Safari and Elephant Sanctuary

Hello SA16 blog readers!

Sadly, today was our final day in South Africa, but it’s alright because it was a great day!

Yesterday and today were both extremely eventful and fun. Yesterday (Sunday, 3/27), we drove to Pilanesberg, a city 2.5 hours away from Johannesburg, to go on our safari. Around lunchtime, we checked into our hotel, the Bakubung Bush Lodge, and settled into our rooms. The hotel was a beautiful bungalow-style resort, complete with active monkeys hopping from tree to tree and a view overlooking some of the grassland area of the national park. At 3:45 PM, we embarked on our safari adventure. Because we had 30 people, we split into 2 different groups and rode with separate safari guides. However, we all observed magnificent animals during our first safari ride (we had one safari ride in the evening and another one in the early morning). During this time, we saw lions, giraffes, rhinos, impalas, zebras, and had a very close encounter with an elephant. Essentially, the elephant was so close to one of our trucks, some of the girls could have reached out their hands and touched it. After a few hours of exploring, we ate a wonderful meal with a campfire, the South African night sky, and traditional African entertainment. We even danced with another group of tourists!

This morning, everyone woke up around 4:30 AM to complete our 5:00 AM morning safari drive. This time, we were able to see a family of rhinos (2 parents and a baby), an eerie-looking giraffe, a herd of elephants with some babies, a lioness and her 3 cubs, and even 2 cheetahs. Considering there were only 6 total cheetahs in the entire national park (572 sq. km.), I believe we are an extremely fortunate group of travelers. We left Bakubung around 8:00 AM and began making our way to the elephant sanctuary.

At 10:00 AM, we arrived at the elephant sanctuary. Our guide, Simba, did a great job introducing us to the gorgeous elephants and to the sanctuary’s mission: to provide assistance in giving these elephants a second chance at life.

The sanctuary rescues elephants that are either hurt or mistreated, and attempts to rehabilitate them in a way with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild. This mission is very powerful and many of the girls were highly touched by it. We got to walk with the elephants, interact with them, feed them, and even ride them! At the end of the tour, we enjoyed a nice lunch inside the sanctuary.

Below are reflections on our safari and elephant experiences from Kate Jones and Aurorah Arndt:

Kate: Hi everyone! My name is Kate Jones and I am a sophomore. Today, we had the opportunity to visit the monkey and elephant sanctuary.  Our tour guide’s name was Simba.  We first entered the monkey section of the sanctuary and we were surrounded by so many different monkeys.  I got see a mamma monkey carrying her baby on her back as she hopped from branch to branch.  We then crossed through a small fence to the elephant area.  Simba guided us through the sanctuary and brought us to a small section in the woods where we were able to get up close and personal with two of their five elephants.  We got to feel their ears, bellies, knees, elbows, trunks, and we got to feed them.  We even got kisses from one of them!  Our final two adventures, with the elephants, were walking them and riding them.  I loved getting to ride them!  This sanctuary was particularly amazing because it gave all of the animals a second chance at life.  It is a place where they protect and rehabilitate these precious animals.  This was a truly unique and once in a lifetime experience.

Aurorah: Hello! My name is Aurorah Arndt and I am a junior. Several friends and I decided that Pilanesberg South Africa must have altered by CGI because it looked as breathtaking as scenes from Lord of the Rings (I suggested staff receive cloaks and longswords to extenuate the ambiance but unfortunately they just didn’t see it my way). From the stifling heat of the afternoon to the frigid African morning we experienced every degree in between throughout the game drive experience. Such diversity wasn’t only present in the weather, but also within the diversity of the animals we saw! We viewed what was expertly defined as “deer-like creatures” such as; Impalas, Wildebeest, Giraffe and Zebra as well as other animals like cheetahs, lions, jackals, elephants, hippos, rhinos, and even crocodile! Although I am proud to report that our journey did not end in Mordor, but a lovely meal with other travelers illumined by fire intensified by live African performers in the evening!

As our trip is coming to a close, we want to thank all of our blog readers and followers. We have all had an incredible experience on the trip and will update you tomorrow on our travels back home.

-Bea and Meranda

Weekend and Last Day in Beijing

On Saturday we did many things, but by far my favorite one was visiting the Great Wall of China. I loved going up the lift to the wall and being able to see the beautiful environment around us. Then when we reached the wall, we were able to explore. Although there were many, many, many steps, the climb throughout the wall was well worth it. In the end we were able to take a group photo of us the team jumping on the wall, which was a goal we had set from the very first China meeting. Finally, at the end we were able ride on a slide down the mountains from the great wall, which although scary and sometimes painful, was incredibly fun.
We visited the Temple of Heaven, rode on rickshaw in pairs, had tea in a house in an old house in downtown Beijing, watched a “Shaoilin Kungfu Show”, ate a dinner of traditional hot pot, reflected as a team, and then packed out bags! We are all very sad to leave China.
~ Paige Murphy

Sunday was an interesting day on the China trip. We first went to Tiananmen Square, where we were approached by an entire family of people who wanted pictures of myself and my brother, because we were not Chinese. This was intriguing, but it was also an excellent demonstration of the lack of diversity in China. Everywhere we went nearly 100% of the locals were Asian; they were not diverse compared to American cities. We then went into the Forbidden City. This is cool because I just learned about how it was originally used in my AP World Class. Seeing what I learned in real life was super interesting, and it was a great learning experience. We also went and saw a traditional Chinese home. It was different from the typical traditional American home, with walls all around the outside and multiple buildings inside with a courtyard. It was interesting to see how they lived before westernization.
The entire trip was a crazy and unbelievable experience. My favorite part was my home stay with my partner, Tom. This allowed me to see how someone my age actually lives in China, not many people get this experience. It gave us the freedom to explore a city in the same way I would explore a city in America, walking around with some of my friends from the area. Everyone here seemed to be super excited we were visiting; they all tried to be open and accommodating to anything we wanted or needed. I found it interesting how many of the people here speak English. Many people know at least enough words to understand basic communication, and it is interesting how much American pop culture is a part of life here.
~ William Kuhl

Our weekend in Beijing was great, we were greeted with blue skies and no pollution with the average air quality index (AQI) below 40 AQI, but in our last day the skies turned very grey and you can see the pollution rolling in. One of the students (Ian) got a stomach problem but He is better now after seeing a doctor. Just for safety we had to send him to a hospital to get a professional care from a doctor before traveling more than 12 hours back to US. Miss Harding is accompanying him in Beijing and will catch a fly back to the US tomorrow (Tuesday).
We started the morning with breakfast in the Hotel restaurant and went to Silk Market to practice our bargaining skills and to get rid the rest of our Yuan from our wallets and pockets. Almost everyone was able to get something from the market to bring back to the States. After that we went and got our last Chinese meal in a fancy Chinese restaurant, but most of us could not wait to go to the airport to fly back to the US and have some American fast food (McDonalds, Pizza, and Subway).
Now that we are back in US and before making our way back into the Culver routine, and before our memories of China fade away, I wanted to thank Miss Jessica Harding for helping out with the GPS trip this year. Thanks to Shanghai Foreign Language School, especially Miss Shiaoli Miao, teachers and students for being the best host for our trip in Shanghai and Hangzhou; Mrs. Lei Zhao who took us to the China Art Museum and treated us with a fancy lunch in Shanghai; Mr. Clark Hu (Wen) who gave us a tour and information about Shanghai Stock Exchange; Culver’s alumnus Jake Kurdziel who came, spent times with us in Shanghai, and shared his experiences living, studying and working in Shanghai.
Thanks especially to all students who participated in 2016 China GPS trip, you all made it easy and fun for Miss Harding and me to lead the trip and you all represented Culver Academies very well in China. I hope you will continue to seek opportunities to travel and continue to learn and improve relations with others. I also hopes this trip will be a memorable one for you. Thanks to parents for making it possible for our students to go to China.
All the best as you finish off the school year!
~ Mr. Tulungen (Papa T)

Watch our Final Reflection of the Trip:

Ireland Sligo, Galway, Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle!

Day 8 in Galway, Republic of Ireland

Today we drove from Derry to Galway. On the way we stopped at a stone structure with high walls that from a circle. We took pictures and experienced awesome views on top of the mountain. Then we stopped at a church with Yeats grave and explored. Some of us stopped at the gift shop and had coffee. Then we arrived in Galway and had free time to venture down the streets and see the shops.


Day 9 in Galway, Republic of Ireland

Today several of us attended Easter mass in a beautiful Cathedral. After mass, we loaded the bus and drove to Connemara. We went to a marble shop that sold jewelry made from Connemara marble. We saw the workshop and how the marble is turned into jewelry. Then we drove through the countryside and saw lakes, mountains, and the “Quiet Man” bridge. We stopped at a hotel for lunch and visited a replica of the “Quiet Man” cottage. After returning to Galway, we had time to visit the food festival and shop more. Then we met for dinner at a restaurant that had salmon, lamb, and chicken.

Day 10 in Bunratty, Republic of Ireland

Today we left the hotel enroot to the Cliffs of Moher. We walked along the edge of the cliffs and had spectacular views. The weather was clear and the sun was out so we could see the waves crashing on to the side of the cliffs. Many of us went up in the castle to take pictures and get a better view. The cliffs and the ocean were breath taking. After visiting the cliffs, people visited the visitor center which included a small museum and a gift shop. We also got a group picture with the cliff landscape in the background. When we left the Cliffs of Moher, we ate beef and potatoes in a hotel restaurant for lunch. Then we drove to Bunratty and had time to explore the town and castle. Then we had a medieval banquet dinner in the castle. We had four courses which included soup, ribs, potatoes, chicken, and a dessert. We could only use our hands and a knife to eat. There were singers, a harp player, and a violinist. The dinner and show was quite an experience. After the program concluded, we went to bed due to our early departure in the morning.

Day 9

Greetings from Tobacco Caye! *sigh* It was regretfully our last day in paradise. Today started much the same as the others, but ended with the sweet wistfulness of that final evening we all were secretly dreading. So here’s the run down on what happened today:

Today started off with a hardy American breakfast of pancakes that was accompanied by a sweet breeze, the shimmering sunlight, and pleasant rolling of the waves. Which subsequently was interrupted by a nice application of elbow grease in the final installation and touch-ups of our community service projects from the day prior. It was such an interesting experience getting the humbling feeling of seeing the islander’s smiles that were lit up when we installed the projects in the community. We never knew little kids could get so excited about trash cans.

Our final educational experience was unsurprisingly a bit chaotic. We were given an introduction to the world of marine survey techniques, specifically transect methods. Michael did his best to explain the procedure to us; however (and kind of the point), we realized how difficult it is to get accurate data of that beautiful underwater world. Using PVC quadrants and a thirty meter tape measure along the ocean floor can only be so accurate for our inexperienced Culver minds, especially because fish don’t really care much about what we have to say about leadership.

After an action packed day and saying goodbye to our aquatic friends, we all had the opportunity to share in small groups our own personal leadership stories. Leadership in this case is used a bit loosely—the stories we told were more centered on our life philosophy (who we are), how we individually are inspired to change and help the world for the better, and of course, how we are going to make that happen.

Going to miss the slow, yet incredible island life. Thanks to all the parents for the opportunity, and for following our journey so diligently.

Signing off from Belize,

George Cruickshank and John H. Buggeln

Temple of Heaven – Great Wall – Peking Duck

By: Ashley C. Trube – Saturday, March 26th, 2016

Hey, guys! Ashley here blogging to you from the Heart of China – Beijing. After yesterday’s adventure touring the Hu Xueyan Mansion, a silk museum, and Hangzhou’s West Lake, we arrived at the airport to fly to Beijing around 4 p.m. Unfortunately, we were told that we wouldn’t be able to even check our bags until two hours before our flight (which was at 8:30), so we took the liberty of exploring the airport. Because it was already too late, I decided to eat dinner at a small noodle restaurant in the airport. Fortunately, Laoshi (Ms. Harding) accompanied me to go buy food, because not a single person in the restaurant spoke English. I have very limited Chinese skills thanks to Laoshi (I am in Chinese 1), who even taught me a few important words while I have been in China. Most importantly, she taught me how to bargain. Another change I have faced in China so far has been mastering the art of using chopsticks. It was a miracle that I have received anything to eat this entire trip, but at least that one time I managed not to spill everything and make a fool of myself. After dinner, I boarded the plane and we flew to Beijing. Arriving at around 11:45, all of us were wiped. We headed back to the hotel and I decided to go straight to sleep.

The next morning at 8 a.m., we woke up and started downstairs for our breakfast. When you are at a Holiday Inn in the United States, you don’t really expect much out of the “continental” breakfasts, but this was completely different. All of the foods had English labels at breakfast, but most of what I ate this morning were foods that I will probably never know the name of. We then had a team meeting in the lobby with our new tour guide, Jenny, before getting on the bus. We drove out to Tianten Park to visit the Temple of Heaven. Jenny taught us that the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties would use the sacred grounds to offer sacrifices to the gods and to pray for good harvests for the coming year.

From there, we walked out to the bus on the other side of the park, and we drove an hour and a half to a small cafe (Spring Restaurant) that doubled as an indoor garden. There, we ate tomato and eggs, vegetable dishes, and crispy pork. We took a short ten minute bus ride to an area near the Great Wall of China, then exited the bus and walked. We boarded yet another bus that took us to a ski lift up to the top of the Great Wall. After what seemed like a very long trip in the open ski lift (I rode with Laoshi, who is afraid of heights), we arrived to the bottom of the Great Wall of China. After climbing the stairs to the top (about 15 minutes), I could see everything in the surrounding basin. When traveling to China, I expected the Great Wall to be like most other places I have already visited: not as great and grand as I expected it to be. But when I first climbed to the top and looked down from the Wall, I realized that this was entirely different. It completely surpassed my expectations.

When Papa T and I reached the second checkpoint on the Wall, we decided to turn around and head back. Before we went back down, we both bought very overpriced ice cream from a kind Chinese vendor. When we finally found the rest of the group, they also ran to grab ice cream because the day was unusually hot. As a group, we decided to take a toboggan down to the bottom where the buses were waiting. I didn’t have any reservations about this until I actually saw the toboggan run – full of tight turns on a metal track that was stuffed with people. Of course the Kuhl brothers tried their hardest to stall getting on the run (untying and retying their shoes and pretending to be scared) so that they could go full speed without running into anyone. Eventually, we slided down safely to meet our tour guide. I walked through the pedestrian street where vendor sold overpriced souvenirs and bargained for several people to get cheap items. Three hats and fifteen minutes later, we finally made it back to the bus. On the way back to central Beijing, we were able to view the Olympic village, with its swimming area and the Nest. We continued on to Beijing Duck, where we ate the world famous Peking duck.

After our wonderful meal, all of us were ready to go back to the hotel. Some of us wanted to get in the pool, but apparently you needed a swim cap. It has been a very long day today, but my biggest takeaway has been to never assume something will be a certain way, because you are usually proved wrong.



n.b. You can see our pictures from the previous blog post.

Lost in a Mansion!

By: Uchechukwu Nnate – Friday March 25, 2016

I knew that today would be an eventful day when I woke up and my phone and camera stopped working. Both of them wouldn’t stop restarting over and over again. This didn’t dampen my mood, however, because the hotel was fantastic (at least in my own opinion) and I knew that it was going to be a good day. We were in Hangzhou, one of the most scenic places in the world, and I was going to enjoy the experience even if I was set on fire. Breakfast was on the 32ndfloor of the hotel, a revolving restaurant with a 360 view of the whole city (West Lake was also visible, a truly wonderful sight). After gorging myself on steamed pork buns and watermelon, I went downstairs, packed my bags, and joined the rest of the group on the bus. Our first stop was at a mansion that was owned by a wealthy man by the name of Hu Xueyan. It was built in 1872 during the Qing dynasty. It was surrounded by high walls, and the entrance was narrow (apparently, this was because Xueyan wanted to keep his wealth low-key). Inside was practically a mini palace—there were several beautiful courtyards and winding paths connected different parts of the building (The Chinese really like winding paths. A lot.). Now, I’m that type of person that likes to explore separately from the group, so having to constantly be in groups of three has been pretty frustrating to me. Because of this, I usually wander a bit and keep the group in sight. I always tell myself, “I’m responsible. I’m smart. As long as I can see them, I’ll be fine.” Today I learned my lesson.

Here we were in the middle of a wonderful mansion. I had stayed with the chaperones in the back for most of the time, so I decided to venture up front to explore. Eventually, I’d wandered a bit away from the group. I could still see them of course, well, at least from the corner of my eye. I then took the opportunity to explore an inviting passage that was just another twist and turn away and then when I returned the group was gone. I didn’t panic. This had happened before in the art museum and they had just been around the corner. Surely, this time wouldn’t be different. I sauntered around the corner. Still no group. I walked a little faster to a different pathway. No group there. Five minutes later I was sprinting to and fro searching for a familiar face. The only familiar thing that I saw was a rock formation that I had passed just a second ago. In fact, I had passed it about five times. I then realized that I was going in circles. It wasn’t for another five minutes that I was able to make my way out of that area in the hopes that the group had gone further on. I swear I ran around that mansion four times. Upon my fifth turnaround, I realized that a Chinese man was tailing me. I slowed down a little to see what he wanted and was relieved when he asked me “How can I help you?” in English. Looking back, I realize that perhaps seeing the only black person in the city (besides Ms. Harding, of course) running around in circles while flapping her arms and muttering obscenities at the sky may have been cause for concern, at the time I was surprised that he noticed my plight and cared enough to help. I told him that I was lost and he left his group of friends to escort me around the palace. After a few minutes of no luck, he took me to the entrance and acted as a translator. He was able to get security to have me call Ms. Harding and stayed with me until she arrived. Even though I was only lost for fifteen minutes, I was very relieved to be reunited with the group. Upon leaving the building, we said our goodbyes and he wished me a wonderful stay in China.

After visiting the Hu Xueyan residence, we went to Hefang Street. It was similar to the other little shopping district that we had visited a couple of days before and it was a lot of fun looking around and seeing what food and items the vendors had to offer. An hour and a half later we had lunch in a restaurant close to the shopping district. Then it was onto the silk museum where they showed us the differences between real and fake silk. They then tried to sell us their 100% silk products. It felt like I was in the middle of a mattress commercial, but I enjoyed the experience. After that we left for the airport where we had to wait two hours before we could check in (We had wanted to avoid the traffic. After all, better safe than sorry). Upon arriving at the airport, some of the not-so-wise purchases were later regretted as they wouldn’t fit in the suitcases and we weren’t sure that they would go through security either (apparently, buying a real sword is a great idea—“It’ll fit,” ~ Kuhl brothers). All is well that ends well, for we were able to get to the terminal in a timely manner, swords were packaged and cleared, and I had McDonalds. We boarded the plane and I was surprised that they gave us movie options in a domestic flight. They had some interesting movie selections, too (I watched a movie where a woman became a man and travelled back in time to become her own lover and she had a baby with herself and then the baby travelled back in time and became the same woman who later turned out to be a terrorist or something. Yeah, pretty weird.) Finally, we arrived in Beijing and eventually made it to our hotel where I treated myself to a hot shower and a good reading session. I reflected on the day before I went to bed. I think that this will be one of the more memorable days for me not because of the sights, but simply because of my lack of navigation skills and the kindness of a stranger. Number one takeaway: I’ll definitely stick with the group from now on.

Soweto and A Day of History

Hi everyone!

Today was an intense day of touring and learning. We started out by going to the Hector Pieterson Museum. Hector Pieterson was one of the students that was shot and killed during the Soweto Uprisings on June 16, 1976. Among thousands of other students protesting against the government’s decision to change the medium of education to Afrikaans, Hector Pieterson became a symbol for the struggle against the Apartheid regime after a notorious picture of him was released.

After this, we went to visit a township called Soweto (short for Southwestern Townships). This township was similar to Langa, and it had a powerful impact on most of the group. We had the opportunity to enter into one of the homes, to tour much of the community, and to learn about the lifestyle and hardships of those living in townships. At the end of our tour, we even got a little surprise – some of the teenagers and young adults in the community performed a gum boot dance, which was super entertaining and fun.

Then, we went to Nelson Mandela’s old house, and although we only spent a short amount of time there, we were able to learn a little more about the leader’s personal life. For example, did you know Mandela was 6’4”? And did you know that the people of South Africa sometimes refer to him as “Papa Mandela?”

In the afternoon, we visited the Apartheid Museum. For many of us, this was the first time we had been completely immersed in and fully exposed to learning about the Apartheid era. Because of this, the information could be quite overwhelming and dense. However, even though it was difficult at times, it was still an incredible learning experience. At the end of the few hours we spent roaming the museum, we better understood the significant era of discrimination and racism that influenced South Africa in an unbelievable number of ways.

Finally, after a day of touring and discovery, we ate dinner at “Moyo.” This restaurant served traditional African food, which the groups seemed to genuinely enjoy. We ate chicken, vegetables, rice, and even crème brulée! Additionally, almost all of the girls and some chaperones got their faces painted with adorable black and white flowers.

Below is a reflection from Hannah Hittle, a sophomore trip member.

Hannah: Hi from all the way in Johannesburg, South Africa! My name is Hannah Hittle and I am currently a sophomore in Court Dorm at Culver Academies.

At the Apartheid Museum today, myself (as well as the whole group) got to view artifacts, video footage, and read personal stories of various racial populations, who lived during period of racial segregation known as the apartheid. This museum was loaded with information, which allowed me to learn an immense amount of knowledge about racial segregation and its’ after effects. Before stepping foot on the cement of the museum, I already had a pre-developed opinion and outlook on apartheid. I was completely biased by only considering one side of the story, the “blacks”. This museum showed both the “blacks” and the “whites” reasonings for the actions they took. Even though I still do not agree with the actions of the “whites” during the apartheid, I can now say that I have looked at both perspectives.

We are all extremely excited for our final days in South Africa and can’t wait to take you along with us.

-Bea and Mer