South Africa: Last Two Days

Hi everyone! The team has arrived at Culver after two long flights, and we are all exhausted.

For the last two days in South Africa, we first headed to Pilanesburg on Sunday morning. On the way to Pilanesburg, we stopped at Lesedi cultural village. Lesedi means “light,” and at the village, a guide led everyone on a lovely tour for about an hour. We were able to learn a lot about the local groups and their respective customs, traditions, and ways of life. Our guide even showed us how to grind food and we were able to enter local huts as well. We were all really impressed that these different cultures coexist in such a small area, and we all learned a lot from the experience. After the tour, we also had a chance to shop at the stores in the village.

IMG-9a787a132933f43fca2f27bc4e43241b-VAll the students in front of the Lesedi gate


The adults at Lesedi

After we left the village, we drove for around another two hours before we arrived at Bakubung Bush Lodge, where we had a great buffet lunch. We rested for a couple of hours before departing on the game drive at Pilanesburg! Everyone was incredibly excited for safari and we all came very well-prepared. We were very lucky to see a lot of animals on safari, including a very close encounter with an elephant, a couple of white rhinos, and many zebras. After a few hours on safari, we had a great Boma Bush dinner, where we looked at the stars and had really great meat and bread.

The next morning, we left for safari at 5:30 AM. Everyone was extremely tired but excited to see the animals in the morning, as it is one of the times when the animals are the most active. We were fortunate to have some really great spottings again, from a family of lions to a whole herd of elephants including a baby one. We also saw another rhino from up close. Everyone got a lot of great pictures.


A lioness that got really close to the safari vehicles in the morning

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Some of the many elephants we saw

It was still early in the morning by the time we got back from safari, and we headed to breakfast before we left Bakubung Bush Lodge. After lunch at a local restaurant, we went to the elephant sanctuary, which was something that many team members had been looking forward to. At the elephant sanctuary, they provide a home for elephants that have been mistreated, and it was great to be able to interact with the elephants.

Most of us got “kissed” by the elephants, which was very uncomfortable because we were left with dirt that came from the elephants’ trunk on our faces. We also got to walk the elephants and feed them an afternoon snack.


The team at the elephant sanctuary

The next day, Tuesday, we all got to sleep in for a little bit. Some of the team went on a brief excursion, with people going to the post office, the mall, as well as a local craft market. After lunch, we headed to the airport for a long flight to Frankfurt and then another flight to Chicago. We finally arrived at Culver on Wednesday evening. Everyone learned so much from the trip and we are so grateful for our trip chaperones, our parents and everyone who made it possible for us to go to South Africa, and everyone who has contributed to the trip in any way. Thank you so much and we know that everyone had a wonderful time and learned so much.

The Last Day

Today was the last day for the China team. The itinerary for the day was that we were going to Tian’anmen Square, The Palace Museum, and we had a karaoke night.

The China team was told before going to Tian’anmen Square to not stare at any of the military men, not to mess around, and be very respectful. Some people were very nervous to be near the military men or even take a glance at them. It was a pretty place with the large buildings, pillars, and small bridges over water. The China team then went into the Palace Museum, and walked around. There where over three big structures that you could walk into and go out the other side. In between each structure there were huge walking areas that you could explore and take photos of the buildings.

After the Tian’anmen Square and the Palace Museum we then had karaoke night. Right when you walked into the building there were many different rooms where you could sing songs, about 10 or more rooms. We had one of the biggest rooms because of our groups. Once all of us where in the room we could pick any song we wanted from Justin Bieber to Migos. We could turn off all the lights and turn on the disco lights. This was the highlight of the last night in China.

Thank you for everybody being patient with us. Photos from the trip will be uploaded ASAP.

The Great Wall!

Today was the day that the China team was going to the Great wall! We woke up like any other day and traveled for three hours from Beijing to the Great Wall of China. When the China team was at the Great Wall of China we only had a one hour to hike the Great Wall. So on our way up to the Great Wall of China we took a bus up to the gondola and the gondola up to the Great Wall.

At the top of the Great Wall of China we split up into groups and hike for an hour. Even though we only hiked the Great Wall for an hour it still was the best one of the best hikes of our lives. After a lot of hiking a photos, it was time for lunch.

We hiked back down the Great Wall and met back up with the China team and we took a group photo before heading back down the gondola. After the gondola and the bus ride back down the mountain, some people wanted to buy gifts for others so we went to the market at the bottom of the hill to buy gifts.

Now it was time for lunch. We hiked from the store to the China team’s bus and drove for about five minutes to a restaurant in Huairou Chian. This was our day trip to the Great Wall of China.

Florence, Orvieto, and our last day in Spoleto

Ciao! Sorry that the blog is late.

On Friday, we visited Florence, the city of flowers, “Firenze” in Italian. It was a long bus ride up, during which we crossed from the region of Umbria to the region of Tuscany. Our first stop was at the Piazzale Michaelangelo, where we were able to view the entire city from above. The Duomo was the most prominent feature, but the ponte vecchio and the many brown buildings made the view positively gorgeous.

From there, we entered the city; our first stop was at the Galleria dell’Academia, where we saw the sculpture of David. It was magnificent; David looked as though he would step down and begin walking among us. Every feature and proportion was human, down to the veins on his hands. We all marveled at it for about 10 minutes, and then moved on.

Our next stop was at the Duomo, where we ate lunch. Unfortunately, we could not go in because the wait in line was over 2 hours. From the outside, it looked much like the Siena Duomo, except far more massive. As we could not go on, we quickly moved on to a plaza with many statues, the Piazza della Signoria. They were mainly inspired by Roman mythology. My favorite was a statue depicting a centaur fighting a Roman god; the centaur was remarkably realistic for a mythical creature.

We were released to go explore the city after that. My group looked around in shops for a little bit, and then we went to go explore the leather market. The market was chaotic, with vendors shouting at you everywhere you went, and people bargaining everywhere. My friends were able to haggle with all of the vendors, and got leather goods for cheap prices.

Our final stop in Florence was the Ponte Vecchio. It gave us all a moment of peace, even with Mr. Eaton cracking jokes about Julius Caesar’s knife allergy. When we got back to Spoleto, we had dinner at a fantastic pizza place.

The day after that, we visited Orvieto. It was a much shorter drive than the drive to Florence, and we were all surprised when we got there so quickly. To get to the city, we took a tram up a mountain, which was crammed full of Italian high schoolers, presumably doing the same thing as us.

Our first stop was at the Orvieto Duomo. On the outside, it was quite similar to the Siena Duomo, but on the inside it was radically different from any other church that we had visited. It depicted gruesome and realistic scenes of demons and people brought back to life, and utilized depth (unlike most other churches). After looking at the duomo, we ate lunch, and were then released to look around Orvieto. Orvieto was relatively small, but it was an adorable city. The gelato there was the best of the trip.

When we met back up with the group, we went on a small tour of some of the tunnels (there are over 1200), and then wandered around the fort at the top of the hill. We were given the choice to either walk down or take the tram down. I walked down, and it was wonderful; I highly recommend walking, as it is quite scenic.

Our final day was today, in Spoleto. We had a late breakfast (although it didn’t feel like it because the Italian time change was today), and were released to pack and relax until 10:00, at which point we could go into Spoleto to do last minute shopping or grab food.

We did some sketching in front of the Spoleto Duomo after lunch, and then had more free time. My group walked down to the edge of the city, to see what was there. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was sad to see the sun go down at 7:00. Our last dinner at the Hotel Clitunno was wistful, apart from the content of the meal (which was incredibly strange). We went to buy pizza, and the whole Italy Team played a round of ninja on the boulevard in front of the pizza place. It was the end of our trip, and nobody wanted it to be over.

Our journey back to the U.S. was uneventful; everyone made it through customs and back to their parents or to Culver.

I hope you enjoyed the Culver 2019 Italy GPS Blog. Thank you for reading.


Sincerely, Kristen (On behalf of the 2019 Italy GPS Team)

Our Final Day in Barcelona

Beach Pic


To celebrate the last day in the most beautiful country, the CMA and CGA rugby teams had an 8:30am breakfast before departing the hotel for Vilanova i la Geltru a city in the province of Barcelona. All of us spent the day on the beach playing rugby, NUKEM volleyball, wading in the ocean, or just plain napping. Everyone went to lunch together at a local restaurant before heading back to the hotel.

Upon arriving back, students were given some time to shower, nap, and pack before meeting up again. Before dinner, students could go out shopping or stay in the hotel until it was time to leave. As a group, we ate one last meal together in Spain. It was a long dinner with food options such as a burger with goat cheese, duck with cranberry sauce, cod, or catch of the day. There were no complaints from the students regarding the food and everyone left full and happy.

There was a short amount of time before bed and students used that to finish packing and hang out one last time before our departure for America tomorrow. While we are all amazed at how fast the time flew by, we are very thankful and lucky to have the opportunity to be here in Spain representing Culver Academies. A special thank you to Coach Knowlton, Ms. Alexander (Mom), Senora Ragsdale, Mr. Murchie, Ms. Darcy, and all the parents who made this trip possible!

Spain: Barcelona


Today, the rugby teams were divided up for about half of the day! After a late breakfast this morning at the hotel, the CGA rugby team left to do a clinic where we were able to play on mixed teams of other Spanish rugby players. The clinic was about 2 hours and there was a division of groups depending on skill level. The girls all learned a ton about tackling, passing, and body movement over this time. They all made new friends and had lots of laughs when the Spanish translations weren’t quite right!!! The CMA rugby team enjoyed a late breakfast and then some free time at the hotel while the girls had their clinic to rest and relax before their game later that afternoon.

When the girls got back to the hotel, there was time to shower and change before departing the hotel to go watch the boys play. The game started at 4pm and had 3 20 minute portions. Everyone played their hearts out but suffered a loss 13-17. The team put out an amazing effort every second of the game and worked extremely well at moving the ball across the field. The social afterward was high spirited and full of delicious food!

This evening, the students had an open night with the option to stay in the hotel and hang out or go out in groups to a small café across the street from the hotel.

South Africa: Johannesburg Tour

Today was a packed but very poignant day for all of the Culver students. Our new tour guide, Tifo, took us around Johannesburg and we all learned a lot about South African history and how it has impacted the country today.

We started the tour by visiting Nelson Mandela’s house that he lived in until he passed away in 2013. This neighborhood was segregated before 1994 and the only nonwhite people who lived there were domestic workers. In front of the house, there were memorials dedicated to Mandela, in which visitors wrote messages to Mandela on stones.



As we continued driving through Johannesburg, we noticed a very fancy school called St. John’s College. The students were wearing blazers and there was a rugby game. We also saw a huge amount of graffiti, often reflecting South African politics. Tifo said that graffiti is extremely common in Joburg and there are many artists who use it to spread a particular message.

The next stop was Soweto, where we walked through a market and viewed a monument dedicated to the 1955 Freedom Charter, which put forth the ideals that were wanted for South Africa–such as “the people shall govern” and “the people shall share in the country’s wealth.” Soweto is the location of the infamous 1976 uprising that brought international attention to the struggles of apartheid. The National Party, which established apartheid and was in political control throughout the apartheid years, wanted to make Afrikaans the national language and introduced Afrikaans in schools in the Soweto township. Hundreds of students were killed, and 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was one of the first victims. We were able to visit the Hector Pieterson memorial and the museum.


Here is a reflection from Erin Postma ’19:

Soweto was an amazing experience. The museum helped put a lot of things into perspective and show the brutality of the shooting. As a senior, I am always very worried about college, but in Soweto, students my age had to fight for their right to be educated in a language they understood. One thing I did not know before visiting the museum is that after the shooting, the police searched for students involved in the protests and shot them. This represents the brutality shown against the innocent students. The museum also included a lot of eyewitness accounts and quotes from people involved in the shooting. It helped me understand what people went through. All in all, it was a very moving experience and I learned a lot factually and emotionally.

Then, we stopped for 20 minutes at the Nelson Mandela house, where we learned more about Mandela’s family life and were able to step into the house, which had a lot of the original furniture when Mandela lived there.

After lunch, we were able to explore the Apartheid Museum. We all agreed that the museum was incredibly well put-together and organized. The tickets to the museum were cards that randomly sorted us as white or non-white, and the people with different tickets had to go through different doorways. Inside the museum, there were very detailed descriptions of South Africa’s history starting from the time before the arrival of Portuguese and British colonists. It explained the events leading up to the creation of apartheid and had many sections that illuminated how terrible apartheid truly was.

One room that really struck the Culver students was the exhibit about solitary confinement. There, the museums replicated the tiny jail cells that visitors could go into to experience, for a brief moment, what many political prisoners had to endure for years of their lives. The museum also had a casspir, or an armored vehicle that was used in many townships by the police, that we were actually able to climb into and sit in. We were completely shocked by how large the vehicle was.

Other exhibits that really left an impression on us were the Political Executions, Truth and Reconciliation, and South African Voices After 1994 exhibitions. The political executions exhibit showed that while dozens of South African activists were killed in detention, the government often tried to hide this by declaring their cause of death to be “death by hanging,” “suffering from a stroke in the hospital,” or something along those lines in the official record.

I was really impressed by the way that nothing was sugarcoated in the museum and they did their best to portray the reality of apartheid and even demonstrate that many of our heroes were not perfect. Understanding the awful human rights violations that occurred during apartheid and confronting the country’s history, the museum believes, is key to moving South Africa forward as a nation. Although the exhibitions about post-apartheid South Africa demonstrate that there are definitely many unresolved inequalities in South Africa, especially with regards to land, it is really important that the museum seeks to confront this past while acknowledging that the present is not perfect either. All of us learned a lot from the tour of Johannesburg today.

After visiting the museum, we had an incredible dinner and are heading to Pilanesburg for our safari! Stay tuned, and if you are reading this, I really encourage you to read about the Soweto uprising and the system of apartheid. It is something that has profoundly shaped South Africa and is essential to understanding the country.