TTS22 Group photo

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thank you for a wonderful semester!

Dear Parents and Blog Followers,

Three and a half months after 16 young girls showed up in Washington D.C. they are prepared to return home young women. In D.C they were wide eyed, scared and  nervous about the trip to come, whether they were going to get along with anyone, how they were going to manage school while sitting in a crazy creek the whole semester, and what about their friends back home and Facebook? Well, we are proud to say all of the beautiful young ladies are coming home just as wide eyed as when they left but with a new, more mature sense of global wonderment. Now you may find them a little more excited about reading, writing, traveling and learning about the inner workings of the world today and maybe less concerned about Facebook... Oh who are we kidding- Facebook is still a big deal.

In the final weeks of the semester the girls worked hard wrapping up their classes with their last TTS exams.  Every girl worked diligently and when all finished you could feel a sense of relief and accomplishment.  Though finals were done for the last few days, the girls were still focused on working on their Zenith project as well as a few exercises preparing them to go home.  Through various activities we helped the girls wrap up their thoughts on overall cultural experiences and what it might feel like when they depart from the group they had created the past months.  A particular activity I led worked with the ideas of what risk and fear are and how they complement everyday life.  Throughout the semester they had taken risks, risks in just coming to TTS and leaving the comforts of their everyday life back home.  The idea behind this discussion is to first show risk comes in various forms the form of physical risk as well as the kind which is less evident such has taking yourself out of your everyday routine and meeting new people learning new things.  The activity was to get the girls to understand they should keep investigating and exploring new avenues of their own life even though they are home and away from Africa.   In the final days we not only had discussions, but activities to allow the girls to come together and spend time without distraction as a group.  We went to an orphanage where evidence of all the girls had learned throughout the semester was evident as the teachers did very little to facilitate interactions between the kids.  Megan, Anne, Bird, Lindsay and Eleanor played in a soccer game while Mara, Emilee, Molly, Juliana and Peri worked on their African dance moves.  On the second to last day we started with a calm breakfast cruise on the upper Zambezi taking in our last African wildlife sightings elephant, hippos and crocodiles even a baby crocodile looks cute!  Our calm breakfast cruise was followed up by the lower Zambezi rafting!  This started with a hike down into the gorge which is a hike not for the feint hearted it is almost a mile down on wood ladders supplementing as stairs.  The true test was the whitewater!  This activity helped not only bring excitement and joy to the girls, but also shows them how much they had come together as team during the semester.  Testing their companionship and strength to support and guide each other through taxing physical demands. Natalie, Ariela and Sarah were in the first raft to flip and each girl supported and each other’s nerves whilst knowing they still had more to come.  Megan, Hannah and Maeve had smile the whole way through jumping in to swim whenever possible.  At the end of the days the girls left with a strong sense of accomplishment and ready for bed! Our final day we spent walking around Victoria falls, packing and a graduation dinner.  At dinner the girls presented envelopes to each other filled with warm fuzzies, letters written for them to read after they left the group.  It was a tearful graduation, but happy as well having realized they had completed their time in Africa together, healthy, happy and excited about the world around and its infinite possibilities.

In all honesty and sincerity we would like to thank all of the parents who trusted us and TTS with your daughters. It has been a magical trip filled with many adventures which your girls will fill your heads with. From days of writing essays in the rain and doing math in the laundry rooms surrounded with giant night crawling creatures to tales of successes and accomplishments on rivers and up mountains. Please listen and learn about how they have lived and enjoyed through hardships and homesickness they have completed a trip of a lifetime and will want to share it.

We thank you and return these girls home to be global citizens. Happy healthy and excited about learning and world surrounding us today.

Brenna, Heather, Sarah and Sylvia

From Brenna: 
Why do these trips?  Why do you leave your life behind for months at a time to continually put yourself in challenging new situations, everyday different?  I ask myself this every time I leave for Africa with TTS.  I am about to embark on four months of mothering, mentoring, teaching, guiding and exploring with 16 teenage girls.  Why not just go on my own to Africa to learn and see it in my own way? There is no single answer to these questions as they are encompassed by many answers and feelings.  I cannot explain why, I can only say it is the strong sensation of sentiment and pride I have for the girls in the end, the growth I see in the group and in every girl, the companionship, eyes opened to the world and its complex diverse and ever changing issues.  The girls come away with new impressions and wonders of themselves and world; this alone sustains my energy throughout the semester.  I could choose a different avenue of work, but TTS brings not only change to students, but change in me as well.  Each girl has her own effect on me and how I learn.  Thank you parents for sending your wonderful children on the semester with me, putting your trust in me and TTS is what makes the experience possible.  Africa has a strange effect on people and it can forever change a person; it has done so to me and your girls accept it and love the power of Africa. 


“Explorers in their books claim to be in Africa to solve a geographic problem or reform a savage country. And yet one cannot help, but feeling that there is still another reason for their journey. A fundamental restlessness, a simple absorbing curiosity in everything strange and new, to satisfy that curiosity they are prepared to put up with anything.”

-Alan Morrehead White Nile Expedition 

From Heather:
I teach for The Traveling School because I want to challenge and inspire my students, but as TTS22 completes our semester in Southwest Africa, I am moved for the second semester at how much my students have challenged and inspired me. When they study in tents or campsite laundry rooms with homework papers lit by headlamps, sometimes with hats and gloves to stay warm and sometimes sweating through malaria clothes, I am inspired to keep working hard toward our goals no matter the distractions or circumstances. When they connect math topics to literature and history lessons, I am challenged to develop more cross-curricular lessons. When they break into impromptu dance parties, I am inspired to take a break from my own work for silly fun, too. When they ask questions I cannot answer, I am challenged and inspired to keep reading, learning and traveling myself. To friends and family of TTS22, thank you for sharing your girls with the Traveling School!

From Sarah:
Thank you friends and family for allowing me to know these young women! I have learned much from the students this semester. They continually remind me to laugh, burst out in song, dance, and ask more questions. Through them I experience things anew. Often, in this line of work the extraordinary becomes ordinary. TTS22 has shown me that yes, rafting Class III rapids is terrorizing, but as a team, we can overcome the fear and come out triumphant. They have shown me that teens can be passionate about history and literature and have the ability to digest graduate-level theories. They keep me on my toes and I am grateful for the past few months. Thank you again.

From Sylvia:
It has been a truly beautiful experience!  But seriously folks,  "these girls......"  What more can I say?  Having accomplished a life long dream to see the wildlife of southern Africa,  I can now die happy!

I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to work with these young women.  Having my own 16-year-old daughter in India all semester, I can understand what parents at home typically experience.  By giving kindness and support whenever possible I have attempted to pass it forward. And now the girls return home changed, no longer their little girls. What I believe we all want for our girls is empowerment and hope.  This is what TTS tries to instill in the girls. I feel honored to have been part of the process.  

And a little re-cap of the final adventures:

December 3, 2013
On our last full day in Africa, as girls and teachers of TTS22 teetered on our own personal borders of our semester in Africa and our return back to the USA, we visited Victoria Falls to see over 10 million liters of water per minute crash down the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. We snapped some final group photos with the nearly 100-meter tall falls in the background and girls chatted quietly about our big travel day tomorrow. Some last minute souvenir shopping was in order at the shops near the falls. Lindsay showcased her bargaining skills to get good deal on presents for friends and family. Eleanor traded hair ties and caribeeners for souveneirs. Before heading back to the hostel for packing and graduation dinner, we walked out onto the famous Victoria Falls bridge for one more stunning view of the Zambezi and a few more photos.

December 2: 
On the morning of December second, we enjoyed a delightful beautiful breakfast tour of the upper Zambezi river.  Numerous species were sighted and included elephant,  fish eagle, hippopotamus, glossy ibis, stilt, open-billed stork, marabou stork, lechwe and some really big crocodiles. The girls took advantage of the leisurely trip and the fresh air to have a braiding fest. A great way to be able to contrast the river's course above and below Victoria Falls.

December 1:
In the last week of our amazing semester we visited an orphanage in Zambia. Five siblings had just arrived due to their parents illegally crossing the Zambian border from the Congo. The parents were put in jail, the children in the orphanage. We tumbled out of the van and spent the next three hours among the 70+ children playing soccer, hanging out at their playground, and learning dance moves. Megan, Maeve, Eleanor, Bird, Anne, and Lindsay represented on the field. Emilee made friends with some pre-teen girls who were busy doing hair. Ariela passed out stickers to the younger kids, which turned into a jumble of children with stickers on their cheeks, foreheads, and arms. Sarah and Kat hung out at the swing-set. Hannah made friends with a little photographer who loved playing with her camera. Mara, Peri, Natalie, Juliana, and Molly got down with the teenage girls. It was a performance like no other. One girl rocked it playing a stick on an upside down bucket as a drum and sang Michael Jackson. Two other girls schooled the rest of us in how to move. We in turn took the stage. The students of TTS 22 have successfully learned how to be thrown into awkward situations and turn them into reciprocal exchanges.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"So, how was Africa?"

(This is a copy of the email I sent out yesterday to parents. As the larger community of TTS22 cohorts, we encourage you to think about how to support these amazing girls as they experience one of life's many transitions. The group is now en route to DC. Thank you all for making this the most followed blog in TTS history!)

Dear TTS22 Parents and Friends,

Wow! It’s hard to believe the semester is wrapping up, fifteen weeks came and went and your daughter will start her journey home in roughly 12 hours. Little do some of them know they are about to go through a 60-100 degree temperature difference less than in 48 hours. Here in the Bozeman office we love the snow covered streets and are bundling up (less enthusiastically) for the daily walk to the post office. Over in Zambia, TTS22 spent a day on the Zambezi – initially enjoying the calm upper waters on a leisurely cruise; they saw a tiny croc which the guide surmised was less than 5 days old. Then, they changed gears and rafted the lower section of the river, crashing through class 2 and 3 waves on rafts. Sarah was impressed with the support the group offered to one another and was thrilled to see each girl recognize her inner strength as she paddled and swam through rapids. By the end of the half day trip, Brenna reported every girl had jumped out and swam through at least one rapid. (The guides know which rapids to let clients swim and which to stay in the raft through.) And after a hot and thrilling river day, they enjoyed a pizza party dinner. They continue to pack in activities and transition talks during the final days. Brenna, Heather, Sarah and Sylvia will share the specific details about the transitions shortly after they land in D.C, but I can give you a few details about the transitions and help you prepare to welcome your daughter back home.

The group arrived in Zambia on Saturday afternoon and settled into a hostel on the outskirts of Livingstone. They cleaned out their truck lockers, swept out the tents and moved into dorm rooms. They said their first big goodbyes to Ngwyena, Benson and Big Blue. Since finishing finals, the group focused on being together and embracing the final days as a unit. Each teacher led a different transition activity to help students think about what going home means. They talked about the fear of transformation, the power of experiential education, how to be a humble global citizen and how to engage in conversations about the semester with friends, family and acquaintances. Each girl trusts that you will be there to listen about the whole journey, but doesn’t know how her friends will react. Teachers helped each student think about how to respond to the very big (and very common) question, “So, how was Africa?” The group talked about how to gauge who wants the 30 second response, the 5 minute response and the in depth response.

For those of us back home, it's also time to focus on the girls’ transition home. The teachers have given each student time to plan and practice her final Global Studies presentation she will give when she gets home. The girls planned their Zenith Project as a way to share their experiences and to find a way to give back to groups and people they’ve met during their travels. The group spent their final days working through transition activities, beginning with reflection and working their way through what it will be like when they actually get home. The girls are excited and nervous to see everyone and can’t wait to walk through their front doors.  They had an amazing semester, and we are all excited for them to share it with you at home in the coming weeks. When your daughter arrives home on Thursday, here are some things to consider in helping her adjust:

1) The girls are often nervous for the first impression when they get off of the plane.  They may have already planned their "flight clothes" and are anxious about what everyone will say.  Despite the fact that they are strong and beautiful as ever, they are scared to hear they are "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 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. When they download their pictures, it is a perfect chance to sit down and spend a few hours hearing about their adventures.  It will help them if you ask specific questions – What were your Top Ten highlights of the semester? What word would you use to describe each girl? 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? It may be helpful for them to pick out special photos to create a book from the semester.

3) The girls are 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. They have talked about this together, and please let them know that we (at the Traveling School office and their teachers) are all here for them if they have a low point after their return.  They've learned how to take the skills and experiences they had in South-West 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. They may want to seek out opportunities in their home communities for service or continue to study the region or to find ways to talk about their experiences. They might want to find a club or team to continue with a sport they learned throughout the semester.

4) The girls have been working on their final presentations for Global Studies class. This is a crucial piece for the girls to help with the transition home. They have all developed outlines of their presentations and have already practiced several times in class before they return home. The girls are prepared to give the presentation as soon as possible.  As I mentioned, this final activity is an important part of the transition home.  It is designed to give your daughter a formal presentation to share her experience with her peers. The sooner she does it, the easier her transition home will be. Students know the deadline for this presentation and many of you helped solidify presentation dates with their schools. This presentation should be videotaped, uploaded and emailed to the teachers for their final Global Studies grade. If your daughter has any difficulties she should feel free to contact the teachers or our office.

We recognize your daughter’s adjustment to coming home is a significant change. For many of the girls, this is the first (of many) major life transition. She had an experience which will forever be part of who she is. As each girl returns home she will react differently; she might go through a period of quiet mourning and grieving for the end of her Traveling School experience, before she transitions into her next life phase or adventure. As parents, you can support your daughter by helping her to understand transition is a part of life. Right now, she is leaving her Traveling School semester and her TTS22 sisterhood. Soon, she will leave high school. And the love and support from your family will be what helps your daughter work through these transitions successfully.

As sad as it is for us to say goodbye to these 16 amazing young ladies, we know you are all excited to see them back home.  On Thursday morning, one of the teachers will accompany your daughter to her gate in the DC airport. Your daughter will give you a call from the teacher’s cell phone to let you know she is in DC and all set to make her connections. For many parents, this will be an early phone call. The teachers will stay in DC until every student has departed and will then begin their journey back to Bozeman for debrief.  If you remember, we love to hear from you once your daughter has made it home. After you have caught up with her and she has settled back in, please let us know how things are going. We love to hear your reports and updates. 

What the group experienced and learned this semester is priceless, and each of your daughters knows she is lucky you have given her this opportunity. We also feel lucky to have gotten to share the semester with all of you. Thank you for entrusting The Traveling School with your daughters; we look forward to being in their lives for years to come.

Best wishes,

Jennifer, Aunge, Price & Jim

Sunday, December 1, 2013

meerkats moments

Peri, junior, New Jersey
 Meerkat Muesday: a Tuesday in November

    My eyes flickered around the room, focusing on the faces filling the Washington D.C. Orientation. When it came to be my turn to say what I looked forward to most on my upcoming semester, I blurted, “I want to see meerkats!”
    Now the day had arrived: Meerkat Muesday. The TTS girls were up and out by 5 AM, groggily meandering towards our safari trucks, detoured by warm tea and coffee. Still surrounded by placid darkness and a canopy of stars, we embarked on an hour and a half drive to the salt pan.
    The minute a gleaming light broke through the acacias and baobabs, we pulled over to appreciate the African sunrise. After the transient moment of serenity, we re-boarded the truck to continue sliding and bouncing on the gravel road. Trees and bush passed, but all I could focus on were the meerkats, the animal I had been ranting about for almost four months.
    When the trucks slowed to a halt, my eyes dashed to the miniscule tan bodies with long sleek tails. They perked up straight, darting their dark ringed eyes back and forth. I scurried out of my seat, running after them with tears blurring my vision, mesmerized. As a child I used to watch Animal Planet's show “Meerkat Manner” with my dad, engulfed by the kat's complex social structures.
    Going on safaris and bush walks were the perfect opportunity to spot my favorite creature, and I would ask Sylvia or our guides about them at every location. With a week left of our semester, seeing meerkats seemed to bring the trip to and end with a grand finale.
    The girls chased the meerkats, watching them dig for and devour sun spiders, and posed with them for myriads of pictures.  After we were fulfilled with the kats, we headed towards catered breakfast on the salt pan.
    Wading through the fresh rainwater lake and painting our faces with mud for photoshoots all before 10 AM, I could not suppress my smile. Looking around at my family who supported me on one of the most exciting days of my trip, I couldn't believe my dream came true.