Upper School Interim Trips Blog 2019

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Interim Trips 2019 Blog

  • Belize 2019
Peter Behr

We are off!  Thanks to Belize for the hospitality and the beautiful resources. Thanks to parents for sending us!

- Belize Interm Term Class

  • Belize 2019
Submitted by Caroline and Evan

This morning, we woke up to a gloomy, rainy sky and helped ourselves to a delicious breakfast of bread rolls, hot dogs, and beans. It was a struggle getting all of our bags in trash bags so they wouldn’t get wet, but we finally did.

Next, we had a rainy boat ride to Punta Gorda to pick up our delicious coconut fudge that we bought the other day. Sadly, the fudge was a little delayed, but we had the island’s dog, Simba, to entertain us as we waited (he even chased a pelican into the water). After the boat ride, we finally arrived at the bus where we were excited for our 5-hour bus ride to TEC (Tropical Education Center). 

Along the way, we stopped at a grocery store where we refused to buy “healthy snacks” and proceeded to buy a few Doctor Pepper cans that seemed a little sketchy (they had Jurassic World advertisements on them, but that movie came out the previous year). After arriving at TEC, we explored for a while and were pleasantly surprised by the hot water in the showers (yay!).

Later, we did our final activities as a community...

...and went to celebrate at dinner with our two Instructors (shown below) Jaen (left) and Connally (right)

Next, we presented our research projects that we had been diligently working on to the whole group. Finally, we filled out surveys about our pleasant experience with EPI and received our certificates from the course. We had a great trip and will miss all the fun memories we made!

Submitted by Caroline and Evan

[Editors Note: This is our last official blog from Belize.  See you tomorrow!]

  • China 2019
Submitted by Brian S.

We started this morning with a brisk 5:30 wake up for breakfast, a 6:30 departure from the hotel, and an early train ride to Chengdu. Well, all of us except for Walker, Jon, and Justin who woke up at 6:42 to a frantic call from Isabelle on the bus, and then impressively managed to pack their bags and make it downstairs in 8 minutes. Despite leaving the hotel 20 minutes later than planned, Justin maintains that he “made it.” 

The group enjoyed a nice 4-hour train ride through rice fields, several city centers, and generally the lushest green we’d seen on the trip. The transit was going smoothly until we realized that Daryn and Ana Luca were nowhere to be seen once we had exited the terminal. They quickly caught back with the group, however, to the relief of everyone. 

We drove from the train station and got a brief overview of our new home for the next three days from our local tour guide, Amy. The Chengdu metro area has a population of 18.1 million, 6th in China, and is only expected to grow with its booming tech industry, energetic atmosphere, and appeal to young Chinese (think San Francisco). 

Our first stop was lunch, where we tried some kind of white rice-black sesame dough ball that’s consistency might be best described as gooey. Most people’s faces were of confusion and a hint of horror. Everything else was pretty good, as usual.

Afterward, we journeyed around the alley/shopping center and found some cool stores, including a silk shop with the machine and the silk cocoons on display. Tommy, Walker M., Bo, and Brian stumbled upon a taste of home in the form of a Dairy Queen, where they got blizzards (and yes, they passed the test). 

After touring around a temple from the Three Kingdoms period, we finally arrived at our hotel. To say gold was a theme would be an understatement: it looked like we had walked out of Chengdu and onto the Vegas strip, into a hotel designed by Floyd Mayweather. We rested before heading out to dinner, where we competed with a massive children’s New Year’s Party for the loudest group in the restaurant. Dinner was, once again, great, with Tommy asserting that these were, in fact, the best dumplings of the trip so far (a claim that seems to reassert itself almost every night).

Because they were late in the morning, Justin, Jon, and Walker had to do karaoke on the bus. Jon and Walker performed a beautiful rendition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’. We’re still not really sure what Justin “sang.”

  • Spain 2019
Submitted by Maddie

In the morning I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate for breakfast that my host mom prepared for me. When we arrived at school, we met our second teacher Professor Pilar Torres. We spent most of our time at school today learning about the Spanish language as well as the significance of our first and last names. For lunch, we ate the meals that our host families prepared for us; I ate a delicious bocadillo (a baguette sandwich). We then visited the Seville Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the world. It was originally a mosque but later converted into a Cathedral for the Christians. We also visited the Patio de los Naranjos, which is a large courtyard and contains a central fountain and several orange trees. Muslim worshippers performed ritual cleansing before praying by washing their hands in the fountain, and male worshippers performed their prayers five times daily.

We also climbed thirty-five flights of ramps to the top of the bell tower of the Cathedral called the Giralda which was originally a minaret (an Islamic tower from which the muezzin called the people to prayer) . The climb was worth it because the view was breathtaking. Another one of my favorite parts of the Cathedral is the Capilla Mayor, which has forty-five carved scenes from the life of Christ and is covered with gold. We also viewed the tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the tomb has four men representing the kingdoms of Leon, Aragon, Castile, and Navarra. Interestingly, Columbus was first buried in Havana, but his remains were moved to Seville. Also, only thirty percent of Columbus’ remains are housed in the Cathedral. After touring the Cathedral, we returned to our host families, and I talked with my host mom about the differences between the Spanish language in Latin America and in Spain. I enjoyed having a tortilla with potatoes and a dessert called flan for dinner.


  • Belize 2019
Submitted by Katelyn, Ellen, and Katie

This morning, we woke up bright and early around 7 AM for breakfast. After eating a yummy meal of boiled eggs, refried beans and fry jacks, we packed our bags and headed off on the boats to collect data for our research projects. Split into groups of 2-3, students choose a specific topic that we have been working with at Payne’s Creek and collect data to test their hypothesis. For example, one group chose to compare the lengths of the two different types of sea grass we previously studied: manatee grass and turtle grass. 

The first stop we made was to a patch of seagrass. There, students snorkeled and collected different types of data necessary for their projects.

Our next stop was at a coral reef, another opportunity for students to collect data. Some students that had already collected data had the choice to free snorkel around the area, looking for different marine life including the nurse shark and sting ray. Once the rain started again, we decided to head back to Payne’s Creek for lunch. After showering and cleaning off from the data collecting, we sat down to listen to T.I.D.E’s Science Director, Heidi Waters,  and EPI’s Country Director for Belize, Jeremy Enriquez. They informed us about their experiences and how our actions have helped their organizations with important data collections. Also, they explained how big of an impact we have on T.I.D.E and EPI. For example, this trip — being the first international group to come to Payne’s Creek— has helped sponsor local students to come and have experiences they wouldn’t be able to afford. 

After hearing from the two directors, we broke off into our project groups and started finalizing our data and making conclusions. We were all given poster paper to share our discoveries. We will present these posters tomorrow at the Tropical Educational Center after the long bus ride.

To end the day, we broke into two separate groups to monitor the yellow headed parrots until sundown. After a delicious dinner, we are packing and playing cards before heading off to bed. 

Submitted by Katelyn, Ellen, and Katie

  • China 2019
Connor and Walker

After spending two days in Pingyao, we woke up early to take a train to the next city, Xi’an. In the train station, several people quickly rushed to a snack shop, where many bought Chinese “Oreos” for a measly 10 yuan, or like $1.60. The train ride was around three hours, with our speed topping out at about 217 km/hr, and when we arrived in Xi’an, we met our local guide Weiwei. It took some serious manpower to shove all of our bags on the bus, but somehow we made it fit. 

       The first place we went was the Yangling museum, where several Han-era clay figures filled 81 different burial pits. However these were not the terracotta warriors that you might be expecting, as they were all around a foot tall, and every single one was missing not only arms but clothes too! Why you may ask? The clothes were originally silk and the arms wood, so both of these had already decomposed a good 1,500 years later. 

       After this, we traveled to a Great Mosque in Xi’an, which is not only one of the largest mosques in China but also looks more like a Chinese temple than a traditional mosque due to it being built so early. Here we also met a practitioner of Islam, and roamed around the bazaar outside, locally known as the Snack haven of Xi’an, where we bought bread to eat (why not?) and these awesome dragon breath balls. 

       Finally, we left for dinner where we would attend the long-awaited dumpling banquet. Here they served us around 13 different types of dumplings, which were shaped according to what was inside them. Some of the crowd favorites were the cheese and the pork dumplings. Then we all rolled back to the bus and drove to the Gran Meliá Hotel. Now let me tell you something, this hotel is unbelievable. Not only does it have quite possibly the best breakfast there is, but the hotel itself is just huge!

        The next day we woke up early to have a lecture by Professor Wang, who led excavations on the Qin dynasty terracotta warriors and then went to see the life-size statues themselves. It was unbelievable! After this, we walked along the Xi’an city wall, and then went to the famous jade market. The market was kind of hidden and we had to walk into a run-down room where we took a cargo elevator to the third floor of the building. On the third floor, we found marble floors and jade statues straight out a James Bond movie! After getting blinged out, we strutted back to the hotel, ate dinner after two quizzes, and then had free time to roam around the hotel or go to the huge swimming pool. Walker explored the vast Gran Meliá hotel with his buddies and hung out in a cool place that they found in the hotel. After that, everyone went back to their rooms and packed up, getting ready to wake up at a modest 5:30 the next morning to travel on to Chengdu. 

  • Spain 2019
Submitted by Avery

Today was filled with many new adventures. For me, the day started with a quick breakfast of toast and an incredible cup of coffee with my host mom. Then Fefi and I walked down the street to meet the bus. Since I was the last student to be picked up we headed straight for the ISA school building. It is this cute little townhouse type building in a very calm part of town. Both the outside and inside was full of color. Upon arriving at the school we met one of our two professors named María José Montero. Our other professor was unfortunately not there today; however, we will meet him tomorrow. At the beginning of class we began working in partners to learn more about each other. Many of the question were easily answerable since we already know each other's name, place of residency, age, etc. Afterwards we started watching videos about Andalucian (the region in which Seville is located) culture. It’s crazy how diverse Andalucía is; it has mountains, snow, dessert, and sea all in one small region. We also learned that the streets are always filled with lively events. There are many musicians who play, and it is not uncommon to eat at an outdoor restaurant. Culture is one of my favorite things to learn about, and getting to do it in Spain makes it even more exciting. I cannot wait to learn more about this unique city with Professora Montero.

After class we hopped on the bus to head for the center of town. Thankfully the weather had warmed up a bit from the morning, and we were actually able to leave our giant jackets on the bus. Before beginning our walking tour of Sevilla, we headed for lunch. We had a typical lunch where Inma and our new guide Iker order traditional Sevillano food, and we all ate as much as we could! The food was absolutely delicious although I am not sure what all of it was. One of the most popular things we ate was the Pavia. The story behind it is that one night a group of soldiers were coming through town, but didn’t have anything to eat. They stopped at a home, and all the woman had was white fish and pastries. She fried the fish in the pastry and fed it to all the soldier, and now we have Pavia.


After lunch Inma lead us on a tour of her hometown, Sevilla. The first place we saw was right when we hopped off the bus. The beautiful building is filled with documents of colonization that were traded between Spain and the Americas, but the Spaniards believed America was India so the name of the building is Archivo General de Indias.


  • Spain 2019
Submitted by Jonah

Today marked the beginning of the most exciting part of our trip: the homestay.  This morning I woke up with a new sense of direction because I knew that today I was finally going to meet my host family in Sevilla. I loaded all of my clothes and souvenirs into my bags and onto the bus and we went to take a bullet train to our destination. This was the first time I’ve ever been on a bullet train and honestly, it didn’t disappoint. The ride to Sevilla was the smoothest of my life and the passing landscape of Spain was the perfect background. We arrived to the station without any problems and then I saw them, the host moms ready to take their new host child home and treat them like their own. Our tour director Inma started matching us with our host moms; I gave mine the traditional Spanish greeting, an air kiss on each cheek. After this awkward hello we took the bus to go to her neighborhood in Sevilla called Triana.

This neighborhood is very popular for tourists because it has a lot of local shops and tasty restaurants that they can visit. We came to our apartment and my host mom showed me where my room is and where I can put my clothes, and even where my personal bathroom is. After this she made a delicious lunch that was composed of potatoes and garbanzo beans, a tomato and Spanish olive salad, and fresh bread with butter and beef, it was amazing, or as they say in Spain fue la leche. At that moment I fell in love with my host mom because she could make the one thing I love most, great food.

After our lunch we took a walk around the city with some of my classmates, so that we could familiarize ourselves with the city and feel more at home. Each time I toured a city in Spain I thought to myself, “There’s no way any other city in Spain could match this”, but each time I was wrong, and this time was no exception. The city is as beautiful as the most perfect utopia in any book or movie. There are historic buildings around every corner, beautiful parks, and Orange trees with fruit line the streets to give the city that extra pop. This day had a multitude of new and exciting experiences for me, so much so that I think I might not come home.


  • Belize 2019
Submitted by Maddie and Lindi

This morning we woke up at 6:00 for breakfast (it was difficult for some people– including Lindi). Manatees are most active in the early morning because they are feeding. During our manatee watch, it was overcast and windy, making the sea choppy and not suitable for seeing manatees. One boat saw one manatee, but we had a good time cruising across Zone 5 of Paynes Creek. 

For lunch, we stopped at a small beach in Punta Negra with a small one-room school. We wanted to try the coconuts, but they were too high to reach so we had some of our cheerleaders stunt Julia up to reach the coconuts. Once we go them down, the park ranger cut them open so that we could drink the coconut water. 


At Punta Negra, we played a game of volleyball with the elementary school kids. It was fun playing with them! For lunch, we had rice, beans, fried fish, chicken, and juice. After lunch it started to rain so we had a lesson under the canopy. We learned about Punta Negra and that it once used to be a great fishing community, but once it was declared a national park (meaning they could only fish using a line which didn’t provide as much fish as the nets they had used), most of the community moved away because they couldn’t support themselves. 


During the storm while we were waiting at Punta Negra, we did an activity on biodegradable and degradable trash that can be found in our oceans. We were given cards with objects/trash and had to sort them based on how long they each take to degrade. For example, we found out that a glass bottle can take over 1 million years to fully degrade. We learned the difference between degradable and biodegradable: degradable means that it will beak down eventually over time but it will never become organic material and biodegradable objects can naturally degrade into organic, earth matter. We also learned about the four R’s– recycle, reuse, reduce, refuse. Refuse means to refuse excess, one-time use plastics. 

The ride back was very rocky. The rain drops pelted us as we raced back to camp. To keep dry and warm, we all turned trash bags into ponchos. After getting back to camp, we repurposed our poncho trash bags into other things that we could use such as laundry bags, trash bags, and wet clothes bags. We then had a discussion and watched a documentary about how plastic affects our earth and oceans. We were surprised how micro-plastics (plastic that has been degreased into small particles) consumed by fish can travel up the food chain and eventually end up in human stomachs. We then talked about ways we can prevent excess, one-time use plastic materials like plastic bags, bottles, and straws. We made promises to use reusable metal water bottles, reusable grocery bags, and overall reduce our waste. 

Submitted by Maddie and Lindi