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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Transition Home

Dear TTS 20 parents,

Silence is a rare thing here at TTS 20, but it has permeated through the hostel walls lately as gals cradle their text books studying for final exams.  But, the silence doesn't last one second past the study hall “bell” when the energy returns and laughter, singing and general hysterics replace the quiet melody. 

These last days are bittersweet, and we are trying to soak them up together.  I am amazed at this group and the way they have held each other up and pushed each other to another level.  They cheered nervous peers up rock faces and mountain tops or through tree top canopies.  They leaned on one another for support and amazed every one of us with their curiosity and intrigue about the world around them.  I get chills each time one of them makes a new realization that transcends their previous knowledge.  Whether it’s Alex cheering Francesca down the side of waterfall or Abby lovingly grabbing Meg L's hand during the turkey trot, these girls are recognizing their unique support system of sisterhood. 

And it is this sisterhood that makes the final days amazingly painful.  The reality of the end is slowly sinking in and each one of your daughters is realizing the difficulties of leaving South Africa and their TTS family.  In the final days we will wrap up finals and continue to chat about how to re-enter home life.  For TTS20, Africa seemed like a harsh environment three and a half months ago and now similar anxiety is weighing heavily on their shoulders once again.  They are nervous about how family and friends will perceive their new global awareness.  They are nervous to share their stories and try to show people their Africa.  They are nervous about re-entering school in a four walled classroom with 25 other students.  But... they are extremely excited to leap into your arms and give you a big hug!  They are excited to be loved on like they are kids again, to sleep in their own beds and to share home cooked meals with you.  They have their outfits picked out, their proud walk practiced, and their pride radiates from their smiles.

Over the next few days, we will practice responses to the generic question, “So, how was Africa?”  We will address the fears of re-entering school and teenage life.  And we will delight in our stories of travel.  I bet your daughter has already hinted to you about some of her feelings about graduating TTS 20.  Over the next few days, I encourage you to send her a message congratulating her on finishing her final exams and conquering this expedition.  In the message ask her about how she wants to spend her first few days at home – it might surprise you how many gals want to be around family only.  While I encourage you to have a welcome home shindig for your daughter, recognize she might need a few days to process before she is ready to be the center of attention.  She might want to sort through all of her duffle bag, pictures and souvenirs immediately or she might to put it all in the corner tightly zipped shut.

And, most of all, I can't imagine this expedition without your daughter.  She has amazing gusto and strength.  I admire her determination and her sense of self.  She added laughter and energy to the group.  Francesca's impersonations and voices, Brooklyn and Mckinley's improvisation skills, Jane, Abby and Meg L's love of shopping and markets, Alex's George W debate voice, Lily and Kelly's love for outdoor adventures, Payton's laughter and Shroder's sense of wonderment made this adventure unforgettable.   And with the Truly Supers leading the charge, we delighted in newness under the red Zambian sun, danced through the pristine Mozambican waters, giggled along the South African roads as a cohesive unit ready for anything. 

Thank you for sharing your daughter with The Traveling School.  I can't wait to see the next steps she takes – I imagine each of them to initiate an extraordinary path in life. 

Hugs to all of you amazing parents!
Aunge and the Truly Supers

Finishing Up TTS20

TTS 20 is busy, busy, busy - whether preparing homemade delicious meals, studying for exams, or squeezing in town time we are on the run!  In true TTS style we geared up for a big adventure into the city with our lunches packed and possibles bag loaded, only to have all plans scratched mid-train ride.  Ahh... the first rainy day in a couple of weeks.
But we couldn't just scrap the day - so we re-routed our plans and instead of taking a train, bus, and boat to a museum - we opted for a different direction and hopped off the train for a walking adventure through Capetown.  We toured District 6 Museum with Joe, a tour guide who lived through the changing times of District 6 and was relocated out to a township on the outskirts of town.  He told an uplifting story of his journey and amazed us all once again to accept forgiveness from the past mentality of the Apartheid government. 

After the museum we had to dive into the markets and soak in the boisterous atmosphere of the bartering lifestyle.  Math Concepts gals embarked on a inquisitive shopping quest, seeking answers economic based questions - what items sold the best, how does the price range vary depending on the customer, are you the designer of your goods or part of a cooperative, etc.  TTS 20 gals are astute conversationalists and were able to gather a plethora of information.
Now we are deep in final exams.  Pencils are constantly moving and review sheets are filling with hints and problem solving tactics.  Although we all have a little stress, we laugh it out constantly with jokes, impressions and stories of our journey.  We are busy trying to embrace every last adventure together and soak in the last of the African sun.
This weekend will be full of transition talks and last minute adventures.  The countdown is happening in whispered voices amidst hugs.
Aunge and crew

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pictures from TTS20

Check 'em out. Lots of smiling girls. Ridiculously unedited to ensure you each get multiple shots of your daughters. They were absolutely lovely. Thank you for sharing this adventure with us.

All the best,

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Academic Updates, Nov 2012

Being immersed in South Africa's multi-layered history is a constant motivation for TTS20's Modern History and Contemporary African Politics class to ask questions and explore answers. Following a brief introduction to colonial era, especially Dutch and British influences in the region, the students dove into the events of the 20th century. Through readings, class discussions, queries to locals, role play scenarios, poetry analysis, oral presentations, and primary source documents students have tackled the rise of apartheid and the ways that economics, constructed identity, and political interests can cause one people to subordinate another. In our last few weeks here the class is focusing on post-apartheid South Africa and current events. Our final stay in Cape Town will provide us many opportunities to visit some of the country's most historically symbolic locations, including Robben Island, District Six, and the city's surrounding Cape Flats area.

Visiting Parliament
It was a clear, warm morning as the TTS20 students climbed out of the van into the Cape Town sun. We were standing in front of the South African Parliament, a set of modern shining glass and traditional white columned buildings sprawling across manicured lawns and gated drives. As we stepped through the visitor's entrance, Ramon, a spectacled, energetic gentleman who launched into a speedy welcome to our Parliamentary tour, greeted us. He took off at a fast clip with us trailing behind, stopping here and there to point out works of art housed in the building. On the ground floor he showed us Keiskamma Tapestry, a 120 meter long piece depicting the history of the Eastern Cape (a region of South Africa) from the perspective of the women who made it. On the upper level, we visited the seat of both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, South Africa's two houses of Parliament. There is something truly powerful about learning how a government functions while sitting in the very seats its legislatures use to craft the nation's laws. The girls asked Ramon all sorts of questions, ranging from how one is elected president to what his views on politics today are and what had been planned as a half hour tour turned into a two-hour long conversation as he responded with comprehensive, detailed answers. When we emerged back into the bright, southern sun at the end of the tour, the girls were all a-chatter with speculations on South African government today and in what direction the country is headed. If that isn't the mark of a successful history class, I'm not sure what is.

Global Studies
Global Studies continues to be an interactive setting with eye-opening discussions about refugees, asylum and resettlement.  Many girls have previously encountered stories of refugees and have ideas about resettlement, but each student made new realizations that jerked at their souls.  For some, they recognized the pain students at their school had witnessed in order to start over in the United States.  For some, the idea of leaving everything for the idea of a better life with so many unknowns and questions was heart-wrenching.  In an effort to try to understand refugee's circumstances we made combined poems in the voice of a 12-year-old searching for something new while knowing she was different.  Recently, we switched topics and discussed the power of micro loans for women in developing countries.  As we move through the final weeks we will continue discussing leadership as young activists with knowledge and interest.  We will study different teenage stories of those who took action and made a change and discuss ways our group can give back and help encourage change.  This brainstorm will lead to a Zenith Project for the students to expand their leadership skills back home and devise a strategy to influence social, political or economic change for one place we experienced this semester.  Although the girls will all be back at home, the project will be a collective effort determined before we leave South Africa.

The Global Studies class will also focus on transitioning back home.  We will discuss different methods to conquer the culture shock of coming back home and reflect on our journey through Southeast Africa.  Each student will prepare a presentation to give at home about her journey and how it impacted her.  The class will work together to help each other develop strong speaking points and stories to share with their community.

TTS20's Literature and Composition class is in its final chapter of our three and a half month long saga. The students just completed their last novel, July's People, by Nadine Gordimer. The novel concerns itself with race relations in an imagined future for apartheid South Africa, a topic Gordimer explores through the story of one white families' flight into rural South Africa under the protection of their black servant, July. The students have engaged in honest and deep discussions about the book, and are continuing to tackle the complex subject matter in their analytical essays. As this is the essay style with which students are most familiar, I am encouraging them to argue more controversial thesis statements than they might at home in anticipation of the kind of analyses often expected in college. In addition, the students are currently working on their oral recitation projects and will all recite either a piece of original work or of South-East Africa poetry on Thanksgiving. In class we continue to work on creative writing through surrealist forms of expression as well as read short stories of the region in an effort to gain as solid an understanding of what it means to be a South African artist as possible.

Algebra 2:
The Algebra 2 class has continued to work hard and ask critical questions as the semester progressed from simple one-step equations to solving complex polynomials.  The students have each pushed themselves hard, ambitiously working through difficult topics of solving for multiple variables as well as factoring large polynomial expressions.  Class has continued to take place in any convenient setting, including on the road while cruising toward Cape Town, as well as at the breakfast table at the Rocktail Bay Resort.  Each student has shown tremendous growth, taking turns assisting one another through challenging problems.  The students have also tested their own complete level of understanding of a concept by teaching problems to the rest of the class.  As the semester comes to a close, students will use different strategies to solve for quadratic expressions, and then work on transformations of quadratic graphs.  The students will complete a comprehensive review before facing their final exam during the last week of class.

The science class was full of smiles and enthusiastic chatter as the aquatic marine unit was brought to a close in mid-November.  Science journals were filled with entries on whales and Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles, as the students had the rare opportunity to assist researchers and observe these magnificent animals crawl ashore to lay their eggs.  Not only did the students watch the turtles create their nests and lay eggs, they also were lucky to see a family of humpback whales breaching repetitively out of the water from a mere 30 yards away.  The students then formed groups and presented habitat and species summaries on whale sharks, turtles and great white sharks.  Their creative minds were put to the test as they invented two aquatic species that could live in a specific habitat, ranging from intertidal zones to benthic environments.  Each student had to create a complete species prognosis report for their newly developed species, then describe a symbiotic relationship taking place between those two species.  The final unit of study for the semester will focus on water conservation and problem solving discussions for solutions on the water crisis currently facing much of the world.  This topic has come up throughout the semester, as students have seen firsthand the struggle many villages have to simply access clean drinking water.  The semester will come to a close with the final exam, taking place during the last week of class. 

Math Concepts:
The Math Concepts class has been working hard to prepare for the workforce.  Each student chose a potential job to apply for after returning home, then created a cover letter and a resume for the job.  Mock interviews were held, and students had the opportunity to give each other feedback on both their verbal and nonverbal communication skills in an interview setting.  After a bit of practice, the class was ready.  Each student had to schedule an actual interview, and formal mock interviews were held at a local cafe.  The class is ready to face the workforce with confidence.  The curriculum continued with an introduction to economics.  Students each prepared a brief presentation on investment-related topics such as stocks and bonds and money market accounts.  Students reflected on what types of investments they are interested in for both the near future as well as long-term goals for further down the road.  Before the upcoming final exam, topics of discussion will center on supply and demand, the World Trade Organization, and the overall cost of happiness. 

The students have continued to build their own PE course this semester, by both teaching classes and seeking out physically demanding experiences we come across.  The student-led workouts have ranged from plyometric conditioning to abdominal exercises to Irish dance with each class filled with well-timed changes in exercises, sweat and plenty of enthusiasm.  To counter long days spent on the road, the students independently complete thirty-minute workouts to get their legs moving and the blood flowing.  Their ambition to conquer challenges has continued with activities sought out by the girls.  For example, after arriving in a campsite in a nature reserve, the class eagerly hiked a nearby  foothill for the perfect setting for a few hours for a history and literature class.  The girls had no trouble taking their class supplies along with their usual “possibles bag”.  As our journey continues, we are fitting in as many walking or jogging opportunities as possible to prepare for the TTS20 Turkey Trot 5k. 

In iLife class, discussions on personal goals and incorporating passions into future decisions have been the focal point for several weeks.  Each student completed a workbook to help narrow down interests into five passions.  Then each student brainstormed how to incorporate her passions into life both now and in the future.  During the parent campus visit, we had some guest speakers join the class for a poolside discussion on finding your path in life.  Parents discussed how sometimes following random interests along the way in college or after helped create a career they had never previously considered.  As classes continue, students will further develop this concept as discussions center on finding true happiness and pursuing personal goals.

In recent weeks, the class shifted gears from studying polynomial equations to studying logarithms.  We learned to condense and expand logarithmic expressions using the quotient, product, power and change of base properties.  The students are discovering how intertwined mathematical concepts are and how important it is to understand the concepts behind different rules and theorems.  We built on previous learned concepts to understand different types of exponential growth and decay.  Students are now able solve questions concerning the rate at which diseases will spread or populations will grow.  They can also determine how much interest they will accumulate in various types of accounts with different interest periods.  The final stage of Pre-calculus involves the study of trigonometry using the unit circle and right triangles.  We are discussing how applicable trigonometry is various careers.  The discussions continue to be interactive and spontaneous and the gals often have to double check themselves to make sure they are not having too much fun finding their nerdy math side.

Travel Journalism
The TJ gals continue their quest to be young journalists by asking questions and investigating their surroundings through their five senses.  The class continues to build their journalistic writing skills by creating articles with strong narrative form to paint pictures with vivid wording and descriptions. Currently, each student is in the brainstorming phase for her final article.  She is working hard to find a topic she is passionate about and believes the world is ready to hear from a teenager's perspective.  We practiced writing query letters to editors and now the students are forming individual query letters for their upcoming articles.  As a class we studied the Writer's Market and discovered a wealth of information and potential publishing possibilities.  Each student will submit her final article, query letter and three photos to a publication of choice in hopes of becoming a published journalist.  To compliment the final article, the class is also continuing to explore our surroundings through the lens of a camera.  We practiced capturing movement while playing on playgrounds or jumping in the waves of the Indian Ocean.  During the final weeks we will continue to expand our photography portfolio.  Once home, each student will have thousands of photos to sort through to create an online portfolio showing TTS 20 through her lens.  The portfolio will consist of various techniques and composition styles to highlight various perspectives.  Each student will summarize what photography means and how her chosen images weave a story.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving in South Africa

Today TTS 20 explored a holiday away from home.  We recognized the importance of traditions and loved ones and realized how lucky we all are to be here.  Over the past three months we created a family away from home – a new style of family who is diverse, random and ready for anything and everything.  We laugh together and learn together.  Today our laughter filled the hostel as we mixed old family recipes with new creations based on ideas which simply sounded delicious.

Tonight's menu consisted of:

Deviled eggs
Guacamole and chips

Main Course:
Rotisserie Chicken and rolls(the only non homemade additions)
Mashed Potatoes with sauteed onions
Macaroni and Cheese
Cranberry/blackberry sauce
Salad and dressing

Peach crumble
Apple crumble
Hand whipped cream
Ice Cream (ok, we bought this too)

And of course some sparkling appletizers to cheers with!

Today we couldn't be more proud of your daughters.  They created the menu themselves, budgeted for all ingredients (quantities and costs), organized cooking shifts, and made some of the most delicious dishes ever!  And through it all they also cleaned up every last little bit.  These ladies made this Thanksgiving truly memorable with their excitement and zest.

Throughout the day, each of us took some time to think about a few things we are thankful for – see if you can guess who is thankful for what:

... love, the love I receive and the love I am blessed to experience and the love I am able to share with the world.

...the opportunity to be in Africa and for the support my family has given me throughout the years.

...the wonderful opportunity to be here and the long lasting and true relationships I have with my friends and my home.

...the innumerable times I have felt my heart brim over with joy and wonder in the last three months.

...the support of my family and friends.

...the 20 in TS and the adventure I wish would never end.

...God's presence in all experiences here and for his comfort while being away from home.

...all my family!  Whoever is reading this, you came into my life only three months ago, and I have come to  appreciate each of you so much!

...all the people here and at home who have helped me get to where I am today.

...curiosity, smiles and authentic relationships.  I am thankful for every one of you for adding spice to my life and energy to my soul.

...all my family.  The one at TTS and the one back home.

...a loving family and supportive community- without them I would not be the person I am today!

...the family I am a part of and the love and affection I live in daily from friends and family.

...the people in my life who make me smile on a daily basis.  I feel so lucky to have traveled this journey with 13 intelligent and beautiful women who inspire me everyday.

We hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving celebration wherever and however you choose!  Thank you for sharing your daughter with this group, we can't imagine our big, hectic TTS 20 family any other way.  

Happy Thanksgiving to all of TTS20!!!

I'm so grateful that I was able to travel to Africa and to see my beautiful daughter Megan S. and to meet all of her wonderful traveling companions.  What an amazing adventure you all are having.  And while I miss having Megan home, I am grateful that she is able to have this experience.

These young women will return marked by the beauty of Africa and the inner strength that they have found on the road.

Parents- it was a privilege to meet of each of your daughters and share some of their experiences and to listen to their stories.

Teachers- Thank you for you your round the clock caring, enthusiasm, and commitment to make this extraordinary trip happen.  The energizer bunny has nothing on you all.

Gen- thanks for the vision and the follow through to create this program.

And a big thanks to the TTS staff in Montana that work the magic behind the scenes.

Nancy L.  Thanks for being open to traveling with a stranger (me) to Botswana.  What a fabulous time that was and I'm appreciative of having had a fun traveling companion to share that leg of the trip.

And thank you to my husband who was willing to mind the store while I was out jaunting around Africa.

Mary S.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hello to all parents of TTS 20.  We are recently returned from the parent's trip in South Africa.  To all the parents who where there, thank you for your companionship.  We want the thank Gen and all the teachers.  What they do is so amazing it is an inspiration.  It was an adventure that we enjoyed sharing with all of you.  For us, it was a truly awesome experience.  To those parents that could not go, I want to give you our take on the girls.  In a word, the girls are strong.  We had the impression that they had gained a good deal of confidence and strength.   This does not quite convey the full picture, however.  We had the overwhelming feeling that the girls felt that they could do anything they set their minds to.  And, I believe that to be true.   Many times I have been asked what effect the TTS has had on our daughter.  What I say most often is that it will be extremely difficult for anyone to tell her she cannot do something.  I think this may be the case for many of your daughters.  Add to that a new compassion for other human beings and a knowledge they are fortunate.  I believe this will result in some amazing and kind young women.   I also want you to know that in choosing the traveling school, you chose very, very well.  Best wishes to you all.   We all look forward to the coming return of our daughters. 

Bruce & Jen Wilson

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rocktail Student Blog Updates, Part 2

Lake Sabaya
It was a gorgeous day as a group of 10 people departed Rocktail to head to Lake Sabaya.  We rode in a wide open safari truck for 40 minutes with various stops along the way to check out local plants and fruits.  One fruit that we all got to sample was Monkey Fruit; it had a hard bright green circular shell which took remarkable strength to open, the insides were a brown-ish orange color. (not very yummy looking).  The fruit had a ton of big seeds throughout and tasted like an orange and banana mixed into one fruit.  By the time we got to the actual lake it was late afternoon and we were lucky enough to encounter a giant male hippo out of the water.  The safari truck slowly and quietly crept forward and we sat for a good 10 minutes before the hippo decided to stand up straight (almost looking like he was going to charge us) then all of a sudden jumped and ran into the water, not very gracefully might I add. (You know its a big deal when your Safari Driver grabs out his cellphone and starts taking pictures too!)  We then drove for a few more minutes to our break spot where we all joined in having cold beverages and various snacks such as somosas, raisins, chips, peanuts, and dried mango.  We were there until the sun was going to set then we hastily departed. As we were a good 10 minutes away a parent realized they left their glasses, so we did a u-turn and quickly headed back. The wind at this point was freezing and the driver was driving so fast that our butts were practically in the air.  The path we had to drive to get back could barely fit out little safari truck, branches were hitting us as we ducked down and clung to the middle person.  We made it back around 6, all limbs attached.  Needless to say we all had a bunch of fun and took many pictures with our families, friends, and loved ones.  :)
--Meg L.
Village Tour
Three safari trucks pull away from the lovely resort on Rocktail Beach and head down a bumpy road, carrying old and new members of the TTS20 family. The breeze tugs playfully at my hair as I sway side to side, strategizing how I am to teach the Project Wet “ Hand Washing Song” to the children at the Zulu Primary School. After passing gentle, rolling hills and sky-scraping trees, the trucks pull up to the primary school. Welcoming our group's arrival are toothy grins, bright eyes, and a chorus of squeals dressed in butter-yellow button-downs topped with green striped ties. Anthony, a local of the village and dedicated volunteer for the benefit of his friends, family, and neighbors, introduces himself and leads us into one of the classrooms. As the group enters, we are met with fifty anxious students ranging from age seven to fifteen looking back at us with curious smiles. While we nervously line up in the front of the room, Anthony tells the students and staff they should sing their guests a welcome song. Before I can prepare myself, a seemingly shy girl in the back of the room calls out a melody layered with passion and power as the remaining students respond with perfectly balanced chords that send shivers cascading down my body leaving goose bumps in their wake. Their voices engage in a game of tag, call and response, call and response, as the phrases bound off the walls and tickle my heart strings. The melody builds – the basses grow deeper, stronger, the sopranos sweeter – and the song envelops our awe-struck group, resinating in the room. Soon, as the melody melts softer, softer, to the chilling conclusion, tears prick my eyes and a breathless silence fills the room. It is, by far, the best way to be introduced into a new community.

After visiting the school, where we played many games (duck-duck-goose, tag, little Sally Walker), sang more songs, and had a  bittersweet goodbye, the group had a relaxing lunch looking over the peaceful KwaZulu-Natal village. After lunch we visited the local medical clinic and later enjoyed traditional Zulu dance under the the South African sun.

Ocean Experience
 The motor hums as wind and current carry inhibitions off of my sun kissed chest and shoulders. It is midday and the sweet African sun has revolved to her throne high in the horizon. Pink noses and skin tight wetsuits surround me as my gaze scurries from person to person. I look upon people who have loved and cherished my dreams since day one, and those who have done the same for the last three months ever since the moment our aircraft took flight over Dulles, Virginia. The parent trip has hand molded the two realities of my life together. The rich indigo waves of the Indian Ocean have a way of carrying ideas and memories, as I've come to understand. Our time on the zodiac boat has swelled to over an hour and still no sighting of the gentle beasts we all so long to add to our story. All but too suddenly a fine mist floats over the dancing sea as eyes race and minds perk. A mother humpback whale shows us her identifying feature of a smooth hook at the tip of her arching, turning spine. She cradles her baby in the waves, urging him southbound. Their destination is the crisp icy ravines of the Antarctic, a shocking future for the calf who only knows the paradise of Mozambique and South Africa's warm coastal bays. They play and churn the water which waits for its gentle giants to toss and bubble on the glassy surface. A surface which is like a skin. A minute fraction which becomes the definition of 70% of our planet. The whales again break the delicate skin of the ocean's surface. Mother and baby croon to the sun and again delve beneath the deep indigo, appearing as a shadow, a reflection of the clouds. Then it happens, the most graceful Kodak moment I have ever tucked into my memory. She waltzes to the ocean current's repetitive gentle Jembe drum thump. Up above, shattering the crème brule surface and withstanding gravity's overwhelming tug. The breach leads her up and away, twisting and spinning on an adapted stage. The splash is vibrant and zealous, sparkling saline droplets are kaleidoscopic mixed with sunshine. The last moment, second, flash passes and she leaves me without  a question as the last thing I can crystallize into memory is the speckled glimmer of a whale's tale. 

Monday, November 12, 2012


Appreciation.  The consistent theme of conversation on our big ol' blue truck as we departed the Rocktail Bay area following the 2012 Parent Campus visit.  The final night at Rocktail concluded with a gratitude circle around a bonfire where each student, teacher, and parent shared something they are thankful for relating to any part of The Traveling School experience.  Each student thanked their family, both at the campus visit and at home in America, for the love and support they have had as they pursued an adventure far from home.  Appreciation for the climbing experiences in Boven, for the humpback whale sightings in Rocktail, dozens of breathtaking sunsets over savannah, mountains, and the Indian Ocean, and for the countless conversations had with new friends we have all met along our way this semester.

Laughter, dance parties, and loud voices singing along with iPods now fill the truck as we continue on our journey toward Capetown.  The girls have mastered the lifestyle that encompasses the Traveling School.  Upon reaching a campsite, it no longer takes an hour to set up tents and get situated.  Within a half hour, tents are constructed properly, and cook crew has already begun setting up the next meal.  Girls free before dinner begin working on homework or catch a quick shower.  Classes continue both on the truck or while sitting atop a giant hillside as the girls read aloud the President's recent re-election speech.  Final exam descriptions have begun as the TTS20 girls begin to prepare for both their upcoming home-stay visits as well as the last few weeks of classes.

Potholes and God's Window in Blyde River Canyon

The Potholes and the view from God's Window was INCREDIBLE!!! We Looked out over the Blyde river canyon and could see for miles the diversity of the South African landscape. The potholes  are like nothing I had ever seen before. The smooth canyons and holes carved by the Blyde River are amazing and a great place for photos.

Our hike in the Blyde River Canyon started from our campsite, where we hiked uphill to the trail head and a look out spot. We clambered onto the boulders, which were perched precariously next to the cliff, but provided a great view of the canyon below. A large lake was nestled among the hills at the bottom of the canyon, surrounded by rolling green hills. Reddish brown cliffs framed the scene, impossibly tall and straight. We began our hike downhill, and we wove our way through grasslands, undergrowth and rainforest. Many of the trees in the forest were armed with hard, four inch spikes which stuck out into the path. We continued our hike down the mountain, with many stops to enjoy the view. Some of the more enthusiastic hikers decided to play a long, drawn out alphabet game (A is for Anastasia who lives in Angola and makes Afghans. B is for....) This continued for way too many hours, but fortunately stopped when we had lunch. We ate next to a bubbling stream, and then presented our projects for Global Studies. Two girls felt sick and decided to head back early, along with a teacher. We had several more classes at the stream before deciding to head back. After fording the brook several times, the teachers decided it was time to solo hike. We spaced ourselves along the trail, giving each other one minute and thirty seconds between people. Whenever the trail split, we would wait for the next person to come along to tell them which way to go, which made the “solo” hike more of a group hike. Our solo hike ended when the river crossings became more and more frequent. We hiked next to/in the creek the entire time, which wove through the rainforest and up the mountain. The forest was picturesque and captivatingly calm. All too soon the hike ended, and we finished out the day with dinner and study hall.

Climbing in Waterval Boven

When we arrived in Waterval Boven it was wet, cold, and we were unsure of what laid ahead for us. I only knew that climbing would be in our near future since we were in the climbing capitol of South Africa. I fell asleep quickly on a bottom bunk inside a guesevent, a large homey guest house, after a long truck day ready for the early morning that awaited me.

When I woke, raindrops danced on the roof creating uncertainty about the possibility of climbing. Regardless we packed our belongings in our day packs and headed down to Alex's (the owner of the guest house) to prepare for a day of climbing. We were first given helmets and harnesses we would carry around for the next week. Getting fitted for shoes became a longer process. Finding a snug, comfortable pair for all of us was a time consuming challenge, but in the end we each walked away with a pair of shoes that fitted our feet and our needs.

A short drive out of town in Alex's van took us to a bumpy dirt road which we drove down for a few minutes before she stopped the car and told us we were there. I got out of the van and looked around, unsure of exactly where I was. No obvious cliffs were in front of me like I had imagined. Yan, our guide grabbed his bulky backpack carrying all the ropes and needed equipment and gestured for us to follow him up a trail that peeked out from the side of the road. I looked up and found our destination, a rock face peeking over the trees. After a short hike up, we reached our climbing site nestled in the South African forest.

I was ecstatic, pretty much as excited as one can get. As Yan and Tulani set up the ropes I stared at the rock face planning my route up. Waiting for the ropes to be set up felt like an eternity. I paced the length of the rock face several times and fidgeted with my harness until finally Yan called us over for a safety briefing. “First you tie a figure eight knot.....bla bla bla bla bla” I already knew all this and was ready to go. “blablabla bla blabla bla” The insides of my soul were shaking with apprehension. “Now who would like to go first?” I peered around me making sure I wouldn't step on anyone’s feet. No one raised their hands, and Aunge asked me, “Would you like to go?” My immediate response was, “YES!”

I quickly tied myself in to the ropes. “Belay On?” I asked Yan, my eyes wide. “Belay on,” he repeated back to me. I dusted my hands with chalk and place my hands on the rock I in front of me. “Climbing!” I said as I put my foot on the small ledge about a foot off the ground. I paused waiting for his signal. “Climb on,” he said. With that I started climbing. I pressed my foot up and found a foothold reaching my arm up for a small crack in the rock. I lean against the hold keeping my arm straight and my body relaxed and continued up the face in a similar fashion. All too soon I made it to the top. I got up there and took a moment to take in the vast, lush landscape around me. Rolling hills and red-orange cliffs in the distance contrasted each other and the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the thick layer of clouds. “Are you ready to come down?” Yan called from below. I was transported back to the present and called back down, “Yes, take.” I leaned back and slowly was returned to the earth below me.

Abseiling and Hiking Out

From above, the sound of crashing waves and calling birds is the only thing you can hear over the cheerful voices of other TTS students. Collectively, nerves ran high because in just a few moments we would be rappelling off of a cliff over one hundred and fifty feet tall. Our instructor, Yahn, lined us up and explained how to use the ropes. Thankfully, we would be abseiling in groups of two and not on our own.

Twenty minutes later I was latched into a harness and carefully making my way from the safety of  the top of the cliff to a narrow ledge where our other instructor, Tulani, stood awaiting my arrival. At this point, my heart was racing, and I struggled to keep my hiking boots level on the cliffs ledge. 'Just breathe,' I kept reminding myself and somehow my nerves started to calm. To my far left I could visibly see the waterfall glistening and shining from the light of the sun. I smiled and started to relax.

'Ready?' My abseiling partner, Kelly, asked. I  nodded, suddenly unsure of my decision to rappel.  With one more deep breath I pushed away from the safety and comfort of the ledge and started to descend. At first, my heart was racing and my palms were extremely sweaty. Though after a few reassuring comments from Kelly I realized what an amazing experience this was.

As we descended the waterfall got closer, spraying us lightly with water. I laughed and cheered, grateful I didn't decide against going. The ropes slid easily through my hands and because Kelly and I could control our own speed, we decided to go slow and enjoy the moment. Dark green ferns tickled our ankles and water continued to moisten our face and shoulders. On the bright side, the air was hot the water only made us slightly cooler.

Sadly, the experience ended too soon and I found my feet on the ground within fifteen minutes. Because of all the moisture from the waterfall, the rocks beneath my feet were slippery so Kelly and I had to hold onto a cable rope to keep from slipping. The two groups that went earlier greeted us with delight, and then we continued to wait for the other groups to make their way down the cliff.

One by one groups of two retreated downwards and when they arrived everyone laughed and shared their experience of abseiling. In total it took an hour and a half for all the groups to make it to the bottom. once everyone had made it we hiked up and down a series of rocks and small hills to the base of a tall cliff. Confused, we asked Yahn to explain, and he said we would be climbing out of the cavern. I'm sure if we hadn't been climbing the last few days we would have been scared, but because of this fact a majority of the group was excited.

Time ticked on and it took two hours for the fifteen of us to climb out. In the end smiles were plastered on everyone’s faces and they continued to stay there for several hours after as we indulged ourselves in full plates of piri piri chicken ( and sudza. YUM:)s

Halloween and Gen's arrival

On Thursday, we were all excited to welcome Gen in Richard's Bay. After an unfortunately failed attempt to surprise her, we headed back to our campsite where we proceeded to get ready for a TTS Halloween. The group got in our costumes, some of us sporting our totem animals as costumes and others creating an original costume such as civilians from The Hunger Games capital. We did this all from materials we already had, which wasn't much! Before Halloween night, we held a welcome circle for Gennifre where we first all shared our special and hilarious favorite moments of the trip so far. Afterwards, Payton performed a silly interpretative dance for the group, depicting each of our totem animals.
For Halloween night, the group hunted down clues in an exciting scavenger hunt around the campsite. After a hard search, the final prize was Gennifre waiting for us with us chocolate candies and lollipops! Overall, it was an entirely unique Halloween!
--Megan S.

Scuba Diving at Rocktail 

Along with five other TTS girls (three of us freshly certified divers) I headed out to Pineapple Reef in search of an adventure. My hands clung to the woven rope on the side of the boat as our little Zodiac bounced across the rolling waves. Closing my eyes I tilted back and let the salty air fill my lungs as the ocean spray enveloped my face. All too soon, our group reached the dive sight. With the familiar feeling of tipsy butterflies in my stomach, I wiggled into my BCD, mask and fins, anxiously awaiting the ocean floor below. Before I knew it, the skipper straightened up and began to yell. “3,2,1, GO!” he exclaimed, the universal signal to backward roll off the boat into the water. Once our group was submerged, we swam to to the buoy line held by the dive master and began to descend to the ocean floor. Upon hitting the rippled sand about 18 meters from the surface, I was entirely enthralled with the watery world surrounding me. Each diver signaled to the dive master she was okay, and we began our swim along the coral reef. Immersed in a bounty of sea life, we saw a plethora of animals including 3 sea turtles, 3-4 huge manta rays and eels and too many brightly colored fish to count. We dipped in and out of the reef, this exotic mass of life providing a home to many different sea creatures. The crystal clear water and copious life providing the scene for an excellent dive. In my limited experience, I have found scuba diving to be an extremely unique experience; as everything I think or feel is contained entirely within myself. Besides the stray rumble of a boat's engine, the constant sound of deep, heavy breathing is the only noise to fill my ears. As a diver, movement is slow and tranquil and it seems even my mind is given a chance to relax and simply take in the surrounding world. It is an interesting feeling to be bubbled up with excitement over the loggerhead turtle or sting ray lying three feet below me and to only be able to communicate with a large smile or clumsy hand signals. The pressing quiet takes awhile to get used to, but it soon gives way to the many rewards of the dive. Our dive on Pineapple reef was no exception, and ended much too quickly for my liking. The group began our ascent and after waiting the allotted three minutes to degas, our heads pushed through to the water's surface. With a bit of struggling and plenty of laughter, we finally shimmied out of our BCDs and and flopped onto the zodiac. The stories and moments spilled out and we collectively agreed what a special dive it had been. Rocking its passengers to and fro, our boat sped towards land. But all I could think about was heading back out to the water for another ocean dive.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Parent Visit to Rocktail Beach

Greetings all.  I just got back from seeing the girls from Africa and as one of the first parents back, I wanted to give a quick summary of our time their, how the girls are doing and share some of what will be many photos and stories to come as the other parents come back and post too.

Of course it was great to see my daughter Francesca, it’s been too long and being able to see her there in Africa, hug her like crazy will be a moment I will always remember.  So how are they all doing?  Incredible is the word I would use. This is a group of wonderful young ladies.  A really close knit, powerful and wonderful team.  All of them were happy, thrilled to be at the lodge we all stayed at and shining from the fresh and appreciated showers and accommodations a nice reprise and upgrade from the camping, hostels and lesser luxuries they all experienced in Zambia and Mozambique. 

The days at Rocktail were full with activities and very well organized.  The facilities, tour guides and company was more than expected.  Over the course of the five days we got a taste of just about everything.  The girls even continued with class work during that time and the parents all got to participate as well.   All the girls had presentations during the four days to the parents and shared some of the work and concepts they were working on from science and literature classes they were taking.   The teachers and staff were all great as well.  It was nice to be able to meet and talk to each of them. 

In terms of activities we went whale watching and saw several hump backs on the way down the coast with several young ones in tow.  We also saw some amazing breaches as well.  It was almost as if the whales were putting on a show for us that day!  We stopped at a nearby reef to do some snorkeling in very clear water.  Afterwards we all had a wonderful picnic at the beach.  In the afternoon we got a taste of scuba.  Some of the girls were already certified.  For those of us new to the sport, their was a discover scuba class and ocean dive provided which allowed me and others a chance to try it out.  It was totally unexpected on this trip but a wonderful bonus and chance for most of us to get a real taste of scuba and the incredible views at a nearby reef.  I’ve always wanted to try and after this experience will certainly be getting certified to do this again with Francesca in the future.

In the evenings after dinner, we all had a chance to join the research efforts along the coast and join in the shifts up and down the coast looking for, monitoring and tracking both Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles. I’ve included a few photos of the turtles we got to see laying their eggs.  A really special and unique experience everyone really enjoyed.

On our last full day we all rode along dirt roads to a nearby Zulu village.  We stopped at a school along the way were the group was able to meet with the teachers and children.  The girls had an assignment where they shared certain prepared exercises to teach the kids principles on water and cleaning as part of a joint effort TTS has with an organization call Project WET.  We also go to join in some singing and playing with several of the classes.  We then visited a local clinic, enjoyed a lunch at a nearby traditional community gathering area and finished up at a local community center put together by a wonderful man Eugene.  He built the area for the kids of the village including a petting/observation area to learn about farm animals, a community hall and a dance area where we were all treated to a very special show of local dance by several of the students who had just got out of school.

On the final day as we call headed out of Rocktail, we got a chance to meet up with and see the girls’ Overland vehicle, their driver and cook.  “Big Blue” as they call it!  It was interesting to see the girls get so excited about rejoining their big bus that has carried them through so much of their journey.  It was like they were all coming home!  After giving the parents a quick tour of their bus and some final pictures, we all had our goodbye hugs, kisses and handshakes. 

It’s hard to summarize into a few words and pictures just how wonderful the trip really was.  For those parents who were not able to go on this trip, I want you all to know just how wonderful it was to meet your daughters and also let you know just how well all the girls are doing.  Like many of you, I have been worried and wondering just how my daughter has really been doing.  The calls and limited access made it hard to feel comfortable at times with Francesca being so far away.  After the trip and seeing her, getting the time to really catch up and talk to her and all the girls together, it was wonderful to see how happy, energized and really great they are all doing.  They do work hard and are challenged every day, but they are learning so much, have a great team around them and are truly in a special place.  I feel much more comfortable about the experience and glad to see everyone doing so well.  This is really a special group of young women and I am so glad to see them doing so well and really proud of my daughter and all of them for how well they have done.

I’ve attached a few photos of the trip and girls.  Many more to come soon.  Its was great to meet all of you who were there and will always be a trip I remember.


John C.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Your daughters are amazing...

Your daughters are strong.

Your daughters are letting Africa sift through their pores as they undertake this massive journey. They are traveling through rugged terrain - both geographical and personal. They are learning about technical academic facts - mathematical equations, historical dates of significance, and the parts of a thesis statement. They are learning about Africa - how colonization affects modern day politics, the influences of apartheid, and how to greet someone in Zulu. They are learning about each other - how to be a good friend, how to resolve conflict, and how to authentically support each other. They are learning about themselves - asking themselves, "why am I?" "Why does this matter?" and "How is it important to me?"

After spending a rich week with TTS20, I can tell you that your daughters are strong. They have learned to travel, to study, to explore, and to laugh. They shared their stories and their journey with us over long dinners on the Indian Ocean with the sea breeze in our hair. Your daughters are amazing...

Right now, I am on the last day of the Campus Visit and Parent Trip with the most supportive and open group of parents you could imagine. The returning parents will be sharing their photos and insights over the next week as we return to the US via different itineraries, and as the TTS20 girls slowly traverse South Africa en route to Cape Town. Enjoy what the returning parents have to share - and I will happily share my own photos when I return to Montana next week.

Lots of hugs to you all from the girls on this side of the globe.. and thank you for sharing your daughters with us.

All the best,

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gennifre Shares First Impressions from South Africa

I met up with the TTS20 group several days ago and enjoyed camping in a huge thunderstorm with them on the edge of the Indian Ocean outside of Richard's Bay. The girls were in high spirits in anticipation for the Campus Visit. We celebrated Halloween, and the girls dressed up in everything they could find buried at the bottom of their duffles. Brooklyn dressed as a beautiful lion, her totem, in a long yellow skirt and paper ears pinned in her hair. Megan S. was a giraffe with two tall pony tails and a colorful giraffe-spotted skirt.

I enjoyed attending their classes by the pool in the sunshine the next day. The girls were wrapping up projects and getting ready to showcase their academic work for the parents, so they rehearsed memorized poetry and put the final touches on posters, and prepared the Project Wet lessons (see link for more about Project Wet-TTS partnership) to present in the Zulu village when the parents joined.

(a day passes)

After a long morning of travel on the truck  the girls said a temporary good-bye to Papa and Tekshure to hop into the open-air safari jeep provided by Rocktail Beach Camp. Screams of delight as the girls piled into the luxury canvas safari tents - They have thick towels! They have a hot shower nozzle the size of a dinner plate! The girls with parents here waited on the stairs for the jeep carrying the parents to arrive. I adopted Jane, McKinley, Alex, Brooklyn, Kelly and Lily, and we created our own family - The Clutch family (because a turtle lays a clutch of eggs).

The parents arrived with tears, hugs, screams and lots of emotion. They checked in, and all the girls met them by the pool in the evening to teach their newest group members about Africa. The girls presented about African culture and etiquette, the whys of clothing and how to travel safely, how to exchange and carry money in the third pocket. They shared details about classes and academics too.  The session went on as the sun slowly set, and, as the parents asked questions about the program, an authentic Q and A session evolved.

It has been amazing to see this group of young ladies at this point in their journey. They have come so far from the group of strangers who came together at the hotel in Washington, DC. Your daughters have much to share with you about their experiences, and for those of you who didn't make it to South Africa, your daughters are storing up the stories, shouts, tears and joy to share with you upon their return home.