South America – Spring 2017

 Welcome to the Spring 2017 blog–South America.


Thank you! 

Dear vicarious TTS29ers,

As we put the finishing touches on the semester, I look back on the months we spent preparing and getting to know one another through phone calls, emails, Skype chats and in person meetings. Those months filled me with inspiration and hope for another amazing semester. Our Bozeman office swelled with excitement for our spring semester, knowing each student brought a sense of adventure and a willingness to step outside the normal teenage world. We were excited to see how personalities blossomed as everyone settled into life with a backpack of belongings and wanderlust for new endeavors.

I reflect on the semester as a 15-week whirlwind of academics, cultural immersion, leadership development, and outdoor experiences. Moreso, this semester was an astonishing blend of new adventures and treasured friendships throughout South America as we all learned to appreciate the art of flexibility and unpredictability. I am thankful for your support behind the scenes as you supported your daughters, shared their ups and downs and cheered them from afar. I smile back on emails and phone calls as we shared the adventure from the states.

Thank you for being a risk-taker. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for your sense of empowerment. Thank you for trusting us with your daughters. Thank you for cheering on your daughters as they took a leap to explore experiential education with TTS. We’re lucky to have you in our community, bringing change to this world and inspiring the next generation.

I look forward to more emails, calls and hangouts to hear about new adventures, reflections and next steps. I cherish this semester and thank you for all you did to make it a truly inspiring bookend to our 15th year.


Aunge and the Bozeman Team


And from the teachers…


Dear Traveling School family, 

As we finished debrief in Bozeman and prepared for our final transitions, our minds filled with memories and questions: what our girls might be doing at home, what is it like to be looking at life in North America with fresh eyes, and what favorite stories and images are being shared with friends and family. 

We are so grateful for the past three and a half months we spent with our group, and to be a part of this strong and unique community, now a family. For this, we wanted to say thank you. 

To all the parents and families, we are deeply grateful for the leap of faith you took in sharing your wonderful daughters with us. You all have raised inspiring, courageous, and fun young ladies, and it has been amazing to share a special part of their high school years with them. Thank you for your shared enthusiasm in each highlight and challenge, for rooting for us from a distance, and for making this adventure possible. Thank you parents and families.  

To the wonderful team that makes everything happen in Bozeman: Jennifer, Aunge, Leah and Sue. We so appreciate and admire your dedication to the endless details that are a part of this amazing program, and for entrusting us to put it into action in South America. We are grateful for your equal excitement about the joys, stories, laughs, and challenges that we share from the semester. Thank you for supporting us and cheering us on, along with each and every student, in more ways than we even know. Thank you Bozeman ladies. 

To all those that we met in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru – thank you for bringing this experience to life and giving us opportunities, insights, and friendships in this part of the world. From the jungle of Tena to the ladies of Azulado in Quito, our host families in Agualongo, our guides throughout Bolivia, ex-miners in Potosi, Puma and family in Cuzco, Yupanqui and our fearless mountaineering guides in La Paz, and many more. We are so grateful for you opening your doors, for the courage to share your inspiring stories, for teaching us and keeping us safe, and for showing us a strength and sense of community that we will never forget. Thank you friends in the Andes. 

Last but most certainly not least to our goofy, excitable, deeply thoughtful and intelligent students, congratulations and thank you for making the semester into the amazing 105 days that it was. You came into this experience ready for any adventure and opportunity, and then traveled longer days than you thought possible, hiked through the jungle and up to glaciers and snowy passes, threw yourself into a new culture, community and school, and were flexible, enthusiastic, and curious each step of the way. You brought your best selves, and supported one another in order to make this community possible. You created a memorable and amazing group of young women and semester, and one we imagine you will be learning from for years to come. Thank you ladies of TTS29.  

Thank you again for the opportunity to be part of it all!

With love,

Danika, Tory, Abigail and Maria 



 Mountaineering, reflecting & getting ready to come home.

Cordillera Real (Royal Range). After final exams ended, the group shopped for our food, got sized to all our mountaineering equipment, and headed to basecamp, a few hours outside of La Paz, and below the mountain Condoriri (Condor’s head). From our basecamp at 15,000 feet, we had a gorgeous view of a lake and a cirque of inspiring snow capped peaks, including the peak we would attempt, Pico Tarija. Our first full day we spent at snow school, where we learned how to use our ice axes, crampons, and gain confidence in our gear. Our guides soon had us doing all sorts of activities and were impressed with what a quick study the group was in catching onto glacier practices. After a successful day at snow school, we cooked an early dinner in anticipation of our departure for the peak the next morning.

We left our basecamp at 4 am the next day to head for the summit. We clomped along the hiking trail in our mountaineering boots and got our gear on in the dark at the base of the glacier. We headed onto the snow with our headlamps in five rope teams, we began to enjoy first light shortly after beginning our ascent. Over the next several hours we made our way towards the peak, we enjoyed some fresh snow, and we began to see large cracks and different types of terrain. We were fortunate to have a crystal clear day and by about 10 am everyone in the group that attempted the summit reached the top (17,250 feet!) We were awed by the amazing views of other surrounding glaciers, including other well known peaks in the area called Alpamayo and Huayna Potosi and the layer of clouds we could see well below us. We basked in the sun and took plenty of celebratory pictures at the summit. Yupanqui, who was our leader and has worked with the Traveling School since the first semesters, was so impressed by our group’s tenacity and the way they handled the new experience on the mountain.

During our mountaineering trip and afterwards, we did several activities involving transitioning home, addressing how the students can bring their experiences to their communities and talk about what was important to them during the semester. On the mountaineering trip, we spent our final evening doing a closing activity, involving reflecting on our spectrum of experiences over the course of the semester, where we felt personal successes and challenges, how we envision ourselves bringing new priorities, passions and views to our coming months and years. The group shared points that they are considering during their transition, offering ideas and support to each other in how to navigate their readjustment. Common themes were; how to explain the trip and experience, how to cope with the challenges of seeing friends again, social dynamics in school, taking what they’ve learned and applying it to life at home. The students practiced giving “elevator speeches,” in an effort to synthesize different important parts of the semester that they would like to expand on. Students gave each other feedback and also supported specific ideas they would like to share in answering the popular questions of “how was South America?” and “what was your favorite part of the trip?” On the last evening, we had a mix of a thoughtful and fun graduation; sharing memories of new and unique experiences to South America, what we have come to love about the areas that we have visited and what we love about our TTS community. We also read and discussed David Foster Wallace’s ‘This is Water’, a well known graduation speech that looks at challenges, as well as, opportunities for empowerment in choosing our perspectives and attitudes in daily interactions. The last evening was a celebration of the diverse and impressive accomplishments of the students over the course of the past 105 days and the work they put in to creating a kind and insular community, in our spectrum of adventures and learning this semester.

We’ve been busy!

Machu Picchu, community visits, archeological sites… Oh my! 

The group loved learning about Machu Picchu’s variety of purposes, such as a sacred vacation spot for the Inca himself, and how it was preserved and hidden from the Spaniards, as the Incas burned and abandoned the site to protect it.

They have been playing soccer with the locals, learning at archeological sites, watching humane bull fights, learning from a weaving cooperative and eating strange roadside snacks it is hard in addition to all of the trekking.


And, of course, reflecting!!!

Reflection by Tyson CA, 16

Meeting Puma for the first time after hearing about him for weeks seemed extremely casual. Walking in as he hugged each one of us, I was surprised to find myself quite a bit taller than the man whose personality and fame is widespread, and great enough to attract travelers from around the world. Our first day with him, he explained the magic behind how the enormous rocks traveled 25 kilometers, and were cut and fit to make perfectly massive walls. Describing the sound and vibrations of a conch shell making the boulders lighter and easier to cut, it was interesting tot listen to him describe this process in such detail and with complete belief, while remaining fully grounded in a world of technology and Western ideals. Meeting someone who is widely respected as a cultural and spiritual leader in a traditional setting, yet is also highly aware of the variety of cultures and societies around him, seemed unique and unusual. It was interesting to watch him bring up topics such as the Incan empire returning to power by means of a sleeping Puma, with such a casual tone. Learning from someone whose perspective is without bias was a unique experience, and has opened my eyes to a spectrum of views.


Reflection by Molly- CA, 17

Today I learned to actually believe in Puma’s saying, ‘Today is the best day of all of our lives.’ My day started off in the worst way possible, I did not feel well, my last water bottle fell and broke, and I left my ticket behind and everyone else had to wait for me. I was sure that it was not going to be the best day of my life. However, as we started walking my anger and resolve that this was a doomed day slowly started to fade away. An entire school of children sprinted past us, smiling and laughing as they hurdled down a hill and around a corner. It made me smile and distracted me from the events of the morning. A little later in Chinchero’s church, Puma told us about the power of the people, and how they were able to unite and find priests who would allow them to continue traditions that are important to them, and hold mass in Quechua. This story was both moving and lifting. I was inspired and found myself smiling while learning about dyes and weaving from the women in Cuper Bajo who were not only amazing artisans, moms, and cooks, but also badass soccer players. I realized after playing with them, that my day really had not been doomed from the start, and that maybe all of the bad moments that happened early on left room for all of the great ones. I am not determined to not let a few low moments spoil and entire day. So tomorrow, when I say ‘Today is the best day of all of our lives,’ I will trust that it most certainly might be.


Reflection by Sierra- New Mexico, 19

Over the past few days, what stood out to me the most is how alive the Incan culture still is. They are an ancient civilization, and that is how I have always thought of them: ancient. However, Puma has showed us ow their culture continues today. Some practices are tainted by transculturation (mixing of practices with those of more ‘imposing’ cultures), others by time, but many are alive and well. When Puma told us about how the Milky Way lines up with the Urubamba river, he said that people come from the stars. He didn’t say, ‘people used to believe’ or ‘Incans believed,’ he said, ‘We believe that people come from the stars.’ He also told us about how 80% of Andean Catholicism is influenced strongly by Incan traditions. Whether cultural practices are diluted or not, incan traditions and beliefs are still very present and prominent. Reflecting on my surprise at this, I realized that I have been brainwashed by the dominant cultures throughout history. I didn’t realized that Incan culture was still here because I assumed that Spanish imposed social structures replaced them completely. I now see that the Spanish conquest did not destroy Incan practices, it only forced them into hiding. Like the Incan temples covered by churches, their culture lives on; damaged but by no means destroyed.


Gaining Perspective Through Classes

Potosi Mines

Honors History and Government

In learning about the period of post-colonial independence, history class has focused on the text Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. The author’s brutal honesty, striking facts, and passionate writing describes the real influences of neocolonialism, economic imperialism, and capitalism on the countries we visited. Students have learned about Bolivia’s role in history as a provider of raw materials, such as silver, tin and gas, and how it is one of the world’s poorest countries, that has nourished the wealth of the rest of the world. Students wrote a reflection on Bolivia’s unique perspective that they plan to carry with them, and how Open Veins influenced their knowledge of the country.

The class also has been learning about Latin America’s progression from the 1900’s until today. In the 1950’s, a wave of populism and focus on worker’s rights provided appeal across the social spectrum. The Cold War subsequently filled Latin America with militarily dictatorships, largely funded by the US. This effort to fight nationalist pride, which sounded frighteningly similar to communism from a distance, had devastating effects for Latin America. The class has gained a thorough idea of the vast swings of the political pendulum that have occurred from the post-colonial period until today. Looking forward, we are preparing for an interactive walking tour of Cuzco, where students teach each other about historical figures that have shaped the area, through creative and interactive presentations. We will finish the semester with a unit on ancient cultures and the Incas. The class is excited to learn about the America’s most powerful empire, and see how Inca’s customs and worldview are still alive today, as we visit Cuzco, the capital of their empire.

Reflection on Bolivia and It’s Role in History

By: Sydney, Ontario, Canada

I found the success and struggles within Potosi’s history and the mining sector to be especially interesting. Before coming to Bolivia, all I knew about was the abundance of natural resources they have and the pristine area of the salt flats. I had never even heard of Potosi, and was amazed to learn that it was once the richest cities in the world. Potosi was the Paris or New York of the world, with lavish buildings and infrastructure made of silver. It didn’t take long before Potosi was forgotten when the silver was depleted, and left in the dust of the mines. There are still harsh working conditions, class struggles, and the mines are used by the world for the silver and minerals. Everyday, 10,000 men risk their lives by heading to the mines of Cerro Rico, making less than 15 dollar as a day, for their family’s survival. Each day, their lungs get filled with more dust, all so the Bolivian government can profit, and even more so, the rest of the world. Many countries continue to take advantage of the poor labor laws in the mining sector, so they can profit for doing nothing. This started during the neocolonial period, when the United States and Europe used the pervasive powers to influence Bolivian culture and economics. This influence is still happening today, as the US and other powerful countries continue to attempt to suck up all the natural resources of what Bolivia is worth. This influence has developed Bolivia into the country it is today. An impact of this is the social hierarchy in Potosi of the miners and the rest of the workforce. Miners are looked down upon, and the hierarchy ensures that they stay on the mountain, away from the more ‘well off’ work force. The mining sector is one part of Bolivia’s past and present, but there is so much more to it than that. As I was walking through the witch craft market in La Paz, I immediately fell in love with the culture. I never would have thought I’d see llama fetuses hanging by a string. Tory taught me all about coca leaves, and the many potions and oils they use for different circumstances. I was immediately fascinated and wanted to purchase every potion to bring back home, to show people how unique Bolivia is. It blows my mind how Bolivia was once crossed off a map, as it is one of the most unique and beautiful places that I have travelled. This made me realize there are many other countries like Bolivia with such a diverse culture, but is mainly seen for their stereotypes and single stories. I want to learn about countries that aren’t seen as dominant on a global scale.

I found Open Veins of Latin America to be informative and eye-opening about Bolivia and it’s history. One quote that stuck out to me was, “Potosi, the city which gave the most to the world, has received the least.” This quote proves that for hundred of years, the world has been using Potosi and Bolivia for their benefit, as “Bolivians die with rotted lungs so the world can consume cheap tin.” The world does not care how they receive these resources, just as long as they can receive a large quantity for a low price, to then sell at a higher cost. Seeing the atmosphere that the miners work in first hand made me wonder where the silver or tin that I use in my everyday life comes from. The majority of these resources go to the United States, and I would assume it is also sent to Canada. Learning and seeing this has inspired me to bring the knowledge I have acquired here and teach others at home, so they are aware of where their products are coming from. Hearing that the queen of England once put an X over Bolivia on the map and announced that “Bolivia does not exist,” filled me with anger. There is so much to Bolivia that the world isn’t even aware of. Bolivia has such a unique culture and is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and loving people. Bolivians work hard and don’t let anything go to waste; I feel like many people, including myself, can learn a lot from their lifestyle. For example, during our community stay, I loved learning and hearing don Crispin’s perspective. It was clear how much he loved his community, and how passionate he was about his museum and farm. Not only did he know so much about his country, but he wanted to know everything about the US and Canada in regards to our political and educational systems, and just or daily life. I have never heard in my life (before this trip) anyone say, “I want to know about Bolivia,” I want to bring this awareness home and what I have learned from Open Veins.

Reflection on Bolivia and It’s Role in History

By: Sierra, New Mexico

Throughout history, Bolivia has been virtually invisible, seen only by those with the means it exploit it. For centuries, it’s natural resources have made other countries rich, while Bolivia sinks further into poverty. This trend can be seen clearly in the mines of Potosí. Silver found there helped fund the development of Spain and Europe, while its exploitation left the city (especially the miners) impoverished. Not only did eight million native people die in the development of the mine, today “Potosí is a poor country in a poor Bolivia.” As soon as the abundant silver ran out, the city was abandoned by aristocrats and peasants, leaving the remaining population destitute and forgotten, a tragic example of the colonial legacy in this region. Despite this history however, Bolivia is a country of rebels. The most amazing thing about Bolivia to me, is the citizens’ ability to initiate change. We learned about blockades and uprisings like the Cochabamba Water revolt, but I had not idea of their power until we saw one in person. When we are lugging all our bags over the two kilometers of highway that had been blocked, I was in awe. A group of women huddled together, watching and pandemonium they had reacted next to hand-written sign  proclaiming their demands, “electricity, transportation, and representation.” That tiny group had managed to completely stop traffic on a massive highway. To me, this showed their power and determination to claim rights that had been long denied to them. In my mind, Bolivia is a country of strong people who know who to demand what they deserve.

Open Veins of Latin America is a blunt and honest description of Latin America’s exploitation. What stood out to me about the description of Bolivia was the continued atrocities that continue against mine workers today. Miners in the Juan de Valle mountain are guaranteed short lives due to silicosis, a lung disease that kills miners. “The first symptoms are felt within a year, and in ten years, one enters the cemetery.” Despite this almost certain outcome, miners continue to work to support themselves, while big companies continue to get rich off the efforts of the dying. “The technocrats and bureaucrats do not die of silicosis, but they live off it.” The head of one mining operation makes one hundred times what his workers do. What is shocking and fascinating is that this system continues. Our tour guide in Potosí was an ex-miner, and instead of solely raging against the injustice, he reminded us that a few miners really do get rich. I can understand why the owners and businessmen would continue exploiting their workers, the workers themselves stump me. In a country with a history of revolting for social change, their submission seems to be due to necessity. Injustice can prevail in the mines when the choice is between revolution and food.


Algebra 2

The Algebra 2 team has stepped up to challenges in every way as the pace of our course picks up and we apply concepts from the beginning of our semester to more complicated radical and rational functions. Using our understanding of the powers of exponents and logarithms, students are applying these powers in order to solve and graph radical equations. Introduced to the concept of hyperbola graphs, we will continue an exploration of these graphs and how they represent data in the coming chapters. As we approach the end of the semester students will get a taste of statistics and probability – a subject which often brings Algebra to life for many students as they find the common occurrence of statistics an accessible and useful subject.


As Precalculus wrapped up the unit on Matrices, the students put their newfound knowledge to the test with an exam.  Following the conclusion of chapter 8, the class transitioned into a unit on Sequences, Induction, and Probability.  The girls began by learning how to write general terms of sequences, translate summation notation, the use of recursion formulas and determining terms of a sequence involving factorials.  From there, we transitioned to finding common differences in arithmetic sequences and how to use that to determine the first “n” terms of sequences.  This information allowed us to analyze data sets with increasing or decreasing percentages, such as number of women in the labor force and the fluctuations of the cost of higher education.  As we transitioned into geometric sequences, the girls learned how to find common rations and add the sum of “n” terms of a sequence.  We practiced these skills using real life examples of these sequences, such as computing salaries, determining the value of an annuity and working with tax rebates and the Multiplier Effect.  The students are currently in the initial stages of learning about permutations and combinations.

Beginning Spanish

Beginning Spanish has been busy putting all that they have learned this semester, into practice!  Having thus far been introduced to present tense, stem changing verb conjugations, and preterite (past) tense, the students are beginning feel more confident in their oral skills.  Practicing pronunciation through reading together, creating mini presentations for their classmates, and having conversation café classes, have all been integral parts of gaining comfort in speaking.  Last class, taking place in Jack’s café, the girls took great interest in conversing solely in Spanish, and actively utilized their notes and what they have learned to hold an entire hour long conversation in Spanish!  Although seemingly small, it can be difficult for beginning Spanish students to take the initiative to conjugate verbs, when it feels so foreign.  We spent a lot of time breaking down that barrier throughout the first half of the semester, and it was amazing to see the girls enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to chat.   We will continue to practice our oral, as well as written skills as the students transition into reflective writing about the trip.

Intermediate Spanish

Intermediate Spanish has been focusing on learning an extensive amount of new verbs, and using them in the –ing form and the future. Through practice, practice, practice, and review,  the class was building up to their recent test on verbs in all forms we have learned this semester, where they proved their ever increasing skills in translation and creating complex sentences. The students are now focusing on learning new adjectives, reflexive verbs, and prepositions. The class recently visited the Coca Museum in Cuzco, and learned about the positive medicinal and cultural aspects of Coca throughout Andean history, and the frightening aspects that occurred since it was discovered that Coca can serve as the raw material for cocaine. It is exciting to see the spectrum of topics that the students can thoroughly write about in their Spanish journals, and discuss in classes. They are excited to continue testing their comprehension and skills as we work with some of The Traveling School’s favorite and most long standing guides in Cuzco and on the mountaineering trip, and continue to learn about South America’s culture and stories through those that we meet in our travels.

Literature & Composition

This past week, circled up in an old colonial mansion in Sucre, Bolivia, each literature student held a few poems in their hand, taking turns reading to one another. To steal from poet Billy Collin’s “Introduction to Poetrywe were attempting to simply read poetry rather than “beat a confession out of it.” Having spent time watching spoken word poems, students took on the challenge of performance themselves. How can one read as though offering a secret? How can one convey anger calmly? From Mary Oliver to Shakespeare, students tried their hand at altering their tone in order to convey further meaning of a poem. Challenging themselves one step further, we had the pleasure of hearing original spoken word poems, performed in the cozy library of our Cusco. Each student created, practiced and performed a spoken word poem for the entire group. It was incredible to watch the variety of performance styles and subjects – each perfectly unique to an individual. Paired with our exploration of poetry, students are reveling in the rich words of Isabel Allende. House of Spirits offers students an access point into a family’s history which incorporates the vibrancy, tragedy and political turmoil of so many Latin American nations. As we travel with Allende, students will begin to undertake their own exploration of creative writing inspired by magical realism. For their final, students will complete three creative vignettes, which, in the true vein of magical realism, will be all about the essence of a story rather than a completed narrative. Ending the semester with a creative exploration will hopefully leave room for the students to draw upon their own imagination, bolstered by their experiences of the semester.

Global Studies

Transitioning from a conversation surrounding mining in both Bolivia and Peru, our discussion of globalization and natural resource management has focused on water rights. Upon reading an in-depth article about Bolivia’s water wars and the infamous Cochabamba water revolt, students have been discussing the role of government, foreign corporations and local unions in managing a public resource. The specific case of Cochabamba involved US giant Bechtel, which gained access to the management of Cochabamba’s water through an agreement signed by Bolivia’s federal government and encouraged by The World Bank. The case study has led students to take a deeper look at the concept of privatization – a conversation never far removed from the politics of Latin America. In closing this unit, students participated in a socratic seminar – a formalized discussion which requires students to pose questions to one another and respond with direct and specific insights based on a text. During a community stay in Irupampa, outside of Sucre, Bolivia, students had the opportunity to hear more about problems posed by water management and ever changing environmental factors on a small scale, bringing to life further aspects of rural Bolivian life. As we prepare to transition back to the United States, students will begin researching and learning about current water management issues in the US in order to remind ourselves that while we have expanded our worlds, we return home to vast country where many of the same issues are faced in modern America.

Bolivian Escapades Continued!

After our great Salt Flat adventure, the group hopped on a bus and headed up, up, up to Potosi, the world’s highest town. As we exited the bus into a bustling metropolis, the mainstay of the local economy, mining, was evident in the shop windows selling rubber boots, rock picks and headlamps. Looming above us was Cerro Rico, the silver mine that funded the Spanish empire.  After settling in, we walked to the office of Big Deal Tours, where we met our guide Pedro and Efrain, one of the owners of the company. Big Deal Tours, run exclusively by ex-miners, provides an authentic tour experience, beginning from a trip to the miner’s market, a tour of a silver and lead refinery, and then down into the mine itself. While in the mines, the girls received a firsthand glimpse into the daily lives of miners.  Helping extract silver ore, learning about rituals and ceremonies pertaining to Tio, the god of the mines, and hearing Pedro’s stories of being a young child in the mine, students had many opportunities to ask questions, make observations and experience the underground world. Additionally, the miners introduced our group to Kirsten, a Canadian PhD. student who was a year into her research on the mine and its effects on the social wellbeing of the community and specific populations within Potosi. After a riveting two hour talk about the community, TTS inundated Kirsten with inquiries about child labor laws, health and healthcare issues, cirenas (the women who guard the mine entrances at night) and the disparity of wealth between the mining and central districts of Potosi. Carly, Megan, and Josie were particularly engaged, asking many thoughtful questions, and sparking group discussion. Everyone was impressed by all they learned both within the mines and from Kirsten, and excitedly used that new knowledge to propel great conversations both in Global and on their weekly RRQs.

From Potosi, we traveled to Sucre, a colonial city reminiscent of Cuenca. We enjoyed city exploration, classes, and preparation for our trek with Condor Trekkers. Condor Trekkers, a nonprofit that actively works to put its income back into local communities, provided a great experience for our group, in which we completed a beautiful trek thoroughly enjoyed by Blakely and Tyson. We stayed in a local community called Irupampa (pictured above), helped with a potato harvest, joined in a traditional dance drum circle where Sydney showed us her moves, and visited a small paleontological/archaeological museum. The small community of Irupampa, located within a massive crater, was a true rural Bolivian community. Located multiple hours from Sucre, most of the economy stems from agriculture. Families grow wheat, potatoes, corn, and other grains to sustain themselves, while others raise llamas and sheep. Don Crispin, local farmer and museum curator, invited us to his home where we helped harvest his potato crop, and then were shown how to cook them in the traditional underground oven fashion. Both Sierra and Danny were vigorously engaged in the process, Danny as potato collector, and Sierra as digger, exclaiming “I love this so much!”  Additionally, Don Crispin gave us a tour of his personal museum consisting of numerous paleontological wonders from when the area was once a sea. Erin Rose was particularly fascinated with the museum, displaying active listening skills and engagement with the fossils.

Our amazing female guides, Luz and Patricia, took us for multiple hikes where they shared local history, stories, information on native flora and fauna and brought us to a local swimming hole.  Always energetic, Molly spent over an hour constructing a rock dam upstream to increase depth of the hole. These awesome ladies had great rapport with the students, and actively worked with our daily chieflets (student leaders) to plan activities. Ariella spent much time bonding with these women, as she cooked her Passover meals alongside them and shared different aspects of her culture much to the guides’ interests. On our last night in Irupampa, Don Crispin and his friend Don Ignacio spoke about resource management in Irupampa. After their talk, they were incredibly interested in the systems of the United States.  Zoey and Aliah spearheaded a conversation about our systems, ranging from education, to the justice system, waste disposal, and what life is like in their hometowns. It was really cool to see the cross-cultural connection being created through a shared interest in others’ life experience. Way to go ladies!

Next stop, Copacabana! A small town on the edge of Lake Titicaca, the group spent two nights in a great hilltop hostel overlooking the town and the lake. On the first night, the group surprised Abigail with a birthday celebration, consisting of a cake and a soak in the hostel’s hot tub. The following day, everyone hopped on a two-hour boat ride to Isla del Sol, the birthplace of the Inca Empire. After a day of hiking and exploration, the group collectively stated that this was one of the most relaxing days they had had in a while. Chieflet Eila led the group in some science journaling and personal silent reflection, which added to the relaxing vibe.

The following day we hopped on a bus and crossed the border into Peru.  Having finally made it, students whooped, cheered, and ran under the arch designating the separation of the two countries. Filled with excitement of our impending time in Cusco, we happily boarded a 12-hour bus! Finally rolling into Cusco, we passed gorgeous Catholic churches juxtaposed with the Inca stonemasonry of the ancient cobblestoned streets and Spanish colonial architecture on the bed of razed Inca temples. Upon arrival, the group’s energy was palpable and we can’t wait to explore the museums and sites surrounding Cusco, meet Puma and family, and explore the ideas and topics we have been anticipating all semester!

Glimpsing into classes

Precalculus Class

Over the past few weeks, students have been learning about matrices.  This unit, which began immediately before midterms, has enabled students to think about systems of linear equations in a new light. Using both Gaussian and Gauss-Jordan Elimination systems, the girls learned to solve systems of increasing difficulty. Committed to learning practical applications for these mathematical concepts, we spent some time learning how to use matrices to code and decode words using multiplicative inverses. We finished the chapter with an introduction to calculus concepts; determinants and Cramer’s rule. As the class transitions into the next chapter, focusing on sequences, series, and probability, they are learning the mathematical language of sequences and summation notation, which will help them solve problems of probability and analyze statistical data.

Beginning Spanish Class

Since midterms, students have focused on transitioning beyond present tense verb conjugations, in preparation for our upcoming unit on the past tense. Students have practiced their new knowledge about present tense, irregular verbs and ‘BOOT’ stem changing verbs, and are now ready to advance to learning the preterit past tense form.  Additionally, there has been a heavy focus on vocabulary since midterms, and the girls have studied word sets pertaining to new verbs, positional prepositions, and directions, which help them engage with their surroundings as we travel through South America. The class took two recent field trips: one to the Hecheceria (witchcraft market) in La Paz and the other to the Santa Teresa Convent Museum in Potosi, where we practiced translating, asking questions, and learning about different aspects of the cultures we encounter.


The Great Migration

After four days of fun in the sun, snorkeling with sea lions and lounging with lizards, the group embarked for Cuenca; our last stop in Ecuador.  After a brief pitstop at Dunkin’s in Guayaquil, the girls headed for the colonial heart of Ecuador.  Known for its gorgeous architecture, friendly locals and delectable gelato, Cuenca was the perfect mix of work and play as the group prepared for midterms.

Two days before midterms began, the group took a day trip to nearby Cajas National Park; one of the many gems of Ecuador.  An area protected for its pristine water source that supplies the majority of the city’s water, Cajas is a unique high altitude ecosystem series of small interconnected lakes and Polylepis tree forests.  As we wandered through this picturesque landscape, our guide wowed us with an in-depth knowledge of the local flora, fauna, and geography.

The girls celebrated the end of midterms with a bit of city exploration.  As the group climbed up the tower of La Cathedral, an exquisite church with blue and white spires and magnificent stone work, the group enjoyed an incredible view of the cityscape of Cuenca.  Upon return the ground, the group headed to El Angelito, a gelato shop with an amazing array of more than twenty flavors of gelato.  Back at the hostel, Molly, Ariella, and Zoey worked hard to plan and prepare a secret Harry Potter night, consisting of a group sorting (into the four Hogwarts houses) homemade butterbeer (nonalcoholic of course) and a viewing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which was tracked down with great enthusiasm from a local video store.  With our time in Cuenca ending, the group prepared for new adventures.  Feeling lighter and full of excitement post midterms, the group faced the challenges of a rerouted itinerary with optimism and grace.  While collectively sad to be missing the many activities, Peru has to offer, the ladies took full advantage of our new Bolivian opportunities with gusto.  As we headed to the airport, the ladies chattered excitedly, happy to be on the move again, even if in a different direction!

Arriving in Bolivia at 2 am, the group was excited to start exploring the highest capital city in the world; La Paz!  After sleeping in for a bit, the girls broke up into Spanish classes to experience La Paz’ witchcraft market.  While perusing aisles of amulets, llama fetuses, and homeopathic remedies, the ladies received a crash course in some of the more interesting aspects of Aymara culture.  Following a lunch out on the town in mentor groups, the girls split off for some coveted town time.  Returning with jewelry, and a few accidental matching alpaca sweaters for Carly, Sierra, and Sydney, the group is excited to return to this chaotic and authentic city at the end of the trip for some more souvenir shopping.

A day later we hopped on a night bus to continue our journey south to Uyuni!  This small desert outpost is located in the middle of nowhere Bolivia.  At first glance, the town seems like it could’ve have been the site of the Great Dust Bowl.  Monochromatic and windblown, the question begs to be asked, what the heck are we doing here?  Within 20 minutes of the first day of our four day jeep tour however, we all knew the answer.  As we approached the Salar, the landscape changed from boring browns to shocking whites and incredible blues.  The stretch of salt extending in front of us, and for 1200 square km in fact, was startlingly white, forming crystals that glistened in the sun like diamonds.  Making frequent stops, the girls hopped out of the jeeps for regular photo-ops, with Blakely and Erin Rose attempting to master the handstand photo.  When our guides pulled over to a particularly pristine section of the Salar and asked if we wanted to take some perspective pictures, the girls did not hesitate.  Zoey surprised us all by pulling a mini Bernie Sanders doll from her backpack for the occasion.  Directed by Tyson and Dani, the group created a lovely series of dinosaur attack photos, with a guest appearance by Bernie.  From there, we drove to Isla Incahausi, an incredible island salt covered in Saguaros and coral rocks.  While Aliah and Eila hung back to take photos, the rest of the group spread out across the island.  As Megan and Josie took some time to meditate the rest of the ladies enjoyed the silence in that vast desert-meets-ocean landscape.  Feeling immensely grateful, we watched the sun set beyond the distant volcanoes, then headed to our salt hotel for the night.

Day two began with saying goodbye to the salt flats, as we climbed up into the high desert bordering Chile and Argentina.  Rolling through the hills in the shadows of snowcapped mountains, we wi nded our way higher and higher, through bright red quinoa fields, giant rock gardens and along massive canyons.  Traveling through this photogenic landscape, both Erin Rose and Eila took full advantage of its beauty and their collective passion for photography.  A lunch time hike brought us to a small lake surrounded by rocks where we relaxed and soaked up the sun.

The next morning, after a refreshing night’s sleep, the ladies happily piled in the jeeps, turned on some tunes and continued to enjoy one another’s company as the beautiful scenery passed our windows.  Our guides brought us to several high-altitude lakes that were amazing hues of blues and greens and reds, one of which had natural hot springs! After a relaxing soak, the group took off for the famous Laguna Colorado; a massive lake turned red by algae.  Most miraculously, the 15,500-foot elevation lake was also full of flamingos!   While cautious about our intentions, they did allow us to creep up and take some pictures.   A quick stop for lunch allowed our guides to speak with us about Bolivian culture, politics, and history.  With the afternoon waning, we began our descent back to Uyuni, where our jeep tour came to an end.

While sad to leave the Salar and all the fun we had on the jeep tour, the bar has been set high as we begin our journey to Potosi.


Inspiring Academics


Global Studies

Transitioning from Ecuador to Bolivia, Global Studies discussions have continued to build on our conversation surrounding foreign aid by discussing the very premise foreign aid rests on: globalization. During our time in the salt flats and the high Bolivian desert, our guides shared their thoughts on questions generated by students: What do they think about Lithium mining? How are the dominant indigenous groups of Bolivia intertwined? What do they think of longtime Bolivian President Evo Morales? All of these perspectives are vital in shaping the students’ understanding of the plurality of Bolivia. During our time in the highest city in the world, Potosi, students have been gifted with time with ex-miners who worked in Cerro Rico, the infamous mountain which funded the Spanish Empire through its concentration of silver. Armed with knowledge from ex-miners and a young Canadian doing her dissertation on mining culture in Potosi, the students were able to visit a mine and see the work in action as well as hear stories about the life of mining within an active mine producing silver, zinc and lead. As we move forward with the last half of the semester, discussions centered around Bolivia’s experience of globalization will continue to guide our engagement with communities as we strive to prepare to return home, with deep connections to our own lives and an increased understanding of an individual’s place in the world.

Each week students write a short essay, an RRQ, React – Reflect – Question, about a moment or an experience that caused them to pause and consider their surroundings. Enjoy a sample from the first taste of Bolivia.

RRQ by Megan, Massachusetts:

I remember going to South Africa expecting dirt roads, elephants everywhere, and metal shacks for houses. In reality, I drove down freshly paved roads, saw concrete homes, and experienced seeing one elephant on my two week long trip. This was the start of my relationship with cultural bias. Three years later, I find myself listening to my teacher, Danika, describe all of the different things we are going to see in the city of La Paz; the main points that stand out in my mind are llama fetuses, witches and fortune tellers. My mind races with pictures of free palm readings, long black cloaks, and slimy bodies of dead llamas placed in buckets. I trot down the cobble stone road, enthralled in the colors surrounding me, from rainbow scrunchies, to bright green potions, and the fluffiest hats you will ever see. To my surprise, the llama fetuses are not small or slimy. They are about a foot long, some covered with fur and others dry to the bone. The witches I was told about were extremely different than previously expected. They carried small top hats with long layered skirts. I look around noticing that there are no pointy hats, no broom sticks, and no bubbling cauldrons. ‘Of course!’ I thought. I realized that once again culture bias had gotten the best of me. As my time at The Traveling School progresses, it becomes more clear to me that the most bizarre rumors I hear about a place become what I expect the most. How can I realize I have a cultural bias before I step foot in the place that I already have preconceived images of? 

I believe the foot of this question lies within assumptions. Due to things I have learned in school or articles and books I have read, I have the false idea that I am fully aware of what a country, or city or culture is like. In order to perceive cultures differently before I am there, I think it is important to realize that every place has their own diversities, and that there are individual customs within larger groups of people. As a first step toward recognizing and ridding myself of cultural bias, I want to stop assuming a certain place will be a certain way, and teach myself to understand that sometimes it is okay to be ignorant before arriving in a certain place. 

RRQ by Blakely, Guatemala:


I had timed the moment the sun set behind the horizon nearly to the exact second. A dark red blended into a vibrant orange, which then formed a creamy pink, that melded to a lively yellow. I sat alone, but still surrounded by people. Facing the descending sun, I felt incredibly alive. My mind was swirling with wishes, desires, hopes and aspirations. Counting down the seconds until the sun sets is not something I do often, but I find that whenever I do, it fills me with an intense gratefulness and passion for life. It’s as if the whole world exists in a state of pure contentment, and not one thing wants to exist alone, because the real beauty arises through existing together. This sunset manifested in me an excitement for the future. As the day was coming to a close, I didn’t feel sad for what was ending. Rather I felt a sense of anticipation for what was to come. The future is not something I like to think about a lot. It consists of questions marks and stressful musings regarding what exactly I want to do. Recently, I have discovered I have a lot more thoughts about the future – thoughts that make me eager to grow older and continue moving through the world. This sunset made me not only excited for the future, but also secure. I was looking at the sunset, but I saw something just beyond – I saw a future for myself that was inspiring and enlivening and beautiful. I made a wish as the sun steadily tucked itself away behind the mountains. My wish was not that I figure out what I’m doing to do with my life, like it normally is. Rather, it was a wish for a future that I have enough confidence and self assurance in what I want my future to look like that I could throughly construct a wish encompassing this image. These feelings had been gathering for some time, but in the fleeting ten seconds before the sun set, they came together in the form of hope, taking the place of fear. 

RRQ by Carly, Colorado:

The salt flats have been the most magical and breathtaking part of our South American adventure so far. We loaded into three jeeps, and made our way out onto the Salar de Uyuni. As soon as the cars came to a stop, we jumped out, and kicked up our heels. I burrowed into the damp, coarse, salt, only to leave a moment later to dip my toes into the water, bubbling up from the earth nearby. After scrambling around the spring, I headed off by myself. There was an astounding amount of space everywhere I looked. The crunchy salt spanned out forever, until it reached an extremely flat horizon. I loved being a part of the endless space and completely unique setting. 

The minute we started across the flats, I felt satisfied, I felt like this is what the semester looks like, this is how adventure feels. I was surprised by the bubbling springs, and loved splashing around in them. Most of all, I am grateful for the time I got to spend by myself. I have rarely experienced such an intense and loud silence. The sound, or absence of sound, on the Salar was ancient and powerful. It made me feel tiny and immense all at the same time. The endless expanse of salt would have made me uneasy if it had been just land. However, I was overwhelmed with the difference between the salt and earth, that I felt comforted by the unique space that surrounded me. I am grateful to the salt flats for providing me with such a feeling of wonder, inspiration, and adventure. 

History and Government

Our class has been learning about political and economic systems, and how they are manifested in past and present South American politics. At the end of our time in Ecuador, we dove into nuts and bolts of capitalism and socialism. We used the Ecuadorian political election as a case study for learning about how the current socialist government has sought to build a revolution that provides opportunities for education, health care, and redistribute resources to focus on developing essential infrastructure. The class has since been exploring how Bolivia’s current government is indicative of a similar trend and has been intrigued by the story of Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president. He rose to power through his populist messages and has given Bolivia’s 36 ethnic groups representation in the government. The class is currently reading excerpts from Eduardo Galeano’s, “Open Veins of Latin America”, a descriptive and poignant book that dives into the consequences of capitalism and imperialism in creating Latin America’s ‘backwardness.’ This text allows us to continue to look at how these systems have had detrimental effects in building the world’s ‘winners and losers.’ The book also specifically discusses the rise and fall of Potosi, whose pure silver financed the vast majority of the Spanish empire. We are currently visiting Potosi for several days, and the class will be discussing and experiencing what the mines look like today, and how they have both changed and remained similar to the days of colonization. We will then be connecting observations to the class’ learning about foreign influence, and the pervasive and continuing effects that shape South American societies. 

Honors Intermediate Spanish

Students demonstrated their ownership of translations and described their experiences thus far in the semester during their midterm exams. They have been building confidence in comprehension and speaking abilities through a variety of methods. The class enjoyed some more time in Spanish immersion classes after midterms and began to dive into new verb tenses from the future to the subjunctive. We have since been practicing the progressive tense, or the ‘-ing’ form, and the future tense. Through translating songs and reading stories of local legends, the class has expanded their knowledge of verbs and vocabulary and practiced discussing the stories we read. We’re working on journal entries in Spanish with new grammar topics and looking forward to continuing to put skills to use on a daily basis, through more challenging readings and discussions inside and outside of the classroom. 

Advanced Spanish

Students kicked off their “Comparaciones” (Comparisons) unit reading three poems by Pablo Neruda: Oda a la alegría, Oda a la tristeza and Oda al día feliz,  and writing their own odes inspired by the Salar de Uyuni.  This unit will focus on comparing English and Spanish languages and the ideas students are equipped to express. We will focus on reading poetry and short prose by Latin American authors, writing original compositions and translating back and forth between the two languages. Reading poetry allows us to discuss more challenging abstract ideas and expand vocabulary beyond the practical. Recently, we took a field trip to the Mercado de Hechizeria (Witchcraft Market) in La Paz and students got to ask how to cure a broken heart, and learn about the offerings needed to bless the construction of a new home. This proved to be a fun outing using Spanish skills outside normal applications. Looking forward, the class will cover new conjugations of the subjunctive mood and build a poetry and translation portfolio.

Natural Science

In science class students are learning about global climate change. We are exploring the biogeochemical processes behind our earth’s climate, such as; the greenhouse effect and positive and negative feedback loops. Students started the unit by making estimates of different slices of the earth’s energy budget and then uncovering the real percentages of sunlight that is reflected, absorbed and re-emitted. They also broke into small groups to make and perform rap songs about the global carbon cycle, and the fluxes, sources and sinks found on earth. This week we returned from the Salar de Uyuni (the largest salt flat on earth) where students learned how salts accumulate in a flat space trapped between mountains when the evaporation rate is higher than rainfall. They also had a chance to explore diverse rocky landscapes, including fossilized coral peeling off the rocks where it once grew. Another highlight was the Laguna Colorada, where mineral-rich waters grow bright pink algae, which in turn adds pinkness to the  flamingos who feed on the algae  under the snow-capped peaks. Looking forward, we will delve deeper into the human and social implications of  climate change and hold a mock international meeting to wrap up this unit.

Photo Update!!!

Hiking in Cajas National Park

We are periodically uploading photos from the semester HERE. We just updated the link with photos from the Galapagos and a recent hike outside of Cuenca in Cajas National Park.

Homestays and Hiking and Tortoises, Oh My!

As we drove up the mountain to Agualongo, nervousness and excitement were palpable. What would our families be like? Would they like us?  What would it feel like to stay in Agualongo? Approaching the town, the bus stopped in the cancha, which was slowly filling with new faces. Although unfamiliar, bearing a resemblance to our own in terms of the mix of emotions that comes with meeting your new “family”. Together we shuffled to the casa communal, where we awaited our assignments to a family. As the community gathered, individuals took turns standing to offer words of welcome, excitement, and fears. Would we like them? Would we get along with their children? Would we think their homes, community and way of living would be enough? We divided up into small family groups and headed off in different directions on the cobbled street to begin our first evening with our new friends.

Day one began with a bang as Tandana staff, Herman and Shannon, dazzled us with lessons about local history, land distribution in Ecuador, and the origins of the Huasipungo; a transliterated Quichua word meaning “house door” referring to a parcel of land given to an indigena by the Hacienda, as remuneration for working the land. Other lessons included a Quichua class, taught by former TTS teacher and Tandana Founder, Anna Taft. The girls learned words, phrases, and basic sentence structure for communicating with families, as all spoke Quichua as a first language. After Quichua class the girls took part in a cooking class where they learned how to make a traditional meal consisting of potato pancakes, corn, salad, plantains, and a delicious sweet corn dessert.

One of the highlights of the homestay section, was Día Del Campo. This was an afternoon planned for us entirely by our homestay families and community members. It began with all of us trudging up a hill in a complete downpour. Everyone was soaked, the plan, as most are in Ecuador, was a bit fuzzy and none of us knew where we were headed. We arrived at a crest in the hill where, miraculously and within minutes, our families had constructed tarp shelters for us to stand under. As Ari, Carly, and Blakely brought back water logged firewood, the ladies of the community constructed three small fires out of piles of soaked Eucalyptus wood, and put us to work making traditional tortillas, where Molly ran the production scene. It was magical. As we huddled under the tarp making tortillas, a feast unfolded before our eyes. Chicken was grilled, tortillas were made, Sambo was prepared and an amazing mixture of corn, beans and grains were laid out in the traditional manner on a picnic blanket for us to share. As food was evenly divided among all present members, as is the culture, many were overwhelmed with the massive amount of generosity, hospitality, and kindness that was bestowed upon us.

As our time with our new families came to an end, we took a celebratory trip to Yaguarcocha, or as Danika calls it “Ecuadorian Disneyland!” After an evening of boat rides around the lake and eating ice cream with our families we drove to the other side of the lake where Tandana treated us and our families to a dinner of fresh trout.

On Saturday and Sunday, the ladies of TTS29 had the opportunity to participate in their first Minga! The Minga, or community work day, originated in the time of the Inca Empire, when all members of the empire were required to pay their toll to society by providing manual labor to benefit the whole. The project we helped with was creating a concrete drainage system along the side of the road. Agualongo is located at the bottom of a steep hill bordering one of the many local haciendas. The purpose of the drainage system is to divert runoff, so the community’s agricultural fields would not be flooded in the rainy season. This project was supposed to be government funded, however, not coincidentally we fear, the project was put on hold after the drainage system was completed on the Hacienda’s side of the road, leaving the community of Agualongo to fend for themselves. Members of the community, Tandana, and TTS came together to haul rocks, gravel, and mix and pour cement, while sharing jokes, chicha, and light hearted banter.

After the second day of the Minga, TTS was honored with a community despedida meal consisting of massive amounts of food; chicken, choclo (local corn from the first harvest), veggies and Cuy (guinea pig)! After sharing the meal, TTS29 presented their portion of the despedida, or farewell celebration.  TTS sang two songs, one in Quichua and the other a song of gratitude in English, provided by the lovely Sierra from her Up With People experience. Afterwards, the TTS ladies expressed their gratitude towards their individual families and the community in mini Spanish speeches! All the girls enjoyed their time with their new Ecuadorian family, particularly Dani, who formed a very close bond with her homestay mom. After a tearful goodbye, TTS loaded up into vehicles and headed back to Otavalo for one last night.

After a full day’s travel, the group arrived in Riobamba! Our time in Riobamba was heavily academic focused, but we did find time to sneak out for an overnight hike to the Refugio at El Altar. El Altar is the name of a volcano located in a cirque of mountains, with a beautiful sulphuric green lake below. The group began the day early with Sydney and Aliah leading the charge. It was a full seven miles to the Refugio, a rustic basecamp lodging where we spent the night, before the final push of 3km to the lake the next morning. A big shout out goes to Eila, Tyson, Megan, and Zoey, who despite suffering various stomach ailments, made it through the hike with huge smiles, and a collective great sense of humor. After the lake, the group returned to the Refugio for one final warm meal to fuel us the seven miles up hills, through knee deep mud, down valleys, and across pampas, to return to the trailhead.

“Good morning, good morning, Galapagos lovers!”, said the ship’s crew every morning at 6:30 over the loud speakers. Our Galapagos weekend consisted of exactly that. In the morning, our group and eight parents and siblings began a full days’ worth of activities. Beginning with snorkeling, we spent a few hours swimming with sea lions, turtles, sharks, sting rays, and countless amounts of fish. In the afternoon, we went on excursions to all the different islands. On the island of Santa Cruz, we visited the Darwin center and saw the giant tortoises. We also had the pleasure of seeing “Lonesome George”, the dead but most famous tortoise of the Galapagos. On the Island of North Seymour, we saw the famous blue footed boobies and Darwin’s finches. Both Erin Rose and Josie particularly enjoyed this section. On Mosquito Island, we saw cacti that were more than 400 years old, as well as native iguanas! One of the group’s highlights was swimming with the sea lions. Daniela’s dad, Marc, was able to get up close and personal with a sea lion, who did flips around him!  Overall, TTS29’s time in the Galapagos was active and engaging, leaving all students wanting more.

A sea lion posing with the students in the Galapagos.


Class time with 400 year old cacti and iguanas.


Next stop Cuenca, for some city living, colonial building exploration, gelato tasting and…. midterms!  Wish us luck!

 Academic Update

Honors History and Government

History class is beginning our unit on the post-colonial period. We will focus on how colonial tendencies have continued through the period known as neocolonialism and how imperialism has brought about changes, rebellions, and challenges in recent decades.

Previously, history class has been tying up our experiences with numerous guest speakers, community visits, and friends from the community of Agualongo. Students connected the lessons learned from people we have met to our classroom. Theses lessons include the colonial legacy, the fusion of Spanish and Indigenous cultures, efforts of the dominant Spanish culture to oppress the indigenous population, and acts of rebellion against oppression, both large and small. The students met Segundo, a friend of Tandana and a Kichwa professor. He spoke to us about the origins of this indigenous language spoken throughout the Andean region. He described how the population has fought to preserve their language and traditions and the challenges that remain. We meet Dolores and Francisco Perugachi in Agualongo, parents of several of the girls’ host families. They worked on a nearby hacienda that has greatly affected the community of Agualongo. Dolores and Francisco shared stories about their life and employment related to the hacienda. Their demeanor and how they responded to hardships made quite an impression on the students. Way back when we were in Otavalo, we visited an Afro-Ecuadorian community called El Juncal in the Chota River Valley and met a charismatic community leader named Olga. The students reflected on the lessons and inspiration that they took away from Segundo, Olga, Dolores, and Francisco. – Danika Robison

Dolores (left) and Francisco Perugachi (Second from right). Margarita (second from left) and Anna (right) from Tandana translated from Kichwa to Spanish to English.

During our visit to the Afro-Ecuadorian community, we tried our skills at dance offs with Olga, visited her uncle’s fruit farm, enjoyed many mangoes and learned about the history, successes, and challenges that face the Afro-Ecuadorian population.

Reflection by Eila, 15- New Hampshire

Segundo, a man who introduced himself as a ‘Kichwa-speaker,’ was full of pride for what he taught us about his language, where it comes from, and where it is now. When sharing about the struggles the language faces currently, he looked and sounded personally burdened. Segundo taught me about how Kichwa is struggling to survive and one of the main reasons for that is the lack of support form the government. He explained how generations are starting to stray of learning Kichwa and they are questioning why they should learn a language that is not spoken in other parts of the world. I admire how Segundo addressed this and did not deny it. He went on to explain that not only does being bilingual increase intelligence, but just because Kichwa is not spoken in the US or in Spain, doesn’t mean that it is not needed as part of heritage or ethnicity. Segundo’s genuine concern for the loss of Kichwa in Ecuador and his pride when speaking about his culture gave me a new perspective on what indigenous identity can look like in an individual versus a whole population. He described how acts of rebellion against longstanding oppression are possible in both individuals and large groups. Segundo’s own attitude towards keeping his culture alive showed me his passion for his indigenous identity alone is an act of rebellion. He discussed how Kichwa is not solely spoken within communities but is valued more and taught in schools. He also talked about how people have made the effort to create Kichwa dictionaries, so that if the language does disappear it will be from lack of interest and not because it was never written down. Examples like these gave me a much clearer perspective on what it looks like when a large group, made up of people that have a similar mindset as Segundo, act together against oppression of indigenous cultures. The way people work together to rebel through education by creating bilingual schools to provide a  comfortable environment for all students is just an example of how people have united in the face of oppression. This gives me a broader perspective on how the legacy of colonialism and it’s ongoing presence have brought people together and united parts of Ecuador.

Reflection by Josie, 15- North Carolina

I learned about the hacienda system first hand from Francisco and Dolores. What made their story special to me was that I know I was not just reading about indigenous people working for a rich plantation in a book, written by someone unaffiliated and unaffected by the unforgiving hacienda system. Instead, I had the opportunity to hear about their lives; from young children working long hours every day, to the man and woman fighting to keep their land to this day. I appreciated Dolores and Francisco for speaking honestly, without need of sugar coating or dramatizing their words. Specifically, I learned that the hacienda system is not just part of the colonial legacy. In fact, Francisco is having to fight through the law for a plot of land he has been working, as the hacienda wants to take it back due to his lack of ability to work for them (after approximately 70 years of employment). I realized that this system is not a piece of history to be looked back at but one to be addressed as a prevalent issue today. I was surprised by Dolores, who was able to explain a harsh story of her own childhood and would then keep smiling or even giggle, as if she had not just said that she used to work all day long for almost nothing. She did not let the difficult experiences of her life hold her back from getting the most joy from her current life. I greatly admire both Dolores and Francisco.

Another person who changed my understanding of class in Ecuador is Olga. I loved how lively and passionate she was about sharing her information with us. From the mango rewards and the dancing punishments, she obviously wanted us to remember her and her history. It worked! I learned how Afro-Ecuadorians were (and in many ways, still are) thought of as the lowest social group of people. Olga explained how those with the darkest skin were considered not even human. She told us that because of the lack of recognition and resulting lack of well-paying jobs, Afro-Ecuadorians have had to start from ground zero to build their economic (not to mention class) status. I gained a new understanding that within the colonial legacy it had not been indigenous that were looked down on the most, but Afro-Ecuadorians. Rankings, I learned, generally speaking, were in order of skin: Spaniards (being the whitest), then mestizos, indigenous, and finally, Afro-Ecuadorians. However, I cannot leave out Olga’s spirit, which in modest terms, was on fire. It was clear through singing, dancing, and much expression that she is proud of who she is. Olga made an effort to help us understand not only challenges Afro-Ecuadorians have faced but also the beautiful, positive parts of her culture.

Beginning Spanish 

Beginning Spanish has been busy getting real world practice both with local Spanish immersion teachers in Otavalo and again in the community of Agualongo during homestays!  In our week with our Ecuadorian teachers the class focused on solidifying the basics of the Spanish language; days of the week, telling time, numbers, adjectives, articles, massive amounts of vocabulary, and an introduction to irregular verbs in the present tense. The following week students’ conversational abilities were put to the test as they were required to advocate for themselves, state their needs, and relay schedules to their homestay families. While in homestays all students performed an interview with their families on a subject of the students choosing.  Through this experience they learned and identified new vocabulary, wrote about their experience in Spanish, and selected and translated a meaningful quote from the interview.  The students were then asked to reflect on the quote and how it affected them. At the end of the week the girls prepared mini farewell speeches to their families and the community where they shared good memories and thanked them for welcoming them into their home.

Additionally, the class has continued to work on conjugating irregular present tense verbs, studying emotion vocabulary, how to express oneself, differentiating between the use of the verbs “ser” and “estar”, conversational practice and, of course, reviewing for midterms. – Tory Smith

Intermediate Conversational Spanish

Intermediate Spanish loved diving into conversations about Ecuadorian food, customs, traditions, and living with their host families in Agualongo. Students worked on an oral history project that focused on topics from gender roles, marriage, traditional medicine, life stories, employment at the Hacienda, hopes for their children, and a spectrum of other stories that the families where excited to share. The students were able to get a better sense of their family’s priorities and values through constructing and asking questions related to their curiosities. All the students came away from the host family experience with greater confidence and enthusiasm for Spanish communication. The students wrote summaries of their interviews in Spanish and described their families and homes. The class has since been expanding their Galapagos vocabulary through creative children’s stories and phrase books related to their learning while in the islands. We are now reviewing for the midterm and building on our grammar skills by continuing to practice describing experiences, places, and people from our semester. The class is also practicing with the two verbs forms in the past tense and the ever present ser vs estar descriptions of ‘to be’. They will put their skills to use in written and oral tests for the midterm. – Danika Robison

Honors Advanced Spanish

During the past several weeks from Otavalo through our homestays in Agualongo and on to Riobamba, Galápagos, and Cuenca, we have had many opportunities to get around using Spanish. In Otavalo students worked in pairs during their Spanish immersion classes with local teachers and learned a plethora new subjunctive verb uses. Following that, Advanced Spanish student were paired with another TTS student with less Spanish experience and lived with a local family. During homestays they collected oral histories and translated them for a joint Spanish and Global Studies project. Recently, they have been working on an oral presentation about a social issue or a cause in Ecuador, Peru, or Bolivia. This project will culminate with each student sending an email, in Spanish, to someone actively working on the cause. Next, we will be moving into our Comparaciones unit which will include finding similarities and differences between Spanish and English languages and related cultures. This unit will dig into translation and critical reading of poetry and short literature in Spanish and some original composition. -Maria McMorrow

Natural Science 

Science is wrapping up our Natural Resources Management unit by writing mini essays on some aspect of petroleum development in Ecuador. Over the past few weeks we have looked at the concept of Tragedy of the Commons by “fishing” for Cheetos in a “lake”, as well as identifying stakeholders and their values. When dissecting some of these renewable and non-renewable resources we have also learned how ecosystems provide non-material services like clean air and flood absorption. Those ecosystem services can sometimes be commodified or given legal protections, and we learned about how this has played out in current Ecuadorian politics. Of course, the highlight of science class in the past weeks has been our visit to the Galápagos Islands. Starting on the island of Baltra and crossing to Santa Cruz and ending in San Cristobal; we also stopped at numerous islets, each with fascinatingly different, seemingly alien landscapes. Each island’s differences caused a unique set of plants and animals to colonize it. Students, teachers, and families loved how the animals have evolved with few natural predators and are unafraid of humans. To top it off, we went to two different interpretive centers, on our first and last days, where we learned about the tortoise conservation program, the human history and environmental issues currently facing the archipelago. – Maria McMorrow


Over the last few weeks Precalculus transitioned into Chapter 7: Systems of Linear Equations and Systems of Inequalities. As we began to learn how to solve these systems we saw how systems of linear equations allow for many practical applications. These applications range from solving mixture problems, determining velocity and time traveled with and against currents, analyzing businesses by finding break-even points through Cost and Revenue functions, and much more! As the chapter progressed, we learned how to add more variables and equations into the systems and how we can transcribe data from graphs into systems which allow us to find different data points within the function.  The last unit of the chapter focused on graphing systems of equality and inequality and culminated with a final test.

Following the test, we began Chapter 8: Matrices and Determinants. Students began learning about augmented matrices, how we can use them to solve linear systems, and how they enable us to simplify larger systems with many more variables. Currently, the students are reviewing all that they have learned this semester in preparation for their midterm exam. We will resume work with matrices after midterms. – Tory Smith

Algebra 2

Algebra 2 has continued our exploration of graphing and interpreting data models through both rational functions and exponential functions. Our small team works incredibly well together by helping one another problem solve, whether it be the artful process of searching for real roots of equations or perhaps a simple, helpful reminder of how to plug a cubic regression into a calculator. Our time is momentarily filled with review for the midterm exam, placing on hold our transition into logarithms and variation functions – calculators at the ready! – Abigail Hunter

Literature and Composition

Our intensive exploration of identity and the process of becoming has continued as Literature students spend their time pouring over quotes and analysis while working and re-working their midterm essays about The Queen of Water. Grappling with prompts which range from analyzing the book’s conversation surrounding identity and race in Ecuador, to looking into what factors and characters  influence one’s construction of identity, each student has grabbed hold of a prompt and focused in on what interests them most. They have experienced the delicate balance of peer editing, as the hallways of our hostel fill with crafted sentences read aloud and suggestions of how to better construct an argument are offered in return. As we transition away from Ecuador, we will dive into a unit on poetry paired with Paulo Coelho’s magnificent parable tale, The Alchemist. To fully relish in the vividness of this short book, we will be spending some time reading aloud as a group under Andean skies and stars! – Abigail Hunter

Global Studies

What is the purpose and benefit of foreign aid? In what form is it most effective? What role does the United States play in the modern foreign aid industry? These are the questions which settle in the middle of our discussion these days as students explore the wealth of information regarding the birth of the modern aid industry. Students have read and presented articles on the multi-layered sources of foreign aid:  international banking organizations such as The World Bank and the IMF, The United Nations, government directed programs and Non-Governmental Organizations. Through reading articles on the concept of development, foreign aid case studies and drawing on their own recent experiences as foreigners, the students are gracefully grappling with one of Global Studies’ essential questions: how do we have a positive impact on the world? After a lively midterm debate, students will transition to learning further about globalization and international trade, with a specific case study on our future locales. – Danika Robison


What are the students learning about right now?  Academic Update!


We spent our week in Otavalo in small Spanish immersion classes in the mornings. From grammar practice, to conversation, to exploring important local spots, such as the Peguche waterfall, the students made the most of their opportunities to practice conversation before moving into the community of Agualongo.  Our Spanish, Global Studies, History, and Literature classes have been discussing and immersed in themes related to indigenous identity, the social and cultural hierarchy that was created by colonization and indigenous and mestizo relations. We have been learning about daily life in Ecuadorian communities through our experiences in the community of Agualongo and reflecting on the people that we have learned from and the lessons we want to carry forward in the rest of the semester.


During our week in Otavalo, our Literature class was also able to meet Maria Virginia Farinango, the author of the book The Queen of Water, which is based on Maria Virginia’s childhood.  The book has offered the students many opportunities for lively discussion as they reflect on her personal story of reconnecting with her indigenous identity and personal abilities after working for a mestizo family from a very young age.

Natural Science:

Science class has been wrapping up Introduction to Field Science, and has moved into a natural resources management unit as they are digging into the Yasuni proposal related to drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Looking forward to the Galapagos, the students are thinking about the tragedy of the commons and will soon be bringing their lessons forward to learning about the natural history of these amazing islands.

History, Culture and Identity:

Our academics during our stay in Agualongo were focused on the history, culture, and identity of the community and region that we were staying in. We learned about how the community’s connection to Hacienda Perugachi, a large estate that produces agricultural products that has employed many members of the community for generations. The hacienda system traditionally held a captive labor force of indigenous workers. Agualongo’s history of providing workers to the estate gave us numerous opportunities to connect our learning about the reality of haciendas to the stories that we heard from our families and community members. We heard from some special guest speakers, two of whom are some of the community’s abuelitos, or grandparents of some of our host parents, as they talked about their experiences working on the hacienda. Their stories shed light on how workers were kept indebted to the hacienda and the challenges that are still faced by the community and the abuelitos in relation to working conditions and discrimination.

Global Studies:

In Global Studies students are asked to complete a weekly assignment that requires them to react, reflect, and question an issue raised during that week.  We refer to these assignments as “RRQs”. The purpose of the assignment is for students to evaluate situations that resonate strongly with them, encouraging them to process their experiences and interactions throughout our travels. Here are some insights into our studies and the students’ perceptions through some of their RRQ submissions (each student is reflecting on a different aspect/ situation of the week):

Josie – 15, North Carolina

Josie chose to reflect on an exercise from Literature and History class. The two classes combined for an Introduction to Identity discussion as they begin to discuss what it means to be indigenous.  The History class participated in an activity that asked students to identify different aspects of their identity on small pieces of paper. During the activity students were asked to give away aspects of their identities (by giving the teacher those pieces of paper they previously wrote on). In the end, the teacher, acting as the oppressor, took away their last piece of paper (the students last identity description) leaving the students to “experience” what it is like when identities are defined for you, as those who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

I have never thought about identity in quite the same way as I did today during History class. I felt an anger about an identity being chosen for me that I had not experienced before, probably because that’s the first time I could tell that I didn’t have a choice. After narrowing down my identity slips of paper to a mere two slips, I was feeling confident. I figured I would be asked to choose one final description for myself and the one I picked would be the right one and I would go on with my day feeling just a bit more accomplished. I was wrong. Instead, Abigail took the one I would have held onto. And I was not happy. I know I was attached to what I believed to be the ‘correct’ piece of paper but not how much I was attached until it was no longer in my possession. When ‘human being’ was snatched out of my hand, I immediately tensed up and literally did not let go until the paper ripped. I felt defensive and frustrated. A fire lit up in me to fight back in a split second. Even though it was just an activity, I truly felt as if a part of me was stripped away from my core. I can only relate in a superficial way.

I have a huge amount of empathy and respect for those who experience parts of their identity actually torn away from them. This exercise made me think about how I view people’s identities, both the people closest to me and on the other side of the world. Do I base people’s identities on stereotypes or labels? Do I really listen to what someone might actually want their identity to be? I hope to become more aware of identity in a larger world perspective with those around me and within myself. This was an intense experience for me and I look forward to seeing how it changes my perspective.

Molly – 17, California

Molly chose to reflect on their first experience with internet since they have been away.

Life without the internet has been peaceful. Removing it from my life all together has been easy and removed much of the stress of keeping up with everything: Snapchats from friends, Instagram posts, and random Buzzfeed quizzes. Life is simpler. And then we had our first “own time”, during which we could go online. Going into it my plan, which I succeeded in, was to only check email, reply to the updates my friends had sent me and get off. Then I actually sat down at the computer and that changed everything. It took me a few trys to open the familiar Google symbol on the desktop and although it was all in Spanish the muscle memory I’ve been developing my entire teenage life kicked in and I was quickly looking into Gmail. After a short pause as I asked for help inserting the @ symbol, I was in. Fox News, New York Times, college application requests, and soccer updates filled my screen as my hands started shaking and an anxious feeling, I’ve only had a few times but know all too well, flooded my body. I selected emails furiously, deleting them as I searched desperately for my friend’s names in the sender title. Reading through their emails and looking at the pictures they sent me was all too strange, like having a window into what my life could have been but is not. I could almost see myself sitting next to them talking about the latest soccer game or our newest crushes. Writing them frantic emails trying to fit in every detail of my life here and commenting on what was going on there. I realized that I needed to log off before being pulled further in and so a last, ‘Love ya, talk to you soon, Molly,’ I ended my session.

The whole experience left me shook up. I hadn’t thought that I would react that way, be a little excited, but never anxious. When I did start to get that ‘butterflies, borderline anxiety’ attack feeling in my stomach it shocked me and in turn made my worry more. Looking back on the times that I’ve used social media, in reflection of my scary internet experience, I can really only think of a few times where images from Instagram or an article from Facebook has really stuck with me. Most of the time that I use those apps, it is to quickly communicate a photo to my friends, procrastinate during homework, or as a reflex. The latter is the one that scares me the most, when I add up the minutes and hours that I’ve spent mindlessly thumbing through posts. I wonder what sort of mindful thinking I could have been doing, reading a book, or picking up a hard copy of a newspaper. This is not to say that I will throw the internet away forever and it is still fun to take those weird and random (yet entirely accurate) quizzes for friends but I do believe that I will definitely cut back on how I use the internet while also being more conscious of why I’m using it at any given time.

Zoey – 15, Tennessee

Zoey reflected on her experience when the a presidential political campaign interrupted a community work day.

On Saturday as we were working in the minga (community work day) the project was interrupted by representatives of the presidential candidate Lasso’s campaign. Through Anna Taft (Tandana’s director) and some of the local teenagers we were working with, I was able to learn that members of the campaign were offering to bring in medical supplies to the community, as well as host future medical clinics. While this announcement and the general arrival of the campaign drew the attention of some of the community, when volunteers and community members learned that the campaign was also offering food and Lasso t-shirts, a crowd gathered. While it was unclear to me if food would only be received if votes were pledged to Lasso or not, that seemed to be the general feeling among those in the crowd. Many of the younger locals who I talked to were unenthusiastic about Lasso as a candidate and refused to even pay attention to the speeches that were being given, while many of the older community members and parents walked away with bags of food and campaign merchandise. From Anna, I was also able to learn that much of the indigenous population in the area actually prefers Lasso over the new candidate from the current party in power. Their reasoning for this was that since Correa (the current president) and his party have been in power for ten years, this new candidate will be a new beginning, and if Lasso does not keep his general promises or his promises to the indigenous population they could rise up and get him thrown out because this has happened in the past with other candidates.

Immediately, I felt sad and angry that Lasso’s strategy included manipulating people with material things much less than the campaign members seem to have. The representatives also ‘pitched in’ for a few minutes while other representatives took photos but stopped after those few minutes. This reminded me of what were discussing in classes a few weeks ago about the ‘savior complex’ but also had the element of a political motive. It made me angry that such a manipulative method of campaigning and an untruthful method of promotion and advertisement can be used in political campaigns. The scenario of ‘a new and different beginning’ and the vow to rise up if promises are not kept is hauntingly familiar to me after the recent United States election. After the campaign left, and the minga was over, I was able to reflect and realize that I am still ignorant to so many current events and issues in Ecuador to the extent that it is hard to come up with an informed opinion about politics here. I also found it interesting how many times it takes an outsider perspective to have an alternate opinion of events like this whether or not the outsider is more likely to see things ‘as they truly are.’ It is strange and somewhat exciting to think about politics and other similarities and differences between the US and Ecuador and to realize how similar these two countries with stark contrasts can be.

Carly – 16, Colorado

Carly’s RRQ for the week touches on their visit to the museum of Oswaldo Guayasamin, an Ecuadorian artist, in Cayambe (outside of Quito).

When I entered Guayasamin’s Chapel of Man museum it immediately filled me with wonder and amazement. The canvases are massive with bold colors and bolder images. I felt inspired as I wandered across the top floor before the tour started. I wondered about the stories and subjects behind the paintings. As we moved through the museum, however, I began to feel the weight of all the tragic stories pushing me down. There was never a break between the depictions of victims of famine and victims of torture. Guayasamin dedicated is life to ‘speaking’ for the unheard and silent. I could not imagine having enough strength to commit yourself to a life of depicting misery for the sake of others. Leaving the museum I felt sad yet still inspired by and grateful to the artist for his work.

I believe that I felt emotions like wonder, amazement, and inspiration because Guayasamin is an amazing artist. I also think that the sadness, discomfort, and guilt were present because while I’ve known for a long time that things like famine, war, torture, war, and oppression have and do happen, I have never seen such real and harsh depictions of them, in such a large dose. I believe that the guilt comes because I had no idea how intense these situations are for the victims and I felt uncomfortable looking at such human things. I feel like I did, and still do, block out parts of the world that make me uncomfortable. I should be facing the situation head on, educating myself, and asking why. I hope that in the future I will find the strength to do just that and more.

The girls have been busy over the last couple of weeks!!!




View of Quito taken from the highest bell tower of the Basilica.

Experiencing Ecuador

Hacienda Guachala and the Rose Plantation

Upon departure from the jungle, we immediately felt the difference between our old environment and new.  Leaving behind the hot and humid climate of the Amazon we excitedly headed to the higher and dryer climate of Cayambe!  Our new home became Hacienda Guachala; a beautiful, historic hacienda on the outskirts of the city. This allowed us to experience firsthand a part of the local history and land reform policies. While staying at Hacienda Guachala, we visited a nearby rose plantation, which provided an inside peek of one of Ecuador’s largest export businesses. Returning from the tour, the ladies were filled with energy and questions. What is the environmental impact of the chemicals used and how does that affect the workers? What are worker’s rights in Ecuador pertaining to being informed and protected from workplace danger, i.e. chemicals?  And the even larger question, what role should we play as consumers; to support this industry or not? In our post activity debrief, all students contributed passionately, while both Zoey and Sierra led the group to examine alternate perspectives on the topic.

Fundacion Azulado

The next day, we were visited at Hacienda Guachala by Maria Jose of Fundacion Azulado. Fundacion Azulado is a local organization geared towards decreasing domestic violence in Ecuador. The organization works specifically with women and children survivors of violence and provides education to the broader community about alternate tools for families to use in conflict resolution and communication of needs. As a follow up to the presentation, the girls visited a local elementary school where they read a book written by the founder of the organization and facilitated activities with the children about the importance of “saying no” and being aware of things that make them uncomfortable. Blakely and Erin Rose led their groups in explaining activities to the students, while Ariella and Megan paid their dues by getting pig piled upon, on the playground. Meanwhile Molly, Eila and Carly held their own in the kindergarten room, painting and playing with the kids.

Exploring Quito

While in Cayambe, we took a day trip to visit the nearby UNESCO world heritage site of Quito.  TTS toured the Capilla del Hombre; the world-famous exhibition of Oswaldo Guayasamin.  Guayasamin is one of Latin America’s most famous artists who dedicated his career to painting both the suffering and the hope of indigenous groups around the world, but mainly in Latin America. The visual message of this museum extremely moved our group, particularly Eila and Daniela, who spent the morning diving into their thoughts and interpretations of the paintings.  After the museum, we paid a visit to the Basilica and climbed to the highest bell tower and appreciated the view of Quito.

Otavalo & Spanish Immersion

After a week in Cayambe, we loaded our bags onto our first transporte publica of the semester and traveled to Otavalo!  In Otavalo, the girls were split up into small groups and introduced to their Spanish Immersion teachers. Each group met with their teacher for 2.5 hours every morning for four days. Groups practiced conversing, worked on grammar, learned new vocabulary, and took field trips to waterfalls, cafes, and markets. The group response to Spanish Immersion was resoundingly and overwhelmingly positive. Everyone wished they could have had more time with their new Ecuadorian teachers, especially Sydney, who has taken up a new and passionate interest in learning the language.

El Juncal

As we went down the mountain from Otavalo on our way to El Juncal, a community in the mostly Afro-Ecuadorian Chota valley, we felt the hotter, drier climate even on the bus. Our first stop was the “La Milagrosa” farm owned by Don (Mr.) Fabian Palacios, where we tried his mango and tuna (cactus fruit) and learned about the strategic pest control techniques he uses to avoid spraying chemicals on his diversified small farm. With his niece Olga Palacios, we continued on to visit a pottery studio and eventually landed at the El Juncal community center where we explored museum panels about the Afro-Ecuadorian civil rights movement and its heroes. To finish off the night, we ate a rice and guandules meal and got lessons from Olga on how to dance La Bomba. While we all enjoyed our impromptu PE class, Josie gets a special shout-out for excellence in rhythm.

While touring the Obraje Museum, our host, Josmila showed us around the old weaving factory where indigenous men worked originally as slaves and later as indentured servants. This factory produced textiles ranging from rugs and ponchos to clothing and bags, all made on Spanish looms. After the factory tour we were given a brief overview of Quichua culture, extending from traditional ceremonies, weaving methods, clothing, festivities, shamanic practices and funeral celebrations.  We concluded this experience by playing traditional games, that could be used at any type of ceremony throughout the life cycle, from births to funerals.

The Queen of Water

Another highly anticipated event for the group was a presentation by local Otavalena author Maria Virginia Farinango.  Maria Virginia, co-author of The Queen of Water, and the main character of the novel brought to life her real struggle as a stolen indigena girl, working for a mestizo family as a child in the Imbara province while struggling with her indigenous identity. The students were able to pepper her with questions regarding her life now as a proud indigenous woman with a family of her own, how she advocated for herself as a young woman, and ultimately committed herself to a better life. Echoed by many of the students, Aliah shared with Maria Viriginia that The Queen of Water was the first book assigned in school that she hadn’t been able to put down and finished ahead of time!

The Market

On Saturday, the girls had the opportunity to visit the Otavalo market, which happens to be the largest on-going market in South America. All the girls, most notably Tyson, were thrilled to explore the labyrinthine aisles of colorful textiles, jewelry, leather goods and alpaca ware. Weighed down with new treasures to bring home, the ladies returned to the hostel for some classes, followed by a TTS movie premier of Moana.

Agualongo Homestay Preparation

On our last day in Otavalo we met with Tandana Founder and former TTS teacher, Anna Taft, along with staff members Herman, Shannon, and Margarita.  Together they led us in a morning of discussion about expectations, cultural dos and do nots, and hilarious skits about potentially humorous situations we could find ourselves in.  After orientation, we headed to the Otavalo indoor market and shopped for food for our families, before heading up the mountain to meet them in the community of Agualongo!


Academic Update

Honors History and Government

History and Government began the semester with a unit focused on ‘re-discovering America.’ Through considering the common single stories and stereotypes that exist about South America, the students reflected on how they hope to learn authentic stories that shed light on the truths of the region. We continued to question biases that exist in history through considering the implications of South America’s geographical position at the bottom of the world, and the pervasive assumption that America consists solely of the United States.

We are now focusing on learning about the structure of colonization. The class has been discussing and observing the ways that colonization affected Ecuadorian society by creating hierarchies, which still has widespread consequences to this day. Staying at Hacienda Guachalá outside of Cayambe has helped bring the history of the hacienda system to life. The students learned about how Hacienda Guachalá was once a massive swath of land that was given to a Spanish colonizer when Francisco Pizarro arrived in the 1500’s. The hacienda produced textiles and agricultural products by using the captive labor force of indigenous workers that served the estate. As we move to Otavalo, the class looks forward to having our studies of indigenous identity come alive, as we will learn about how indígenas in this area have fought to protect and maintain their ways of life throughout and despite the colonial system.  –Danika Robinson

Global Studies

Global Studies began this semester with a unit focused on critical consciousness and dove into the concept of cultural bias. The class read Horace Miner’s Body Ritual of the Nacirema, which describes cultural practices of North Americans from as magical rituals of an ancient tribe, to recognize our own accepted beliefs and practices from a different perspective. The class also worked to break down Paulo Freire’s philosophy of education about developing critical consciousness. We used his theories to discuss how we hope to learn from the world around us throughout the semester. The class has been excited to apply their classroom knowledge to academic activities in the areas where we travel. While staying near Cayambe, the flower growing capital of Ecuador, we visited a nearby rose plantation and had a poignant experience. The students felt invested and alarmed by what they saw and heard in ways that are not possible from reading a book. The class discussed how to move forward as socially conscious citizens, as we will be taking in a lot of thought-provoking and challenging information this semester. We wrapped up our first unit by discussing the benefits and dangers of voluntourism, and how we want to approach our time visiting foreign communities. The class has begun to start weekly reflection assignments, which are a cornerstone of global class. These assignments provide a space for the students to observe the world around them and share their reactions and questions. These assignments take the form of creative global reflections and essays; they will focus on reactions and responses to experiences that stand out to the students. Their first global reflection assignment was to write a postcard to someone we’ve met and pose additional questions based on their interactions and observations. In their first reaction and reflection essays, many students responded to our visit to the Guayasamin Museum in Quito, where the class was able to see this Ecuadorian painter’s passionate art depicting the oppression of indigenous cultures in the Americas, the resilience of the people, as well as social issues throughout the world. –Danika Robinson

Intermediate Conversational Spanish

Intermediate Spanish has begun a thorough review of essential grammar topics and has been creating vocabulary that pertains to common conversations and the areas we visit. Our focus this semester will be gaining comfort and confidence in our conversation skills to be able to learn from those we meet. We have started the semester with a review of using verbs in the past tense and ser versus estar. We had the opportunity to visit a local elementary school through a collaboration with Fundación Azulado. Several students from intermediate Spanish spent an hour leading activities in classrooms, which related to Azulado’s work of preventing mistreatment of children and adolescents through empowerment. The class is now diving into Spanish immersion in small groups with Ecuadorian teachers to build a foundation for our conversations and our studies for the remainder of the semester. As we prepare for homestays, the students are spending the mornings practicing new concepts, reviewing, talking about Ecuadorian customs, and learning about the region through their class discussions.  –Danika Robinson

Literature and Composition

Sitting alongside the rushing Rio Napo, our literature and composition class began the semester with a conversation examining what literature, writing, art and texts mean to each of us in both academics and our daily lives. From exclamations of “What is art?!” and “Who has the power to define literature?” we came to a resounding agreement that while it is difficult to define these concepts from so many different perspectives, literature none-the-less holds weight as an interpretive lens for our group with each new adventure. As the group continued to bond throughout our jungle orientation, we had a poetry evening, sharing a more formal version of who we are through our “I Am From” poems.

Finding ourselves amongst the mountains of Cayambe, we dove head on into our first novel, The Queen of Water. Barely able to put the book down, we found the girls with their noses in the book on bus rides to Quito and Guayllabamba, and curled up next to a fire in the old library of Hacienda Guachalá. Now in Otavalo, our history and English classes continue to overlap with conversations about the local indigenous population, in one of the very towns where our novel is set. Our whole group will have the joy of meeting the co-author and main character of our book, Maria Virginia Farinango! With a upcoming presentation and plenty of time for questions, Maria Virginia, the novel’s narrator, will come to life as a role model who has worked to shape her own identity through adversity, exploration, and soaking up all there is in life.  –Abigail Hunter

Algebra 2

A small class, we gather most days around a small table on a sunny porch, or sit in Crazy Creeks in the grass with plenty of space to look further into the problem-solving world of algebra 2. Coming from a variety of math backgrounds, the group is doing an excellent job of simply picking up at our own new beginning. Our class is taking on all the functions, factoring and soon-to-come graphing, as a true team – helping one another work through problems whether they be completely new concepts or drawing on a distant lesson in need of review. As we continue to explore the areas around us, we hope to look for real life data on populations and deforestation to help us connect our understanding of functions to the real world. Coming up next: logarithms!  –Abigail Hunter

Natural Science 

In the past few weeks, science class has been building the foundation of inquiry processes and ecological concepts to support the upcoming unit on natural resources management. Students are working on their second field journal entry and a stroke of good luck landed us at Hostal Valle del Amanecer where there is a plethora of plant species to draw and observe, including a massive avocado tree growing up through the patio and attracting a diverse selection of hummingbirds. In our class on biomes, small teams researched plant life and physical parameters of each Ecuadorian region, making commercials and magazine advertisements to attract potential new plant or animal inhabitants to their biome. A small detour from the rest of this unit, we took advantage of our location in Cayambe to visit the massive sundial at 0°0” latitude and learn about 18th century French survey expeditions, pre-Inca astronomy and recent re-discovery of archaeological sites using GPS.

The upcoming natural resources management unit will look at ecosystem services, stakeholder analyses and petroleum extraction in Ecuador’s eastern lowland rainforest. Students will debate from specific perspectives about resource management near the end of the unit, and of course get ready for our trip to the Galápagos Islands.     –Maria McMorrow

Honors Advanced Spanish

Our first unit ¿Quienes somos en español? (Who are we in Spanish?) examined our identities in our home countries and how that changes with a different language. As part of getting to know each other, we practiced some nuanced Spanish by playing Two Truths and a Lie, and it turns out that most of us are bad at lying in our second language. We’ve reviewed participles and the difference between the pretérito and the imperfecto, the two Spanish past tenses, and cemented that knowledge by writing and playing games of Mad Libs. Currently we are making recorded podcasts about budgeting and financial literacy in the style of NPR’s Marketplace Money radio program. Grammatically, we are in the thick of learning about the subjunctive mood, learning how the subjunctive gives us the linguistic tools to talk about situations that should have or might have been and commands we are unsure will be followed. This week’s intensive Spanish immersion classes will surely cement their new subjunctive knowledge and enable students to converse even more deeply for the rest of the trip.    –Maria McMorrow

Beginning Spanish 

Beginning Spanish began the semester with Unit 1: “Bienvenida a la clase de Espanol”.  This unit laid the groundwork for the student’s semester in South America beginning with pronunciation of vowels and consonants, an introduction to the concept of masculine versus feminine, useful vocabulary, and common phrases of communication and inquiry.  These skills and techniques are practiced in class with oral activities such as skits and have already been employed through practice with guides, hosts, and the elementary school children we visited in Guayabamba.  For the final project of the unit, students prepared two minute presentations to the class, in which they introduced themselves and basic pertinent information, completely in Spanish!

As we transition into Unit 2: “Quien Somos en Espanol”, the students have begun focusing on language and grammar that will aid them in introducing themselves and their worlds on an in-depth level.  Students have begun conjugating regular present tense verbs and utilizing correct possessive adjectives in preparation for their homestays next week and will continue to practice stating their needs, verbalizing emotions and other methods of self-expression.    –Tory Smith


In precalculus, our class of four provides ample opportunity for questioning, discussion and one-on-one assistance, which has empowered the girls to take ownership over their education. This first section of the semester focused on reviewing pertinent pieces of trigonometry that will aid us in our future mathematical endeavors. Together, the class built hypsometers, which are tools used to measure angles. After a brief right triangle trigonometry function review, the girls headed out into the jungle. Using their hypsometers and their knowledge of right triangle ratios, they calculated the height of trees, plants, buildings, and bridges. We were then able to build on this information, and solve more complex triangle problems with real life applications, such as calculating bearings to islands, determining distance traveled for airplanes heading in different directions and speed, locating forest fires, and even determining the gait and pace of animal tracks. We then progressed to a mini unit of math problem solving, where we learned how to verify trigonometric identities. Many of the girls enjoyed the ability to stray from the typical concreteness and use creativity and different methods to solve these problems.   –Tory Smith

Mail Call!

All letters must in the office by the end of the day on Wednesday, March 8th.

Hello Parents!

It sounds like the first round of calls went well, we’re jumping the gun for another round of phone calls prior to homestays. Fingers crossed that we have good connections once again. The group is now in Otavalo, known for its’ famous Saturday market, and settling into cooler weather and life in a town. Their hostel is nestled on the edge of town, allowing more opportunities to explore the area and meet new people. Tomorrow they will visit an Afro-Ecuadorian Community and plan to end the day with a meeting with Maria Virginia, co-author of Queen of Water, one of the literature novels.

As you may know, the Campus Visit is sneaking up right around the corner. I leave in a few weeks to meet the group just before the flight to the Galapagos and will stay a few extra days after the Campus Visit. I will gladly be the mail courier and hand deliver letters and hugs to everyone overseas. As we have mentioned in the past, I can only accept letters as they add up quickly and I have a limited amount of baggage. We also know that mail can go a long way on a semester. The girls love to share pictures of family and friends with their TTS group. They will read and re-read letters longer than they will remember a treat from the states. Our office dogs will patrol any packages that sneak their way into the office to sniff out and return anything other than paper goods. There are stores and markets throughout South America for your daughter to satisfy her sweet tooth, buy an extra pair of socks or toothpaste. On her quest for self-care and travel savvy skills, let her make her decision about what she needs and how to find it. If you believe you need a special circumstance waiver, please email or call us.

We hope each student will have at least one letter to open during the visit. Please feel free to enlist friends and family to send a note to share stories about what is happening back home. We need all letters in the office by the end of the day on Wednesday, March 8th so I can pack them away in my luggage.

Send letters to our PO Box with your daughter’s name included in the address lines (see example below):

c/o The Traveling School
PO Box 7058
Bozeman, MT 59771

For parents attending the Campus Visit, you may choose to bring your letters personally. Once settled on the boat we will coordinate when we distribute mail. Again, we strongly request that all visitors adhere to the same guidelines – Letters and Hugs – and bring back stories and photos to share with those who cannot attend.

I will bring letters back after my visit and mail them from the states. After the visit we will also set up a photo sharing album so everyone can catch a glimpse of their daughters in action.

Happy Tuesday – here’s to the lost art of hand written correspondence.



Aunge and Jennifer

Let the Activities Begin…

On our first morning in Ecuador, we hopped on a five hour bus from Quito to Tena, our home for the first ten days of the semester. We drove through mountains and jungles, on unpaved roads and through muddy potholes, rain showers and sun. During our lunch stop on the edge of a beautiful (yet misty) viewpoint, our driver, Humberto, pointed out a massive ruin beneath us and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Motivated by this first interactive moment, students began creating word journal banks from the street sign vocabulary during the rest of the drive. The following five days were filled with swimming in the Lupi River, group games, classes, and  orientation activities such as learning organizational skills, risk management, making budgets and how to do laundry by hand.

After gaining an understanding of TTS and developing our initial community, we set off for the jungle with our borrowed, knee-high mud boots. Our first stop was a hike to a Ceibo Tree, known as the Tree of the Devil. This tree, well known in the area for being the largest, is the center of local folklore, and home to many unsavory creatures such as spiders, centipedes and snakes.

In Misahualli we hung out on the beach with the locals; extremely gregarious and cute monkeys! After taking our fair share of photos, we snuggled close and hopped in our motorized canoe for a ride to Hostel Sisa. We doned our down-sized packs and climbed the steep, stone staircase up, up, up to the lodge tucked away in the jungle. After some free time lounging in hammocks and eating a delicious dinner, we strapped on our headlamps and embarked on a night hike. Our knowledgeable guides, Gerson and Nixon, led us through the jungle, pointing out numerous tarantulas and bullet ants- Tyson, Carly and Eila couldn’t seem to get enough of the creepy-crawlies. When instructed, we warily turned off our lights, only to be surprised by phosphorescent mushrooms.

Day two of the jungle trip was kicked off by none other than….Literature class! After an engaging discussion on the purpose of literature, we hopped in a boat for a delightful hike involving a zipline chair over a ravine and a bridge walk. After we reached our viewpoint, we taught our guides, Jerson and Nixon, how to play one of our new favorite games -Wah!  Afterwards we changed into our swim wear and life jackets for a leisurely float through the jungle. We were proud of Sierra, for conquering her fear of large fish and murky water, and jumping in to join us. Back at the hostel we grabbed our journals and for solo reflections while watching the sun set over the Amazon. After dinner, over a bonfire, Gerson and Nixon regaled us with Quechua legends of eyeball sucking jungle devils and Shamans. Needless to say, we walked to bed cautiously that evening.

On our final day in the jungle, we went on a day hike through primary forest, where we learned about medicinal and useful plants of the area and how to trap animals. Daniela was mesmorized by the plants, and with the help of our guides, some baking powder and toothpaste, was able to create a soothing salve for mosquito bites for the group. That afternoon we swam in the Napo river and played a couple of games taught to us by the guides. After another hearty dinner, we had our second bonfire of the trip and introduced the girls to a TTS tradition, Friday night awards!

Every Friday throughout the semester, the group gathers to discuss all that has happened that week, what is to come the following, and to celebrate the groups accomplishments. Five awards are presented each week. The recipient of the Academic Award was Josie for her thoughtful responses in classes, her willingness to participate and her constant curiosity. Molly received the Athletic Award, as she spends her free time playing tag with local kids and showing off her skills in soccer games. The Community Award was bestowed to Carly for her unwavering ability to befriend and be inclusive with everyone. Ariella was the recipient of La Comica, she has kept up the group moral with good natured humor and a contagious zest for the wonders around us. Lastly, Megan became TTS29s’ first Andean Queen! The Andean Queen is an award given to someone who exemplifies being a fantastic ambassador of TTS and embraces the experience. Throughout orientation, Megan continually invited guides and children to join us for games, volunteered to help our jungle host make Chicha, a customary local beverage, and took an active role in all activities throughout the week. We ended our celebration with a beautiful ukulele sing-a-long around the fire, led by Carly, Sydney, Zoey and Erin Rose.

Sad to leave the jungle, we headed back to the familiar Establo de Tomas. The group had its first full day of classes of the semester. Although tired from our jungle adventure, Blakely crushed some Spanish Mad-libs and Erin Rose dominated trigonometric functions. The following day, as a final farewell to the jungle, we rafted the Jatun Yacku River. Jatun Yacku, “Big River” in Quichua, flows down from the icy peak of Cotopaxi, one of South America’s most famous volcanos, eventually flowing into the Amazon River. The group had a great day of rafting; splashy rapids, lots of swimming (mostly planned) and a ton of boat games which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. Tyson surprised herself by overcoming some rafting hesitation and especially loved the lunch time paddle games. Aliah summed up the group’s energy well when she said “I could do this all day, everyday!”

Fun Photos from the first week


Mission: What is my goal or purpose?

Vision: What am I hoping to gain as my purpose is defined?

The students were asked to create their personal missions and visions for their semester.  They began by brainstorming The Traveling School’s mission based on what they know about the school. They came impressively close to our mission, see their responses below. Some students chose to share anonymously.


  • To become inspired by education and exploration while developing lasting friendships and a better understanding of the world around me.
  • Vision: Travel, lead and learn in an alternate high school environment in order to set clear goals for my future as I grow into a stronger being with a clear voice.  Challenge myself mentally and physically.


  • Strive to be challenged mentally and physically while having a deeper understanding of the world we live in.
  • Vision: With my journey at TTS I thrive to be actively engaged in both academics and culture while learning more about myself and others. To appreciate while being inspired and motivated with learning while overcoming obstacles individually and as a group.


  • My mission is to manifest strength mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally while discovering cultures different from my own.
  • Vision: Be engaged with surroundings. Be inspired to grow and take risks. Be willing to use travel and adventure to do so. Seek a broader sense of my place in the world. Build self confidence. Spread love to every being I interact with. To be a hard act to follow. Be passionate with everything I do. Listen to myself


  • For my Traveling School experience my mission is to academically, physically and culturally expand while understanding my own personal value and the importance of teamwork.
  • Vision: To push my comfort level in a healthy and safe way. To bond with nature and learn about the beauty it possesses. To academically challenge myself and create a greater appreciation for learning and school. To stay present and learn to appreciate the moment. To improve my Spanish and communicate using the languages. To try new things and keep an open mind.


  • I strive to discover more meaning in the world, the people and myself.
  • Vision: Through the acts of instilling a sense of adventure, learning to understand people’s motives and venturing outside of my comfort zone in all aspects of my life, I will reach a part of myself where I am kind, grateful, worldly and always up for exploring.


  • Throughout the semester I will grow and improve as a friend, student, traveler and human being.
  • Vision: Immerse myself in Spanish culture and language. Gain confidence by sharing my ideas. Take risks. Be positive and put full effort into all academics. Challenge myself physically. Try my best to be present as much as possible.


  • Develop a love for all types of learning through formal education, interactions with people from different cultures and improvement in foreign language. Learn more about myself, push myself and develop lifelong friendships and newfound confidence.
  • Vision: I will learn more about myself and how I cope in bad times when I’m pushing through the hard days and how amazing the good days can be when I am laughing till my stomach hurts. I hope to learn the ins and outs of a new culture by learning from local people, while also developing my leadership skills by helping to keep the group positive and helping others when they feel down.


  • Over the next 105 days I will learn to love every aspect of the world through challenging experiences, vigorous academics and experiential learning.
  • Vision: Engage with different cultures, experiences and challenges.

Erin Rose:

  • Through rigorous academic experiences I strive to challenge myself physically, mentally and spiritually.  My goal is to achieve wisdom, vigor and awareness of myself and various surrounding communities.
  • Vision: Become proficient in Spanish through absorbing information from my mentors, peers and surrounding resources.  I hope to become a well-rounded, confident person with an ability to spread acquired knowledge to any listeners that come behind me. Strive to become the best version of myself and help others in the same way through adventure, genuineness, culture/differences, and giving everything I have/dedicated.


  • To maintain focus on my desire to experience new places and cultures while sustaining my mental and physical health.
  • Vision: Create an awareness of my surroundings. Remind myself of the big picture. Listen to my body. Practice gratitude.


  • My vision is to help create an inclusive, encouraging group so that each individual can be their best self. I believe that if I work to do this I will be able to become a more empathetic, thoughtful and independent person. I also strive to build resiliency by pushing through challenges and not giving up. I will work to be as open as possible to new languages and ways of living to expand my perspective of the world around me.

Other Students:

Student 1:

  • My mission is to improve my ability to interact positively with the people I encounter through travel.
  • Vision: By engaging completely in this experience, I will develop my skills in: leadership, cross-cultural communication and understanding, social interaction, group living, and teamwork.

Student 2:

  • My mission for this semester is to expand my knowledge of the world and it’s many cultures and societies.
  • Vision: Through the process of leaving my comfort zone I strive to become more engaged and appreciative of each new environment.

Student 3:

  • I will be vulnerable to loving, awe, genuineness and inspired through learning.
  • Vision: How the heck am I gonna get there? I’m going to be honest, dance when I want to, ask for hugs and exist and exist and EXIST . Strive to not act how I think other people want me to act but instead, how my hips, my chest and my lungs desire. I will act out of love and not be embarrassed to say, “wow” both to myself and to others. To think, ‘did you see how blue the sky is and to know that it is a miracle.’

The First Few Days

by Aunge Thomas, Dean of Students and Faculty

Since our plane touched down in Quito we have been exploring our surroundings with our eyes wide open, ears perked, noses sniffing, and bodies immersed in the new climate. Quito greeted us in darkness, but our drivers brought the country to life with friendly hellos and descriptions of the surrounding scenery, add that to delicious homemade juice and sandwiches for a bedtime snack, and we were set. That night we cozied under the covers in a bit of a chill, waking up to a fine mist covering the nearby mountains. After breakfast we played a game of mystery red light – green light. The game was between Tory and the group: Tory had to stand on one end of the court and when she called green light the group shuffled along in a big circle (their own tactic) hiding a water bottle. With each red light command Tory had three guesses to figure out who had the water bottle. She won if she guessed correctly (it could move between people during each green light), and the girls won if they made it to the line she where she stood before she guessed correctly. After a few good giggles and mixed success, we hopped on Humberto’s bus and ventured onto the road.

Humberto drove us up and over the lush green Andes mountains down into the edge of the Amazon. We paused for a rainy lunch at a view point, but had to use our imaginations for the vistas that extended out for miles with volcanoes in the distance. By mid-afternoon we said good-bye to Humberto and moved into our jungle cabins. We stretched our legs with a muddy walk around the property to check out local flora and fauna, the nearby Rio Tena, Tomas’ horses, cacoa and papaya trees.

Now nestled into our cabins, Establo de Tomas has become our home. With so much to learn about TTS, traveling in a foreign country and living with a group, we haven’t yet left the property. But, let’s pause to paint the picture – a gentle river bend right off our eating deck with spots deep enough to swim. Two macaws flying around, occasionally whistling and saying hello to everyone. Two adorable dogs who beckon for pats; we’re all trying our darnedest to refrain from full snuggles as we adapt to not petting all the animals we encounter. Busy leaf cutter ants parade down paths as they gather food for their ant communities. Warm, but not hot weather, enjoyed under our vast deck. And a plethora of noises to serenade us day and night. All these elements make for a peaceful setting to spend our initial time together. Our laughter and group noise drift through the mango, lemon and other flowering trees.

Scintillating Saturday began with discussions about culture and how we shape our views on culture. Do we have different cultures represented within our group? What did we notice as we traversed Ecuador? How do we start to think about other perceptions and create our own TTS29 culture? These questions extended into a conversation about community living. We shared ideas about our values through an interactive spectrum walk – people placed themselves on a spectrum for various prompts. Through this activity we recognized different ways we communicate with friends or family and how we want to communicate with others; we learned there are many different ideas about what is important and now we need to blend those perspectives into a positive environment. Our community conversation progressed into the spheres of influence and what we can and can’t control during the next few months. Students recognized they can’t control the weather, the schedules, the types of food, the hostel layout and more; they also realized they can control their personal and group organization, time management, moods, and the community they choose to create. They realized that through communication they can influence many of the perceived uncontrollable pieces of the semester and that although they can’t control each other’s moods, they can be supportive and try to lift someone up if needed.

After lunch students did creative presentations on sections of the Student Handbook. We saw skits on what not to wear, how to pack a ‘possibles bag’ each day, rules and infractions, safety, hygiene, and more. Then we moved onto a more serious topic of risk management. We brainstormed the many risks that occur in life in general and how we have to go through decision making processes to help mitigate risk no matter where we are. Again, students learned they play a piece in risk management and can use good decision making skills throughout this semester and beyond. We sprinkled games throughout the day – Waah!, Mafia, magnified rock-paper-scissors, and animal tag. The night ended with a circle about hopes, fears and expectations. Through this activity everyone learned their feelings are often similar to others and they have support to celebrate the high moments and work through the challenges. Although the details of the hopes, fears and expectations will remain secret to this group, I can say their thoughts and discussions were truly amazing and this group is off to great things.

Scholarly Sunday begin with a pre-breakfast PE class. After some hops, skips, jumps, and circuits we gathered on the deck for breakfast. Each morning we come together over tea/coffee/hot chocolate with homemade fruit juice. Kevin then brings out rolls with jam followed by either eggs or fruit and yogurt. We’re lucky to begin our adventure in a place with deliciously fresh colorful meals.

After breakfast we congregated in our crazy creek circle to create personal missions and visions. The session began with the students trying to brainstorm The Traveling School’s mission based on what they knew about the school. They came impressively close to our mission (The Traveling School empowers young women academically, physically, and culturally through an experiential overseas semester), managing to incorporate our main goals of rigorous academics, cultural interactions, and physical pursuits. We then discussed how a vision supports an overall mission statement and then scattered throughout the area to develop personal mission statements. Each student created heartfelt personal missions and visions for the semester, their intentions and curiosity were palpable throughout the circle. We then did a quick break and shuffled into a discussion on academics at TTS. This discussion was followed up with their first two academic classes of the semester – Spanish and Literature. The afternoon culminated with a women’s health workshop to help keep us healthy and happy as we travel. Scholarly Sunday ended with the first study hall of the semester, soon the post dinner quiet study time will become the norm five days a week.

Silently, students chose a spot along the river, on the volleyball court, or under the bamboos to welcome Mega-Monday in with a 30-minute individual reflection and thought period. They needed it because today was another fast-paced information filled day. Academic classes offset more orientation activities and before we knew it, we were back at the dinner tables. This time we enjoyed our first soup course, followed by a main course of either fish or queso-yuca tortilla with plantains and a tomato salad. Dinner is always topped off with a fruit dessert.

Over the past few days these gals have begun to form their community. They are practicing crew duties with their mentor groups. Every two days groups rotate between cook, clean, pack/sweep, and hospitality crews to help manage the many moving pieces of our 18-person community. Wherever I walk I hear giggles popping through the jungle sounds as the girls hang out and get to know each other.

Megan has become the Waah! Queen, Erin Rose and Josie get the giggles before bed, Ariella has a line waiting for henna tattoos, Aliah, Blakely and Eila pepper the group with stories from living abroad, Sierra enjoys reading by the river, Daniela believes everything can be interpreted as art, Zoey and Carly’s gregarious personalities are unifying the group, often bringing people into laughter. Tyson is counting down the days until we hop in the motorized canoe for the jungle, Molly is itching to use her Spanish while Sydney is excited to learn and immerse in the language. All in all everyone is coming together to make this a unique and entertaining semester.

A Few Miami Orientation Photos


 Words of Advice from A Traveling School Mom
By Debby Greene

When my daughter Juliana left for southern Africa with The Traveling School in August it was a big step for our family. The months leading up to her send off were filled with anticipation and excitement coupled with apprehension and worry. There was the constant search for the “right” gear and supplies, checking her passport and airline ticket, setting up communication and banking information, getting medicine and shots, last minute indecision about the warmth of her sleeping bag and her jacket, learning to use her water purifier and take her malaria medication, writing down phone numbers and addresses, health insurance information, medical history and more. Lists were made and remade, the bag was packed, unpacked and repacked and then finally it was time for her to go.

At the airport I wanted to imprint her face and the feel of her hug in my memory to last for over 3 months. Not one for dramatics, Juliana wanted to get the hugs over with and be on her way. And before I knew it she was gone. I got home that summer morning, sat on the back porch with a cup of coffee and breathed a huge sigh of relief. We had done it. She was off. For a day or two I relished the quiet and calm and then I started missing her –a lot.

1467231_10201816939523530_805967988_nWe were prepared for no communication from our daughter for the first two weeks as TTS explained it helps the girls assimilate. But it drove me crazy. I wondered what my daughter was doing? Did she get along with the other girls? Is the sleeping bag we chose warm enough? Is she sick? Is she homesick? Eventually I learned to let go of the worry and trust or I wouldn’t sleep for 3+ months.

Near the end of the second week we got an email from TTS telling us to expect the first phone call sometime soon and that the call may be teary because the girls hadn’t heard our voices in awhile. Not knowing when to expect the phone call I took my phone with me everywhere — showers happened with the shower door open to hear the ring. I panicked on my commute to work when I was without cell phone coverage for 30 minutes. I didn’t want to miss that first call. The phone rang on a Thursday morning with this long, unfamiliar number and I answered, “Hi sweetie,” as I barely held back tears. But Juliana wasn’t teary at all. Her voice was clear and strong and it was impossible for me to cry because she sounded so great.

My husband compares sending your daughter to The Traveling School with sending her to the moon. Like most parents cell phones give us immediate connection to our kids but with TTS that is gone. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not complaining — it’s just a strange experience. For over 3 months I lived for trip blog updates, photos of my daughter, mentor reports from the teachers, academic reports, the elusive phone call, letters delivered via a TTS teacher (so cool), Facebook messages and any tidbits the office staff could share with me. I felt like I had sent a fledging bird out of the nest with this incredible leap of faith and I had to track her progress in some way without being able to text or call her. When it seemed like an achingly long time had gone by without communication, I would even stalk my daughter’s checking account.

Throughout Juliana’s entire TTS experience I kept my phone with me constantly. I felt a little strange but it was a lifeline to my daughter and I wanted to be there if she needed me. I missed a call about 6 weeks in but my daughter called my husband instead and they had a great conversation all to themselves.

Three and a half months is a long time and there were moments when it just seemed like enough already it’s time for her to be home but that clearly wasn’t an option. The photographs really helped pull us through. Our daughter is not the most smiley kid — but the smiles she had in almost every TTS photo lit up her entire face. Those smiles pushed away any fear and reassured us she was having the time of her life –which she did. Of course, not every moment was great and we did have some emotional phone calls. It is difficult to comfort a kid so far away and to not over-react but we knew that although this was a moment where she was struggling most of the time she was doing very well.

Keeping in touch with Juliana’s friends and having them over also helped me cope. They communicated with her via Facebook so we got to hear the stories she shared with them. Also I knew a few parents who already sent daughters to TTS and they offered a ton of advice — like some kids don’t call home a lot (our daughter). We also sent photos and updates to a long email list of relatives and friends and all their feedback and encouragement was a huge support. I also had a friend who lived in Tanzania for many years and walks and talks with her were priceless. Just keeping a good support system of people who love you and your daughter and ask about her because it is so fun to share what the girls are going through with people who care and it helped me feel like my daughter wasn’t so far away.

I also enjoyed connecting to other parents with daughters on Juliana’s actual trip. Every girl shares different things so hearing other perspectives was interesting as was commiserating with someone who really understood . We didn’t go on the parent trip so it was nice having a parent who was going on the trip to send things for Juliana and also connecting with another parent who wasn’t going so we didn’t feel so alone staying behind.

table topOverall I tried to remember my daughter was doing great (and if she wasn’t TTS would let us know). She had the experience of a lifetime and though it was hard to let her go for so long and so far away we felt proud to give her the independence. Juliana’s life was changed forever because of TTS and, really, it’s hard to express how much this trip has meant to her. She has returned more mature, thoughtful, engaged and open.

In December, Juliana gave a presentation about the southern Africa TTS trip and someone asked if there were any girls she really connected with and Juliana said, “Well of course there were some girls I connected with more than others but I can also say I consider every one of the girls on my trip my best friend.”

So TTS29 parents enjoy the experience. It is amazing.

By | 2017-10-19T12:53:40-07:00 January 24th, 2017|Latin America, South America, Trip Reports|0 Comments

Leave A Comment