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Adventurecan present itself in many forms. If you don't believe it, just wait till you see what happens on The Around-the-World Semester®. These experiences will inspire you to travel, take bigger steps, increase your confidence, and push you to live an abundant life.
If your writing skills are lacking now, they won't be after you return from the Around-the-World Semester®. The essays below will not only show off some fantastic writing skills from past Rounders, but they will also give you a glimpse into the adventures and new experiences that come along with this trip. Get inspired below.
by Jessica Schrank
South Africa 2014
Dr. Becky Peter's voice was resounding through my mind as I aimed to control and instruct a group of 25 rowdy first graders with their own agendas. In class last semester, my education professor repeatedly emphasized that the most vital phrase within a lesson plan is "the student will be able to." These words communicate a clear objective that reveals a goal to keep both the students and the teacher on task. Through my teaching experience in South Africa, I realized how much I had to alter my American perspective of teaching. My outlook was transformed through the different teaching methods practiced, conversations with Teacher Rhonia, and my ability to understand the classroom holistically. My view of teaching would no longer only be understood behind classroom walls, but in a way that crosses borders, boundaries, and cultures.
Within moments of walking onto St. Peter Christian College's campus I was dubbed, “Teacher Jessica.” This is a title I would soon respond to and a name that I would cherish forever. Originally, I believed this title was a result of four and a half years of schooling, mastering teaching strategies, and stressful CBEST and CSET tests. However, I quickly realized that this new role of responsibility was not going to need much preparation or practice, but would require me to just simply begin. I was ready for this. I had taken EDU 101 and passed. I had mastered different clapping strategies that could control classrooms. I had been through school before, so clearly I was equipped.
As I walked into Teacher Rhonia's classroom, the walls were adorned with posters that helped students learn how to count to 100, memorize their alphabet, identify certain colors, and locate various shapes. By only glancing around the room, I could already see the personalities that shaped the classroom and different ways that the class functioned. The room was decorated and organized in a fashion that was extremely similar to many typical American classrooms back in Southern California. I looked around the room and saw beaming smiles and curious faces that would soon become names and stories. Right when Ryan Fink and I arrived the class was getting ready to work in stations throughout the room that focused on practicing both reading and writing. Ryan is also studying to be a teacher and so we both walked into this activity with confidence. With a desire to be accepted and get to know the students I found a group and started to work with them. Questions started pouring out of their mouths, "Where are you from?" and "What is your name?" All of these were easy to answer until I was asked, "How long are you going to be here?" This question was challenging to answer because I started to realize that these students were very used to teachers from America coming and leaving.
Once I was struck with this question I felt like just another new face from a church in a random faraway place. Classroom walls were filled with English motivational posters and alphabet signs that were donated from an American school. Also, there were pictures and traces of many other groups that had come and worked with the children. For these students, I was simply another form of authority that would come in and attempt to teach some lessons and introduce new songs and games. I was afraid that I was not going to be my own person, but merely be placed into a mold that had been formed by all the previous teachers and volunteers. Through all the questioning and hesitancy to allow me into their classroom, I could sense that the students were fearful of attachment because they already knew I would not be here forever. However, thankfully all my negative thoughts and doubts were quickly knocked out of me by the swarm of warm hugs that I received the next morning.
Objective 1: The students will be able to see beyond their image of me as just another American teacher.
Within the days of class that ensued after our arrival I was given multiple opportunities to teach lessons and instruct various subjects. When I had first arrived, the kids all beautifully sang the "School is Awesome" song. "School is awesome, play and learn, reading, writing, singing, caring, sharing, friends, School is cool!" In my mind, I was thinking how simple it will be to teach this class because they have almost been brainwashed by this melody. In all the classrooms I had observed or been in back home, I had never had a class give an ode to school before their lessons. My cheerful perspective drastically changed when I was placed up in front of the classroom with 25 pairs of eyes staring at me. As I started to explain the math lesson for the day they all perked up to see what this foreigner was rambling about. However, at the end of their brief attention span of five minutes I had lost most of them. Within moments of asking the students to open up their math workbooks there were a few running around the room, many of them repeatedly asking to go to the bathroom, and a couple of them kicking each other under the tables. With a lot of patience and some intervention from Teacher Rhonia, we struggled through the math lesson together.
Objective 2: The students will be able to think of new ways to re-write the "School is Awesome" song to reflect their actual feelings.
No matter what I would be saying or doing in front of the classroom, the students never seemed to pay attention to the subject I was trying to teach. I was aiming to instruct them the only way I knew how, providing directions and then checking their work. After this failed multiple times, I asked the teacher to intervene and I sat down and tried to analyze what I was doing wrong. In the back of the classroom, I sat wishing that I could switch student's clothespins from green to red or wanting them each to have their own workbook and pencil. Through these frustrations I was able to realize that I was only allowing myself to teach the way that I knew how. I was trying my best to reorganize the classroom with my American education mindset and placing expectations on this classroom and these students that were unrealistic. My teaching strategies and goals were not adapting to meet these South African first graders at their learning level.
Tumisho and Keamegostwe, both six years old, probably know as many languages as years they have been alive. Through talking and interacting with them, I realized that even though the students know English there are still words and concepts that have to pass through various language barriers. South Africa has 11 official languages, and that does not take into account all of the different dialects and words that are formed in different regions or towns. At St. Peter they have signs up that say "We Speak English," but they also provide Afrikaans classes, the children bicker with one another in Zulu, and many of the teachers also come from countries other than South Africa. Therefore, it is clear that communication has to go through a lot more levels than I had been trained for. During the next lessons I taught I slowed down my pace, tried my best to address the trivial issues the students were facing, and tried to retrain my mind to believe that productivity was not merely completing a page in a workbook. The communication I had with the students was transformed into something that moves past English, Zulu, or any of the other nine languages. I came to recognize the power of encouragement. During my lessons, I aimed to have a simple high-five or a thumbs up be a way to motivate the students. Even though there were still challenges in getting them to understand, I felt like they responded positively to the incentive of affirmation that was provided. The students were finally starting to get accustomed to my teaching style. Now, I am not saying that my high-fives and kind gestures transformed the class completely, but it definitely captured some of the students’ minds and got them to work.
Objective 3: The student will be able to expect a high five when they have shown me that they have completed the workbook page and understand the material.
Teacher Rhonia, sincere and passionate, has had a huge heart for St. Peter since her initial investment when the school started back in 2011. While the students were in music class and in the midst of piling up stacks of graded papers, I was able to ask her about the teaching program that she went through in South Africa. She explained the two-year process that includes courses that provide instruction and also classroom observation. Overall, she helped me see how different the preparation was for being a teacher and how much this school district emphasizes actual experience over classes and courses.
Although our experience in learning how to fulfill the role of a teacher differed, we found a common joy in the rewards that come from getting this chance to be such an influential part of children's lives. Teacher Rhonia showered her class with love with the simple terms of endearment like "baby and honey." She also held the students up to a high standard allowing them to reflect on the mistakes they would make and helping them grow from it. She was the mother hen in her classroom and all of the students could see how much she cared for them. At the end of most school days after all the kids had left, we would look at one another and she would say to me, "I'm tired." Almost subtly acknowledging that if you were not exhausted at the end of the day, you were doing something wrong.
Objective 4: The student will be able to see how much effort Teacher Rhonia puts into her classroom through the love and compassion she has for her students.
At the beginning of my time in this first grade classroom, I was convinced that I could be a teacher. I was under the impression that I could come into a place and unload all my knowledge of American education on the classroom and make a dramatic impact. It did not take long for me to realize though that I was not doing the teaching, but I was instead doing the learning. Although classrooms may look very similar and the students may technically be in the same age range, there are so many other factors that contribute to a classroom. Before Ryan and I left St. Peter all the students all had some parting words to share. During that time there were a couple murmured thank you’s and God bless you's. However, one of the students Mpolio raised his voice amongst all the whispers and stated, "Know that we love you so and do not forget us."
After hearing these sweet words I realized that Dr. Peters would not be too pleased with my objectives for the time I spent in South Africa. They were not typical goals that one can obtain in a class period or that can be assessed. They were not necessarily measurable, obtainable, or practical in print. They were based in my ability to adapt to the way I believed teaching had to be and allowing the teacher and the students to redirect my ideas and actions. Through my experience in the classroom I observed that teaching is not universal, there are different methods and strategies. After a lot of reflection, I determined that it was my ability to learn that ultimately crossed cultural bounds and through this my perspective on the mind of a teacher changed. It is vital to be able to instruct and explain, but it is equally as important to observe and absorb knowledge as you teach.
Objective 5: The teacher will be able to become just as much of a learner as the students themselves.
by Ryan Fink
As I looked at Rio de Janeiro, I saw the future. Somehow, through viewing this humongous Brazilian city, my mind filled with thoughts about what would come next for me as a new traveler. My travel companions and I had made our way to the top of Forte de Duque Caxias, an old Portuguese fort on one end of Copacabana Beach. From this fort of the past, I viewed the present sight in front of me and even caught a glimpse of the future—of what would come for me over the next four-and-a-half months.
The sight from the Forte, from my point of view, held different points of beauty that weaved together to form this Rio landscape. The points were found in the different mini-landscapes, from left to right. The first was the green Atlantic Ocean. The waves came in steadily at about eight feet, over a group of swimmers and surfers. They broke mostly towards the beach, save for the waves near the cliff where we stood, which took swimmers and surfers close to the rocks. In the deep part of the ocean, there sat a few small islands which caused me to wonder and imagine what existed there.
Only an hour earlier, my travel companions for the day found themselves in the light-green Atlantic. After walking a portion of the beach, we made our way to the rocks at the end, walking up the slightly inclined ramp that took us over the rocks. We turned right, and walked a short way down so that we were standing over the ocean. Our view was straight up the beach, with the water on our left, and the sand on our right. As we stood looking, a young Brazilian man, roughly our age, wearing no shirt and black board shorts, walked up next to us. He promptly looked both ways, found a rock to stand on, and took a full, head-first dive into the ocean. Our unexpected participation as spectators of some amateur thrill-seeker left us speechless—perhaps an a small introduction to culture shock that would return at various parts of the journey.
After a short period of stunned silence, my friend Ryan Buuck said, “Ok, that has to be a sign from God, right?” He then removed his shirt, and copied the actions of the Brazilian diver. Ryan was followed by his brother Jordan (GoPro in hand), and then Hayden Killeen and Zach de Vos. All four of them jumped from the same rock, hung in the air for a few seconds, and splashed into the green water. Ironically, the only member of the group (yours truly) from a beachside city was too frightened to jump. As they swam back to the beach, I laughed to myself, wondering how it could only be the first day of our adventure. Already we had found ourselves viewing beautiful sights of God’s creation, and quite literally diving headfirst into this journey. As they walked back up the ramp toward the rocks, I thought ahead, imagining what other events with this level of excitement would occur on this trip.
The second portion of the view from the top of the Forte was the Copacabana Beach. This famous beach, packed with humanity, was covered in a tannish-yellow sand that made shoes squeak when you walked on it, and left clothing more dusty than sandy. It seemed that half of the city made its way to the beach that day, and they entertained themselves in a variety of ways, from swimming to soccer, foot-volley to sleeping. The Brazilian culture was well-represented on the beach that day. Samba music blared over speakers as youths of all ages danced along. People of dark skin as well as light engaged in the various sports together. Everyone of both genders seemed to be showing the same amount of skin, wearing tiny bathing suits not usually found on the beaches of Orange County.
I briefly experienced these parts of Brazilian culture, both up close and at a distance. I walked in and among the locals clad in tiny bathing suits and smelled the coconut drinks sold on the promenade. I also stood at the top of the Forte, as far away from the people as the distance between our two cultures. This presented an interesting dichotomy of living as a part of the culture, and still existing very much outside of it. Such was the time of our team in Brazil. We lived with Brazilians, ate with them, and learned about them, yet we could never be Brazilian. As I thought this from my viewpoint, I imagined the same for the other countries we would visit on this trip.
Next to the yellowish-tan beach, with a perfect view of the green water, sat the city skyline of Rio. Tall, sky-scraping buildings lined up with the promenade almost geometrically. The beachfront apartments and homes, sold to their owners for exorbitant amounts of money, looked out over the always-inviting Copacabana Beach. The entire city spread out expansively over the valley between the ocean and the green mountains. Within the city walked millions of people, both local and tourist, traipsing down busy streets, going to either work or play.
Contrasting with this beautiful, landmark beach, and the expensive property, was what sat to the right of the city. As Rio started to creep into the green hills before it reached the fog settling in the valleys, the types of buildings and housing deteriorated. All over the outskirts of this enormous city sat the favelas, Rio’s version of slums. They were built practically on an incline, not exactly the same kind of prime real estate where sat the beachfront apartments. Smoke rose from the favelas as we overlooked the city, with a view of both these expensive beach houses and the dangerous slums.
This juxtaposition of rich and poor, from my point of view, revealed the social injustice that exists in Rio. Though FIFA tried their best in preparation for the World Cup that same year, it couldn’t be covered up. My friends and I, that same day, accidentally ventured a little too far towards the hills and into a part of the city that looked noticeably different than the Copacabana Beach. This new understanding of Rio sparked a feeling of empathy towards those treated unjustly. It also caused a glimpse into another part of the future of the trip: the service projects we would engage in.
After viewing the green ocean and the human-dotted beach, and after seeing the sparkling skyline and run-down, ramshackle favelas, came a sight of an old friend. Cristo Redentor stood off in the distance, whiter than the clouds above it, arms outstretched over the city. The classic, picturesque image of Rio, the same one that filled a poster back at home, stood in the distance. The statue was partly clouded by some combination of fog and smog-an indication of spiritual struggle and strife sure to come-yet was somehow more distinct than the parts of the landscape that I could view quite clearly.
The statue of Jesus standing on that hill offered much encouragement to me. It was a reminder that the actual Christ stands over this city all the time. He is well aware of the injustices and suffering that goes on, and still his arms are outstretched in an embrace of Rio and everyone in it, to comfort and to protect. Despite the marked contrast between Copacabana and the favelas that caused my own empathy and questions, I remembered that His plan is perfect, for the city of Rio and for everyone who lives there. It was a reminder that Jesus fits the role of the statue’s name: Redentor, the Redeemer.
As I took in this panoramic mental picture of Rio de Janeiro, I underwent a series of emotions. The city had a way of washing over me, and putting me in a sublime state, something like drunkenness without the alcohol. Perhaps the tropical, paradise-like atmosphere put this feeling on me. I felt a joy for being there in that moment, as well as giddy excitement for the beginning of our journey. I was encouraged by the sight of Cristo on the hill, a reminder for me as much as for the city. The subtle difference between seeing and experiencing a place is the distinct joy of travel. This short jaunt through Rio de Janeiro would be best described as an experience—one that united my physical presence in the city with my imagination projecting me forward through the trip.
by Michelle Sackie
Ger Camp Terlj National Park, Mongolia
4 days, 3 nights
$260 for meals, lodging and horses
The road to the camp is nothing short of an Indiana Jones experience as you sit seatbelt-less in what resembles a hippie's tank. The army green exterior fools you from the bright orange interior roof padding and yellow curtains. Upon arrival to the countryside the beautiful grassy mountains that surround you are breathtaking and a herd of sheep and cows greet you as you walk to your Ger: the round tent you will identify as home for the next few days. The plain exterior of the Ger is nothing similar to the extravagant interior of the tent which holds three beds, a dresser, a coffee table, and a fireplace. You watch as a goat is herded, killed, prepared, and cooked for dinner all before your eyes. A small, feisty young girl runs up to you and crawls on your lap admiring your attention. She plays with you for the majority of the day. You also have the opportunity to milk the cows for fresh milk during meals and chop wood for fire and cooking. The next day you head out on a horse trek through the Mongolian countryside. Blue flowers placed perfectly amongst the lush, shamrock green hills provide a stunning view as you sit atop your stallion. Your horse breaks into an exhilarating gallop as you reach the top of the mountain and the grassy field where you will camp for a night. You hike up the hill and the vast Mongolian countryside with rivers intertwined takes your breath away instantaneously. That night you surround a fire with the friends you have made from Mongolia hosting your adventure. Together you sing songs until the fire dies and then crawl into your sleeping bag. You lay down to gaze at the millions of bright stars evident in the night sky of the Mongolian countryside. You inhale the fresh, crisp air deep into your lungs and feel a sense of peace wash over you as you drift off into sleep amongst God's creations.
Happy Dragon Hostel, Beijing, China
No. 26 Shijia Hutong Dongcheng District
Beijing, 100010, China
5 days, 4 nights
You walk down a small ally off a side street and see a cozy hostel placed perfectly amongst various shops. You walk up five stairs into a beautifully sculptured entranceway resembling the stunning Chinese culture. Inside, you are greeted by a very friendly receptionist who speaks very little English. You receive the key to your room and slowly trek up the one flight of stairs to your room as your hiking backpack drags you back onto your heels with each step. A comfy bed, desk, personal bathroom and, most importantly, air conditioner await you in your room. The air conditioner is extremely vital to escape the blanket of humidity that lays upon you when living in Beijing. You notice your shower is a faucet that sticks out of the wall. Every time you shower, the floor, toilet, and counter get sopping wet. It is definitely a unique showering experience but you are more than thankful to be provided with your own shower. You notice there is no toilet paper and in desperation, frantically scrounge for a tissue. You learn to be equipped with toilet paper at all times from this point forward. The hostel is a very short walking distance away from the main streets filled with exciting Chinese trinkets and many fabulous dining options. The bottom floor of your hostel has a lounge room equipped with a bar. You order food from there and are pleasantly surprised at how amazing the food is. The woman who frequently works behind the bar laughs and smiles as you practice your Chinese with her. You two become good friends and her interest in your trip and your adventures thus far make you feel welcomed and loved.
Nhanghi Hotel, Cam Khe District, Phu Tho, Vietnam
$10 a night
The hotel lies in a small, quaint village. The energetic woman at the front desk hands you a key and walks you up to your room on the second floor. The door to your room is somewhat see through but inside lies a large bed, desk, dresser, television, and bathroom. A dead cockroach greets you in the doorway surrounded by a pool of ants. Spiders lurk in almost every corner. Dirt festers throughout the cracks of the floor. The air conditioner and fan in your room not only cool you down but serve as a wonderful drying rack for your clothes that you just washed in the sink. An awkward picture of what looks to resemble a butler boy is framed and sitting on the desk in your room. On top of the dresser are six white comforters stacked making you wonder if in fact you are staying in some sort of storage room. You are very pleased to discover that the shower head jutting from the wall emits hot water. The random swipes of brown paint scattered on the white walls of your room cause you to wonder who decided to have a finger paint war but nonetheless adds character to your room. You walk around the small village and discover a coffee house. The coffee is bitter but almost tastes as if you are drinking dark chocolate. The variety of food you have at your fingertips is nothing short of exciting as it ranges from Pho to water buffalo and even dog. Children and families smile and wave at you as you walk around. The constant beeping is the sound of men, women, and children making their presence aware as they zoom passed you on electric scooters and bikes. As you explore the village, you are welcomed into strangers' homes and you can watch as skillful families make baskets or even carve intricate patterns onto wood for architectural purposes. The talent that you discover in this small village during your stay is nothing short of amazing. Despite the geckos, spiders the size of your palm, and dead cockroaches, the hospitality of the people at the hotel and in the village give you even more bang for your buck as you walk away with memories that you will always cherish.
by Alexandra Castellanos
Bayan Gobi Desert $35 Nightly (Includes Meal)
After a long day of driving for 6 hours from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia we finally reached our destination, The Bayan Gobi Desert. The drive definitely left you exhausted but it even makes you want to run a mile.
As sleep crept up on you throughout dinner, which consisted of devouring an amazing three course meal with tea and a cake, you grow a little astonished because after dinner you found out immediately that your day was not over just yet. You still had your postmodern class lecture and quiz to do.
That night you stay in traditional Mongolian, Nomadic homes called Gers, which at this point were definitely teasing you while trying to stay awake and pay attention in class. It did not help when a guide came around your ger and lit the furnace in the middle of class. That was a bad idea because as soon as the warm heat bounces off the walls and hits your layered clothed body, you start swaying back and forth on the comfy bed, and carpeted floors.
Luckily, your suffering of having to use your brain any further comes to a conclusion. You and your roommates, without hesitation, head back to your ger. The short distance to your ger feels like an eternity as you dream about the three beds, electricity to charge your camera or kindle, and the warmth your ger has to offer.
On the way to your ger, the stars could be seen with such clarity. The sound of crickets and the winding flowing and howling from different directions while inside the ger put you to sleep, not caring about the freezing temperatures.
Super 8 Chain (8610)5219 0188. $20 US; Nights: 1 Week
No. 26 Shijia Hunting Dongcheng District Beijing , 100010 China
While studying abroad in Beijing, China for a week, during the hottest month, you found your hotel accommodations to be decent and adequate and the employees working the front desk to be friendly and helpful.
You stay in a Super 8 Chain Hotel, some of your group were lucky enough to be assigned a room on the upper levels and were granted air conditioning, their own showers and bathroom.
Those of you who were assigned the lower level, level zero, lived in the hostel part of the hotel, that was not in the best conditions. Although, you can't complain too much because the air conditioning you had in your room was a blessing. By living on this floor it allowed you to receive the full traveler experience.
You share a restroom, which smells like urine and with no toilet paper. You also share showers and two sinks with your entire floor. It resembles a coed dorm where men and women share one bathroom in college. The maids leave the cart filled with toiletries exposed and you quickly grab anything you can to take with you as a souvenir.
Every morning before class lectures and exercise class, you and your roommate decided to explore the streets in search of a decent coffee shop, because you've noticed the Starbucks Coffee runs were robbing you. You also both find the menu provided by the Super 8 to be limited and the kitchen service very slow.
After walking ten minutes you find the right coffee shop. It's cute, non-expensive, and delicious! You discovered that the Holiland Coffee Shop has good prices and the service is quick, so you can make it back in time for class and be the envy of classmates who rolled out of bed late!
It was fun being able to buy pastries, junk food and bring it back to the hostel to enjoy a morning consisting of learning about the Chinese culture, Mandarin language and Chinese literature and Skype dates in your room too!
$23 US; Nights: 4; Phutho, Vietnam
Hoang Gia II Hotel
The Vietnam Village you stayed in for four days was not in the best conditions but after long days of classes and service projects, you forgot all about the imperfections and passed out every night. In those 4 days living in the village you had a daily routine that left you tired, hungry and a little cranky.
You start your day off early at 7:00 am with no problem, sometimes even waking up before the alarm clock goes off. You can't really say the same for your roommate who definitely had trouble waking up, since she was sick with an infection all week.
There is no restaurant or dining area in the hotel so you drive less than 8 minutes to the nearest restaurant. The restaurant only offers three meals for breakfast, which consisted of Bun, Pho, and fried egg with french bread. You opted everyday for the pho and coffee, even though you knew you would be starving an hour later.
After breakfast, you arrived at the commune where you would have the life sucked out of you from those long but interesting lectures on the Vietnamese language, and reading quizzes.
After three hours of class time, with no breaks, you were able to carry your tired little body to enjoy lunch.
The food presentations in Vietnam have earned it five stars, unlike the hotel. You then make your way outside to burn what you ate and help make a water drainage system. This lasted three more hours under the hot sun and under extreme but bearable humid conditions.
After work, you were super famished and exhausted. When you got to the restaurant to have dinner, no one had trouble taking off their shoes and sitting on the floor. The dinners were filling and a nice reward after a long day.
You admit that the biggest reward of the day was definitely getting to lay on the "hard as rock bed" with a mosquito net surrounding the entire bed.
The net created a cave that would keep you and your roommate safe from the spiders and from being eaten alive by the mosquitoes. The room was a little small and only had cold water, a fan and air conditioning, which broke the last two days.
Besides those imperfections you encountered every night and ended up forgetting they even existed, the room did the job at providing a place to come back to and rest after a super long, hard day.