Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Uneasy Return

It's difficult to start with this blog post since it has been over a year since my last post, but I will being with my sincere apologies to anyone who might have been reading my blog. Around this time last year, the site I use for my blog updated to a system that was incompatible with our school computers. Eventually we moved forward in our agonizing effort to keep pace with the modern technological world, so I can now use this webpage again! I plan to retrace my experiences from the past year in future posts, but I'll start with Project Week 2013 and my journey on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Every year in the beginning of March we have Project Week, which involves academic or communal engagement either locally or internationally for all of the students. This year there were projects ranging from a trip to Israel and Palestine to experience the social and political markers of the Arab-Israeli conflict, to a week spent volunteering at a local primary school, to a brave group of people that tackled the production of the school's yearbook. I had the incredible opportunity to walk 120km of the Camino de Santiago with 20 other students taking Spanish. Aside from the obvious physical challenge the trek presented, I was constantly aware of the distinctions between rural Galician culture and life in the city of Jacksonville or even the Welsh countryside. We stumbled back to school footsore and weary, but overwhelmed with memories made and friendships shared over the week.

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route that has branches in Italy, Spain, and other countries in Europe. It is translated as the "Way of St. James," and is a path of homage to the Cathedral of Santiago, one of the most important Christian sites in medieval times, and the location of St. James's remains. Modern pilgrims travel to the Cathedral on foot, by bicycle, or even by horse or donkey in imitation of their medieval predecessors. The entire path is marked with golden shells and arrows that point to the Cathedral and the end of the journey.

When we started the Camino, I primarily considered it to be a physical experience. However, the sheer novelty of being in a country whose language I was familiar with but by no means fluent in soon became a focal point of the project. I spent several of the hours we spent walking speaking to my Spanish teacher about the history of the Camino, the relation of Galicia to the rest of Spain, and the linguistic difference between Galician and Spanish. These conversations took place in Spanish where possible, with a lot of gesticulating and jumping on my part as I searched for the right word to express myself! Conversations were the prevalent method of distraction on the Camino: after a couple of days our feet were wracked with blisters that throbbed with every step, and talking was a surefire method of forgetting the general aches and pains of the journey.

Our route was characterized by rolling hills, local churches, and tiny hamlets. We saw only two towns before reaching Santiago itself, and our nightly stops were usually in isolated villages that boasted a hostel, a convenience store, and nothing else. The walk was picturesque in essence, and the villages we passed saw a slow and unstressed rhythym of life almost unheard of for many of us. Without exception, the people we met were amiable, caring, and ready to patiently listen to our broken Spanish as we struck up conversations. Another notable feature of Galicia was its delicious food. My friend Karen and I discovered our love of octopus, a dish I had never considered trying but found extremely tasty. We found cheese and chorizo, or spicy sausage, everywhere we went, and a fresh quantity at that! And of course on arriving in Santiago we had to try the famous chocolate con churros, which certainly live up to our expectations. There was no conceivably better feeling than sitting down and eating a bowl of Caldo de Gallego (traditional Galician hot soup) after walking 25km.

The Cathedral itself was a fitting end to our pilgramage. It is a splendidly constructed edifice with an altar of gold and small painted chapels surrounding the inner part of the building. Our Spanish teacher surprised us when we arrived by telling us that we were scheduled to sing at the next day's service, so we had better prepare an opening song and a song for communion! We ended up singing a three-part Latin round for the opening and 'Kumbaya' for communion, feeling pretty awed that we were singing in one of the world's beautiful cathedrals.

The service itself was done quite traditionally, and it was interesting to attend it with so many friends from all over the world. Even though only a few of the group were Christian, and an even smaller number were Catholic, the journey of the Camino and the Mass were respected by everyone. I think our individual spiritual experiences became very internal during the Camino. We all took some time for personal reflection, a need that is often obscured by a pressure-filled life. That internal reflection was just as important as the cultural lessons learned and the physical goals accomplished over the week. The Camino de Santiago was a unique opportunity, and one that I was so lucky to have through my experience at AC.

On a slightly more immediate note, I'm looking forward to coming back to the USA in a week. I'll be going up to the University of Virginia, and later back home for part of Spring Break. Second-years are in a limbo period for a few days: we just finished trial exams and haven't fully started reviewing for the IB yet. Many of my friends have heard back from universities, and we are starting to look past AC while still holding on to the time we have left! I wish everyone at home the best, and I'll see many of you soon!


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Life and all of that

A quick note: my apologies for not posting recently....I wrote this post about a week ago, but the website I use for blogging was not letting me post anything on the template, so I wasn't able to put it up.  Here is my belated blog post....enjoy!

Once again, hello!
It has been quite a whirlwind at AC lately….probably more so for the second-years than for us, but we are experiencing our fair share of hectic days, as well.  This week the second-years all have Mocks, basically trial examinations meant to prepare them for the IB exams in May.  Personally, I think they seem to unnecessarily stress the already pushed-to-the-limit second-years, but they are handling the whole week quite well so far.  This does mark the beginning of the end for the second-years, which is very upsetting for all of us.  Teachers keep saying things like ‘when the second-years leave’ or ‘when you get first-years’ and other such comments that make us think ‘no, they still have time!’  But when our history teacher told us there were only 6 weeks of teaching time left before our end-of-year exams….that did wake us up as we realized that late April is rushing towards us at breakneck speed.
Last week was mainly a ‘normal’ week, full of activities, codes, service, and everything else that goes on.  I’ve started a math study group on Monday evenings for the people in my standard class and the other standard class taught by the same teacher, since we move at the same pace.  It seems to be going well so far, and I think some people have found it helpful, so I think we will keep it going.  On Mondays I also help coach a football (soccer) team for 5-6 year olds….they are absolutely adorable, and it makes me remember when I was playing on Coach Thompy’s team and had no idea how to dribble a soccer ball.  Apparently I also used to chase my own shadow during games.  So when I see one of the kids wander off and pick up a stick and scratch in the dirt with it, I laugh and try to make a soccer ball seem more interesting.  They all laugh at me when I call it ‘soccer,’ though, and all of the kids have now picked up on the fact that I am very used to the American way of naming the sport.
The highlight of the weekend was probably the North American National Evening that took place on Sunday evening.  We had been practicing together for a few weeks and we put together a great evening with the Canadian national group that had people cracking up the entire time.  We had everything from a pancake eating contest (Canada), a road trip across Canada’s provinces, some Western swing dancing from the Texans, and a skit exaggerating all of the American high-school stereotypes.  The grand finale, though, was our performance of ‘We’re All in this Together,’ that cheesy song from High School Musical.  Yes, we learned the dance.  Yes, it was hard.  Yes, everyone thought it was hilarious, and we had a great time doing it.  Even though it probably stole 12 hours of my weekend and maybe 25 hours of my life, the product was well worth it. 
Another great event this weekend was our first Quidditch match!  It was raining, so not many spectators showed up, but we had lots of fun.  I was an assistant referee, and it was my job, among other things, to keep an eye on the Snitch.  In Muggle Quidditch, the snitch is a tennis ball stuck into a sock which is placed in the back of the shorts of the snitchrunner, a person dressed in all yellow.  Ricardo from Brazil was our snitchrunner, and he did a fabulous job.  He hid in a recycling bin, behind a tower, and he may have even used a bicycle to get around!  Definitely a fun event.
We have solo service this week, which basically means service without the second-years.  That cuts our service down by half, leaving only 6 people on Wednesday and 4 with the school kids on Thursday since two of the first-years have a separate band session that they do with some of the kids.  They will be missed this week, that is for sure.
There is a lot more I could say, and I’m realizing that I really need to get better at keeping a diary or journal or some similar thing.  Unfortunately, I can’t sit here and take it all down because I have to go get my laundry, finish an English essay, do my history presentation, and make some cookies with Kate for our stressed second-years.  Hope you are all well, and I will be back at a later time!

Sunday, February 5, 2012



What did I do yesterday? Well, I was part of a group that drafted a resolution regarding peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, I participated in drafting a resolution to give United Nations Peacekeeping Forces more authority to protect civilians, I saw a delegate from Iran being kidnapped by a terrorist organization called 6:34, and to wrap it all up, China and Russia have now declared nuclear war on the United States, Israel, and Bangladesh!

Just kidding!

Yesterday was AC's Model United Nations Conference.  I respresented China on the Security Council, and it was an intense nine hours of negotiation.  We discussed the Israel-Palestine conflict and the authority of United Nations Peacekeeping forces.  We actually did draft resolutions for both topics, though much of the first resolution was vetoed by the delegate from the USA.  It turned out to be the process that was the most important learning tool, not the final result, since everyone started to get a little tired at the end of the day (hence nuclear war).  We did actually have some terrorists busting up the council meetings, and a couple of my co-years from Morgannwg (cough cough, Atsuki and Einar) ran through the door brandishing water guns and abducted the delegate from Iran.  The conference was, for the most part, run professionally with the proper use of diplomatic language and the correct sequence for debating, motioning, and voting.  We had some guests at the school from UWC Maastricht (Netherlands), UWC Adriatic (Italy), Liverpool, and Llantwit Comprehensive.  It was great to meet some of our co-years from different UWCs, and I enjoyed being in the Security Council with some of the visiting students.  The conference was really eye-opening in terms of understanding how lengthy the process is in the UN before a substantive resolution is passed.  If a group of 15 students took nine hours to get two resolutions drafted, how long would a body of over 60 countries, each very attached to their own government's views, take to accomplish something?  I loved the conference, though, and it was a great way to spend my weekend.

Some pretty odd things happened during the conference, however...the highlights were certainly the chairs of the committee throwing chocolate across the room, people slipping and using improper diplomatic language such as 'cool' or 'dude,' and of course the contents of the diplomatic notes passed throughout the conference.  Some of the best notes include:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Write a resolution
And Russia bombs you

I received that from my lovely co-year representing Russia. Another:

China (to Ivory Coast): You ok?
(This note was sent in response to some very frustated-looking expressions coming from the delegate of the Ivory Coast.  By the luck of timing, the note arrived just as he was finishing an angry-sounding speech)

Response: Ivory Coast rips up the note from China.

Chairs: "Delegate of the Ivory Coast, please refrain from the dramatic ripping of notes in this council!"

Yes, we were all so professional.  My apologies if I am boring you, but the atmosphere in the room was so hilarious I had to try to recapture it somehow.  And I promise we did get some good debate going and at the end we all felt we had learned a lot.

As for the rest of the week, it was business as usual.  First-years were given an introductory presentation to our Theory of Knowledge classes, a requirement for the IB which we start this week.  Theory of Knowledge has been described as basic philosophy.  It is meant to be a synthesis of all of the subjects we take, pulling from knowledge in math, science, history, and languages for the purpose of inquiring 'how we know what we know.'  It's a little vague right now, but our second-years tell us it is very much a discussion-based, theoretical class.  I think it will be quite interesting, but as to how much practical value it holds I will have to wait and see.

Second-years are preparing for their trial exams in February, so they are all feeling a crunch right now as they try to get coursework and studying in all at once.  First-years are starting to step in to more organizational roles and take over more for the second-years in some ways, though all of the second-years are still staying completely involved with the school.  Elections for Chair and Vice-chair of the Student Council are going on right now, and new reps for different areas are about to be chosen.  It's not that the second-years are anticipating their departure already, but it makes us all aware that we only get two years at this place, and with time moving so fast,  the beginning of the end comes soon.

Fortunately, we still have a lot of great time left this term.  Project week comes in a few weeks, followed by a few weeks of school, the Arts Diploma Period, Easter Break, First-year Exams, and then it's May and the second-years take their exams!  Lots of time, though considerably less school time than one might think.  This term is a great one because the first-years are closer as a year group and the second-years seem less busy with constant work.  Although I have to say, I won't be sorry when it turns to spring---it's been freezing here, but it's too wet for proper snow! Not good weather for the Florida girl, and my roommate from Nigeria is bemoaning the cold constantly.  Hopefully my friend Kate and I will see some snow in Cardiff today when we go---we are going to see a Straight No Chaser concert, which we are both SO excited about.  I know it will be great!

Hope everyone is doing well.  Have a great week and take care!


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Peace Conference, Quidditch, EE, Oh my!

Hello all,

This past week has been a busy one, even though we only had classes for 4 days instead of 5.  Friday was an all-day Peace Conference day, where four outside speakers came to the college to discuss their involvement or research in peace missions and peaceful protests in areas experiencing conflict in the past 20 years.  In between these lectures, students split up into small groups to discuss freedom within our political systems to gain influence and methods of peaceful protesting.  I led a group discussion on the first topic and a workshop in the afternoon with a couple of friends from Hong Kong and China about using social media effectively to organize a protest.  The workshop went quite well, and though I was very nervous beforehand, everything worked out and we had a great discussion.  I even got some quotes from the guest lecturers to use for my Extended Essay!

Yes, first-years are still being constantly informed about our Extended Essays...some people are still deciding what subject they want to do their research in, but I have successfully gotten a supervisor and a topic, so I am feeling very good about that.  My research question will be something along the lines of 'To what extent did the Blackhawk incident in Somalia lead to the US's decision to remain out of Rwanda in 1994?'  My history teacher, Kate, will be my supervisor, and I was lucky to get her as my supervisor because multiple people wanted to do their EEs in history and unfortunately there were not enough spots for everyone.

We do have a newly formed Quidditch 'team' at AC---we are registered with the International Quidditch Association and duly named 'the Atlantic College Acromantulas.'  There is a large Harry Potter fan base at AC, so I fit right in with that.  Our first two practices have been lots of fun, even though it started to rain in the middle of today's practice, though that is to be expected since winter in Wales is not the prettiest of times!

In the upcoming week we will be preparing for another Friday Conference: the Model United Nations conference, which is sure to be exciting, especially as some students from our sister schools in Norway and the Netherlands will be coming to AC to participate as well.  We will run a mini-scale version of the United Nations, which should be quite interesting....I don't know yet which group I will be working with (although I signed down for the Security Council, the Internaitonal Court of Justice, or the Human Rights Council), but more on that will come later.  I think we all feel better prepared to run this simulation after having the Peace Conference, and we have gained a lot of historical context for some of the issues in the UN today.  I hear from our second-years that there might even be crazy events such as terrorists bursting in to the conference and holding members hostage!  We shall see how this all shakes out.

This term I have continued singing in the school choir, but I have also started participating in Football for Kids, an activity that involves teaching small children from the nearby area to play soccer.  It has been great fun so far, and the kids are so cute! We have to play inside for now, since it is cold and wet most of the time, but as spring comes we will hopefully move to one of the gardens to play.  I have also stayed with Dysparity and continued helping kids with learning difficulties practice math and reading on Saturday mornings.  Dysparity has been rewarding for the past term, so I am glad to be a part of it.

There's a basic summary of life for the past couple weeks---hope you enjoyed it!  Stay safe and happy for the next week!


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Return to AC and the start of second term

Hello everyone and Happy New Year!

I just saw the date of my last blog post (posted in the last few days of November), and it feels like ages ago since that post.  Since then I have finished my first term exams, completed my first term at Atlantic College, said goodbye to all of my great new friends, returned to Jacksonville for a wonderful month at home, and come back to AC to see those awesome people again!  I was struck by how easy it has been to settle back into the natural rhythm of life, both at home and after returning to Wales.

The holiday break came at a much-needed time, and I was so happy to come home and spend Christmas with my family.  I found that home was the same as it always was in the important ways, like the people there and how easy it was to slip into living in my house again.  I was surprised by how quickly my sisters are growing up, especially Shannon, who looks more like a middle-school student every day.  Katie too is ready for high school, I think, and they seem to have jumped into the next phase of their lives while I've been away.  I'm glad I came back for at least part of that transition for them.  Mom and Dad were great, and being home with parents was awesome....and not just because I didn't have to do my own laundry for a little while!  I was lucky enough to see a lot of family over the break, especially my great-grandfather, who came down for Christmas.  My friends, when they are not being crushed by the ever-intimidating Stanton Junior Year, were lots of fun and we all promised to keep in better touch than we did this term...we'll see.....

We first-years had a lot of stress laid on us the very first day of classes during assembly Monday morning.  Every Monday the whole school gathers in the Bradenstoke Hall so that teachers, academic staff, and students can address the entire student body and make announcements, etc.  Coincidentally, this assembly was our first introduction to our new principal, John Walmsley, who is taking over for our Acting Principal Paul Motte.  He has had a lot of experience in boarding schools, and was previously the headmaster at another international school in Britain, so he is coming to us with a good deal of previous knowledge to work with.  He lives in a black boxish house across from Morgannwg, and apparently he has a family and a dog living with him, so we just got some new neighbors!  That was not the stressful part of assembly, luckily.  The stress came when our Vice-Principal informed us that all of the first-years will begin work on their Extended Essays starting on Wednesday.  The Extended Essay is a 4000-word requirement for the IB Diploma on virtually any topic.  It is less intimidating than it sounds, but it still wasn't a welcome back-to-school present for us!

Now the first week has finished and it's business as usual on Monday....we were lucky and had a couple of beautiful days this weekend, which was a nice relief since it's been raining a lot since winter set in.  Service on Thursday was really good, and I was glad to see the kids we had been working with last term.  Students have started a couple of new activities this term, the most exciting being Quidditch, which my co-year Luke started.  Apparently it has been a huge hit in American colleges in the northeast for the past few years, and we are bringing it to Britain for their....enjoyment.

Well, I guess I must continue searching for the right Extended Essay should be a good one because, as our second-years tell us, we'll be stuck with it until October!

I hope everyone is safe, healthy, and enjoying 2012!

Best Wishes,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Should Really Just Title these with Dates: 26/11/11

Except I'm not even sure that this is the correct date.  I've noticed that during some months, I find it very difficult to keep track of what the actual date is.  February is one of those months, as is September, and November is as well.  That problem is only exacerbated by the fact that it matters more what day of the week it is here, rather than the date, since if something is happening everyone sends out an email saying 'come to this activity on Tuesday at 19:00' or 'don't forget to sign down for a calendar by Friday' and things like this.  If you took a slice out of the emails we get, you would have no idea when the emails were sent, until you came across Nick Lush's ten-day calendar reminding us of important things the school wants us to know about.

But anyway, this marks the beginning of the last real week of school! Our monthly grades are due by Friday, and the next week we only have 3 days of codes.  Then we have a 'cleaning day' on Thursday, and we leave either that night or the next morning!  I cannot believe my first term is coming to an end.  It still feels like I just arrived, or just finished Induction, or just returned from half-term.  I can't wait to be home, but I am shocked at how quickly I'm returning to Florida.

Christmas is in the air! You can see it, feel it, and sometimes even smell it if you go to Cardiff Street Market to see the roasted candy nuts being sold, along with lots of other holiday wares.  Our houseparents have put up some great decorations in the house, including a table-sized Christmas tree with lights and some wreaths.  There is a Christmas crafts fair on campus today, and I saw it advertised all the way in Cardiff, so I except quite a few people to show up.  It is a strangely beautiful day, and since we've been getting a lot of rain lately, I'm sure the whole school will be out to soak up some sunshine.

Thanksgiving was a fun affair, as all of the Americans got together and made a dish to contribute to our own little celebration.  About 30 of us crammed into the Globe Lounge in the castle, and there was a pile of delicious food and good company, which made for a lovely evening.  I made Mom's green bean salad, which turned out very well, and the vegetarians were very happy to have it since they don't eat turkey.
I also got to talk to my family and some of my extended family, which I definitely enjoyed, especially since I won't see some of them this year at all.

Last week was the 'Culture of Consumerism' Focus Week.  During focus weeks, codes and activities continue, but there are generally workshops or activities that you can attend that have to do with the topic of the focus week.  My second-year, Luke, created this focus week because he is very interested in what he calls the 'pseudo-spiritual culture of consumerism' that has been created in the west.  So there were lots of discussions and workshops about our current economic system and if and how it should be reformed or changed completely.  I went to one of them, and I wish I had had time to go to more, because it was an incredibly interesting discussion, and no one took it personally or got mad with anyone else.  That's something I love about living here.  Last week I had a very intense debate with one of my co-years in Spanish (which made it much more difficult) about gun control in the USA.  We were both pretty passionate, but in the end we respected each other's opinions and put it away after we left class.  That's how discussions and arguments should be, and I'm lucky enough to have them every day.

Well, I'll be seeing some of you very soon---I can't wait!

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and have a good week!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Diploma Week 2: Critical Engagement

Hello everyone!

Sorry I missed the update last week---we were away in Oxford at Shared Planet Conference, which was basically a weekend full of sustainability and human rights initiatives.  It was a really interesting experience, and I got to go with a lot of fun people.  I took away some good ideas from the conference, especially for Made in 48, an activity that I am a part of at school that deals with workers' rights.  However, parts of the conference were a little extreme for me, and many of the participants have been arrested in the UK for protesting and regularly choose protest as a way to express their displeasure with 'the system' in general.  At a school like AC, where we work to find peaceful solutions to problems interculturally or within our own countries, protesting (particularly violent protesting) doesn't seem like the best option most of the time.  I did attend one very interesting workshop on how to encourage sustainable food consumption by buying locally or setting up a student-run co-op, so maybe that will be an option for AC.

Gallivanting about Oxford was also fun.  Ok, it wasn't really gallivanting, but we did explore up and down Cornmarket street, which is this lovely pedestrian road near the Town Hall, and we ate food that wasn't from the canteen and spent an inordinate amount of time at a bookstore like the nerds we are.  Amy (UK), Luke (USA), and I split the cost of the fourth book of the Eragon series three ways so that we each only paid 3 pounds for it.  Oxford is a beautiful place, and many of my American co-years fell completely in love with it and are absolutely convinced that they will go there for university. 

One of the strangest things here in the UK is how dark it gets and how quickly the sun goes down in the winter.  In the summer they get a lot of daylight, but in the winter---well, it's 3:30 right now and it is beginning to get pretty gray.  It will be dark by 5.  That makes running very difficult, and Heidi and I have had to cancel our Friday afternoon runs because by the time we get out of classes at 4:45 (Friday is a long day of codes) you can't see anything!  I've been swimming with Kate and Paula instead, and we have found that morning swims not only wake you up for the day but also allow you to shower in the pool room with some actual hot water!

I had a really lovely dinner on Tuesday evening with Heidi, Heidi's mom (who came to visit and take a few of us out), Paula, Hans (from the Netherlands, he's a second-year in my house), and Chloe (France).  We went to the pub and had some great conversation and good food.  It was a bit of an impromptu arrangement, but those are the only ones that truly work at AC, because you don't have to look far to find someone who is up for whatever you are doing.

I'm looking forward to going home for the break and spending Christmas with family---the Christmas decorations have been up since before Halloween over here, and holidays are in the air.  I can't wait to see everyone!

Ok, the actual purpose of this post was to talk about our current diploma period on Critical Engagement, but I might have to finish that in another post, partially because it is not over yet and partially because I have another workshop in 5 minutes!  But I'll put everything in as quickly as I can.

This Diploma Period is designed to get us to think more about our own identities and the identity we have at AC as a community, and use this knowledge to interact positively with others here and outside of the college.  We've spent the morning in theoretical sessions about topics like diversity and identity, trying to figure out where identity comes from and how much diversity can create conflict or resolutions.  The afternoons are devoted to action workshops:  for instance, I just came from a workshop on engaging in conflict where we tried to find a resolution to the new night rule everyone is upset about by identifying the needs the staff had when they imposed it and how we can work with those.

I know that's a spotty explanation, but I really have to go, so until I can post again, everyone have a great weekend!