Utah Team: Trail Treks

Yesterday we had an amazing day exploring national parks!

In the morning we went to Bryce National Park, where we hiked the Navajo Loop.

It was a steep 500 ft elevation change in .5 miles.

We were amazed at how blue the sky was!

The trek back up was brutal! We had to stop midway to do a rallying trail song led by Rhian!

The view from the top was worth it!

Utah: Dog Days

After a day of weeding/gardening and deep cleaning the runs in Dogtown, we had a day of our favorite chore: socializing!

We started the morning by attending a presentation about breed discrimination and how dogs should be understood as individuals and not as a breed. In particular, we went over different myths about pit bulls.

The biggest myth is that pit bulls are more naturally vicious. In fact, the American Temperment Test Society gave pit bulls an 82% passing rate, which surpasses the general dog average of 77%. Another common misconception is that pit bulls have locking jaws, which is entirely inaccurate. Sadly, whole cities have outlawed pit bulls because of such myths. And yet, these measures are ineffective and take time and resources away from methods that actually reduce violent behavior in dogs of all types.
We then got to meet Doc, a very friendly and loving pit bull. We took him for a walk and gave him lots of cuddles.

In the afternoon, several of us took a short hike.

Then we got to pick up Emmalyn for a sleepover! These sleepovers are important for assessing the dog’s behavior around other humans in addition to being a good vacation for the dog. We had our pick from a few dogs, but we had decided on Emmalyn since she does not get to go out often.
We took her for a walk where we saw some Anasazi Indian Ruins and cave paintings.

After many treats and an evening showing of "Sing!", we settled in for the night and we all had a wonderful last day volunteering at Best Friends.

Kenya: Home

After over 24 hours of travel this gang of amazing girls have made it back to the USA safe and sound!!!! I’ll say it again and again, this has been an incredible trip and we will not forget our experiences. Right now we are looking forward to being home and sleeping, but as you can see the smiles are as bright as the day we left:) Thank you to all who have supported the trip: to the girls for being your true, loving selves, to parents for allowing us to bring your daughters, Friends of Kakamega for brining is to Kenya, Leah Bennett for being our fearless, steadfast and kind leader, Dr. Naeher for keeping us balanced and thoughtful, and Gemma for everything you do plus being a massive inspiration!

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“So…How was Kenya/Utah/Germany/Bermuda?”; or, “What not to ask the AWAY Participants upon their return”

It’s almost here…the return to campus for Emma Willard students from their spring vacation.  For 50 students and 9 faculty, it will be a return from AWAY programs to Kenya, Berlin & Beyond, Utah, and Bermuda.  And they are about to step into the surreal experience of being bombarded with the question, “So, how was <insert trip location>?”

For anyone who has had the privilege to experience transformative travel, you understand the feeling of being asked this socially-obligatory question by those who did not travel with you.  While the intentions of the question-asker are absolutely, positively good–and certainly, the question-asker is genuinely interested in hearing how the travel was– it is as if the traveler is being asked to compress the experience into a pretty little package tied up with a bow.  And it’s extremely difficult to compress a spectrum of feelings, sensory experiences, relationships, connections, challenges, growth opportunities, laughter, excitement, adventure, and spiritual experiences into a tiny little box with a bow.  Trying to do so weakens the impact of the travel experience for the traveler.

Despite the good intentions of wanting to know how the travel experience was, the question has the potential to send an unintentional message to the traveler: that while you are truly interested in the overall success of the travel program as a whole, you may not necessarily be as deeply invested in hearing about the personal impact the travel had on the traveler.  All travel is transformative to some degree.  Part of the transformation process is allowing the traveler to be who she or he has become through the travel. Asking “How was <insert location>?” almost, in a way, robs the travelers of the opportunity to truly express and share their transformed selves.  Investing in their travel by asking rich, thoughtful, and open-ended questions lets the travelers know that they are being supported through their transformation.

If you think it too difficult to avoid asking “How was <insert location>?” then by all means, do ask.  You will get an array of responses (mostly one-word or one-phrase responses) such as “amazing”, “awesome”, “life-changing”, “good”, “eye-opening”, “SO FUN”, “exciting”, and so on.  But show your investment by following up with other questions.  Give the travelers the gift of your time, attention, and investment in hearing about their personal transformation through travel.  Here are some questions that will show the traveler how invested you are in being a part of this part of the transformation process:

*What are some things that scared you in your travel?

*Did you see anything/do anything that took your breath away?

*What new foods did you try?  

*Did you make any new connections with other Emma students? How will you maintain those connections now that you are back on campus?

*Did you connect with people from <insert location>? Tell me about them! Will you stay in touch?

*How did you surprise yourself?

*What did you learn about yourself? Do you think you know yourself better?

*How did your perception of <insert location> change while you were traveling?

*Does the world feel bigger or smaller to you right now?

*What ordinary things did you miss from your daily routine?

*Did anything during your travel cause you to feel disgusted, physically or emotionally?

*Was there a time during your travel when you felt frustrated?

*What kinds of problems/issues with <insert location> did you learn about in your travels?

*If I told you I’m going to <insert location> next week, what advice would you have for me?

*Were there times when you felt like a tourist? Times when you were off the beaten path?

* Are you inspired to travel to other places now? 

If you find yourself wanting to utilize to the societal default question of “How was <location>?”, challenge yourself to instead begin with a version of this statement: “I’m really interested in your personal experience in <location>.” Then show the traveler you are invested & interested by immediately following up with the above questions or by intentionally setting up a time for this conversation.  Don’t let it just be a pass-in-the-hallway conversation.

Let’s give the travelers the gift of our investment in their transformation.  It just may be the inspiration you need to seek out your own transformative journeys.

Welcome back, travelers!



Kenya: The Journey home

We woke early on Wednesday to give a final hug to the kids and send them off the school. It was picturesque to stand in the swirling red dust of Amalemba Road as kids from all over the neighborhood cane out in their uniforms to head to school. The Care Centre kids waved goodbye and we were left with their sweet smiles. It was a busy day from then on, packing our luggage, taking a round of final pictures, and saying thank you to the staff at the Care Centre. I have not yet mentioned the staff but they were without a doubt another loving presence during our time in Kakamega. Our girls made fabulous friends with Mama Lydia or Mati (the house mother), Sheila (one of the cooks who prepared DELICIOUS food for us the whole time), Joseph, Anne, Linda, Humphrey, Wycliffe, Godfrey, Mercy, Grace, Kelvin, Armstrong, Florence, and Margaret who all welcomed us from the moment we arrived. They taught the girls Swahili, how to do laundry, to sweep, new songs, how to connect with the kids and so much more. As we departed they dressed us in traditional fabrics as a parting gift, something we will all cherish.

We drove to Kisumu which is about 90 minutes from Kakamega, on the edge of Lake Victoria, where we boarded a flight to Nairobi. This was the first time flying for one of our Kenyan guides Beryl, and it was perhaps the most exciting flight any of us have been on. It was a beautiful sight out the window but here was so much turbulence! That stomach sinking bumping. Poor Beryl! One our girls held her hand throughout:)

This morning we woke up so early to leave the hotel at 6:00am to go on a safari! We had such an amazing time and got to see so many animals. Giraffes, thinks, zebras, and we even got right up next to a female lion! Picture courtesy of Anna Schupack. We had a surprise for the girls and made a stop at an elephant orphanage to watch a feeding. Holy moly were they adorable! Photo courtesy of Claris Dabah. It was then off to the local market to pick up souvenirs and gifts. We learned a lot about bartering, but found many beautiful things to bring home.

Now we are on our bus, heading to the airport for a 22 hour journey home. These girls have demonstrated the heart and soul of what it means to be an Emma girls. Even as we laugh ourselves silly with exhausted delirium there is pure love and friendship within this group. Though we will miss Kenya more than is possible to say we are so excited to share our stories and the stories of the people we met.

Tuta onana tena!

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Utah: Horses, bunnies, and sand sledding!

It is amazing the way that animals can sense when you are distraught. Yesterday we worked at Horse Haven and received a seminar on Perelli Natural Horsemanship training. There were supposed to be two horses but the second took an hour to bring over. The trainer explained afterwards that she had gone over to his pen with certain expectations of being on time. The horse sensed her anxiety and ran away. She had to physically sit down to calm herself before the horse felt safe enough to approach her.

Best Friends Animal Society uses the Perelli method because it emphasizes creating a partnership, and understanding communication between human and animal. You can tell if a horse is being naughty or uncertain depending on the position of it’s ears. And when he licks his mouth, you can tell he’s starting to understand what the trainer is teaching. Just like humans, horses can be right or left brained and extroverted or introverted. A trainer will adjust their approach depending on the horse’s personality.

Tuesday afternoon we worked with the bunnies. Between the horses and rabbits, we cleaned up a lot of poop! Fortunately, after cleaning, we had a chance to socialize with the bunnies. Some bunnies respond well to the rhythmic sound of reading, so we sat down in their ‘runs’ and read to them.

If that did not work, we used the tried and true method of offering lettuce to lure them in. We loved how fluffy they were!

To finish up our day, we headed to Coral Pink Sand Dunes. We rented some sleds and boards, and trekked up the massive sand dune. It took a few tries to figure it out, and more than a few wipe-outs, but eventually we got the hang of it (well… some of us did).

It’s more fun than snow sledding.

That said, the sand gets everywhere, and I’m sure we will be bringing some of it home with us.

Utah: Cat walks and ziplines

Our first day of volunteering landed us in kitty heaven after our orientation and tour of the Wild Friends section of the sanctuary. After a morning of, mainly, birds (much to Victoria and Coco’s dismay), we had an afternoon in the Quincy House for special needs cats who have mobility issues. (How about that! All of the animals are still very adoptable, for the record)

In Quincy, we were able to take cats out for a walk on a leash and in strollers! Yes, it is as cute as it sounds.

For those that stayed behind in the building, we were able to help socialize the cats in a room that is often overlooked because of location/time for most volunteers.

As much as cuddling and petting cats does not sound like important work, it actually is a large part of what needs to be done at Best Friends. Since the aim is to get as many cats adopted as possible, it is important to get them used to human contact and to give them positive experiences to help build trust for future adopters.

We then moved on to the Kanab zipline which was actually four ziplines with two in tandem (including the fastest stopping zipline in the country!). We were all decked out in our harnesses and helmets, looking as good as ever, ready to take on the zipline (there may or may not have been crying beforehand).

The Best Friends Crew quickly grew comfortable and even went upside down for a few runs. Needless to say, we were all very happy that there were no casualties and that the lowering sun gave us the perfect backdrop to end a perfect day.