Telling Our Stories
This trip was different then any trip I have ever taken. It was not like a vacation but not like a field trip either. It was a lifestyle for two weeks. It was an experience where I leaned to live an independent life style. I am very thankful for many aspects of this trip, just like I am very thankful for many aspects of life.
I learned on this trip to support myself emotionally. I became a more independent traveler and learned how to keep track of my things. I got the opportunity to take care of myself and grow within myself.
A had many favorite moments of the trip. Like life, these moments were not always planned out, sometimes the more spontaneous things stick with you. For example, the morning in Beppu we had breakfast on the beach. It was warm and all those birds kept flying up to us trying to take our food. Feeling the water on the other side of the Pacific Ocean was a breath taking experience for me. This experience was one that a person only experiences so many times in their life. It was a time I stopped and thought how amazing it was being half way across the world.
Another moment was an afternoon when we arrived in Takeo. Many kids were sick and stayed at the hotel. A fraction of us went with Ann to explore the town. It was beautiful. We went on a hike we thought would be short but was long. It was to the top of a series of hills surrounding Takeo there were small memorials and Buddha statues through out the woods. It was the most beautiful thing I believe I saw in Japan. That moment being on top of that mountain felling the warn air, surrounded by cherry blossoms was truly untouchable.
I regret a few things on this trip, however. I wish we had traveled less because for me the moments I learned and grew most were the more relaxed times, random outings or something unplanned. Those were the moments I learned most about the culture.
While I was their it was very surreal. I don’t think I paid attention to every opportunity there. I don’t mean I took it for granted but now that I am back I wish I could throw myself back into some of those moments. Walking down a small street in Beppu trying to find an Indian restaurant, being in the space museum with Jenny and Peter, crawling through those small baby tubes, enjoying that cup of ramen at that amazing restaurant after the cup of noodle museum, or shopping in Osaka. These are all moments I wish to experience again. Even the time in Osaka trying to find the hotel, hungry, tired, and wanting to shop. This was a terrible moment I wish I could experience again because I was still in Japan.
What scares me most is when I think of the future when I won’t be able to remember how it felt to be in Japan. Right now I can imagine being there as if it was real but in 5 years I don’t know what I will remember. I am thankful for this trip because it has inspired me to travel and think more broadly about life.
Costa Rican exchange student Miguel will attend Catlin Gabel as a sophmore for the 2009-2010 school year. Miguel is our 3rd exchange student from the Cloud Forest School in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Catlin Gabel boasts a 7-year relationship with the CFS. The Middle School sends 8th grade Spanish students every spring to study language and ecology, live with home stay families and do service projects on campus.
I asked Miguel to respond to these questions before departing Costa Rica for the United States. The questions come from the Cultural Transitions Interview Project.
Why did you decide to go for this experience?
*My whole life I wanted to represent my family, not even one pased the colegio or they just dicided to live it because of economic problems or just wanted to explore the world. Well, the thing is that going to the states and study was one of my goals since I entered high school and I knew that my english was really going to develop much better.
Do you think traveling outside your community is an important thing to do? Why?
*Yes, because you can learn from different people, cultures and communities and maybe teach what you have learned in your community in order to have a better place.
What part(s) of this experience are you most nervous about?
*I really am not nervous...but I can say that living a long time without your family is hard.
What part(s) are you most excited about?
*Im excited about everything:
-Being in an awesome school
-Learning many new things
-Participating and doing new things I havent experience
-Having activities and using things my school or community cant provide
-To know that for first time im going to the states and at the same time in an airplane
-To visit the awesome Oregon and even more Portland
-That my english is going to develop to higher level
-That im going to be a speeking english a whole year
-To go study to another country
What goals do you have for your time away?
*Develop my speaking in ENGLISH
*To come prepare as a new person/proffesionally
*Work hard to receive good grades in a high level
What do you think will be the hardest parts of this experience?
*Maybe living far from my family and working the doubble of hard now that I know is a hard school.
What might be your greatest contribution to the community in which you will live?
*Teach them of my community and help those communitys with problems.
What does it mean to you to be a citizen from Costa Rica?
*A person with different ideas, from a different culture, someone that loves nature and those who surroud them.
How do you describe yourself as a person? How would others describe you?
*Someone that is humble, friendly, likes helping others, loves sports, doesnt thinks about him but for others.
*Others describe me as a nice guy, crazy, good artist, happy, good student, inteligent.
How do you expect to be viewed in your host culture?
*As a normal person, no reason just because im from Costa Rica, they speak me in spanish. Im no different. Also respect and friendship. That they see me as a person that comes to learn and have fun.
What tangible items from your home culture might you bring along with you to share with your host culture?
* My little "virgencita". Costa Rica´s soccer team T-SHIRT. The "PURA VIDA" frase writen in
t-shirts and in other items. The national orchid( made from plastic material). The "carreta". The national bird-"yiguirro". Natonal flag, dance, song,...
What would these items tell someone about the contrasts and/or similarities between your culture and your host culture?
*That our religion is "catolicos". That we have many tipical things that represents our culture.
|Online meeting with students from Gaza|
Upper School history teacher Peter Shulman and IT director Richard Kassissieh first gave us a quick overview of the history of Israel and Palestine, focusing on land ownership and the conflict over thousands of years. We took in a lot of information that day, and we gained a lot of understanding for both sides of the conflict. Our teachers also had us go around the room and explain who we are here and now, what we stand for, and where we come from. As people spoke around the room, every person had something special and unique about their origin and what brought them to where they are. Despite our different backgrounds, we all wanted to learn more about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The next day we met at 7 a.m. to speak with a group of students from Gaza through Skype, an online audio and visual connection. Remembering the experience continues to remind me how I want to change policy and injustice in the world as I continue to grow up. We were told that the group that we’d be speaking with was made up of Palestinian students my age living in the Gaza Strip, where attacks on both sides of the conflict continue to cripple the two fighting powers and prevent them from reaching an agreement.
As I walked into the room that morning, our mentor Richard, who is of Palestinian descent, explained the guidelines to my peers and me. “Withhold any questions you might have in regard to internal fighting between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. As you know, Gaza is very small and very isolated. Words fly fast to the ears of harm-doers and direct, honest answers about these questions might have serious consequences for these students,” Richard told us.
The question that one of the Palestinian girls asked that will remain in my memory was, “Does the conflict here in Gaza, where we live, affect the daily lives for you guys?”
At that moment I felt embarrassed because it didn’t really enter into my mind daily. I attend school with the freedom to learn what the teachers have the autonomy to choose to teach us, and as citizens of the United States we have the freedom to travel. When it was my turn to speak, I stood up, and sat in front of the screen. I played with my hands, rearranging my scarf, and began to bite my lip, nervous and full of anxiety, thinking that the girl on the screen must hate us, the Americans, who get to be free.
I was wrong. She looked at me as a peer, a teenager, just like her. I found the words tumbling from my mouth easily as I addressed her.
“I go to school, and I never have to worry for my safety. My family and I don’t live in fear. The conflict doesn’t really cross our minds at all; in fact, many of us, in this room, never knew how profound and wrong the world still is in your part of the world. I know about it now, though, from taking this seminar, and I will do what I can to make your voice heard,” I said, wanting to speak more, but I didn’t.
Next, another one of my peers spoke from his heart, “I am sorry. I’m sorry that you can’t go to the movies and play with your friends in safety. I just want to say that our leaders’ actions do not reflect how the people in this classroom feel, because I know I’ll follow this conflict and have your life conditions in my mind from now on.”
The girl on the screen, a citizen of the world just like us, replied, “What you just said is enough. The fact that you understand what we are going through every day here in Gaza makes me have a smile on my face.” As she made this statement, the dimple in her cheek was visible. As she sat, wearing a headscarf that covered her hair, her body language shifted, her arms opened, and she sat forward in her chair; she was happy.
I noticed that the teacher coordinator beside her began to cry. She told us, “You see, the Palestinian youth never travel or meet anyone who isn’t Palestinian. I was lucky. I was able to travel, and I have friends who are Israeli and from other places around the world. These students do not even have that; they are isolated from the world.” I have an opportunity to make her problems and concerns heard.
I have the opportunity to learn and get an education that fits my characteristics and interests. Now I can look at the conflict from both sides, understanding that the conflict is not based on religion, but on land and power. Dialogue with these students made this conflict more real in my mind than I had ever previously imagined.
I know that my role in the lives of others will continue to strengthen and grow through my education. I hope to help the students who are not being given the chance, like my peers in Gaza.
—Aurielle Thomas ’08