Archive for the ‘toriwong’ Category

La Ruta Maya? Check! Finishing with my sanity? Questionable.

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I arrived back “home” to the Log Cabins last night after successfully paddling 180 miles across Belize in what has been named the 37th most difficult race in the world (from

Participating in the race was simultaneously the best and worst experience of my entire life; never before have I pushed myself so hard physically, emotionally and mentally and still questioned whether or not I would succeed.

Before the race, I had visions of drifting on the water, taking time to swim lazily in the Belize River, and joking with the other teams as we hung out on a 4 day moving boat party…but within the first few hours of day one, I came to the painful realization that I had grossly underestimated the difficulty of canoeing 4 whole days with 2 (almost complete) strangers. My goals for the race were quickly revised from not coming in last to simply finishing the race alive, and at some points included finding the nearest safety boat to tow us into the finish line. We (amazingly) never came in last, nor did we ever have to be towed in; we did however, stick to the back of the pack and did form some pretty hilarious relationships with the other last place teams (who were all not surprisingly composed of non-Belizean paddlers-for the last three days, we paddled among people from Japan, Canada, London, the US!)

Our strategy to keep paddling was surprisingly successful in its simplicity. I would count numbers 1-8 in my head, say “nine, ten, switch” and Alyssa and I would change sides of the canoe and then begin again, until I became delirious and started repeating numbers and counting in Chinese, Spanish, Pig Latin and made up languages composed of squeals and grunts. At the end of every hour, we would have a “power alphabet,” where I would count to 10 aloud, then instead of saying “switch,” scream a word beginning with every letter of the alphabet, one letter for every set of ten. At first, we had alphabet themes: foods, names, verbs, etc. but as the hours added up we ended up just shouting random words and sometimes just the letter (‘x’ proved to be the most challenging…after x-ray, xylophone and xenophobia we basically gave up…).

At the starting line each morning, we would float on the water surrounded by professionals, competitors and a huge cheering section comprised largely of our own Galen support team. But when the starting horn sounded, we paddled and paddled and we lifted our heads only to see one canoe after another disappear around the bend in front of us until, ultimately, it was just the four of us-me, Eric, Alyssa, and the river.

As I said, we never did finish last, and I left Belize City with a little more muscle, a lovely life-jacket tan and a sense of accomplishment that will hopefully stick with me for the rest of my life.

Teaching at St. Barnabas!

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

This semester, I’m taking a service-learning based class called “Applications in Sustainable Development” that focuses on experiential learning and community involvement as a way to promote sustainability. Our class of about 45 students was divided into groups and given 9 choices of service-learning projects to work on all semester. For the first few weeks, we sat in the lecture hall and talked about how we define service learning and how we can make sure everyone (both the students in the class and those we are serving) get the most out of our project. After 4 weeks of lecture, they introduced us to our project partners and set us loose to develop our own plan for the semester.

All the projects seem really neat and they all have a different focus. One group is working with a battered women’s shelter, tutoring the women so they can go back to school. Another group is teaching school teachers how to use computers and word processing. The athletes in our class are using soccer drills to teach elementary kids about HIV and AIDS awareness.

My group (of four) is teaching environmental education at a primary school called St. Barnabas, located only 5 minutes walking from Galen’s campus. I’m teaching standard 3/4 (who are for the most part 8 and 9 year olds-my favorite age!) with Hannah Aitken, another international student from the University of Vermont. Hannah has more enthusiasm and passion for environmental education than anyone I’ve ever met, her energy is contagious and the only thing more fantastic than her dedication to environmental education is her laugh. I really lucked out on this one; my group is rad.

Hannah and I taught our first lesson (on biomes and ecosystems) last Wednesday, and I LOVED IT! We have 30 8-9 year olds who are all so bright, energetic, and pure! We got to the school a little early, and were just walking around the campus during their recess when a group of 4 girls (all with names after flowers: Daisy, Azalea, Jasmine, and Rose) ran up to us and hugged us! They call us Miss Tori and Miss Hannah, answer everything with “yes ma’am,” and every time we ask a question, 30 little hands shoot up in the air as they shout “miss! miss!” to get us to call on them!

I have so much real school work to do (I’m in the middle of midterms week right now), but all I really want to do is write more lesson plans and go play with these kids all day! I realized that I love working with kids and I LOVE talking about the environment, so this is perfect for me, and think this is probably going to be one of the best experiences I have while I’m down here.

Playing a game of “name-tag” with 31 standard 3/4 students