Saying Goodbye and Back to Athens

We started our last day in Samos at 7:30 A.M. The breakfast was delicious (as always) and prepared us for the long day ahead! After an hour, we headed back to the Archipelagos Institute for a few more activities. We were then split into three pre-made groups to mix the typical groups up. We participated in three interactive workshops:

Workshop 1: We walked along the beautiful Aegean while learning about the preservation of deep-sea habitats. We learned about the importance of seagrass and algae for maintaining life in the seas. They act as nursing beds and food, respectively, for invertebrates and fish that live amongst them. In order to have functional food chains, we must continue to work towards this problem through replenishing lost resources and conservation.

Workshop 2: The groups sat down with leaders of the Institute to discuss plans to promote their sea-saving agenda. Ideas ranging from an Instagram/Snapchat account, merchandise line, and reaching out to local Greece schools stuck out the most to the leaders. However, they challenged us to see how we can make changes in Culver. This was especially effective because it allowed for us to commit to real changes on our campus. Whether that is using reusable mugs rather than the Dining Hall’s Styrofoam cups, looking into it conservation as a senior service project, or just “plogging “ (picking up trash while jogging with friends!), we all want to bring what we’ve learned about conservation back to campus.

Workshop 3: Here, we got to collect microplastic samples and listen for dolphin noises in the water. After driving to a nearby dock, we spent an hour on the water. The first half of the time was dedicated to collecting surface level microplastic samples. Between the three different groups, we collected more than twenty pieces within ten minutes of being on the water. This hands-on activity added a level of reality to the issues we’d heard so much about. The second half, we listened for sea noises by placing a basic microphone underwater. Many just listened to the sounds of the sea but, a few lucky ones heard the sounds of dolphins.

After our workshops, the Archipelagos Institute prepared us a scrumptious meal yet again. We had gyros, french fries, rice, and greek salad for lunch. Afterward, we had an hour to roam around the site a bit. We spent the time skipping rocks, reading, and just enjoying the overall atmosphere. This time was completed with a ton of goodbyes to our new friends. The mood was light and jolly as we traded Instagrams and emails. We then headed to the airport to take a short flight to Athens.

The flight was short and so was our transit to our newest hotel. We had a little time to freshen up before our dinner in the hotel. While many of us were all dressed up, we enjoyed the pasta, pork and rice, and a pecan pie. Following dinner, we enjoyed a walk in town to get (handmade) ice cream and window shop at the Plaka for an hour. We then returned to the hotel to get rest for our early morning Acropolis tour tomorrow!

-Sobé Uwajeh

Siena and Florence

2/29/18 and 2/30/18

Siena and Florence used to be known for their competition. Once, they were so against each other that when Florence built a bigger church than Siena, Siena made plans to double the size of theirs. In retaliation, it is rumored that Florence deliberately spread the black plague to Siena. Over these two days team Italy got to compare these famous rivals for ourselves.

Day 1, Siena 

Breakfast was at 8:30 this morning to give an extra hour of recovery to everyone that was sick. Thankfully everyone has made a near full recovery and only one student stayed back from Siena. Then we got on the bus and although most of us fell asleep during the long ride, if you were lucky enough to stay awake the view of the mountains and Italian countryside outside of the bus windows was positively breath-taking.

Since our tour guide, Andrea, was sick today, we were lucky to have his sister Ariana step in and show us around Siena. Our first stop was the Duomo (church) which was incredible. What made this church unique was the vast amounts of black and white: you could see the colors of Siena not only chasing each other up the pillars, but also in beautiful images on the floor. After the breathtaking church, we were able to learn more about the amazing history of Siena.

Siena has always competed with Florence, but interestingly enough, Siena also competes with itself. There are 17 different neighborhoods that all compete with each other within Siena. Each neighborhood has a lot of pride, and that pride also comes with individual mascots, flags, and beautiful statues or fountains. My personal favorite was the turtle, but I know the unicorn, horse and snail neighborhoods were big hits with the team.

We also learned that on a larger scale, Siena stopped competing with Florence so heavily after the black death wiped out half of their population. This is why they never finished constructing a larger church, but the one they have now is beyond incredible already.

Despite all the death, today the city is alive and bursting with people bustling in and out of shops. With everything from spices to high-end fashion, Siena was a marvel to see. All the different neighborhoods and winding streets provided something for everyone.  Becky Young bought some beautiful flags, the Coulsons purchased an elegant tablecloth runner, Wills bought himself a very Italian button down shirt (which he immediately changed into), and most of the team invested in some killer gelato.  e discovered lots of new flavors like melon and blue vanilla. Maddie Rahe discovered that after today her favorite gelato flavor is mint.

To end our beautiful day of sight seeing, we all went back to dinner at the Clitunno and the different shopping groups intermingled to talk about their adventures.

Day 2, Florence

Breakfast this morning was at 7:30. Everyone is nearly fully recovered and we were all pleased to discover an Italian off-brand Nutella to put on our bread. Then we all headed on the bus for the long drive to Florence.

As usual the view of the mountains was breathtaking, but to get through the 3 hour drive we stopped at a gas station to get some coffee and paninis. The team is still not over how amazing gas station food here is.

When we made it to Florence, Andrea was back to being the best tour guide ever (we all legitimately adore him)! He happily grabbed the mic on the bus and told us about Dante and all the artists the ninja turtles are named after. He talked about the Medici family, their roles in Florence, and showed us where to stop the bus to get a great picture of the city.

Then we saw the Duomo (church) before we split up into our usual shopping groups to go explore Florence. The city was incredible, and so were the sales. Becky found another amazing flag that Andrea loved, Ellie found herself a gorgeous Italian blouse,  Lance and Joe bought fancy socks, Jin found Italian fingernail clippers for her grandmother and bought 4, and Mrs. James found a pantsuit that she is positively in love with. The highlight of the day was definitely watching Tommy bargain down the price on his beautiful Italian leather jacket.

For lunch in both Florence and Sienna, we were packed sandwiches from Spoleto, fruit and bottled water. None the less, multiple groups stopped to grab some fantastic Florence cuisine because the food here is so good it’s hard to only eat 3 times. Groups also saw David and other incredible artwork. There were also lots of pictures taken by the river, which is the second largest in Italy and has multiple beautiful bridges running across it.

We left Florence with our hearts full, but our wallets slightly empty. It rained a bit on the way to dinner, which was a reminder of how lucky we have been with the weather here. Tonight was the first time it has rained all trip.

Ultimately, although some of us preferred Siena, and some of us adored Florence, both cities had incredible things to offer.

Bouna Sera,

Team Italy

Quote of the day: “Don’t touch the leather!” -Tommy Green speaking to the rain about his new jacket 

Day 7

Sadly, today was the last full day of the Mexico GPS trip. The teams were able to visit two houses that were built the previous year during spring break. In addition, we spent the afternoon at the closing ceremony, where the teams and their families took pictures, are delicious food, played with the kids, and finally, said goodbye. It was a wonderful way to end this trip on a positive note and allowed us to enjoy time with our families outside of the construction sites. Overall, this has been an amazing experience for everyone involved.

Back to Samos!

Today was another great day for the Greece GPS team.

This morning, we ate breakfast at our hotel on Lipsi before boarding the same ferry that had taken us to the island. We all enjoyed the unexpected opportunity to say goodbye to some of the students we had made friends with before; a number of the students stopped by the ferry on their way to school.

After boarding the ferry, the group settled in for another five-hour ride to Samos. We again used the time to help the experts of the Archipelagos Institute survey local marine life and pollution; recording data about dolphin and marine bird sightings in addition to trash and boat frequency.  The highlight of the trip was two dolphin sightings; those on the upper deck got to watch Common Dolphins playfully follow and jump around the ship.

Once the ferry arrived in Samos, we met our bus and traveled back to the Archipelagos Institute’s main base. There, we had lunch, reviewed the results of our beach cleanup, and listened to a series of informative presentations regarding microplastics.

After leaving the Archipelagos Institute, the group enjoyed free time in Samos and a dinner at the hotel, enjoying a delicious meal and the opportunity to swim and go shopping in town.



French Culture Day

Today was Team EU’s first full day in France. A small group of students were on their feet early this morning for an easy jog along the canal, and then met up with the rest of the team for breakfast.

After breakfast, the group assembled in the lobby where our bus was waiting to take us to a traditional market-place where neighborhood locals gather once a week to buy and sell goods. Culver students were given a half hour to explore and browse all of the stands. The fruit stands were particularly popular, and kids emerged from the market with bags of local strawberries, oranges, and melons.

After the market, Dr. Buggeln gave a crash course on the history of the Reims Cathedral, and we were able to enter the magnificent building. The Cathedral is notable for being the place of coronations for French kings, as well as a symbol of a peace pledge between Germany and France in 1962. The Cathedral was impressive to see, especially the stained glass-windows and high archways.

It was then time for our cooking lesson. We joined two French chefs in preparing an elegant meal that we would later be able to enjoy. Team EU was divided into different groups that were each put in charge of a specific task. Some of the students whipped mousse for dessert, some seasoned braised duck, but the hardest job by far was chopping the onions without breaking into tears (very few were successful in that area). At last, we sat down to enjoy our meal, and realized that the tears were worth it- everything was delicious.

Once lunch was complete, the bus took us to the Musee de la Reddition, a museum detailing the end of WWII. There, we saw the surrender room where the Treaty of Paris 1947 was signed.

Students spent the second half of the afternoon with a quick break at the the hotel, and then had time to explore Reims. Team EU split into a couple of groups, and then went off to visit clothing stores, supermarkets, chocolate shops, and whatever else sparked an interest. We regrouped at 7:30 for a three-course dinner at a restaurant near the hotel.

Later that night, there was a reflection period. Students shared what they were grateful for, and it was touching to hear how many people had the same feelings regarding the experiences this trip has given them. As a group, we have grown more confident in practicing foreign languages, trying new foods, and generally stepping out of our comfort zones. We have now surpassed the halfway point of our trip, and it is lovely to see how far we’ve come, but also rejoice in how there is still plenty left to do before we pack our bags one last time.

Day 6

Day six was our fourth and final construction day. The house will not be completely finished for another few months, but our few days here have sped up the process and provided some extra help. This entire trip has been an amazing experience and we are all so happy to have contributed.

After working, we spent some time at a beach, swimming, relaxing, tanning and playing soccer in the sand. Although some sunburns were formed, we had a good time.

9.8 Miles, Meeting New Friends, and More!

Today was one of our most eventful days on the trip. We had an early morning wakeup call around 8:00 and enjoyed a nice breakfast in the café beneath our hotel. After our breakfast, we walked up roads on the island to the high school in Lipsi and met all 42 students. Although some of them did not have the best English skills, we introduced ourselves and showed them where we were from on a map. With the translating help of their school principal, Savas and Rylee were also able to tell them a little bit about CMA and CGA as well. Once the Lipsi students learned that the Academies had more students than they had inhabitants on their island, they were amazed and also intrigued. At first, they were rather shy and reluctant to talk to us, but they eventually started practicing their English in conversation while teaching us some Greek too!

Accompanied by the Archipelagos Institute, we then left the school and began our trek around the island. The weather was rather poor– 55 degrees, rainy, and incredibly windy– and very abnormal for the typical sunny months in Lipsi. Few stayed behind in the hotel, but the majority of us made our way over the island terrain with the Archipelagos Institute for an hour-long “walk” (which has since been renamed a “hike” upon the completion). The Institute has been working to build a marine sanctuary for marine mammals such as dolphins in captivity or injured sea turtles and monk seals. They bought a secluded, abandoned building to renovate, turning it into a veterinarian clinic for the animals, supply rooms, and an office space. They still need more donations and funding to complete the project, but their plans excited us all. In addition to the trash polluting the oceans, animals in captivity and in the wild are suffering as well. We learned that dolphins in places like Sea World and other entertainment parks are starved, distressed, lonely, and exploited for a profit. Some of these captive animals even hold their breath long enough and kill themselves. Although this is incredibly morbid, they shared some harsh realities with us while at the sanctuary but juxtaposed them with their passionate beliefs for positive change in the future. We were thrilled to be a part of their journey and all became far more aware of our own impact on the environment. The weather improved throughout the day, but the water was too cold and rough to go kayaking like we had originally planned. However, the hike ended up being incredibly fun, and we all continued to bond with one another.

After a rocky, tailbone-bruising, and tiring hike back to town, we traveled a total of 9.8 miles and walked up approximately 125 floors (1,250 ft)! For those of us who found the energy, we went to the school once more to socialize with the students. We learned more Greek and taught them English and trendy American dances while they opted to show us some traditional Greek circle dancing. We also played co-ed basketball, volleyball, and soccer games with them, took many selfies and pictures, and laughed quite a lot. This experience with the Lipsi students taught us that language barriers can be overcome and we are alike despite our radically different locations on the globe. They made a very big world seem small, and we were all greatly appreciative of the time we spent with them.

Once we made our way to a restaurant and ate a yummy dinner consisting of salad, pasta, and bread, we were left to venture around the town. (Side note: this trip has included an incredible amount of carbs. We seem to find foot-long baguettes everywhere, wheat rolls, white bread slices, bakeries, and pretty much any other kind you can think of.) Anyway, we split up throughout the town in groups, socialized with one another and the Lipsi students again; it’s certainly a small place! After regrouping for the night, we headed off to bed around 10:00, eager for our ferry boat ride back to Samos tomorrow morning.

*Unfortunately, our pictures have had trouble uploading due to wifi connectivity issues as you can understand. We will post these once we find a better signal. I have managed to attach a picture of the landscape, but if you’re interested, here is the link to the Archipelagos Institute that includes some group photos of us. Thanks for your patience!