Packing For Italy

My friends and students know that I am obsessed with packing and that I am a member of what one student memorably called “the elitist culture of packing light.” Guilty as charged. I like to spend as little time and effort as possible on moving my stuff around during a trip–and I definitely do not want to spend actual money on overweight luggage fees or on checking extra bags. I’m always trying to see how little I can bring and not go crazy or feel deprived. On study abroad programs where I’ll be at the destination for several weeks and can wash clothes and buy toiletries, it’s surprisingly easy to pack light. Shorter trips are paradoxically more challenging. This trip to Italy will be a bare 7 days (leaving Monday, returning Sunday, only 5 full days in country) but I still have to wash my hair and wear pajamas and put my contact lenses in every day–and it’s not yet really warm weather there (or here), so I need layers. In addition to basic stuff (socks, underwear, PJs), I am taking:

  • 1 pair of grey jeans and 1 pair of black dress pants
  • 4 long-sleeve pullover tops: grey, red, black, and black & white stripe
  • 2 sweaters (black, red)
  • 1 button-front shirt (black with a flower print)
  • 1 pair of Clarks oxfords
  • 1 scarf
  • London Fog trench coat
  • Basic toiletries, especially contact lens solution, which I always bring from home–it’s expensive in other countries and sometimes you can only get it from pharmacies.

All of the above except the trench coat is in my suitcase–packing cubes courtesy of my bestie Vicki (thank you, Twinky!). The cubes are not strictly necessary in such a small suitcase but it was my first chance to try them out!


The suitcase is carry-on size but I’m going to check it.

My Orla Kiely cross-body purse is going inside the suitcase but I’ll carry it once I get there. Inside the backpack will be my computer, Bullet Journal, guidebook, phone, headphones, passport, wallet, glasses, toiletries for the flight (face wipes, lip balm, lotion, toothbrush & paste, deodorant), makeup, and a change of clothes in case my suitcase is lost.

[Confession: on a nonstop flight I usually don’t bother with the extra clothes in the carry-on, but on this trip I have to change planes. The few times I’ve lost a suitcase it’s been in this type of situation.]

On the plane I’ll be wearing blue jeans, a black sweater over a white long-sleeve top, a scarf or pashmina, and my Skechers sneakers. Obviously I’ll end up wearing all my pants and sweaters and one or two of the tops more than once. A nice thing about Europeans is that they’re much more blasé than Americans about re-wearing clothes, even on consecutive days and even in professional situations. I am taking a small bottle of Febreze in case anything needs freshening up.

As I’m writing I’m realizing I still need to throw in an umbrella, my travel slippers (packing light is well and good but I have never regretted having something to put on my feet in my room at night), and 3 different electronics chargers. But then I’ll be ready to go!

Finishing up packing for a trip is a good time to remind ourselves that all we really need is a passport and a credit card. Keep your passport close at hand and don’t forget to call your bank to tell them you’ll be traveling internationally.

On the Road (or Plane) Again: Semester in Siena visit coming up

I’m excited to be posting again after a very long silence! Last June I had to bail out on blogging altogether due to mysterious posting problems that seem to be solved now. It’s a good time to have a functioning travel blog as I am setting off for Siena, Italy on Monday (12 March) to visit the Semester in Siena program that Middle Georgia State University is now offering in cooperation with Georgia Southern University and the Dante Alighieri Institute in Siena. This program is a major expansion of our international offerings and a great opportunity for students to immerse themselves in Italian culture for an entire semester. I can’t wait to learn more about it, experience some of the highlights firsthand, and share it with everybody. Hoping to do lots of photos and/or video, blogging, and social media posts during my trip, which will include 2 days on my own in Florence (sounds better in Italian: Firenze) before I return to the States on Sunday 18 March. This will be my first trip on my freshly renewed passport, I have my packing list ready to swing into action this weekend, and I’ve been working diligently on my Italian, learning sentences I probably will not use (e.g. “Vorrei dare una festa” and “La camera non mi piace”) plus some I will (“Sono vegetariana” and “Quanto costa un cappucino?”). I think I am almost ready!

If you’re a member of the Middle Georgia State University community, please make sure you’re following the Office of International Programs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as I’ll be posting there as well as here as much as I can.

Stay tuned!

European Council Ireland 2017: Where are we?

Catch-up blogging is the worst kind of blogging!  This program already has me moving at a brisk trot, and if I don’t write things up as I go along it all disintegrates into a blur of green hills, coastal plains, dorm rooms, buses, and potatoes. I think when I left off I promised to say something about our visit to Kilkenny. Great town for a day trip as you can start at one end of the Medieval Mile and sightsee, eat, and shop your way to the other. The two ends are St. Canice’s Cathedral and Kilkenny Castle; pick your flavor!

St. Canice’s–the “tomb” of an anchoress


The much-quartered coat of arms on this tomb makes me wish I were a lot better at heraldry!

Artsy focus pulling in action

Street view in Kilkenny

Street view in Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle garden

European Council Ireland Study Abroad 2017: First Week

Apparently Sunday is Blogging Day for me on this program! We are through our first full week: classes Monday, a field trip to Woodstock Manor and Kilkenny on Tuesday, classes again Wednesday, then an extended excursion to the Ring of Kerry from Thursday morning to Saturday afternoon. It’s been a very busy but really great week! Admittedly, we have had the usual growing pains: someone’s Internet password didn’t work for a couple of days. One of the exterior doors to the dorm didn’t close and had to be fixed. A couple of students’ rooms didn’t have hot water. Someone got a cold. Oh wait–that last one was me. I was completely felled on Wednesday and didn’t even go over to the program office. Got through the Ring of Kerry on paracetamol (what the rest of the world calls acetaminophen i.e. Tylenol), stubbornness, and a little good luck. We are still having extraordinary weather: warmer than typical and almost no rain. Of course, on Friday when we went around the Ring it was grey and gloomy! Our bus driver Tony said that Murphy’s Law plays a major role in Ireland–no surprise that “Murphy” is an Irish name. The students were actually happy to have some “traditionally Irish” weather even though it seemed like a grim joke on our tour itinerary. Even I have to admit that visiting the Bog Village seemed much more real in a cold drizzle than it would have in warm sunshine! And my cold is on its way out, for which I thank my colleagues for their infinite generosity in picking up some of my workload over the past few days. So! On with the highlights.

The first week was focused on introducing students to Irish culture, history, and geography via a lot of short presentations and visits to various sites. On Monday, our fantastic guide/visit coordinator/all-around Ireland genius Jonathan gave an excellent lecture on Magdalen asylums inside one such former facility (it now belongs to Waterford Institute of Technology). You can see the chapel & Jonathan in action in this photo from my Instagram. The students were utterly engrossed and asked as many good questions as we had time for. In a way it was strange to start off with a focus on such a dark topic in Irish culture, but if anything, Americans often have a romanticized and Disneyfied view of the Irish and it was good to complicate that. Throughout the week I was struck again and again by the contrast between Ireland’s beauty and its brutality. Maybe you can’t have one without the other?

Tuesday we set out to visit Woodstock Manor, a now-ruined 18th-century manor house near Inistioge in Co. Kilkenny. The house was burned in 1922 during the Irish Civil War and the gardens became neglected. The grounds are now slowly being restored by the Kilkenny County Council and we got a tour from the head gardener.


Our expert guide John


The remains of Woodstock Manor


The remains of Woodstock Manor


Close-up of a Monkey Puzzle; they look like trees made of Hens & Chicks!


The…Laurel Walk? Or Poplar Walk?


Courtney sketches the scene


The “conservatory”

The garden is full of exotic plants from all over the world including the Americas; it was common in Victorian times for landscape enthusiasts both to design elaborate gardens and to pay “plant hunters” to travel in search of specimens. Hence Woodstock’s unusually large collection of monkey puzzle trees, whose original specimens were brought back from Chile.

From Woodstock we went on to Kilkenny city. The centerpiece of Kilkenny is the “Medieval Mile” that runs from Kilkenny Castle at one end to St. Canice’s Cathedral at the other. It was a great chance to tour both buildings (I only toured the cathedral–I love cathedrals), climb the round tower at St. Canice’s, and, importantly, get some lunch! More on Kilkenny in my next post because WordPress is, once again, not being helpful at all!


European Council Ireland Study Abroad 2017: We’re here!

It’s 8:30 on Sunday; I’ve been in Waterford for just under a week; the students arrived on Friday; I am finally getting a chance to update my blog. The week was busy with preparations for the students’ arrival: the closer the day gets, the more specific the questions become until we have detailed itineraries for the first few days of the program, with times and places for every departure, arrival, meal, and meeting. Thursday night I was going to bed as the students and faculty were checking in for the flight, so I stalked them on GroupMe until everyone arrived at the airport. I got a little bit of sleep before meeting up with my colleague Jonathan and our intrepid bus driver Tony to head to the airport. Everyone was very tired when they arrived, of course, but we got them through passport control and back to Waterford Institute of Technology where we are based–plus or minus a nap on the bus. Luckily for the students they did not have to stay awake for too terribly long the first day. They had lunch, an orientation session, a tour of the campus, a visit to Tesco (grocery store), and then dinner, and that was the end of the official day. How many of them went to bed right after dinner? The world may never know. We were all impressed at how well the students did despite their fatigue and the overall disorientation of being in a new place.

The GroupMe has been bubbling with small but interesting questions that they have mostly answered for each other: “How do you turn on the air conditioning?” (I quote from the WIT welcome guide: “You are in Ireland now; you don’t need air con.) “Where are we meeting for lunch?” Some hours later:  “Where are we meeting for dinner?” “How do you turn on the heat?” Yesterday morning: “Does anyone have a belt I can borrow?” And since arrival: “Can someone let me back into my room?” The knack of keeping hold of a key card takes a little time to develop.

For the first full day of the program–yesterday–we started with an early breakfast (“Where are we meeting for breakfast?”) and a series of tours in Waterford: the Bishop’s Palace, Waterford Crystal, and a walking tour by a fantastic local guide named Jack Burtchaell. I took half the student group into the Waterford Crystal Visitors’ Centre for their first tour (highlight: Waterford considered me a “tour leader” and gave me a voucher for a free coffee & pastry). Last year on my training visit I did not go to Waterford Crystal so this was my first time there. It was impressive to learn about the level of expertise and craftsmanship that the glassblowers and cutters have to have. Becoming a cutter requires an eight-year training process; a cutter learning to cut a new design gets to see the pattern drawn onto the glass base only twice before he’s expected to know and cut it from memory. A cutter completing the first stage of the apprenticeship has to cut a “training bowl” that showcases all the different kinds of cuts. He (or she; Waterford has one woman apprentice right now) gets 3 blank bowls–two for practice and the final one that’s submitted for evaluation and then returned to him as a commemoration if he passes. Here’s what the training bowl looks like:


Scariest final exam ever!

Most Waterford crystal is now produced in eastern Europe. The closing of the huge factory near the WIT campus was a major loss to the local economy. Our bus driver Tony is a former blower and people have told me that practically every family in Waterford has former employees in it. The visitors’ center does still produce some crystal, though, and seeing the production process was incredible:


Shaping a glass blank after it was blown


Preliminary shaping of the hot glass before blowing


Cooled glass blanks have the rough edges from the blowing process filed off.


A cutter at work on a gorgeous vase design

From the Waterford Crystal tour we went to Jack Burtchaell’s walking tour, which was so much fun. Jack is so knowledgeable and so funny; it was a great introduction for the students to Irish history but also to the Irish sense of humor.

Posting this as it’s now lunchtime Monday. WordPress has been giving me fits! More to come . . . hopefully.

27 May 2017: Knights Impact sailing for home

I can’t believe it’s almost over! Today has been a mellow day—luckily, because tomorrow morning will be a bit of a rush. We had Fathom cohort meetings in the morning where we learned about the total impact of our activities this past week and the overall total since Fathom started sailing last April. That was exciting. It’s easy to feel like one person can only do so much, but seeing the totals tells you that the effect of all those small individual efforts is cumulative in a powerful way. The only big question mark is the future of Fathom.

My students had lots of comments and opinions about Fathom’s marketing and decision-making when we got together for our final MGA cohort meeting just a couple of hours ago. I had prepared some traditional reflection questions—“what did you learn,” etc.—and got good answers to those, as expected, but also a more freewheeling discussion. Students know other students; they understand how to reach their peers and what’s needed to create student buy-in. They gave me detailed feedback about where they felt Fathom had fallen short and about what I and my colleagues could do to keep Knights Impact successful and growing. I have my marching orders for the fall semester for sure!

As for the impact travel experience, they were most impressed by the openness and welcoming attitude of the Dominican people. That topic came up over and over again in our discussion. Yesterday I told someone I met (a faculty member at another university) that I like to have a grand unifying theory of everything. My grand unifying theory about my students’ experience in the DR is that it’s all too easy to fear and mistrust the wider world. Because so many of them are working hard and spreading themselves thin to meet daily needs and advance their goals, having resources (of any kind) left over to extend to others can be difficult. And because Americans do tend to be very private (at least by Dominican standards), it’s unsurprising that they’d assume everyone is similar. As a private person, I was hesitant to enter strangers’ homes, not because I was afraid but because doing so felt disrespectful. I tried not to gawk around, take tons of pictures, or wander from room to room uninvited. Some of my fellow travelers did not share that approach; some also (I learned from the students today) were frank to the point of insult about the neighborhoods where we were working in Puerto Plata—that is, the word “ghetto” was used. One student said she’d never have gone into those neighborhoods if she’d had to decide to do so based on the feedback from some of the people we talked to. But the residents were willing to invite us in, let us use their bathrooms, share the fruit they’d grown, and work next to us (Fathom value: alongsidedness!) to improve their lives. And luckily my student is methodical about trying everything for herself and making up her own mind. I am glad they are learning about the diversity of the world and, just as importantly, about its openness. Learning to be careful is good but it can turn into a kind of paranoia if you are constantly told to be careful but never exposed to anything new to be careful about. Finding out firsthand that it is possible to be too careful, then, is a great lesson.

At the end of the meeting, the students were sweet enough to thank me for organizing the program and giving them the opportunity, but I told them to give themselves the credit. I’m an experienced traveler now; I grew up believing that travel was possible and desirable for me; I flew on a plane for the first time at 9 months, spent 3 weeks away from home when I was 13 and loved it, and went overseas for the first time at 22. I didn’t go through what some of them are going through now, getting their first taste of travel after (in some cases) nearly 3 decades of life and a background that never encouraged them to go far from home. Just boarding the ship is a breakthrough for them in a way that no travel has ever quite been for me.

The end of our meeting signaled the end of our official activities. The students probably went off for an afternoon beverage and I am having a “mango fizz” (mango juice, ginger ale, lime, and mint: delicious, try one) in my favorite spot, the Crow’s Nest. I need to pack my bag but I’m waiting till after dinner when my cabin will be cooler.

By this time tomorrow we will be almost back to Macon. Is it possible?


26 May 2017: Knights Impact goes to RePapel; departure from Amber Cove

Today was not an easy day. My group did the recycled paper activity at RePapel this morning: we were the last Fathom group to do so, because Fathom is disbanding (as is widely known) and RePapel is closing. When I was here in January, one of the NGO liaisons expressed worry about RePapel as being the project that would be most difficult to continue in Fathom’s absence. But I kept hoping something would come through to save it. It’s genuinely hard to think about: we will go home and go on with our regular middle-class lives but for the women who had come to rely on RePapel for employment and income, the future is bound to be uncertain. I have to admit that I always took the full-throated cheer and warm welcome of the RePapel ladies with a grain of salt. Was it genuine or were they putting on a show for us tourists? I still wonder a little but today it dawned on me that they got to come to work every day and feel special and valuable as well as useful and productive. There aren’t many jobs for women in Puerto Plata other than in the tourism industry, which requires more education than these women probably have, as well as access to transportation and child care. So RePapel was filling a gap on several levels. They really tried to put on a brave face for us, and it almost worked. At the end of our morning there—we made paper, smoothed dried sheets, rolled beads out of recycled magazines, and made jewelry out of our beads—Juanita, the most loud and cheerful of the group, led everyone in singing and dancing to “La Bamba” as they always do, and then the ladies sang another song that I recognized but couldn’t identify. All of a sudden I noticed that Altagracia, the quiet but smiling woman I remembered from last time, was crying, and then I was crying too. Most of us cried before we left. I hugged Altagracia and even though I know she didn’t understand me, I said “Don’t cry! You’re making me cry!” And now we are on the ship and the ladies are…who knows?


Jasmine put a smile on for paper-making even though she does not like mornings.


Jamia lifting out a fresh sheet of paper


Stevanie and Garrett smoothing the sheets


Juanita (white outfit & headband) leads the singing and dancing


Garrett is getting into the groove


One last song


Me & Altagracia!

We did have an experience this afternoon that put a little balm on the pain of departure. Early in the week, the Fathom executives on board had mentioned that they wanted to meet with the university groups on board (Tuskeegee U. has 14 students here in addition to our 24). The idea disappeared after that initial mention and I assumed it wouldn’t happen after all. But in today’s Soundings appeared an invitation to an open meeting for all university students and educators. The meeting was led by Katie Dow—I think her title is “Fathom experience manager”—and a recent college grad turned impact guide, Paige. Middle Georgia State University showed up in force and I have rarely been prouder. The students got emotional as they talked about their experiences and how valuable this program has been to them. It was so validating of our work in offering the program but equally, it spoke well of their sincerity and open-heartedness in approaching the activities. I am excited for my last meeting with them tomorrow when I will ask them to talk about what they learned; I’m expecting some excellent reflections. I also met my counterpart from Tuskeegee and it is a little funny how similar we are professionally: both Associate Professors of English who have been Directors of International Programs for 2 years as one-person offices. She is eager to collaborate with MGA, which is awesome. So it’s not clear right now what will happen to the “Fathom experience” but it’s clear that Carnival Plc is not planning to abandon it. I’m still hopeful that it will evolve into something that can continue to be as transformative to future groups of students as this week has been to our current group.

So now we are sailing; everyone made it back on the ship on time and did not have their names called in the Roll Call of Shame before departure. The program is winding down. Tomorrow we have Fathom cohort meetings in the morning and meetings with our MGA cohorts in the afternoon. By voice vote my cohort decided they’d rather have a midafternoon meeting and then be at liberty till we disembark Sunday morning. A few people’s thoughts are turning toward home but I think most of us are determined to live in this moment a while longer.


I was there!



Still my favorite ship


Casting off the lines


Adios, Amber Cove


Sailing away

25 May 2017: Knights Impact does Concrete Floors & Caribbean Culture

As promised, today was a big day! My cohort had wanted to do the “Concrete Floors in Community Homes” activity as a group but it filled up quickly. By chance, I was the only one who got a spot in it. So at 8:00 this morning I was back in my grubby clothes from Reforestation and rolling out on the bus toward a tiny neighborhood called San Marcos. To reach San Marcos we had to get off the bus on the side of the highway, more or less, and cross a swaying wooden footbridge to reach a dirt road lined with at most a dozen houses. We were working in 3 houses: two that had just one room each needing a floor, and a third that was getting concrete put in throughout the house. I ended up working in the third house. The facilitators introduced us to the owners of the houses, who were incredibly nice but a bit shy. One facilitator mentioned that San Marcos had never had such large groups of visitors before. I am sure they did not know what to make of us. But the owner of the house I worked in warmed up enough to want to show me a picture of his family on the wall, as well as the pigs he was raising in the back yard. I asked the facilitator how people in San Marcos provide for themselves and she said they might work in town but they also raise their own livestock, fruits, and vegetables. We saw cows, chickens, ducks, and a donkey during our morning there as well as the pigs.

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We got organized into a bucket brigade pretty quickly while a few volunteers mixed and shoveled the concrete in the middle of the dirt road (N. B.: This arrangement requires work to halt briefly when cows are coming through). Full buckets went in, empty buckets went out, and the few professional construction workers on the site spread and leveled the concrete as well as adding a layer of colored pigment over the smoothed concrete. This gentleman will have a great-looking yellow floor—in fact, probably already has it, by now, because another group was coming through in the afternoon to complete the work that we did not have time to finish. It was hard work passing the buckets and I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow, but it is really rewarding to think that in just one day we hugely improved someone’s quality of life. Imagine how hard it would be to clean up after a flood—flooding happens here, and San Marcos is right up against a river—if you had dirt floors in your house. For that matter, how much harder is it to keep a clean house from day to day if floors are dirt? All the owners were very pleased as well as a little disbelieving. One woman said she didn’t believe she was really getting a concrete floor until the supplies started showing up. She said that politicians sometimes come to their neighborhood and make promises, and then nothing ever happens. That touched me as much as anything because I pride myself on living up to what I say I’m going to do. I’d like to meet the politician who could make an empty promise to a soft-spoken woman and her baby daughter living in a cinderblock house with a dirt floor—but that politician probably doesn’t want to meet me.

One downside to doing concrete floors is that one gets incredibly dirty. 50% sweat, 50% concrete smudges, and I even got some yellow coloring powder on the strap of my bag. Luckily I had time to shower, change, and eat lunch before reporting back to Amber Cove to leave for the Caribbean Culture tour. True confession about Caribbean Culture: when I did it in January I enjoyed it, but felt like the tour guide’s talk was not as in-depth as I’d have liked. Nevertheless, I recommended it to my students as the cultural activity for our group because it offered the most cultural/historical content in a fairly short timeframe. I ended up glad I stuck with it because we had an excellent tour guide today (shout out to Mr. Oscar Rodriguez!): funny, knowledgeable, open to questions, obviously enjoyed his work. We went to the San Felipe Fortress first but cut that a bit short because it was incredibly windy (the fort is right on the coast). I kept having to hold my dress down because I’m not ready for Puerto Plata to know me quite that well yet. Second stop was the town square and San Felipe cathedral, which I love. It came back to me in a flash that the last time I was here, the Christmas decorations were still up. We drank coconut water, bought souvenirs, and got to see a cigar-making demonstration (fun cigar fact: some of the best cigar wrapper leaves come from Connecticut). Then the last stop was at the gorgeous botanical garden owned by Rafy Vasquez, a Dominican-born, Canadian-educated artist whose family has owned his property for three generations. It was great to see everything again and hear about it from Oscar, who was agreeably critical of (1) Catholicism as a state religion, (2) people’s misunderstandings about voodoo, (3) Christopher Columbus, (4) corrupt bureaucracy, (5) Dominican drivers.

(N. B.: My experience suggests that sensible people in general should be critical of Dominican drivers.)

On the way back to the port we drove along Ocean View Avenue, known locally as the Malecon. Oscar called an audible and let us stop for pictures of the statue of Neptune that stands on a rock out in the water. That was cool enough, but the sunset was incredible and the beach is gorgeous. I almost didn’t get out and now I’m really glad I did.


Puerto Plata central square–Plaza Independencia


San Felipe Cathedral


Fresh coconut water


Last time I saw this gazebo it had Christmas lights on it.


Look closely. Ice cream shop takes Bitcoin?


Cigar-rolling demonstration


Fort San Felipe


Students at the fort


Outside the fort (inside the bus)


DR’s flag is the only one in the world with a Bible on it.


Sunset at the beach



Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden


Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden


Students on the beach


Now it is after 10 p.m. and I am waiting on my laundry to dry while watching a Top Gear episode before bed. Tomorrow is our last activity; we sail around noon. Our time here goes so fast. I shed a few tears when we sailed away last time and I’m sure I’ll do the same tomorrow.

24 May 2017: Knights Impact does Reforestation

Busy first half of the day today. My group did a reforestation activity that departed from Amber Cove at 8:00 a.m., so I bounced out of bed at 6:00 to get ready, eat breakfast, and check up on a couple of things before getting on the bus. Impressively, everyone made it on the bus with time to spare even though several of us went to something called the “Bravissimo experience” last night and had quite a late evening. Those who did not have the Bravissimo experience attended the welcome party in Amber Cove instead. Well worth the price of admission ($0) to see an incredibly cute and talented kids’ drumline trained by a professional percussionist whose goal is to give kids in under-resourced neighborhoods access to music education and even the prospect of making money from music. The show also featured Dominican dancers and costumed carnival performers. I took some videos during the show but my camera’s memory card malfunctioned and I had to reformat it. Fortunately I got a couple of still images off before that happened; here they are!


These kids were great!


I’m a little scared of this guy, tbh.

So we all arrived in top form (or similar) for reforestation this morning. We drove about 30-45 minutes to reach the site, including a restroom stop in someone’s home. Where I come from it is not usual to have strangers parading through your house to use the loo, but in Puerto Plata, especially in the more remote neighborhood we were passing through, it’s easy to see why it’s necessary. No McDonald’s in sight; very few gas stations; and porta potties on site would be logistically if not financially prohibitive. To be honest, although I felt awkward being there, I was pleased to get a look into what seems to have been a working-class rural home. The house had a corrugated roof, concrete floors, and curtains instead of doors dividing the rooms. In the large back yard were ducks and chickens and two outdoor wood-burning stoves for cooking (although there was also a small range inside the house, as well as a television and a wi-fi router). The bathrooms were tiled and obviously there was running water–but you can’t put toilet paper down the toilets here and a couple of people had done so. I hope we did not back up this nice lady’s toilet. Her in-laws lived in another house at the back of the property. The houses are a little dark and bare, but airy. We had to pass through the owner’s (one of the facilitators told us that people own their homes/properties) bedroom to get to the bathroom and I noticed that there was almost no furniture and no closets. These neighborhoods are hard to characterize; they seem permanent, but unfinished. Nothing is rickety but also nothing is shiny or new. And it seems normal to, for instance, sell snacks and sodas off your front porch, or operate a café from a tiny building with a counter out the front and nothing else. I can’t quite imagine living there. I think I’d make a lot of silly mistakes because things are different from what I’m used to. On the other hand, there are no obnoxious neighborhood associations telling you you can’t have a clothesline—we saw clothes drying outside every house.


The reforestation was challenging physical work, but fun: we were up in the hills with a nice breeze to break up the heat, and everyone chatted and had a good time as we worked. It was toughest for the workers who were using pickaxes to dig the holes for us to put the seedlings into. We could plant faster than they could dig because the soil was clay (very much like Georgia soil, but black instead of red) with lots of grass and thus hard to break up. Nevertheless, we persisted, taking a break halfway through for juice and granola bars. An official from the environment ministry was there to thank us for our work and explain why it was important, which was gratifying. The area we were in had lots of eucalyptus trees, which use a lot of resources without being good for much (no koalas here to eat them), so the idea is to plant mahogany and thus make better use of the land, decrease erosion (the area has lots of streams that feed a river), and improve the air quality. Though I have to say I thought the air was wonderful already!

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We got back to Amber Cove tired and hungry but happy and I repaired to my cabin for a nap after eating some lunch. Dinner with my lovely cohort tonight and then a big day tomorrow: concrete floors in the morning, Caribbean Culture tour in the afternoon. Time is flying but the longer we are here the more the students seem to understand what we’re up to and get into the enjoyment as well as the personal growth of the experience.

22¬-23 May 2017: Knights Impact At Sea & Arrival in the Dominican Republic

Yesterday on the ship flew by—or maybe sailed by? I started the day both yesterday and today meeting with my group of 9 students, who heroically got up on time for our 8:30 meeting both days. We followed that by meeting with our designated Fathom cohorts—a great experience for the students because they got to meet other people on the ship. There are people on board from all over and the students were particularly amazed by the variety of ages, nationalities, and professions. One student reported excitedly that she’d met a couple who were both doctors—a nephrologist and a pulmonologist. One of the highlights for me of leading these programs with students is that I never know what they’re going to find interesting or noteworthy. They started learning before we ever left home that the world—and even just the ship—is much more diverse than they realized.

In the afternoons we attended a training session on “creating retellable stories” (yesterday) and one on visual storytelling (today). Both had in common an emphasis on emotional impact. We learned a few simple guidelines that will make it easier to tell better stories and take better pictures. I always think it’s worth going to an hour-long session if I walk away with just one or two things I can remember and apply. Both of these sessions fit the bill; plus I got a free copy of the storytelling trainer’s book. Yay, swag!

Last night’s dinner in the Pacific Restaurant was more animated than Sunday’s as everyone is getting to know each other a little better and shaking off the fatigue of the trip to Miami. We had one student who got badly seasick Sunday night but was feeling better by noon yesterday. Everyone was happy to see her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at dinner, although she did say she’d decided that cruise travel was not for her. In fact, most agreed they were ready to get off the ship and get into the next phase of the program. Incidentally, that student’s roommate is a hero for looking out for her when she was ill. Another upside to these programs is seeing the relationships that form among the students and how they look out for each other. They are so generous and compassionate and it’s great to see.


(Fancy food from Pacific!)

Those who were tired of the ship last night only had a few more hours to wait as we arrived at Amber Cove around 11:00 this morning and they started letting people off at noon. Amber Cove is just as I left it; I even recognize a couple of the wait staff in Coco Caña (the poolside restaurant/bar). Only the weather is a little different: today it’s a little overcast and hazy, which I did not expect. But neither am I complaining. A bit of cloud cover keeps the heat down, even if there is still plenty of heat to go around. I have the afternoon “off” (i.e. I am catching up on email and blogging) and might even catch a little pool time while the sun is not absolutely blazing.


Duke loves the ocean!


Sunset at sea

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Amber Cove