Sophomore Madison Kwan and junior Evangelos Kounalakis, along with their Mandarin teacher Hong Yao, were invited to participate in the 2019 China Chengdu-U.S. Sister Cities Youth Debate Challenge, taking place November 18–25, 2019. There were 24 American students participating from 12 cities. Teams traveled from San Francisco, Phoenix, Honolulu, Louisville, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, New York, Orlando and Pittsburgh. Convent & Stuart Hall won the Champion Pool Award along with two other American students and four Chinese students. The first place award went to the debaters from Phoenix.
By Bella Wasserman, Grade 10
As the finals days approach, I have been reflecting on this Costa Rica trip. I have enjoyed bonding with my classmates as well as learning more about myself. When I went to the waterfall, I found bravery in myself as I was able to face my fears of heights as I jumped off the waterfall. In addition, visiting the school helped me develop a greater respect and gratitude for my life. I enjoyed talking to the kids because even though they did not have a lot of materials, they were happy. This showed me that relationships are more important than materials.
By Eamonn Kenny, Grade 10
There are many takeaways you can have from a trip like Costa Rica. You can miss the luxury of your privileged life in San Francisco and spend the trip complaining about how much you miss home and how the beds aren’t as nice as you are used to. This kind of attitude towards Costa Rica is one that will not allow space for you to grow as a person and will not allow you to come back a better version of yourself. On the day to day activities, there were many opportunities to think of how you impact others and how they in turn impact you. On this trip I was able to see my friends as the people who they truly are, which strengthened my bonds with people, but also I came to realize that some people are not really who I thought them to be.
Your friends need to consist of people who emit positivity and are always there for you. They should not bring you down or throw you under the bus for the sake of a joke. This realization helped me to expand my friends and cut back on those who bring me down. The next major takeaway from Costa Rica is that your happiness is all a mindset and is dependent on who you are with. I am at my happiest when I make others laugh or smile. For me, the ability to make others happy is in everyone but some choose to not use it because it is far easier to be mean than positive. The world needs more people to be kind. We should not have to look for reasons to be happy, but instead be happy without reason. Be happy you are loved, be happy you live in a privileged family in a beautiful city, and be happy for your friends for they are what make you happy and you should make them happy. Costa Rica is a time for you to take a look at yourself and see the areas that you can grow in and be vulnerable in that growth, and come back a better and happier person.
By Grace O’Reilly, Grade 10
When I first heard about this [optional overnight] trip [involving a three-hour hike up to Hacienda Baru], I knew right away that I wanted to do it. There were three main reasons why I wanted to do it. 1) Explore a new place 2) Face my fears of spiders 3) Get to know more of my classmates. Hiking up there was really fun. Seeing all the different plants and animals was a big experience to me. I loved seeing the monkeys, birds and bugs, and learning what type of species they are.
I loved our tour guides so much. I loved how they would stop to show us a bird or an animal and talk about it. They were very funny too, especially when I told them my fear of spiders. Asthey would say that there was one near me or that they were going to find one for me to hold. They helped me with getting over my fear. Even though I thanked them at the end, I wish to thank them again for taking us up there and showing us something so beautiful and special in our world.
The campsite was really nice when we got there. I was lucky enough to get a private room, which had a really nice view of the jungle. Our tour guides cooked us dinner, which was SO good! I also liked that we used natural light instead of man-made light. The nigh hike was really fun! I loved that we saw poisonous dart frogs and regular frogs, as well as snakes. The snakes were really cool. I got to wrap one around my arm, which I thought was awesome. The only scary part was the amount of spiders that we saw. There were hundreds of daddy long-legs and tarantulas of different sizes. There was this huge one that was orange and black! I think when I saw it, that was the final push over my fear. Speaking of the huge spider, next to it was this really big bull frog. It was massive! I never had seen a frog so big before!
Though everything on this trip was really fun, I thought that the best part was bonding with classmates I had never really bonded with before. The coolest part is that they are all classmates from Stuart Hall. Besides classmates, the chaperones that went with us were so fun and cool. I am so happy that I made a bold choice and decided to go on that trip because I know I will remember it for the rest of my life.
By Audrey Pinard, Grade 10
What an incredible trip! I have had such an adventurous day white water rafting! We had such a hilarious tour guide for the rapids who helped us spray other rafts with water, and every time we successfully made it across a segment of rough water, we tapped our paddles together above our heads and cheered. One of my favorite moments from today was when our raft was competing with another raft full of boys who constantly were trying to get ahead of us. We splashed them and paddled with all our might, and when it was clear that we had beaten them, we all hugged and smiled because of our epic teamwork!
My favorite part of the Costa Rica trip has been the new connections I’ve made with people. -Oliver Whalen
By Oliver Whalen, Grade 10
My favorite part of the Costa Rica trip has been the new connections I’ve made with people. Throughout the week, the sophomore class is split into different groups for different aspects of the trip. Your travel group is different from your activity group which is different from the people sleeping in your room. Because of this, I ended up having great conversations with people I didn’t normally talk to. I also got to speak to some locals during our service and while walking around the town of Dominical. Getting to know someone you’ve never had much contact with before is really rewarding. While there are many cool experiences and activities during the Costa Rica trip, what I’ll remember most are the new friends and connections I’ve made.
By Teiva Ulufatu, Grade 10
Today was probably the most fun day out of the whole trip. Though a bumpy ride, the experience of riding horses was great. While riding the horses you take in all the nature that Costa Rica provides you. You can see a beautiful mixture of different greens all around the mountain. You can feel the lovely breeze that caresses your face, forgetting that there is heat. You can hear the ambient birds talking amongst themselves in the pretty colorful trees. We then arrived at the waterfall. This waterfall was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. You can hear the roaring of the water rushing down. It was oddly satisfying. I jumped in through the side. Then I swam to the waterfall steppe through the freezing water. As I was climbing up the waterfall I felt the pounding of the water on top of me. Once I reached the top, I jumped off from around 20 feet of height. I entered the water with a huge splash. The amount I was entertained shows the great splendor of the Central American geography.
By Grace Krumplitsch, Grade 10
Hola from Hacienda Baru! Today we went to an ecological reserve for a morning full of ziplining and hiking. Our group did eight different lines that traveled through both primary and secondary rainforests. We saw many sloths and interesting animals that most definitely cannot be found in San Francisco. Later, we returned to Villas Rio Mar for another sunny afternoon in the pool. My group’s evening activity was (my personal fave) salsa dancing lessons in anticipation of Wednesday night’s competition. It perfectly aligned with an evening performance from a local dance troupe who performed a variety of traditional Costa Rican dances. The girls, with bright blue eyeshadow and extravagant shirts, were mesmerizing to watch. Just like the night before, it ended with our entire class jumping around on the dance floor. Anyways, having a blast and wishing this trip could last forever! (Love you, mom)
By Dagny Wallace, Grade 10
When we were playing with the kids it was really rewarding to see how happy they were and how excited they were for us to be there. They were incredibly kind to us and they were really understanding of our mediocre spanish. Being able to practice my spanish in a practical way was really different and it was difficult to properly get my point across. Giving back to a community with our services for a few hours felt really good. They were so grateful and i appreciate that. This experience was really fun, educational and helpful to others.
By Eon Kounalakis, Grade 10
This morning I went with the second group to a ropes/zipline course. The experience was unique in that the wait for the zipline was not just a line, rather it was a beautiful hike through a jungle, where we saw monkeys, sloths, and lots of bugs. The second half of our day gave us the option of surfing, going to the beach, cooking, or salsa dancing. I chose to go surf for the first time with my friends Eamonn and Monty. I picked it up quickly, and enjoyed my first surfing experience. After having a great time with the new activity, we walked back and viewed an astounding sunset over the water. I don’t think anything is going to top this day in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!