On Exchange in Thailand: We’re not in Canada Anymore!

Andrew_VandenbusscheIt’s been a week and half since I arrived in Thailand and I have loved every second of it so far. Between the lack of snow, the great people from all parts of the world and the fun atmosphere, I am enjoying myself and learning a lot.

After a long 24 hours of flying, I arrived in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport on January 8. The first thing I noticed when I got off the airplane was the humidity. Although I was looking forward to some heat, I was not prepared for Thai heat. I had decided to travel in a heavy pair of sweatpants and a comfortable sweater but I was already broiling just getting off the plane!

When I got to the boarding house at the school, jetlagged and exhausted, I wanted to take a short nap. I turned on a 30-minute timer to make sure that I didn’t sleep too much and confuse my body more but I slept for five hours, right through the alarm! I woke up very annoyed at my timer and extremely frustrated. Then 30 seconds later my roommate, Nikhil, walked in. We got to know each other and became friends (although we do have occasional fights about whether or not the room is too cold or too hot and whether or not we should turn on the A/C. I say it’s too hot, and he says that it’s just because I’m Canadian!)

The school campus is beautiful and different from LCC in almost every way imaginable. First, the school is mostly outside, but because Thailand experiences some pretty crazy tropical storms every once in awhile, they cover most of the pathways. Sadly, I once got caught in a tropical rainstorm in the one part of the school that was not covered. Let’s just say it was not a fun experience! Second, the school is a giant garden. There are palm trees everywhere, beautiful flower hedges, and the school is surrounded by mountains covered in dense forest. Birds fly across the campus and there is even a campus cat. If you meow at it, it will meow back at you. How cute!

The school day is slightly different here than it is at LCC. Although it starts at 8:20 am and ends at 3:20 pm, there are only five periods per day, with each one lasting an hour and twenty minutes. The curriculum is also slightly different. Here, English and math are compulsory classes and you get to choose six other options. I chose history, geography, music, Spanish, biology and psychology. Most classes cover similar topics as LCC, but I’ve had to work extra hard in psychology and English!

I’ve only left the school campus twice so far, both times to go to shopping malls, which seem even more Western than some of the ones in Canada. You can go bowling, watch a movie, play in the arcade, or even do grocery shopping and get your haircut. My friends and I chose to watch the sunset over the gulf of Thailand. It was really pretty! However, what I’ve found most interesting about the trip so far is the drive from the school to the shopping malls.

Driving in Thailand is quite different from driving in Canada. The most obvious difference is that in Thailand they drive on the left side of the road (the wrong side of the road!) But there are many greater differences. Traffic in Thailand is crazy! It’s every man for himself here. No one drives in the lanes and the motorcyclists are reckless. They cut through traffic between cars, no one wears helmets and I’ve even seen them go the wrong way on one-way roads! Tuk tuks also pass by offering street food to local vendors and cars randomly park alongside the road. But by far, the biggest difference in Thailand is the poverty. I was driving by shacks that looked like old abandoned buildings. But then I took a closer look and realized that there were people living there. There were motorcycles parked outside and people standing beside their house. Although I know that there is poverty in Canada, this struck me and it seemed more prevalent than it home.

So far, I am having a lot of fun, learning a lot, meeting new people and making friends. I’m very excited because next Saturday, we are heading to the tropical island of Ko Si Chang. – Andrew Vandenbussche ’19, Exchange Student at Regents International School Pattaya

Impressive Iceland

IMG_1083Reporting LIVE from Germany: This is Abby writing on behalf of the entire LCC Round Square Conference Team and sharing with you our adventures encountered during our pre-conference trip to Iceland.

On October 5th, my group and I all met at the Montreal airport filled with excitement as well as 20 kilos of every single type of clothing we could fit into our bags (as Icelandic weather was a mystery to us!) Two plane rides later, a four-hour time difference and barely any sleep, we landed in Iceland and met the four other schools we were going to spend the next few days with. As we were all tired, we mostly spent our first day driving into Reykjavik, the capital of the country, and stopping to sightsee along the way. We explored Viking World where we learned about the history and culture of the country. We even got to go on a boat at the museum! 

The second day was jam-packed. We started off by visiting the Golden Circle, which is a huge waterfall! After having barely made it out alive due to the strong winds, we got back onto the bus and went to go see geysers. This is where I learned that Iceland is home to thousands of geysers that contain an abundance of sulfur. Steam would be spraying out of all these holes and, for the biggest one there, it would explode every 15 minutes. I was lucky enough to see the geyser’s water burst up into the air and even fall all over some of my friends on the trip that, without knowing, were in the “splash zone.” Finally, at night we went to the Blue Lagoon. Personally, this was my favourite part of the trip. We got to swim in an actual hot spring! Our group went very late at night, which made the experience even more memorable as we were entirely in the dark. We all got to spend two hours in the lagoon, which was warm and incredibly wavy. This was scary for me since we were told that it was not a good idea to get our hair wet in the water as it would become hard. I therefore had to bounce around and “ride the waves” to ensure that my 5’1 body would not dunk under the water. We all had a superb time! 

On our final day, we put on our raincoat and saw lots of Iceland’s best waterfalls. Some of them, due to the wind, would even stream upwards, which was quite funny to look at. During one particular waterfall visit, we got to make a wish in the country’s finest wishing well (legend has it that, if you watch your coin make it all the way to the bottom of the water, your wish will come true!) After this, we did our big adventure of the day: glacier hiking. We were given crampons for our feet and ice picks and got to hike all around the ice. This was a cool experience as not only was it fun but we also learned a lot about global warming. Iceland’s glaciers have been melting. Two weeks ago, they installed something that would measure how much ice is melting and the result was unthinkable. For example, one part of the hike was through a tunnel, which was one of the best parts. I was sad to hear that, at the current rate the ice is melting, the tunnel will probably be gone in the next two days… 

All in all, this was a great experience. Although the only thing we did not get to see were the Northern Lights, we all feel as though we had a fantastic time. As we say farewell to Iceland, we cannot wait to see what the actual conference has in store for us. Stay tuned!  –Abby Shine ’17

Student Exchange Australia: Becoming a Stronger Individual

Auclair_Sophia_GlidingThe past few weeks have been fun, doing things I never expected to do in a million years and challenging myself to push my comfort zone and make new friends.

While the first week of school was a bit tough, this experience has helped me become a stronger individual. The classes are super fun, the teachers are wonderful and overall, Westminster School is just a great environment.

In math, the students are working on items which I have already covered at LCC. In English, we are studying Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In history, we are working on the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile, in art, we are looking at the painting style called Impressionism. It is very fun to learn new ways of observing things in these classes. For example, in math, I have been learning new styles of studying, which has also been helpful in learning skills.

I believe I have been participating very well in class and simply getting to know the environment. I have also been making a ton of Australian friends and friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Last weekend, I went plane gliding and flew the plane myself!! I also asked the instructor if we were able to do aerobatics and luckily he did a barrel roll, which was awesome. This recent weekend I went to a maze where I climbed four levels and had to avoid obstacles. This was approximately four stories high and lots of very hard work but a blast.

I am leaving in 14 days and will be sure to make the most out of the rest of the time I have here. We will be going to Sydney next weekend…stay tuned! – Sophia Auclair ’19, Exchange Student at Westminster School, Adelaide, Australia

Student Exchange Australia: Discovering my Passion

Urimbirra_Wildlife_Park

Since I’ve arrived in Australia, all my days on this wonderful journey have been filled with joy. This trip has not only been the best time of my life so far but it has also been a time where I learnt about myself as an individual and my passion for animals has deepened.

The day after I arrived I started to explore this beautiful country. On July 19, my exchange student, Abigail, Angela (her mom) and Alana (a close friend of Abigail’s), and I, explored downtown Adelaide and the amazing sites that awaited us. We first started off our day by visiting the central markets where we wandered around for a while, and then headed off to the North Terrace where we saw the university of Adelaide, an art gallery and a library. We also had an opportunity to visit Adelaide’s war memorial; it was beautifully detailed and filled with representations of soldiers that fought for Australia during World War II. We then visited the Alpine festival, which is an annual festival to celebrate winter with a lot of different fun activities available to the public. We ended the day at the Torrens River, where we relaxed for a little while.

On July 20, I had a very memorable experience. I learnt something about myself that I am very happy with as it made me aware of my deep passion for animals. It was during our visit to the Urimbirra Wild Life Park where I got to see so many different animals from those I have seen in Canada. Yes, everyone loves animals but something in my heart told me that day that I definitely want to work with animals in the future. This day was also filled with numerous activities, such as a visit to Victor Harbour where we ate fish and chips and indulged in some candy I had never seen or eaten before. We also walked around Granite Island where we found some spectacular views overlooking the bay. However, this will be the day where my happiness was greatest as it touched my passion for animals.

The next day, we went to Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. Although there weren’t many leaves on the trees to see—it is winter in July, which feels like a warm Canadian fall—it was an amazing experience to see the Australian nature that surrounded us. After this, we went to Melba’s chocolate factory. Who can get enough junk food? Here, I tried many different chocolates that Australia is known for in this part of the world. We then walked through Hahndorf, a charming German town with lots of pretty sites and then wound down our day with a little bowling and dinner with some of Abigail’s friends.

July 22 was somewhat rainy so we had a laid back day as we walked around the Westfield Marion Mall where I had an opportunity to see stores that are unique to Australia. We also caught a movie—Central Intelligence—that was actually pretty funny. It was too rainy to do anything else so we headed home and had a relaxing night watching movies and eating junk food. The next day the weather had cleared up, and we spent some time in the Kuipto Forest where we made a bonfire and…went Pokémon hunting! We also explored the forest and roasted yummy marshmallows.

On July 24, we walked down to Jetty Road in Glenelg where we strolled along the coast of their beach, which was very windy. This being their winter, it was too cold to swim in the water as the temperature hovers around 15 degrees Celsius.

Although my trip has only begun, I have had an awesome time so far. I am very excited to go to Westminster School—even though it is my school summer break!!— and I am really happy that I am having this opportunity to travel the world.  – Sophia Auclair ’18, Exchange Student at Westminster School, Adelaide, Australia

 

RSIS Peru 2016: Service Trip a Rewarding Experience

Gift exchange with the local kindergarten children

Over the course of my Senior School years, I have been involved in numerous Round Square related activities. In grade 9, I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend six weeks in South Africa on exchange. The following year, I attended an eight-day conference in Los Angeles, which turned out to be equally as memorable. I was, therefore, very excited when I decided to go solo on a three-week service project to Peru this summer.

One heavy bag, two stressed parents and a cancelled flight later, I miraculously ended up in Cusco on July 11. There, I spent the first two weeks with 18 other students who had travelled from all the edges of the world. Along with the two adult leaders, Andy and Nina, we formed team “Llama”.

The two first days were planned primarily for us to acclimatize to the high Cusco altitudes (3,400m) as well as get to know one another. This was accomplished by taking part in creative activities. First, we travelled to a place called Apulaya Music where we spent the entire afternoon learning about Andean art and music. I was taught two new ways to draw: Kaninpacha and Ukupacha, which give life to inanimate objects. As well, I added another instrument (along with the French horn!) to my list of skills by mastering the Andean panpipes, something we all played at the end of the day for our final celebration.

Second, my group and I successfully completed a Via Ferrata, a form of intense rock climbing that has become quite popular in South America. This adventure required us to climb up a 400m ladder that was both vertical and horizontal. Once at the top, we took six zip lines back to the bottom, something I had never done before!

After these orientation days, we were eager to get to work and headed to a town called Kaninchimpa to begin our project. During these eight days, we were split into three local families. My host parent’s names were David and Ophelia. They had a daughter named Olga and a niece named Vanessa. They also had (get ready for this!) a dog, two cats, five cows, five chickens, a dozen lambs, three pigs, two oxen and 60 guinea pigs! Everyday, we’d wake up, feed the guinea pigs, and then walk up to the work site where we’d spend the entire day. Our goal was to build a school on top of the site since the school the children are going to now is extremely far away from their village. To build the school, we first made a solid foundation by digging and filling the holes with rocks and mud. To then build the walls, we had to make bricks (which took four to five days to dry!). This was one of the best parts of my trip as we were given welly boots and had to walk around making mud for hours. This may seem like an easy job (I sure thought it would be at first) but I can assure you it is difficult as the mud is thick and hard to pop in and out of. In fact, one day, my boot got stuck and I ended up walking right into the mud with nothing but my sock! By the end of our trip, we had built half of the school, something we were all very proud of.

Kaninchimpa was certainly my favourite part of the trip. The bond I made with my host family was truly special. Although communicating with them was quite difficult, we tried our best to interact and play with them. I would always help them with dinner, ask them for different words in Quecha and even taught them multiple card games like Uno and Spoons, which became our daily activity. As well, I realized during my stay, that this type of experience was something I knew that I wouldn’t have the chance to do again. That being said, I tried to be adventurous and take advantage of every opportunity and new thing that came my way. For example, despite my small stature, I was always offering to do mud mixing, wheel barrowing and brick carrying. Also, I tried lots of new food (even guinea pig!).

After having worked for eight days straight, we all got to reward ourselves by visiting the one and only Machu Picchu! Team Llama was out in the bus line at 4 am, however, we only started our tour at the site at 7 am. Once the tour was over, I was allowed to spend the entire day (a whole 12 hours on the site) doing whatever I wished. Although I really liked the Inca Bridge and the Sun-gate, simply being there was amazing.

So that is what I did for the first part of my trip with team Llama. The group left on the 25th and, on the 27th, my new team, team Condor, arrived in Cusco. I was with this team for half of their journey as a student leader intern. Now, you may be wondering: what exactly is a student leader intern? I, with three other students that had been with me in team Llama, redid the trip with team Condor. This time, however, we were in charge of running it.

Being a leader is scary enough but I was even more nervous to be a leader in PERU! Nonetheless, the student leaders had an entire day to prepare with our new leaders, Andrea and Freddy. Had it not been for their expert advice and confidence in us, we would not have been able to have done such a good job.

Leading team Condor taught me numerous things about myself. First of all, I was rather nervous about the prospect of leading students my age. My experience was limited to being a CIT for a bunch of 3-6 year olds last summer. Having to lead a group of people my age seemed more difficult, as I wanted them to respect me but at the same time, like me! Also, going into the trip, I did not think I’d make the same bonds with team Condor that I did with team Llama. Needless to say, I was so wrong! I connected with everyone on team Condor just as much. As well, they all felt comfortable enough to come to me for advice and questions, which I really liked.

Secondly, I am considered to be extremely organized. This was both my biggest strength and weakness going into the trip. Let me explain: sometimes, I like to plan out my entire day to the minute. This means that I do not like change. Being adaptable was therefore a strength I wanted to develop. On my day to lead, as usual, things did not go as planned. Two teammates had to go back to Cusco and some people did not have proper equipment. Handling these problems and making changes to the schedule without freaking out was a skill I definitely learned that day.

Lastly, since I had already experienced the trip before, I was considered an expert and, because of this, I didn’t think I’d learn anything new. I was, once again, wrong. With team Condor, I continued to learn and experience more and more things. I did this by asking lots of questions. For example, I learned that some houses in Cusco have two bull statues on their roofs, which stand for protection. Also, at Kaninchimpa, we organized a soccer game with all the local children. That night, we played for hours with the sunset in the background, an image I will not be forgetting anytime soon.

In conclusion, the RSIS 2016 Peru trip has been, like my other Round Square experiences, absolutely incredible. Even though team Llama was great, I thought that my time as a student leader intern was the most memorable and helpful. As I go into my final year at LCC as Round Square Head, I have lots of new ideas and leadership skills that I will most definitely be using because of what I have learned in Peru. I cannot wait for the year to start! – Abby Shine ’17