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