictional novel by Nadime Gordimer. Challenged by ambiguous perspectives and dense prose, students have used close reading as a tool to analyze text and to increase comprehension. We spent class time detangling the chain of events and identifying narrator bias. Students will soon begin to write an analytical essay about the novel for their final writing assignment.

Global Studies
Global class has continued to be a vehicle for understanding and embracing the communities and situations we encounter. Students participated in a United Nations simulation for midterms. To prepare, each student took on the role of a delegate from a specific country to explore how the UN makes decisions. In small groups, they presented arguments for how the United States should use (or abandon) the UN in our own foreign policy decisions. Finally, they debriefed the simulation by using their new knowledge to reflect on their own opinions. 

Since midterms, students have participated in an array of cultural activities. They visited several significant cultural sites in Zimbabwe, from the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins near Masvingo. At the museum, students directed their own learning to discover more about colonial and tribal history in the area. At the ruins, all participated in a guided tour of Shona past. Students visited a local village during the parent visit at Chilo Gorge. Some students visited the school, and all of the girls played in a soccer match with local girls. This was a huge highlight for many students and a great way to interact with peers! In Islington, South Africa, students met the village chief and also a local sangoma (traditional healer).

The girls have particularly treasured their chances to genuinely explore the daily life of different cultures. We all visited Papa's home in Kadoma, Zimbabwe. Students walked around the small downtown area, and then we enjoyed lunch at his house with his sister, children, and grandchildren. It was a special opportunity to connect with Ngwena as well as learn more about how Zimbabweans live. During home stays in Islington, South Africa, students continued this type of cultural learning. Each student had a individual but similarly rich experience. Most lived without running water, learning how to take a bucket shower; some got their hair done in elaborate braids; some tried new foods like chicken feet; all experienced the daily life of a family from a very different culture than their own. 

We are finishing our final unit on Human Rights. Students divided into groups to present the life of a particular African activist, ranging from Bishop Desmond Tutu who protested the apartheid regime in South Africa to Juliana Dogbadzi who fled a life of sex slavery in religious shrines in Ghana. Each group explored their person's achievements as well as the underlying traits that helped them make a difference in the world. As we wrap up this unit, students will begin to plan their collective Zenith Project, using their knowledge and skills gained in Global class (and throughout the semester) to craft an initiative that will continue after they return home. 

With a spirit of flexibility and creativity, TTS has held PE in many shapes and forms in the past few weeks. Since midterms, the students have taken more of a leadership role in gym class by formulating their own challenging yet fun workouts. Each student will have the opportunity to prepare appropriate workouts  for our location and ability. Through this process, she learns how to manage time, the group's needs and how to be a positive leader. Here are some highlights from our student-led PE classes- Sydney lead a game of frisbee at Antelope Park with elephants as our spectators. Caroline and Violet successfully lead separate core strengthening circuits at campsites that had minimum grass and physical space. Kait prepared one of our most fun and most physically hard water exercises. She used a deck of cards to decide which exercise we would do and it's duration. Our cool down was an entertaining game of water sharks and minnows. Furthermore, Ava taught us new yoga poses through a creative sun salutation flow. We are looking forward to more student led work outs and cannot wait to see what they come up with. 

Activities and Interviews Galore

Rhino Tracking
by Ava S., Montana, Junior

It was mid-afternoon, and the Matopos savannah was backing in the sun.  We were wandering up a shaggy bluff, five hours in to a seemingly unsuccessful rhino tracking mission.  We climbed over rocks and through dense bushes, following our guide Andy like a trail of ants.  Suddenly, Andy motioned for us to stop.  We froze, not breathing, not moving, silent.  The air was still.  Andy began snaking through the brush, following a trail that only his expert eyes would recognize.  We waited, calm and quiet, under a tangle of trees. Suddenly, the line of girls surged forward with an energetic jolt.  Silent expressions of shock passed along faces as the front of the line approached a dark mass in the trees.  Rhinos: confirmed!  Gradually, a glimpse of an ear, a wrinkled body, and a stubby horn came into view.  Heart racing, we rounded a small grove of trees, stopping 30 meters away from seven heavy-set rhinos.  We were in awe.  After five hours of determined wandering through the hot savannah, the rhinos felt like something we had earned; a reward for our hard work and patience. Compared to game drives, were a wildlife experience is around every corner, the rhinos were an opportunity that we had to work for.  Because of this, the rhinos were extraordinary, and we watched them with immense satisfaction.

by Claudia A., Panama, Sophomore
The night finally came and the nervousness was almost tangible.  What will our family be like?  What if they are crazy?  What if they hate us?  What will we eat? Where will we sleep?  We were about to find out.  The ladies came through the door and gave us all embracing hugs.  We walked home with them trying to ask questions, until we realized they did not speak English.  We entered the tin-roofed house, walked through the rooms with pink walls where the TV was on, and got to our room with two twin beds.  We left our bags on the mat and sat with one of the old ladies' daughter, who did speak English. She explained to us that the reason why there were only women in the house was because the five husbands were in different parts of South Africa working in the gold mines.

The next day we woke up and asked if we could shower.  They brought us two blue buckets and two hand towels.  Interesting.  It took us awhile to figure it out but you get in the bucket, wet the little towel, and wash your body with it.  Great learning experience.  When we were ready, we had an oatmeal breakfast, and the ladies were convinced that we were not "pam-pam" (full), but we convinced them that we were and they let us go with a suspicious look.  Between breakfast and lunch, Hannah [Waldo] and I were excited to to start learning and have as many conversations as possible. However, we were reminded that no one spoke English (the daughter had left for work), so we just sat on the entrance steps and saw one of the ladies do laundry.  At first, we felt frustrated: was this all we were going to do for a week?

But as time passed and the bad feelings melted, and we were filled with the realization that there was nothing else we needed to be doing in that moment.  The chickens seemed to be playing tag, and the ladies talking to each other.  It didn't matter that we couldn't understand, it was enough to be there sitting with these ladies whose wrinkles hid so many stories.

The next day we were lucky and we were trusted with one of these stories.  When they were 22, they lived in Mozambique during the times of war.  They had to sleep in trees to avoid getting killed at night and there was no school for them to attend.  Their husband (they share a husband) was working at the gold mines and they walked for two entire days through Kruger National Park to come live in the safety of South Africa.  They did not have much food, but at least they were not in constant fear of being killed.  We could see the pain in their words even before they were translated to us and with this new understanding of where they came from, we felt even more at home.

As the sun went down, Salvation, who was 13, asked us if we wanted to learn how to dance.  Of course, the answer was yes.  She started to shake her hips in a huge traditional skirt from side to side and when it was our turn we couldn't even do it half as fast as she did.  Over time we got better...I think.  The laughs from kids and elders filled the room and they asked if we could show them our dance.  Hannah did not have any interest in showing hers, so we connected my iPod to the speakers.  Salsa music burst out and each of us grabbed one of the girls.  At first, they were confused about the steps, but then they quickly got it and got really into it.  We spun around for an hour until our heads were all sweaty...Bucket baths!

After having "pap" every dinner for a week, our fingers did the movement of eating without even thinking about it.  We had mastered charades, the long-drop toilet did not smell anymore, and we were experts at the bucket baths  We had to leave, but we know we always have a family waiting for us in Islington.

TTS Halloween
Hannah L., California, Junior
Marisa T., California, Sophomore

On Hallow's Eve, cheeky baboons ran about,
And trees cast sinister shadows on the campground.
The TTS girls prepared for a night of mischief and magic.
Once the sun set, our alter creatures came out,
Lions, tigers, and cowboys were roaming about.
We dined on monkey brains and bobbed for crisp apples.
Trick-or-treating occurred, but not house-to-house,
We went from tree to shower stall, to Big Blue, to the laundry house.
Candy was received, but it wasn't a simple task,
We had to sing a lullaby, and make a teacher laugh.
Scary stories were told, filled with ghosts, demons, and fear.
We ran straight to our tents when we saw that the coast was clear.

Interview with Quinnie 
by Ava S, Montana, Junior
Quinnie and a furry friend
If sunshine was a human its name would ne Quinnie Mawhinney. Quinnie is a twenty-four year old Montana native who loves the outdoors and working with teens. At age sixteen Quinnie journeyed with The Traveling School to South-western Africa. She recalls a solitary moment in Namibia on a hill that she describes as “Pride Rock”. Gazing out over the endless landscapes she watched wild animals roaming as the hot sun baked the earth. Inspired by the semester and her passions, Quinnie has returned as a teaching intern adding extra hands to the staff and spreading positivity among the girls. I had the privilege to sit down with Quinnie to ask about her journey thus far.
Since her semester in 2006, Quinnie has continued to find inspiration from her time with TTS. “It re-inspired me to love learning”. She comments. Quinnie reflects that the knowledge she gained on her semester was practical giving her the confidence to travel alone. Because if TTS’ positive influence, Quinnie has returned to give that gift to other girls.
“It feels really wonderful to make a full circle”, she says Quinnie is surprised with how dynamic and demanding the teacher role is. Not only does she co-teach Science, iLife, and Global Studies, but Quinnie also leads crews and manages the TTS blog. However, despite her leadership roles she continues to learn and wants to attend classes. Ultimately, Quinnie is thrilled to be back with TTS, explaining and impacting girls’ lives.
Outside of The Traveling School, Quinnie works to combine her love for the outdoors and teens. She created an Environmental Summit for middle schoolers, a day where students learn sustainable farming and environmental practices. She also works closely with disabled teens taking from outdoor adventures and encouraging them to try new things. Looking, forward, she hopes to het her masters in counseling to continue her interactions with teens. Quinnie says that she is proud of the work she has done and looks forward to continuing the pursuit of her passions.
Quinnie Mawhinney’s compassionable, encouraging attitude has a brightening effect on those around her. I am truly grateful that she will be an integral part of our school our journey and our family here at TTS.

Interview with Violet W
by Maris B, Wisconsin, Junior

Violet reading to school children
I first met Violet when she hopped out of a bright yellow taxicab in D.C. first day of orientation. She had a bright smile and giant duffle to match mine and the other girls. At first Violet came off as shy and to be fair we all were. Later, after talking to her more I learned what an interesting diverse person she is.

Violet lives in Manhattan with her dad and little brother. She loves taking photos and plans on being a photographer when she’s older. She bakes pastries and hikes around the city. I’ve noticed Violet likes small things, for instance she told me “I keep my window open all winter because I like snow”. When I asked her why she said, “Because its quiet and pretty”. She also loves riding the train because she doesn’t have a car and she enjoys watching things blur by.

Violet likes her emotional space. She goes to museums or explores parts of New York. There are a few special places she likes to go. Inwood Park in Harlem for example, or on her road looking at the city and gathering herself.

While in Africa she still manages to get this time in. Every morning at 5:30am, when everyone is still asleep, Violet climbs outs of her tent and finds a quiet place to sit and read a book (more recently Hemingway). On one of these occasions I found her perched on a huge grey boulder looking at the waves at Lake Malawi.

A pivotal moment for her was when she realized that being alone didn’t mean you were the ‘lone wolf’ and that its perfectly fine too not be social all the time. She was happy to understand that emotional space is healthy for a person that can take energy from alone time. She says that being emotionable stable is incredibly important to ones well being and making good choices to protect her emotional well-being is vital.

It’s incredible that Violet has managed to figure out exactly what she needs be it cake or a walk in the park. Violet understands the world’s simple beauty and she knows that life isn’t about moving from one activity to the next, it’s about stopping to enjoy

Friday, October 31, 2014

Forever in my heart

Hello All,

It looks as though Robin, Jennifer and Richard (through his wonderful video) have beautifully updated you on the details of our visit... So, what I would  like to contribute is a "THANK YOU". Thank YOU (that include's the teachers parents) for raising such amazing young women. Each and every girl was welcoming, thoughtful, kind, loving, sincere and strong. You all should be so proud of your daughters. I don't know about you, but I could have never done what they are doing at their age (or frankly now) and do so with the grace, humility and respect they have for each other. It was a true gift for me to be able to spend five days around your girls. I fell in love with each of them. BRAVO to YOU... You have done your jobs incredibly well. I am so glad my Hannah can now call your girl friend. Lastly, after spending only five days with these girls, my heart is feeling a little empty without them... I can only imagine the roller coaster of feelings our girls will go though upon reentry.

With love

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Campus Visit

The Campus Visit wrapped up a few days ago after an action packed week of adventures. Chilo Gorge in Gonarezhou National Park set the stage and TTS parents and students brought it to life. From welcome skits to game drives to soccer games, everyone was busy, busy, BUSY! For parents it was a unique glimpse into their daughter's current life - potentially very different from home, but invigorating to witness. For students, it felt strange to be away from the truck and tent life without daily chores to manage. It was also a welcome treat to snuggle into beds and use real towels after showering. But, by listening to stories from the teachers each week, I sense these ladies have developed a true respect for the belongings they have on the semester and the community they developed. As a vicarious member of TTS24 and other semesters, I must admit this group has bonded together in an incredible way - they name their mentor groups based on inside jokes, dance and sing through meals and relish in the moment.

Today the group will cross into their final county - South Africa. I look forward to hearing how they celebrate Halloween and the costumes created from the array of clothing in duffle bags. Tomorrow, Jennifer will leave the group and begin her adventure home. And later this weekend students will begin their homestays near Kruger National Park. 

For those who visited TTS24, please share stories and photos on this blog. Story telling is easy - just choose to write a blog using the pencil icon on the right side of the window. Photos can be a bit of a bugger, but once you get started, it comes together quite well. If anyone chooses to share photos on social media, please refrain from tagging the students. We strive to keep their location as unknown as possible.

Here are a couple methods to share photos. Please know we are open to other suggestions from tech saavy readers.
1. Follow this link to upload photo album from Picasa to Blogger.
2. Use your Gmail account - upload photos through Google+ (I believe this is now the same as Picasa) - Share photos with
3. Create a Dropbox album and share with

I also want to say THANK YOU for being informed and responsible TTS parents & friends - you seem to monitor the Ebola situation and ask questions as needed. We vigilantly follow a variety of news sources to collect information and stay informed about this situation and other happenings in southern Africa. Please let me know if you would like further information about the disease - we have plenty of interesting information about the outbreak.

And, if you want to surprise your daughter with your knowledge of the course region. Surprise her with this tidbit.

Happy Halloween,


And now a note from the field:

Teams Unite
A Campus Visit highlight for the entire group has been a football game with the local Shangaan school girls on "Not Soccer Saturday." Most of the village showed up; Beth and I guesstimated at least 250-300 spectators! You can imagine the trepidation in both teams as we drove up in safari jeeps. Our girls hadn't played a lot of soccer prior to this moment, and our most experienced soccer players were benched due to injuries. The village girls as well weren't accustomed to crowds of spectators coming to their soccer games. Before the game commenced the Deputy Head of the local high school welcomed our group, introduced the important people in the crowd, mentioning the chief was invited and hadn't arrived yet, and the village children then sang the Zimbabwe National Anthem in Shangaan.

Before heading onto the field, the referee called for FIFA rules and regs.  Marley and Maia coached the girls in what this entailed - in general terms. Marley's pre-game huddle went something like, "OK, you can't touch the ball from your hand to your elbow, except for the goalie. There are 11 players on each team. Pick someone to guard and talk to each other!" When the ref brought the girls together to start the game, announcing two 45 minute periods, Ava scanned the immensity of the full-sized football field and suggested capping it at 20 minutes instead and both teams agreed.

The Shangaan girls were a bit younger (2nd form - approx 13) and at a considerable disadvantage playing barefoot (one of their best players wore one shoe on her dominant foot). The local students did have the home crowd advantage, though Danielle and Robin sparked crowds of youngsters in cheers of 'TTS! TTS!'

At the half, the score was 0-1, and the initial apprehension had disappeared from the group. The crowd surrounded the field as the girls went to their respective sidelines. There was much talk from both sides about the TTS keeper, Sydney SG and her strong performance. Both teams re-hydrated and prepared for the second period. At this opportunity, the TTS coaches assigned  positions and strategized. In the end, the final score was a draw - at 1:1, but the overwhelming takeaway was euphoria on both sides. The Deputy Head asked the girls if they would consider playing another 10 minutes for enjoyment, which of course we did. 

Hugs from here. Hoping all's well back there.

Jennifer & Co

And now a few words from TTS24!

My husband Richard (father of Maris) had a chance to capture a greeting from each of the girls during his visit with the class this past week. It was extremely windy on the day they recorded, unfortunately, but it's still sweet to see their faces and hear their (somewhat muffled!) words.

He has lots of photos to share, too. Watch for those later today!  Click here to watch the video:  Greetings, Parents!

An "In situ" Parental Perspective

Hello, all! 

         Along with Danielle (Hannah L.) and Richard (Maris), we (Robin and Lenny, parents of Sydney S-G) were lucky enough to spend 5 days with TTS24 in Chilo Gorge, Zimbabwe.  We thought you might appreciate a post that captures some of the time and offers a glimpse of the experience our daughters are having.  Also be on the lookout for video and stills from Richard, who as luck would have it for the rest of us is a PROFESSIONAL photographer.  And I’m sure that Danielle (who traveled across the world to provide the girls with a series of thoughtful treats – both tasteful and practical) with will share her own views and reflections shortly.

It’s hard to know where to begin. 

We can start by setting the scene.  Chilo Gorge is a lovely lodge perched above the Save River, which ebbs to a relatively low level in the dry months, but substantially swells in the rainy months ahead.  (The width of the sandy bed is impressive, and we were all sorry not to see it in full roar.)  TTS took over the entire lodge, and the girls welcomed a chance to stay in rooms with real beds, showers and their very own toilets and sinks.  From what we can tell of their two-to-a-tent, pack and go in 30 minutes, help with cooking and cleaning, do your own laundry, up by 6:00 for calisthenics and go, go, go until lights out at 10:00 each night lifestyle, Chilo Gorge Lodge represented something of a vacation for them.  (Parents, you’ll be delighted to know free laundry was available, so the girls had a chance to get back into clean clothes.  We can report seeing “brown” shirts returned to their original white.) 

While the schedule was no doubt lighter than usual, it was still jam-packed.  During our short stay we went on two game drives. (We don’t like to brag, but, together with our guide Lionel and teacher Katie, our jeep -- Bailey, Kait, Sarah, Caroline, Marley, and Sydney S-G -- saw and recorded 104 different types of birds after being challenged by the other jeeps).  We went on a walking safari, where we learned about the exotic, tasty, and sometimes deadly properties of local flora before enjoying “sundowners” on a cliff overlooking the river.  We visited nearby Mahenye Village, where we saw how locals make palm wine (and tasted it, though be reassured it was largely pre-fermented and non-alcoholic) and had a chance to read with local school children outside their classrooms after watching a vigorous Shona dance.  We saw TTS classes in action, where the girls wrestled with local poetry and the reality and science of water and shortages.  We also were lucky enough to watch the girls share brave and kind reflections of things they’ve experienced and what thoughts and questions were triggered.  (Be sure to ask your daughter about her Global reflection.  We can assure you every one is worth hearing and discussing.)  We had a chance to see some of the academic work the girls had completed – from the informative, insightful, creative, beautiful and fun TTS Newspaper, to quality illustrations of why we ordinary humans are really “superheroes” when you consider the miracles our bodies perform each day (from tears flushing out unwanted particles to nose hair keeping out dust and germs). 

But, three highlights merit special mention.  First was a soccer match between our TTS students and a group of young women from the local high school.  Though many of the TTS students were not soccer players, they gamely agreed to dive in.  When we arrived at the dirt/sand field with net-less goals, we saw that the entire village – hundreds of children, teens and adults – had turned out to see the game.  It was brutally hot and most of the locals played barefoot.  The game was a hard-fought 40 minutes, with an additional 20 minutes added on because no one could bear to see the game end, and despite heroic efforts by all (and some spectacular saves by the TTS keeper), the locals won 2-1.  Of course, the point wasn’t the score or even the caliber of play.  Watching our girls play with the Zimbabwean girls, watching Richard take pictures of village kids and seeing their reactions as he showed them the photos as they crowded around him, hearing Danielle and Quinn rally locals to cheer “Let’s go, TTS”, and to give high fives and handshakes unceasingly to the dozens of beaming children anxious and shy to interact with such novel guests…it was a moment of community and goodwill I suspect none of us will ever forget.  (If we mistakenly do, we need only glance at the terrific photos Jennifer took of the two teams forming a spontaneous arch for each other and the local children to pass through as the game came to an end to remember the joy of the day.)  While but one experience among many for our daughters, it was a powerful reminder of what a life-changing semester they are having.  They won’t look at the world the same way after 3 months of such opportunities, and it is clear on a daily basis how intentional the planning has been, and how deliberate and thoughtful the discussions this stellar group of teachers regularly has with our girls.

Which brings us to the teachers.  Sure, none of us would have sent our daughters off to Africa without a belief that they were in good hands.  But, without speaking for Danielle and Richard (though I’m confident they’ll agree), we’ll up the ante and highlight that we all hit the jackpot with this group.  There’s Quinn the intern -- a former TTS student herself.  She’s a terrific presence, offers a wonderfully empathetic take on the experience as our girls live it, and wakes at 5:30 AM to run the local roads.  There’s Sarah White -- the lead teacher who relentlessly pushes the girls to challenge all of their assumptions and to think for themselves, and brings her substantial experience teaching on several TTS trips bear.  There’s Mary Reid -- who has committed past, present, and future her career to using hands-on experience to not just teach but transform students.  There’s Beth -- who manages to make water interesting and to encourage even as she nudges the girls to consider approaches different from what they’ve already done.  And there’s Katie --  who has already brought out some extraordinary work in her teaching of Global and Travel Journalism, all with a warm and welcoming smile.  What an amazing set of teachers, mentors and role models for our group of 16!!  (And as a bonus treat, we got to spend the visit with Jennifer Royall, whose passion and talent for TTS and what it represents is as heartfelt as it is inspiring.)  Even as we realized that the 5 days we were there were close to a “vacation,” the amount of work and planning and care that goes into each experience, each lesson and each day was remarkable – and evident even as the teachers tried to by word and deed to downplay it.  What a gift to our daughters… We have no adequate words to capture how truly impressed and touched we were.

Finally, it is worth highlighting what an extraordinary group of young women with whom to travel.  We can’t speak for the rest of you, but our biggest fear was that our daughter might spend 3 months in a group fraught with cliques or teenage angst run amok.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  From the first “circle” discussion, where the group welcomed parents and offered to answer questions and share initial thoughts, it was transparent that the group is open, considerate, insightful and committed to supporting each other.  The girls quite obviously had relationships with every other group member.  And, while there were noisier, quieter, more rambunctious, or more serious members to be sure, a mutual regard was evident in every interaction.  We were up close and personal for five days -- sharing meals, watching classes, going on lengthy hikes and drives -- and we saw nary a cross word.  That’s not to say there aren’t some modest, normal tensions here and there, but unless we missed something significant, nothing seemed to come close to touching the transparent pleasure they take in each other’s company and obvious fun they are having as a group.

For our part, it was wonderful to have personalities to put to the pictures.  We learned that Marisa is rarely found without a smile or a laugh, and that Caroline is a world-class wildlife spotter (with Sarah a cheerful and humble close second!).  We saw Kait honored with two awards in one night (they give out 5 awards every Saturday, with the girls passing on the one they received the week before to another), and we had a chance to discuss poetry with Bailey (who was kind enough to volunteer to partner with a parent and offered terrific insight!).  Hannah W. rose to the challenge of being “chieflet” on the day we visited the cliffs at Chilojo (our most ambitious day) (NOTE:  At this point in the trip girls rotate being “chieflet” for the day, in charge of the schedule and logistics – great experience to be sure!), and we learned that Claudia is ever ready with a probing question or thought, delivered with a smile and warmth.  Sydney M. offered a Global reflection that gave us chills and still has us thinking, and Ava wrote and performed songs we hope (predict?) to hear on an album someday – with a voice as lovely as the lyrics were thought-provoking.  Sydney L. is managing to balance a packed TTS schedule with college applications (not sure how she’s doing that!), and Maia is prompting our own daughter to learn rollicking Spanish phrases.  (Where IS the turtle, anyway?)  Hannah L. seems to have enough energy and spunk to keep Big Blue running all by herself, and it was a joy to watch Marley sing and swap quick-witted banter with Sydney SG (who undoubtedly is the noisiest member of the group!).  We’d love nearby Maris to visit Chicago as promised, and we hope Violet knows how much we enjoyed hearing about her photography passion and more generally her thoughtful and engaging perspectives.  In short, your girls are making some wonderful and we hope life-long friends.  And because this experience is necessarily a product not just of the studies and travel, but of the people they share it with, we came away with a renewed sense of appreciation of what this will mean to our own daughter.

We’ve gone on much too long, but only because there is so much to share.  We hope this gives you another small window into what they are experiencing even if we cannot provide a soundtrack of hippo grunts and baboon screeches to go with it, or capture the grace of a stork or heron in flight.  That said, we do hope it helps you to hear one more perspective on how your daughters are in tremendous hands, and having adventures and making friends to last a lifetime.  I know our daughter will come back changed for the good, and we can’t help but think yours will too.

Robin Steans & Lenny Gail