Vaughn Price ’26, our esteemed student photographer, has captured a variety of European dogs during our time here. In ‘Dogs Out by Vaughn,’ we feature some of these photos. This post will continue to be updated as the trip continues. Shoutout to Vaughn for contributing many of his photos to each blog post! I am continually in awe of his passion and dedication to this craft, and I’ve enjoyed talking about photography with him. Team France/Spain is incredibly lucky to have both Mr. Ciaccia and Vaughn on this trip!
xoxo, Natalia ST ’24 (who has an aversion to feet and is grateful that Vaughn does not photograph the other kind of dogs)
This morning, Team Italy boarded the bus and headed across the Tiber River to Vatican City, the home of the Pope and capital of the Catholic Church. The hustle and bustle of rush hour Rome were not enough to dim our spirits as we eagerly peered out the windows trying to catch a glimpse of St. Peter’s Basilica and Square.
Vatican City is sacrosanct for not only Catholics, but also Christians around the world. With over five million faithful visiting the city every year, we were lucky to experience it on a quiet day (or so we thought). St. Peter’s Basilica was our first destination and we were all humbled and awestruck by the staggering size and incredible beauty of the Basilica and all its frescos, statues, and marble work. Home to the Pieta and 150 feet high ceilings, the short time in the Basilica left us wanting to come back.
In St. Peter’s Basilica
After visiting the Basilica, we headed around the corner to the Vatican Museum, which is where we truly grasped the size of the crowd. With over 20,000 visitors daily, the whirlwind of entering the Museum was enough to make your head spin, and we hadn’t even seen any of the art yet! But our heads certainly kept spinning as we snaked our way through the many galleries and courtyards of the museum, constantly being more and more amazed with the paintings, tapestries, and mosaics which continued from one hall to the next. As we headed towards the Sistine Chapel, we passed the Vatican Map Room and Hall of Tapestries. Those hall’s were incredible in their own right, displaying the best craftsmanship of Renaissance Europe. This feeling of excitement reached its zenith in the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo’s masterpieces covered every surface, leaving the group speechless and amazed.
Walking through the Map Room
We crossed the street for a short lunch and then headed back over the Tiber to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city center. We visited the Castle Sant Angelo which included Hadrian’s Mausoleum. Built for Hadrian, the castle would become a medieval fort and then holy site before becoming a museum today. The highlight of our short tour of the castle museum was the panoramic views of Rome and the Vatican City. We could see out across the city, from the Pantheon to Roman Forum. After our stop at the castle, we walked to Piazza Novona to learn about the Bernini Fountain and eat some much needed gelato and enjoy some free time.
Tristan Gamel ’25 and Finnley Johnson ’25 looking at the amazing views (Top)
Exploring the Castle (Bottom)
After enjoying dinner at a local restaurant we headed back to the hotel to get ready for bed and another busy day tomorrow. Stay tuned for our visit to the ancient city of Pompeii! Hopefully no eruptions :).
Today was a day that Team Ireland has been excited about since the start of the trip. Today, we will be visiting the famous Cliffs of Moher! The day started out with a team breakfast at 7:30 and then room check by 8:30. We were on the road by 8:45, ready and excited. The cliffs were a few hours away, so we had some driving to do for a bit. We drove for some time before we needed to board a car ferry. A car ferry is a large ferry boat that can transport cars and buses through a body of water. We crossed a River named the Shannon River! Using the ferry helped us save so much time and also gave us a chance to be on a boat with some scenic views!
The ride was around 20-30 minutes and was fun. It was nice saving time, while also getting to be on a boat. Most of us got off and explored the ferry a bit. Once this ended we all got back on the bus and were on the road again to out lunch spot. On our way to lunch, we actually ended up passing the cliffs of Moher. Our lunch place was a bit farther then the cliffs, so we had to go their first and then would come back and see the cliffs! Our restaurant was in a small town named Doolin. In Doolin, we ate at a local restaurant called Mcdermotts Doolin. This place was delicious. They offered a beef burger, chicken curry, Irish stew, and some veggie fajitas. It was nice to have a place that had nice warm food on a rainy day. Their dessert was fantastic too. They had a warm chocolate ganache, and I absolutely loved it! After lunch, we drove to the Cliffs of Moher, which was only around 7 minutes away. Once we got their, we got off the bus and took a group photo.
This view was incredible. The Cliffs of Moher are sea cliffs which are located in the southwestern point of Ireland. They run for about 8 miles long, with the highest point being around 720 feet from the sea. While they are not the highest cliffs in Ireland, they are known for the fantastic views!
Not only did we see cliffs, but there was also some shopping too. They had a gift store, cafe, and then some small shopping spots. They had some really nice stuff like clothes, jewelry, hats, sheep socks, and so much more! While our visit lasted for a bit more then a hour, it was perfect, We made it in time before it started raning, and left before the rain started! There was even some hail! These Cliffs are beautiful, and we are so glad that the rain stopped so we could see them! Unfortunately, due to the strong heavy rain, we had to cancel our original plans, so we went back to the hotel. For one night, we are staying in a town called Limerick. Limerick is about an hour away from the cliffs, and so we drove back and checked in the hotel we were staying in. We had some time before dinner, which we were going into town for. Once we arrived at our hotel, we looked out our windows and saw something beautiful!
We had dinner at 6 and went to a restaurant called The Locke. Their food was the best. They had chicken and beef burgers along with fish and chips. Personally, I got the chicken burger, and it was delicious! We ended the day with some warm apple crumble and walked back to the hotel to get some sleep for tomorrow’s busy day. Stay tuned as we head to Ireland’s capital city, Dublin!
I was greeted this morning with a beautiful sunrise from my hotel window in San Sebastian. Culver sunrises along the lake are stunning, but there’s just something about a European sunrise along an urban skyline that cannot compare. The beauty of the morning foreshadowed what was to be an amazing day filled with delicious eats and lovely views.
Our day began with our ascent up Mount Igeldo, which we had viewed from afar the day before. Located at the end of La Concha beach, the spot provided a panoramic view of the entirety of San Sebastian below, as well as the mountains bordering the region and the bay. We stepped off the bus at the funicular railway station, which transported us to the top of the peak. You may be curious to know what exactly a funicular is– when I first heard the word, I thought it would be something resembling an amusement park ride at Six Flags. In reality, a funicular is a mountainside cable railway, unique because the system utilizes two counterbalanced ascending and descending carriages. The igeldo funicular is over one hundred years old, which led some students to express fears that the cars would suddenly break down and leave us stranded on the mountainside.
We reached the top safely, but for those afraid of heights, the adventure was certainly not over yet. The lookout point was mesmerizing as we stared out over the city’s landscape, identifying the spots that we had visited on our walking tour the day before. We were able to go even higher, as for the price of one euro we climbed up the old lighthouse. To reach the top, we climbed a narrow, winding staircase. The views were unmatched, though at that point, even I felt a low level of fear due to the altitude. After we descended, we rode the funicular again back down to sea level.
After gazing at the beach in yearning the day before, we finally had the chance to run and play along the soft sand. After enjoying delightful tuna sandwiches for lunch, we were allowed a few hours of free time along the shore. Some students chose to simply sit and bathe in the Basque sunlight, taking in the relaxing view and keeping others’ items safe. Many students opted to strip off their shoes and socks to enjoy the sand. It was by far one of the most beautiful beaches any of us had been to, and the sand was clean and cool on our feet. A group of students began a game of American football, drawing touchdown lines in the sand. Any tackles made were well supervised by chaperones and falls were cushioned by the pillowy sand below. We also saw the return of Jackson’s trusty frisbee, which students used to start a game of Ultimate. During low tide, we walked closer to the sea to dip our toes into the water and take some beachy photos. After they returned, Mrs. Ciaccia began leading a group dance exercise, with students coming up with their own moves and dancing to techno beats provided by Ponce.
It’s safe to say the afternoon spent along the beach was enjoyable for everyone. As a group of rowdy youths wearing matching blue t-shirts on the beach, we were noticed by local passers-by, leading to some interesting conversations. Notably, we spoke to a tourist couple who had noticed our diverse group and wondered where we were from. The couple was incredibly kind, and remarked that they would consider Culver as a school for their children in the future after meeting us! Reflecting on that conversation, I realized how fortunate we are to all come from diverse backgrounds and be able to bond together in such unique circumstances.
After our beach adventure, we boarded the bus again for a short ride to our next activity: an exploration of gastronomy at the Basque Culinary Center. The campus was incredible inside and out, and our group was fortunate enough to receive a guided tour and cooking demonstration from the institute. Founded in 2009 by a group of eight prominent Basque chefs, the center aims to train future chefs and develop the culinary sector by teaching cooking alongside management, business, and science. Partnered with Spain’s Mondragon University, the center offers a bachelor’s in Gastronomy and Culinary Arts as well as a variety of postgraduate programs and courses for gastronomy enthusiasts. The outside of the building resembles a stack of plates, representing the institute’s mission. The interior was incredibly modern, filled with minimalist furniture and architectural details.
As we explored the space, we met face-to-face with university students studying toward their culinary degrees. We peered into a relatively typical university classroom, where students were learning gastronomic theory. As we passed through the halls, we encountered students sitting at tables with spreadsheets and recipes pulled up, frantically writing in a way that resembled our lives at Culver (though I would bet that studying business management at culinary school is a bit more enjoyable than calculus). One class that was in session as we passed through was titled ‘Large-scale Catering’– there, we saw students cooking in gigantic pots and plating dishes of enormous proportion. This reminded us of Culver’s dining hall– though our meals in Spain have undoubtedly been more delicious, it is important to remember just how massive a challenge it is to cook three meals for 800 hungry students each day.
On the lower floors, we entered classrooms dedicated to workshops and classes held at the program. There were rooms specifically for teaching patisserie, bread making, vegetable preparation, and more. The facilities were state-of-the-art, and our guide showed us the many different types of machinery dedicated to each culinary art. As we moved upstairs, we entered a restaurant-style classroom that was made to resemble an authentic restaurant kitchen environment. We learned about mise en place, a restaurant technique taught at the institute which allows chefs to assemble dishes quickly and efficiently– that’s how a dish that would normally take an hour to cook is able to make it to your table in ten minutes at a high-end restaurant! Students at the school learn to take part in and manage all steps of the culinary process, from preparing ingredients to managing the front room of a restaurant.
After our tour, we were led to an auditorium with cushiony white chairs and desks that pulled out in front of us. The stage was a mini kitchen set up with a large screen projector filming the space just behind it. It was time for our cooking demonstration, in which we would see Basque pintxos assembled right in front of our very eyes. Having enjoyed pintxos in Bilbao and the day before and in the old town, we were excited to see how they were assembled by an expert chef, Carlos. We sampled three different pintxos, each representing a different phase in the development of the dish. The first was a skewer holding olives, anchovy, and pepper, known as pintxos gilda. As he prepared the dish, Carlos, told us the fascinating story behind the history of the gilda. Named for a film that was censored in Franco’s Spain in the 1940s, it is described as ‘green, salty, and spicy.’ The phrase in Spanish can also be interpreted as ‘dirty, charming, and spicy’– much like the title character in the censored movie. The second was a contemporary, award-winning pintxo served at a bar in the old town of San Sebastian. It paired pepper with smoked salmon and anchovy over bread, similar to many of the pintxos we have tried over the past few days. The pairing of bread with pintxos has a variety of indeterminate historical factors, but either way, it created a delightful and filling combination of flavors. Finally, we were treated to a modern cultural-fusion-style pintxos, which reminded many of Japanese-style sushi. The recipe was created uniquely by Carlos and utilized a unique base. Rather than bread, the pintxos were placed on top of a fried squid-ink rice crisp that had a texture resembling a cracker. Carlos mixed fresh, raw tuna with sesame oil and other familiar Asian condiments for the topping. Then, he emulsified a kimchi mayo and plated all three, creating a familiar but novel pintxo with a slight kick. I really enjoyed this take on the pintxos for its display of the globalization of culinary arts and food culture.
Upon our return from the Basque Culinary Center, we had a short rest before reconvening for a group dinner in the hotel restaurant. Eating dinner, we were able to see a new angle on the food that we were being served. Having learned about the process in which food is made allowed us to have a further appreciation of the local cuisine. In our reflection time, we decided to do shoutouts for the day. Roberto Ponce ‘24 shouted out to Dr. B for his thoughtfulness in ensuring that the whole group remains safe. The group has affectionately dubbed him with the nickname ‘Dr. Be Careful,’ as he always utilizes his wisdom and caution to ensure that no one gets hurt so we can safely enjoy our time in Europe. As teenagers, our impulses might lead us to do what we believe is the most fun and immediately rewarding, but he ensures that the risks associated do not outweigh the rewards. Team France & Spain is grateful for all of our chaperones, who have been extremely caring and enthusiastic throughout our first week as a team. It’s hard to believe that last Wednesday, we were in Culver attending our final classes of the term. Time in Europe has been such a blur that we barely pay attention to what day of the week it is– whether it’s the jet lag or the fun is anyone’s guess!
Tomorrow, we will leave Spain and head up to Bordeaux in France! Get excited for some more adventures from our team– Spanish cuisine has been amazing, so we are sure that French food will not disappoint.
Today was one of Team Italy’s busiest days yet, as we explored the city of Rome and saw many historical monuments. Our day started with a short walk to the Colosseum and Roman Forum, where we went on a guided tour of both historical sites.
While in the Forum, we experienced amazing views of the city and learned about the important role the Forum held in Ancient Rome. The Roman Forum was the center of the city and a place dedicated to commercial activity, politics, and religion. One of the most interesting things we learned about while touring the Forum was about who the Vestal Virgins were. An extremely special and selective order of religious women that were very important in Ancient Roman society. The Vestal Virgins were priestesses of the Goddess Vesta, goddess of the hearth and home, and had the duty of always keeping the Flame of Vesta burning. They were highly respected members of society and had many more privileges than the average woman. They could vote, had “press box” seats at the Colosseum, and could own property as well as free prisoners and slaves. When their 30 year vow of chastity was over, the state would fund lavish dowries for their marriages. Talk about a severance package!
Exploring the Forum!
After visiting the Forum, we crossed the street and entered the Colosseum, where we learned about its role in entertaining and unifying the city of Rome for over 400 years! Built in 89 CE, the Colosseum was home to gladiator fights, naval battles and even public executions. The Colosseum could house up to 65,000 people! Although it was very crowded and busy, ideas of jeering crowds and epic gladiator battles had people eager to explore and learn from our guide throughout the tour. A cray fact that surprised everyone on the trip (even Mr. Strati!) is that between one and two million people lost their lives in gladiator fights or other events in the Colosseum during its four centuries of operation.
Team Italy in front of the Colosseum!
With the Colosseum checked off our list, we stopped for lunch and then kept exploring the city. Our next two stops were the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Almost everyone tossed a coin into the fountain and made a wish (both of us threw in one coin and wished to return to Rome in the future). Designed by Nicola Salvi, the fountain still sources its water from an aqueduct which has been in use since the days of the Roman Empire. The Spanish Steps were breathtaking and provided amazing views of Rome! We had some free time after arriving to the steps to take pictures and explore the area, however pretty much everyone went to check out the Italian McDonalds down the street before anything else.
Team Italy taking the Roman Metro with our tour guide, Mario!
After a delicious dinner at a restaurant near the hotel, we’ll all be heading to bed early to make sure we get enough sleep for our trip to Vatican City tomorrow!
Ci vediamo domani! – Aakrit Mehrotra ‘24 and Eamon Seeley ’24
P.S. Check out Megan Gifford’s ’24 CGA Instagram takeover tomorrow for a closer look at the day’s activities!
Our morning started early as we began the check-out process at our first hotel. We had become quite comfortable in the space over the past four days, but now we were moving on to a new city: San Sebastian, also called Donostia in Basque. Known for its beautiful beaches, architectural history, and cuisine, the team was more than excited to continue to explore the beautiful Basque region. After we packed up their rooms and checked that they had not left any belongings behind, we boarded the bus to San Sebastian and began our hour-long journey. Many students took the opportunity to catch up on sleep, while those who remained awake throughout the bus ride experienced panoramas of the beautiful Basque landscape. I was shocked by how much green there was in the rolling hillside– the lush vegetation in the region is fed by the immense amount of rain received in northern Spain. It was certainly a grand contrast from the yellow expanse of the Indiana cornfields!
Our bus ride brought us to Silken Amara Plaza San Sebastian, our home for two nights. Because the hotel was not yet ready for us to check in, we brought our bags to a private space on the basement level and held a joyful picnic. Our heavy breakfast was supplemented by a selection of bread, butter, and leftover Spanish omelet from our dinner the night before– a fan favorite within our group.
Following our light lunch, we embarked on our walking tour of the beautiful city of San Sebastian. Our chaperones had encouraged us to layer up, as spring weather in northern Spain can be unpredictable. Fortunately, the weather was on our side– it was warm and sunny, fostering smiles from all students.
Our guide, Lourdes, was a San Sebastian native and provided us with an inside look of some of the less visible aspects of the city. During our walk from the hotel towards the shoreline, we marveled at the architecture in the city while Lourdes described the place of San Sebastian in European history. Prior to 1863, walls surrounded the city’s border to protect it from external conflict that occurred along the French and Spanish border. The wall was torn down to allow the city to grow beyond its military roots, and the space there now is known as the boulevard, separating the ‘old town’ from the ‘new town.’ As the town developed, debates ensued over whether its economic focus should be tourism or manufacturing. Predictably, tourism won over and the town was transformed into its contemporary form. We passed by a few notable cultural centers of the region, including the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, a neo-gothic Jesuit church that contained many intricate architectural details. Additionally, we viewed the Sacred Heart Christ statue atop the Monte Urgull hill, built during Franco’s reign by enthusiastic Catholics.
Audible expressions of amazement emerged as we approached the beautiful beach of La Concha. It is among the best beaches in Europe for its soft sand, clear waters, and appealing location. Its name, meaning ‘shell’ in English, fits well, as the rounded shape of the beach closely resembles that of a seashell. Visiting the beach became popular in 1845 when Queen Isabel III bathed there as a medical remedy. The status associated with attending the queen’s beach led aristocrats to follow in her footsteps. Students began to fantasize about swimming in the open water. Unfortunately, the water is a bit too cold at this time of year, so we only admired it from afar.
We soon made our way up a hill to the summer palace. The palace was built partly due to the appeal of sea baths, as Spanish doctors in the region believed that sea baths taken in the La Concha waters possessed health benefits. Maria Christina of Austria often spent summers in San Sebastian and commissioned the construction of the Miramar Palace, and the space would host many other prominent royals later on. The dazzling view of the La Concha beach combined with the history of the palace led the group to take a break for photos and some sunbathing in the stunning view. A group of boys from our team began a game of soccer with a handful of local children, creating a memorable and wholesome moment of connection. Despite the advantage of age, size, and experience, Culver students lost to the young football players. Despite the opposing team’s victory, it was truly a wonderful experience watching a group of Culver students form bonds with Spanish locals over soccer (aka football), despite language and cultural barriers.
Although it was sad to leave the beautiful view, we were all famished and excited to experience some authentic local pintxos. In the old town of San Sebastian, we separated in small groups to eat some pintxos and desserts. One highlight was eating at a Spanish fast-food restaurant. Though it reminded me greatly of dining styles in America, we were shocked by the decadent churros that they served. As Mrs. Ragsdale said they were some of the best churros that she had ever eaten, and everyone else agreed. While eating, Dr. Buggeln spotted a song the locals sing to celebrate its patron saint day on the 20th of January: “There is a San Sebastian in heaven, but just a Donostia on earth.” This quote neatly sums up the charming impression that the city of San Sebastian left on students.
To end our day, we once again went out shopping– as a resort town, the area had many cute boutiques, small stores, and of course, a Zara. The shopping scene and landscape contrasted Bilbao greatly. French influence due to San Sebastian’s proximity to the border was visible, and the history of the two areas made them very aesthetically different. Our reflection closed the day off strong, as we were asked to think about a moment in the day in which we felt the happiest. As we reminisced on a day well spent in the San Sebastian sun, Jack Collins ‘25 provided a short but sweet response: “Feeling the ocean breeze as we looked down on the view of La Concha beach.”
Day 6 was a fun, and busy day for team Ireland. The day started off with a team breakfast at 8:00am, and we were on the road by 8:50. Today, we where planned to visit the local school nearby in Killanarey. The school we visited was named St. Brendands college, and it is an all-boys school opened in 1860! They have 870 students , but we got to speak with the older classmen( mostly seniors).
When we first arrived, we were taken upstairs to the presentation room. Our team had planned to give a small presentation about what Culver is so the students could learn and get a better understanding of our school. Three of their students gave the presentation for their school first, then Me( Norah), Katy Jayne, and Jayden all gave the presentation. After we finished the presentation, two students wanted to show us what some traditional music and dancing look like. One played his accordion and the other Irish danced for us, it was a fun way to end the presentations.
After all the presentations, we all headed down to a common area where we and the guys had some social time. The room was only us and the students, and there were some great conversations happening! They offered us come hot chocolate while we asked questions and talked to one another! Many of us asked about sports, clubs, academics, and a lot more! It was very interesting to see the similarities and differences between our school and theirs. The boys also asked us many questions so the conversations went very well!
After some time, we were invited to go outside and learn how to play some traditional Irish games.Not only did we get to learn the basics of the game, but we also then got to play! The first game was called Gaelic football. All this game required is a ball ( like the shape of a soccer/volleyball.) The school’s coach first explained what the game was, and had a few boys demonstrate how to play. Then after the demonstration, we all got a chance to play. This involved us practing kicking and catching, and also some light jogging. It was such a fun experience to get to play a popular Irish sport, and learn some of the basics. Another game that they showed us was hurling. We didn’t have enough time to practice hurling, but we got a change to watch some boys demonstrate the basics. Not only did I learn the sports, but we also had such an amazing time with the students and learning some of their popular sports VS some popular American sports.
After our visit, we said our goodbyes, and headed off for another scenic bus drive through the Dingle Peninsula. The Dingle Peninsula is a drive that goes to Ireland’s most western point, and runs along the Atlantic ocean. Like yesterday’s drive, the bus ride was long, but very worth it.
The route starts at Killarney, where we are at, and goes in a loop all the way to a town called Dingle. It is around a 2-hour drive from Killarney. This drive was beautiful. When driving on the narrow small roads, we got to look over the road and see the ocean smashing into the rocks and make huge waves.
During our drive when we reached the small town Dingle, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant named Paul Geaney’s. This spot was amazing! They had many options like beef burger, chicken burger, chicken and bacon cezar salad, and Guinness beef Stew! Personally, I chose the Chicken burger and chips, and it was delicious. One of the best chicken burgers I have eaten! After our lunch stop, we continued driving for around 30 minutes to the Blasket Heritage Center. This meuseam like center was a located on the drive route, and was dedicated to the information about the Blasket Islands. The Blasket Islands are a collection of Islands located on the coast of western Ireland
Above is a map picture of the Islands. The Blasket Centre was a history center about the development of the Islands. The larger Island, named The Great Blasket Island ( the one in the middle ) was home to Irish speakers until 1954. It was a small community when citizens lived there, but eventually had to leave due to issues of supply on the Island. Many citizens immigrated back to the homeland Ireland, or the United States. Only around 150 is people lived there, so the community was very small and everyone knew each other. Currently, no one lives there anymore. The Great Blasket Island is significant because it was home to many Irish native speakers and writers at the time! The center shows the history of the Islands, and also there natural beauty of them. While it was to foggy to see them, the outline ofthem could be seen by the edge of the center! We learned a lot, and was an amazing place to stop! After this stop, the team was on the road again for one last stop. We visited a small “castle ” called the Gallarus Oratory. This hut is believed to be around 1,000 years old, and is one of the oldest remaining churches in Ireland!
So much to see today! When we arrived back at Killnarry, we were allowed to get our own dinner in groups! This was the first time we were allowed to eat our own dinner, so we all took advantage of it. Me(norah), Jayden, and Katy Jayne went to a local Italian restaurant and ate Pizza, Pasta, and Burgers. It was delicious and defiantly a meal that I needed. We then went to an icecream shop for dessert! Another group, which includes Mckenna, Dallas, and Michelle went to a local Asian street foot place.
We all had to be back at the hotel bu 9:30! This was perfect so we could get to bed early and ready for our big day tommtow. We will be leaving Killinary, and going someplace that Ireland is very famous for! Stay tuned for more!
Day three in the books here in Tanzania and I am loving it more and more every day!
This morning Peter, Queen, and Dave gave us a more official tour of St. Jude’s primary and girls secondary school. Throughout this tour we observed classes and learned about the four core values of St. Jude’s: Honesty, Kindness, Responsibility, and Respect. Following this tour, the group joined the primary students for a tea time that consisted of bread and porridge.
When we arrived at the primary dining hall, the leaders of the primary school (who are called prefects and wear red sashes with pride) each chose a team member, got them food and showed them a place to sit with other students. The team was spread out. If members ate fast enough, they had a few minutes to play games with the children before classes resumed. Handball, basketball, jump rope and soccer were the most popular.
Following this snack, we all headed to the primary school art building to begin a little project. One of St. Jude’s CYA’s (similar to interns) drew a lion on a canvas for the group to paint. I would say the group’s painting collaboration was successful. Once the piece dries fully, every team member will sign their name, and then our painting will be hung up in the school!
The most notable event of our day was home visits. Four students and their families proudly and kindly welcomed four groups (led by each adult with 2-3 students) into their home. Those who did not have a home visit today received extra free time and will go on their visit later in our stay.
The home visits began with a briefing. Each group was given a paper detailing information about the student they were visiting and their living situation. We were shown the home packs that were purchased and brought to the families. These home packs were paid for by the team and were funded entirely by the trip fee and concessions. Teams were also instructed to say “Hodi” and wait for “Karibu” before entering a home. Each individual group shared a reflection and some pictures from their home visit. Take a look below!
Mama Dee, Abby S, Sam, KJ
Our ride to the house of Winner (a 5th grader) was just less than five minutes. Winner started at TSOSJ in year 2 and has been there for the past three years. Winner plays netball and lives with her father, baby brother and mother. Her father is a boda-boda (taxi/motorcycle driver) and her mom stays at home to take care of her baby brother. On the ride over, Sam, Abby and KJ talked with Winner about a variety of things such as her favorite subjects, her home and her netball game earlier today that was called off so our culver students could play too. The house Winner’s family is staying in is a rental new to her family because they previously could not pay their rent.
Upon arrival to Winner’s house, our group was greeted by Winner’s mother (mama), mama’s friend and Winner’s younger brother, Jordan. They were all excited to meet us and proud to welcome us into their home. Their one room house had one lightbulb that flickered and turned off once throughout our visit. A stack of water buckets were against the wall behind the door. There was one queen sized bed for the entire family, one fabric chair, and one coffee cart used to hold food and other supplies. There was no running water or bathroom in sight. Mama and her friend both did not speak English, so communication during our visit relied heavily on the teacher who translated.
Conversation did not die out throughout the visit. Mama Dee became well acquainted with Jordan; he fell asleep on her lap which was adorable! Mama’s friend left after 15 minutes and soon after the group decided to teach Mama how to play Uno: She won her first game ever! Mama poured us all ginger spice tea (including our bus driver), and we also enjoyed bread she made. During this time, another neighbor of Winner came over to say hi to us.
Overall, the visit was fantastic. We were impressed by the hospitality showed to us by both Mama and Winner’s neighbors. This hospitality and kindness has been consistent with the Tanzanian culture I have observed so far.
Ms. Strobel, Anika, Jacinta, and Ksenia
We ventured about 20 minutes away from the school with a math teacher as our translator to visit Fabiola a 4th grader and her mother. On the bus ride over Anika and Fabiola became fast friends and had a steady stream of conversation the whole time. The drive over took us on a highway to the other side of town (Mrs. Strobel recognized the road near the Smith campus) then we turned down a series of dirt roads that gradually got smaller. Fabiola started at TSOSJ in 2nd grade, she loves science and wants to be a doctor when she is older. Her home was a bit of a walk from where the school van could drive us and was behind some farm land. She lives in one room that was part of a concrete building with more homes. Her neighbors were out doing laundry at the water tap that the family shares with their neighbors.
Fabiola’s mother was so excited to welcome us to her home and was grateful for the home pack and for our support of St. Jude’s. She served us tea and peanuts and asked us all to introduce ourselves and she loved that Jacinta’s parents are from Nigeria. We chatted for a bit about where she grew up, with 5 siblings and her father after losing her mother, which was near Arusha. She works at a fabric making company and Fabiola’s father is deceased. We brought UNO with us and played two rounds which Fabiola and her mother won. Mom and Fabiola walked us back to the van and were gracious hosts.
On the drive back to campus, we discussed the visit and agreed that although the mother did not speak English we did not lack for conversation and that we were still able to laugh and play games together. It also makes us appreciate all that we have and to be more grateful. It was also a good reminder that people can do so much with so little. We were really impressed with how proud the mom was of her daughter as she shared that she had always hoped to get an education and be able to do more and she is grateful that her daughter is able to get an education.
Ms. Hall, Maggie, Valerie, Abby K
David’s mom had a very welcoming style, smile, and presence. The family was sweet and welcoming and asked us a lot of questions. The tea and round nuts were great! David was extremely professional and shy/formal, yet still extremely friendly professional and formal, yet still friendly. One of my group members, Maggie wanted to share her experience:
The home tour journey started with a 30 minute bus ride. I got in the bus and sat next to David while Abby, Val, and Ms. Hall were in the back. I tried to make conversation with David by asking him simple questions such as “How old are you?” and “What’s your favorite subject?” He sat there with a slight smile with his arms crossed and feet forward responding with simple one word answers: “math” “9”. Most times I asked him questions, he asked me to repeat myself because he had a hard time understanding because he was only nine and didn’t know much English. I could tell he warmed up because he asked me what my favorite subject was and how old I was. He smiled when He found out we shared a love of the subject math.
Once we had arrived to his home, his mother was outside waiting for us. She immediately said “Karibu” meaning “welcome”. She repeated this word many times throughout our visit making me feel comfortable and wanted. We entered into the one room home and sat on the couch. The other was even nice enough to let Ms. Hall sit on the bed since the couch didn’t fit all four of us. The mother’s neighbor/friend came in to join us and welcome us. David’s home was a cool temperature and had a curtain covering the doorway but there were no lights. There was also tea and nuts on the table that the mother served us after the neighbor poured water over our hands to clean them. The tea was very good and so were the nuts. David and his mother only drank tea after we invited them to join us. We showed them how to play UNO and it definitely made everyone more comfortable and got David laughing.
David’s 6 year old brother Dixon was in the corner of the room. He was sitting in a wheelchair with added support due to his disability. Dixon was a smiling boy who made a lot of noise during our stay. He was laughing and yelling which I interpreted as him talking to us. The mother said she did not have a job because she had to stay at home and take care of Dixon. We were not able to meet the father, but they mentioned his job was undefined and always changing. It was inspiring to see David helping his brother and taking care of him. It must be hard to let strangers into your home especially at age nine so I made sure to smile and give him two high fives. As we left and got into the bus, we said “asante” meaning thank you. The family was so friendly overall and so welcoming. Such a great and educational experience!
Mr. Strobel, Paulina, and Wendy
During our home visit we got to meet Gertruda and her family. We got to meet her 2 younger brothers and her mother. We learned about the impact that St. Jude had on her family and how grateful she is for the school. Gertruda had 2 chickens. To get to the house we had to go through slim alleyways and it was a 15 minute car ride from the school. As we entered the house the mother was very welcoming and very shy as she was not used to having visitors. We all sat on the couch and had a nice time getting to know the family. Gracious one of her brothers loved to run in and out of the house. We got the opportunity to have tea with her and play UNO. This was her favorite thing and we ended up playing 6 rounds. We did not get to meet the father but learned that he works as a security guard. At the end of the visit we were very grateful that they could host us and we could learn more about them.
Fun fact of the day is that Jade was blessed by mist from a bird if you know what I mean!
Team Italy checked out of the NH Firenze this morning, sad to be leaving Florence but eager to visit Assisi and make it to Rome. Although we were not looking forward to the lengthy bus ride, the panoramic views of the Italian countryside and its many hillside towns gave us a reason to the enjoy the trip to Assisi. Located in the Umbria, known as the green heart of Italy, Assisi is surrounded by rolling hills, lush vineyards and, clear skies.
Most known for St. Francis and its picturesque location along the slope of a large hill, Assisi offered us an opportunity to enjoy the best views we have seen all trip and take a moment to reflect inside the magnificent Basilica of St. Francis. as well as the Basilica of St. Clare.
St. Francis’s Basilica among the Umbrian backdrop.
Born in the Assisi merchant class, Francis renounced his wealth and status at a young age when he realized that serving the poor in God’s name was more important than material goods. He would move to the countryside surrounding Assisi and would found the Franciscan Order of Friars. The members of the order were wholly dedicated to helping the poor, while only wearing un-dyed robes (not even shoes!). St. Francis is one of the few saints to have received the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus, during his lifetime. St. Francis’s commitment to the poor and his many miracles would lead to his rapid canonization and important legacy within Assisi and the Catholic Church.
After our walking tour of the city and a delicious pizza lunch, we had a bit of free time to explore the village and take in the view. As usual, most of us enjoyed some gelato while exploring. Even though our time in Assisi was brief, it was a highlight of the trip for nearly everyone. The calm environment and truly unbelievable views gave everyone a greater appreciation for our experience on this trip.
Our final day in Bilbao was by far the most physically challenging. If students hadn’t been following their workout schedules while on vacation, I’m sure they would say that the hike we took more than made up for it. As we stepped off the bus, we were greeted by a warm ocean breeze and the smell of salt in the air from the Bay of Biscay. A short walk led us to a high point of the mainland, where we were able to view two small islands just off the coast. One, in particular, caught our eyes– San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. A thin stone walkway connected it to the coast and served as a pathway up the steep mountain. I found the view stunning but did not anticipate that we would soon be traveling up that very path.
Our tour guide emphasized that the islet is incredibly important to Basque culture. The waves crashed along its shores as she told us the story of the small church located atop the hill. The church was built around the 10th century and is dedicated to John the Baptist. Legend tells that those who ring the bell of the church 13 times will have their wishes and desires granted– though we students were unable to do so that day as it was now dysfunctional. It initially served as a hermitage and convent, but as history progressed, it became increasingly important as a defensive island for the Lords of Biscay, which we had gained familiarity with at the previous museum. The island helped the Lords protect the autonomy and freedoms of the Basque people when they fought King Alfonso XI de Castilla. It was later sacked by Sir Francis Drake, who AP World students will recognize as the Englishman who circumnavigated the globe. The church plays a role in Basque mythology as well. Our guide explained that the islet served as a witches’ coven and that women’s cries have been known to echo from its rocky caves.
The path down was steep and uneven. Thomas Gutierrez ‘25 showed kindness by helping Mrs. Ragsdale make her way down, while Carridee Raymundo ‘25 expertly stepped over rocks while hiking in heeled boots. At sea level, students marveled at the seascape and looked back at the coast. There were also many cute dogs hiking alongside their owners, photographed expertly by Vaughn Price ’26. Then, we began to make our way across the bridge up to the peak of the islet, which some students compared to the Great Wall of China. Some students excitedly raced up the 241 winding steps that led to the church steeple, while others climbed slowly but surely. I made up the latter– as an asthmatic who doesn’t do nearly as much cardio as she should, I struggled greatly with the steps. However, the view at the top of the hill was more than worth it. We were able to view the entirety of the coast from the vista and the small church was fascinating to explore.
Though the views were beautiful, the thought of climbing back up the hill to our starting point filled many students with apprehension. Students encouraged one another as we walked up the steps, and lively conversation allowed us to take our minds off the physical challenge. When we made our way to the top, we were met by Mr. Ney, who had opted out of the hike and instead remained at our starting point with coffee and a book. As he greeted the out-of-breath and sweaty students, Mr. Ney remarked that he had made the right decision– following our adventure, he had the most energy of all of us! Students bought water, Kas Limon, and ice cream at the snack stand as a well-deserved gratification.
Following our challenging hike, all of us were more than excited to enjoy some local cuisine at a beachside restaurant. We made our way down to the beautiful Bakio Beach of San Juan to sample authentic Basque seafood. To start, we had bread coupled with anchovies and red pepper wrapped in tuna. The strong flavors of the fish paired perfectly with the bread. Following this we were served artichoke and mushroom stew that no students had previously tried before, making our meal adventurous and satisfying To finish our meal we had morcilla, a sausage filled with rice and meat. Some students noted its similarity to dishes from their native cultures but found that outward appearances did not match the flavor profiles of the distinct dishes. The beautiful view of the beach just made dining at a local spot all the more satisfying.
We decided to stop by the beach and enjoy the warm weather and ample sunlight. Students sunbathed along the beach’s border, imagining how the space would be perfect for tanning and swimming on a hot summer day. The cool ocean breeze and light hearts of students and adults alike. It was particularly fun to watch Dr. Buggeln and Jackson Tharin ‘26 bond over frisbee, each displaying their manifold skills with the toy Jackson had brought in his bag. Arriving back at the hotel, Mr. and Mrs. Ciacia took a group of students to shop at a local mall– unlike the day prior, shops were open and students purchased clothes and other unique items.
To end our night, we reflected on what we learned about the Bilbao area over the past few days, as we will begin traveling to San Sebastian towards France tomorrow. With the help of our enthusiastic Basque tour guide, we developed a strong understanding of this region’s rich history and culture. Our last meal in Bilbao was a lovely social event organized by Mrs. Ragsdale. As we stood and ate a variety of cheeses, smoked salmon, Spanish omelets, and bread, we were encouraged to talk and interact with those in the group that we were less familiar with. This eating style was likened to speed-dating by our chaperones, which made some students nervous at first. As high schoolers, it is incredibly easy to settle into a routine of talking and socializing with the same group of students every day, especially as the trip progresses. This was a great opportunity to form fresh bonds within our group, as we were all encouraged to speak with someone new. Thus, our night ended as we forged stronger connections as a team through a unique aspect of Spanish culture that emphasizes connection through food.
Thanks for following along– we’ll be back tomorrow to tell you all about the beautiful beaches of San Sebastian!