Question Everything: Inside Deerfield’s Trip to Colombia!

Read or Download the Complete Article from the Winter 2015 Issue of Deerfield Magazine.

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 Read the Student Journals

Value and Commitment: Colombia 15

Today, on the group’s last day in Colombia, each student wrote about the value of the trip and made a commitment to use what they learned:

Serena Ainslie ’16: I value my time in Colombia because it showed me how much I didn’t know about being a global citizen. Before coming, I thought of myself as a well-traveled, well-informed person because I’ve been abroad a lot. This trip made me realize that just going to tourist attractions and accepting what tour guides tell you at face value is not being a sophisticated traveler. Being a sophisticated traveler means being inquisitive and trying to discover the underlying issues of a country by stepping out of your comfort zone, talking to people, and dispelling the fear that curiosity will have bad outcomes. Greater knowedge is the only possible outcome of asking more questions. Once I return to the states, I am going to commit to using this new confidence in being curious to ask people I don’t know to share their stories and hopefully get the chance to share mine with them too.

Andrew Hollander ’16: The greatest value of this trip for me, selfishly, is that I am now a much more experienced traveler. I will commit to learning the skills I learned – like how to be responsible when traveling, how to “Leave No Trace,” how to be a polite and respectful guest at someone else’s home or community, and how to effectively converse – in my future travels this summer and for the rest of my life. I also commit to sharing my experiences in Colombia with people back at home, and sharing them in a meaningful and honest way. By this I mean that I will describe my time in detail and try to convey important and broad pieces of culture in Colombia, while also telling stories and being more detailed with moments during my time there. I hope to help my friends, family, and anyone with whom I share my experiences, really understand the similarities and differences between our culture and theirs, as well as helping to lessen the generalizations and stereotypes that are often associated with Colombia and its people.

Ryan Collins ’15: I value this trip more than I thought I would because I am returning home now with new critical thinking skills that pertain to more than just traveling. I have gained so much information about Colombia itself, and I have heard stories from many different people and learned about their lives. The stories I now have and the new relationships that I formed here are ones that are permanent and are things I will often think about.


Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Bri’ana Odom ’15: During this trip I learned over and over again that making mistakes is okay. From the moments that I struggled with my Spanish-speaking skills while conversing with locals, to the times in the Amazon while canoeing, I was faced with a lot of challenges that forced me to think about my ways of approaching problems. Throughout the trip I have learned how to ask questions and think about things that aren’t just on the surface. I have become a better traveler and seen so many different parts of Colombia. I look forward to sharing my stories of these past two weeks with others in the hopes that I can spread some of my knowledge of what Colombia has to offer.

Kofi Adu ’16: I think the biggest value I got from this experience is learning the communication skills I needed to dig deeper, ask better questions, and make connections with people. While showering in Palomino, the water shut off in the middle of my shower and that really had an impact on me. I want to make a commitment to do a better job of conserving water.

Lucy Beimfohr ’17: This trip was valuable to me because I learned to take risks in all aspects of life and step out of my comfort zone. I tried new foods, I met new people, I pushed my limits, I spoke a lot of Spanish and I learned about the people and culture of Colombia firsthand. I will never forget the things I learned about myself and the world during this trip. I want to make a commitment to share my knowledge and insights about Colombia to others who may only know about stereotypes and generalizations about Colombia.

Bri'ana Kofi Lucy Last Day Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Maggie Kidder ’16: Something that I took from this trip and that I want to commit to my everyday life is the process of thinking for myself – not simply taking information I hear from someone and going along with it, but asking questions about that information and going under the surface to find out more information to allow myself to form opinions for myself from taking into account multiple different perspectives. I learned how to do this after we spent time looking into the tourist industry here and this new skill is what I value most from the two weeks on this trip.

Megan Retana ’15: Throughout my experience in Colombia, what I came to value the most were the human interactions I had with the natives and with my peers.  When I was speaking to Mario and Nixon in the Amazon, or to the man sitting on the steps of the Villa de Leyva church, I did not feel as if I were a foreigner interviewing a stranger to gather information.  I was just a person talking to another person.  We shared life experiences, our pasts, and so much more.

When I come back to Deerfield, I don’t want to forget about the experiences I had here in Colombia.  I feel as if I could use this trip and my past work with Central and South American immigration agencies and shelters to perhaps include more social, environmental, political and economical issues into the Spanish curriculums.

Maggie and Megan Last Day Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Caroline Pappas ’17: The value of this trip is more than I can put into words, but one of the main things that it helped me with was learning how to look beneath the surface of a tourist location.  Before the trip, I would visit amusement parks and zoos and assume that the workers around me with smiles on their faces were happy, when in reality they could be smiling because they will lose their job if they don’t and they are actually working in really bad conditions.  It taught me to never accept the front that is put out but to dig deeper and not to accept any injustices that I may find.  On a more personal level, the trip brought me many new friendships and relationships that I will treasure for a very long time.

Eight days after I return home, I am traveling away from home again, and it will be very easy to forget about the amazing experience that I had.  So, for the next eight days I commit to writing down a story of the trip every day so that I can remember the impact that the trip had on me, and so that when I am drowning in schoolwork in the future, I can go back to remember the types of things that I experienced here in Colombia.

Helena Tebeau ’17: On this amazing trip I made connections with all sorts of people: the Los Nogales students we spent three days with, the Deerfield students I spent two weeks adventuring through Colombia with, the group of teachers and Envoys staff that supported us and helped us grow throughout this trip, and the native Colombians I had the privilege to have conversations with all over the country. If there is one thing I want to take out of this trip, it would be to keep all the relationships I’ve formed, and to continue asking questions. Whenever I travel anywhere, I want to get to know new people and to find out more about the place I’m at. At Deerfield, I will attempt to preserve these relationships and make more, through showing interest and asking questions!

Ileana Glyptis ’16: From this trip, I have learned to value the importance of the environment and the importance of human life, since sometimes both can be treated poorly in some parts of the world. Once I leave Colombia, I will always make sure to question things more and have better critical thinking skills, whether at Deerfield, at home, or when traveling around the world.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Phillip Chung ’16: I have learned an incredible amount, but the greatest value of this trip has not been shown yet. I believe the value of this trip will be shown when I return to my community to process this new information and use it to take actions that help the world. During the trip, I also got to be a trip leader for a day, which involved responsibilities such as watching out for the group and raising our energy. At the end of the day, I learned that it doesn’t take a titled position to take these responsibilities and be a leader. As a result, my commitment is to strive on being a leader in everyday life.

 I want to commit to learning more about the tourist industry and how it affects Colombia and its citizens. The industry was very apparent in Colombian life, and I am curious to learn more about the potential positive and negative effects it has on the country.

Jason Han ’15: Only the students and the faculty members who went on the trip will remember the beautiful sky of the night in the Amazon. I am going to cherish the numerous numbers of stars that I saw in my heart. My commitment is this: I want to preserve this beautiful sky for everyone and for the future. My small actions such as picking up the trash, riding bikes instead of cars, and using less water for washing my hands will help the world to be less damaged. I just hope everyone has a chance to know what the beauty of stars is.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Conversations in Palomino: Colombia 14

Ryan Collins ’15 chronicles the group’s conversations with the people of Palomino:

After our first full day in Palomino, everyone was tired but definitely happy with what we were able to accomplish. We started the day by taking a quick bus ride to the town of Palomino in order to talk to some of the local people and to see a service project that one of our guides had participated in. The group was excited, as we had come to a general consensus that talking to local people was something we wanted to do more of in order to practice Spanish, learn about the country, and hear different stories from new people.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

My group of four people met a woman who was standing in the doorway of her home. We began talking to her and to her daughter about the town and how they got there. She welcomed us into her home, where we sat and talked and watched tv. After talking with the family, we asked her two twin daughters if they wanted to play soccer. Their faces immediately brightened and they grabbed our ball and ran to the center of town where the sand field was located. There was about eight of us at first, and we started a small game while some people watched. As we played, more and more children from the town came down the streets and joined in. Within 10 minutes we were playing a fast and loud game with at least 25 kids. They were all so happy to be playing and to be meeting all of us. Their accents were very hard to understand, but the language barrier was overcome through the soccer game and the fun we were all having.

Playing Soccer Palomino Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

After the soccer game, we went down to the street to visit the service project that one of our Envoys trip leaders, Maria, had been a part of in the town. All of the children came with us, and their teacher spoke to us about the town and the area, as well as the building we were sitting in that the service project was responsible for. After talking and playing with the kids more, we then went back out into the streets in order to talk to more people and learn more about the history of the town, which we had not previously discovered. My group began talking to a man who was staying with his son while his house was being constructed down by the water. He knew a lot about the town and talked about the tranquility and comfort that he feels there. He was also very open with us about the water issues there and how the corruption that exists within the government allows for these issues to be ongoing. His story was incredibly interesting, and he was extremely open and friendly with us. We ended up talking to him for the entire hour that we were given, and it is undoubtedly another life story that we were lucky to hear.

Palomino Coast Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Night and Day: Colombia 13

 Helena Tebeau ’17 illustrates the contrasts and culture of Cartagena: 

After two flights, and a few hours of waiting at airports or in buses, we arrived at the old city walls of Cartagena. The big bus wasn’t able to drive us straight to the hotel, so we grabbed our backpacks filled with a day’s worth of clothes and toiletries and headed into the heart of Cartagena.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

The walls were incredible; lamps surrounded them, basking the buildings on the edge with warm yellow light that contrasted with the black night. Just a street away was the ocean.

Even before we stepped through the rock doorway,  we were met with an exciting example of Latin American culture. A girl, wearing a large, shiny and princess-like dress, was getting her picture taken. The leaders of the group informed us that this is a quinceañera, a celebration of becoming a woman at the age of 15.

Then we were inside the walled city, walking through the beautiful town that reminded me of Florence, Italy through the old architecture, colorful houses, balconies, exquisite doors, and countless plazas. Street musicians and performers were scattered among the many people on the street. Whenever we passed them, they would begin to play American music. From countless experiences, we had already got to know the heart and energy of Colombians, and that night was no different. A melody of talking, singing, laughing and happiness seemed to engulf the whole city. Even falling asleep, we could hear it pulsating through the walls.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

The next morning, it was as if we stumbled across a completely different place. The streets were mostly empty apart from venders and a few people wandering around. Early sunlight managed to highlight the antique and beautiful city, as we learned about Cartagena from our tour guide, Niko. From time to time a car would drive by, cheering for Colombia to win its match against Uruguay (Colombia did!), but it was mostly peaceful.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

The contrast shocked me. I fell asleep to a lively city, but woke up to a calm and pensive one. The experience only strengthened the notion that Colombia is a country of many colors. The night and day of Cartagena both are complete opposites, yet, to the people there, they are both completely normal. I am so thankful to be on this trip and have the opportunity to learn about this culture. I already know now, a few days before the end of the trip, that I will want to travel back to Colombia someday.



Everyone Has a Story: Colombia 12

Bri’ana Odom ’15 reflects on the lessons she learned by listening to a worker on a coffee plantation:

Being in this beautiful country, which was completely new to me just a little over a week ago, has opened my eyes to a people who are both welcoming and approachable. At first it was hard to put myself out there —  to feel vulnerable by conversing in Spanish because it is not my native tongue — but I have seen what good stepping out of a personal comfort zone can bring. Every night we debrief on the happenings of or day; every day we share new stories and experiences with each other and talk to those not in our group, like the people who work in restaurants and street vendors.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Yesterday we visited a coffee planation and, while it was interesting to learn about how the coffee is processed and grown, I feel that I learned more from one of the workers of the actual plantation than from our tour guide. Not only did this man, who picks coffee for a living, take time out of his day to talk to all of us about his life, but he also answered any and all questions that we had. He told us of how he works for hours and hours every day except for Sunday, only to receive the peso equivalent of 5 American dollars per week–and he never complained once.

He had a smile on his face and a laugh that told me that he was content. And sitting there and talking to him made me realize just how grateful I am for the benefits that my working friends and family members in the U.S. have. The working man was somewhere in his fifties and so is my grandma. My grandma and this man both work, and while my grandmother will eventually be able to retire and receive aid from the government, that is not a possibility for the farm worker we talked to. For that man, stopping to work is not an option because his work on the farm provides no insurance policy or benefits. Before coming to Colombia I never thought about that being a possibility; coming here has made me realize that my reality/the reality of my friends and family is definitely not a shared one throughout the world.

So many people in my family have retired, and although I haven’t started working or even picked a career for that matter, I am able to look forward to a time when I will be able to enjoy my days without the stress of a job. It makes me sad to know that many people like this farmer will never have that luxury. This is something that I will never take for granted. Everyone has a story, and the story of the coffee planation worker is one that will always stick with me.

Bri'ana at Coffee Plantation

Photo Credit: Envoys



Learning from the Locals: Colombia 11

Serena Ainslie ’16 explains how locals like Maria have helped her learn more about Colombia and herself:

Group Cloud Forest Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Our first day in the coffee region, the fourth region we’ve visited this trip, was physically and intellectually active. After trekking though another beautiful cloud forest in Cocora Valley and learning about the diverse flora and fauna of the region from our guide, Don Marino, we expanded our definition of eco-tourism and wandered around Salento, speaking to locals and learning from them about the environmental impact of the town’s attractions.

One special experience I had with a local was speaking with Maria, the owner of Cocora’s, a restaurant in Salento’s main plaza. I began our conversation by asking her a few questions about her most popular dishes, where the fish comes from, what she does with extra food, etc. At some point the experience shifted from a stiff interview to an informal, comfortable conversation. Maria shared with me stories about her three children, her husband, and her home in the next town over – all of which allowed me to get a better idea of the life of a local. I told her I was a student from the United States, to which she responded with a surprised look and a seemingly genuine compliment about my strong Spanish skills. While I knew she was trying to make me feel better about my pretty frequent verb-tense mistakes, this willingness to help and encourage a non-native Spanish speaker, a typical characteristic of Colombians, made me feel much more confident about talking to new people.

After about half an hour with my new friend, I left Maria with an appreciation for the patience and excitement that she and other Colombians have shown when answering any questions I have for them and conversing with me at any length. Today helped me find confidence in my communication skills that I will carry with me throughout the remainder of this trip and my life beyond.  

The Unifying Power of a Game: Colombia 10

Phillip Chung ’16 and Ileana Glyptis ’16 discuss how games — whether a World cup match or a spontaneous set of volleyball — can bring a group together:

Phillip: When we traveled from the Amazon to Salento, I experienced how football (soccer) is an important aspect of Colombian culture. After our pink dolphin watch, we entered Leticia, a town located by the Amazon river, to learn more about their life and culture. While we walked around town to several points of interest, I couldn’t help notice that the town was brimming with energy brought from the World Cup. As a result of the Colombia vs. Japan game today, the streets of Leticia were covered with a blanket of yellow. A parade of motorcycles sped down the streets of Leticia with waving flags and almost everyone proudly wore the Colombian national jersey. It was an exciting time because Colombia had not made an appearance in the World Cup for twelve years, but they had clinched a position in the second round.  Nevertheless, I was amazed by the great amount of spirit and support for their country. I had never seen this much support for a sports team. The people seemed to use football as a way to create a sense of unity.

Later that day, I felt this sense of unity when we watched the Colombia vs. Japan game at the Bogota airport. There were many Colombians with their eyes focused on the big screen, but the crowd acted as one. We exhaled together with relief when the goalkeeper made a save and sighed together when an attack of ours came to an end. When Colombia scored their fourth goal, the airport exploded with noise. People young and old screamed “Gooooolllllll” and pumped their fists with lots of energy. Their happiness was contagious and I also found myself jumping up and down in joy. I remembered how our tour guide in Bogota described football in Colombia. He said, “We play football everyday. It is our first, second, and third national sport.” I believe that football is more than a sport in Colombia. It is an important part of their culture and it provides a great amount of joy and unity for the people. Viva Colombia!

Andrew Hollander '16 and Phillip Chung '16. sporting their Colombia football jerseys, celebrate the Colombian victory with Jason Han '15. Photo Credit: Envoys

Andrew Hollander ’16 and Phillip Chung ’16. sporting their Colombia football jerseys, celebrate the Colombian victory with Jason Han ’15.
Photo Credit: Envoys

Ileana: After arriving in Pereira the night before, we began our day with a two hour hike in Cocora Valley. That afternoon, we split into smaller groups and walked around the town of Salento. Each group explored different shops and restaurants with a focus on the subject of ecotourism. We looked at how each attempted to preserve the environment. This was a long day for us, but even though we were all tired, we sang Spanish songs on the way back to the hotel.

Once we arrived back, most of our group was planning on resting in their rooms. When we stepped out of the bus, a few of us saw a volleyball net and a volleyball. Some of us went over and started to play. After a few minutes we had most of the group, including two trip leaders, in the game. We played for a half hour and were laughing the entire time. It’s amazing how something so unplanned can be the perfect finish to such a great day. Sometimes the things that are unplanned are the most fun. I hope that we can continue these unplanned activities because that really brings the group together and will add to the memories we will keep after the trip ends.

Megan Retana '15, Bri'ana Odom' 15, Kofi Adu '16, and Ileana Glytpis '16

Megan Retana ’15, Bri’ana Odom’ 15, Kofi Adu ’16, and Ileana Glytpis ’16
Photo Credit: Envoys


Listening to Colombia’s Stories: Colombia 9

Megan Retana ’15 recounts the stories of people she has met so far:

    • Nixon is from an indigenous community three days away from the Amazonian lodge where we stayed.  As we chatted on the canoe about the Amazon, the conversation transitioned to him telling me about his life.   “Well… I know some Portuguese.  It’s a hard language, but with effort and application, it can be easy.  This is the same for anything else in life.”
    • Mario is a Brazilian who now lives in Puerto Alegria, Peru.  He is of short stature but with a strong build.  His skin color, face features and hair all are distinct indications of his indigenous roots.  He spoke to us as we all sat silently in our canoes one night.  He said, “Listen to all of the noises.  Try to count them.  The jungle is alive at night.  Take it all in and enjoy this special place…. it’s magical.  The jungle is like a house.  If you respect it and behave in it, it will do the same for you.  Treat the jungle well and it will do the same for you.”
    •  Laura, Carolina and I were all discussing if Laura’s “dream guy” was attractive. The vote was two to one (my vote was with the winner): Neymar, a famous Brazilian soccer player, is indeed very attractive.
    •  The middle aged man looked pensively at the warm and glowing lights that surrounded the Plaza of Villa de Leyva.  “Something always brings me back to Villa de Leyva. it is…magical.  Don’t you feel it?”

Megan interviewing in villa de Levya

 As I write this reflection, the individuals I have spoken to are what first to come to my mind.  Physically traveling throughout Colombia is one thing.  I stood on top of a mountain as we trekked to Igauque.  Yesterday, I canoed and swam in the Amazon River.  However, without the native Colombians or the group of leaders and students here, these experiences would just serve as photos in a frame.  During this trip I have spoken, but most importantly, I have listened.  My memories will mainly include the distinct stories of each individual and the sounds of the Amazon that lulled me to sleep.

Deerfield, gracias por darme esta opurtunidad de viajar a este lugar tan especial.   Mami y Papi, gracias por dejar a su hija ir y explorar el mundo.

Swimming in the Amazon: Colombia 8

Kofi Adu ’16 and Caroline Pappas ’17 reflect on how much they learned from their experiences in the Amazon:

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Kofi: Today was a very exciting day for many reasons. We were split into two groups; some people did canoeing and others did a fishing expedition. I had never canoed before, so I found it a little difficult. However, with the help of the instructors and my friends who had experience, I was able to gain basic experience that I was not only able to use for this trip but also use when I want to go canoeing again. The most exciting thing about the canoeing was being able to swim in the Amazon River. I am not a great swimmer, so I was a little worried but everyone was wearing a life jacket and there were all of my friends to support me. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to swim but all of my peers and teachers encouraged me that they had my back. It made me feel good about making the decision to do so. After all, how many people can say they have swum in the Amazon River?

Today was a first for many things, including fishing. We had to create our fishing rod by ourself by using a nylon string, a wooden stick, and a hook. I was surprised at how simple yet effective this tool was. I did not catch a fish, but Caroline caught one, which was very exciting. From the corner of my eye, I saw Caroline’s string twitch, and immediately after, she yanked her string out of the water. “Lo tengo!” Caroline said in Spanish (meaning I got it) when suddenly a fish about 27 centimeters shot out of the water. Even though I myself did not catch the fish it was still a great experience to understand what fishing was like and to see someone catch one.

Towards the end of day we went to a tourist island near the hotel where we were staying. I saw many animals that I have never seen before including parrots, alligators, snakes, monkeys, and roosters. Besides seeing these animals we were tasked with talking to the locals and finding out about their lives and how the tourism business affects them. They told us about how their lives were changed by a law that forced them to stop hunting animals and instead create a tourist business from the animals. This was the main source of income for the people on the island. However, the animals are not always properly taken care of because the people on the island do not have the capacity to take care of the animals like they do in the United States. After the trip to the island we had an open discussion about the problems the people on the island faced. In my group we had a debate about the value of a human life versus an animal life. It was very cool to see how our simple trip to a tourist site led to a very informative and interesting discussion of something much bigger. I am really enjoying this trip and look forward to what lies ahead.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Caroline: In the morning of our second day here in the Amazon, half of us headed to fish, while the other half went to try and maneuver artisanal canoes. The canoes are very unstable, but the artisans of the area often use them to travel around the Amazon and deliver products to their loyal and also new customers.  For them, using these canoes is a breeze; they could even drive them with their eyes closed.  I was a part of the group that first went canoeing, and without knowing what to expect I embarked on this journey with an open mind.  After a small practice session in the very stable kayaks, we entered, as pairs, these special canoes.  Instantly I could tell that these canoes were less than stable and that although using them is easy for the expert artisans, it would not be a walk in the park for me and my partner, Megan, even though we both had some previous experience in canoes.  Once we had a rhythm of heaving our paddles through the water, I started to feel a bit more safe and secure.  As soon as I was comfortable, our guide led us to the center of the river.  I remember feeling extremely shocked when he turned to us and said:

“Now, the person in the back of the canoe must switch places with the person in the front.”

My heart started to pound at the thought of attempting this in these very unstable canoes.  Luckily enough, Megan knew the correct protocol for doing this after many years at camp, and we completed the challenge easily and securely.  I was standing tall in my boots now, and I started to attempt to do different strokes that turned the boat.  Once again, they took us into the center of the river and said:

“This time, we are going to change places again, but this time you should do it standing up and without putting your hands on the boat.”

At first I couldn’t understand why they would make us do this impossible task, but I soon learned that with all of the cargo that the artisans would use, this would be the only way they could possibly move on the boa, and it helped us to realize how much talent these Colombian and Peruvian artisans really have.  So, Megan and I attempted to line up our steps and keep the balance that we had previously been so sure of.  We took more and more steps, and it started to seem that we would be able to complete this task.  We reached each other in the middle of the boat and grabbed on to each other.  We took our first step to try and pass each other, and surprise — we fell right into the Amazon river.  

At first, I felt so disappointed that I hadn’t been able to complete our job well enough, but as I began to realize my surroundings, everything cleared up.  I was floating, with my life jacket of course, in the actual Amazon river, in the Amazon jungle, on the border of Colombia and Peru. There is nothing cooler than the thought that I have bathed in the waters of the Amazon river, and I began to change my opinion on how I felt about falling into the river.  Yes, I was floating there because I failed at something, but it ended up turning into an experience that is truly once in a lifetime, and I will never do anything like this again.  I truly believe that this realization of mine gave me an insight about life that I really needed:  Yes, I failed, but I took this failure and turned it into something positive and incredible.  I can’t wait to put this experience and realization into my daily life, especially in my life at Deerfield Academy.  

Colombia #7: How Small We Are Compared to Nature

Andrew Hollander ’16 and Maggie Kidder ’16 describe the group’s incredible first night in the Amazon:

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Andrew: After dinner and a short briefing on the evening’s activities, everyone moved quickly towards the dock. In a few short minutes the two canoes were in the water and drifting away from the jungle hotel. After a long day consisting of travel by boats, planes, and buses, everyone was ready to get out and explore the Amazon in whatever way possible. An alligator search was the perfect solution. After 30 minutes of meticulous searching by flashlight, our boat finally found its first alligator of the night. Through the illumination of several headlamps, a single eye was clearly visible on the side of the river, the bright lights reflecting back to us. Heads turned and excited whispers could be heard between our group of two boats as we approached the still figure on the surface of the water. We also saw several more before the night was over, with our new knowledge of what to look for and how to spot them.

 Long travel on the boat yielded other beautiful pieces of nature as well. Tons of fish could be seen swimming just below the surface, and the constant sounds of frogs, birds, and crickets created peaceful background noise for our exploration. Everyone also marveled at the stars filling the sky on a moon-less night, which provided us with a small amount of light to explore the river.

 Overall this day was my favorite of the trip so far. The trip has been incredible up to this day, but today felt more like everyone was getting well out of their comfort zone, as we travelled miles into the Amazon. The experiences we shared today are valuable towards both understanding the human connection with nature, and the way of life of people who live in or near the forest. These are experiences that we are lucky to have.


Maggie: After dinner we piled into two different canoes, both lead by guides that seemed to know the Amazon river backwards and forwards, though it seems impossible to know this long winding river with all that it has to offer. The first thing that caught my eye was the brightness and clarity of the  stars, and it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. After the guide had paddled for a short time, he told us to be completely silent so that we would be able to hear the sounds that the animals and insects around us were making, and he told us to count the stars while we waited, which was comical because it was an impossible task as there was no moon tonight – which made the stars especially stand out in a captivating and breathtaking way. The guide paddled in silence while he shown his headlamp in different directions to see what the vast river had in store. We saw two red, dim lights in a tree as we passed by and it turned out to be a monkey.

We continued on the river, and a guide that was from the same place that our guide was from, but that had different tourists in his canoe, called over to us that he had an alligator in a net across the river and asked us if we wanted to come over and see it. Our guide answered by saying no, which raised an important ethical issue. Should we go see the alligator and have the pleasure of seeing one at the cost of discomfort and harm to the alligator, or should we decline and only view alligators and other animals in their natural environment? By saying no, it aligned with our “Leave no trace” principle that we have been trying to follow this whole trip.

The Amazon also continued to remind me of how small we are compared to nature by seeing how large the river was and all that it contains with only seeing it for this short period of time. It was a great contrast to the city we had been in the previous days, and I think the whole group as a whole was in awe of this place the second we arrived with the vast colors in the sunset and the excitement of the small huts perched on the water. Overall, today was an experience very different from the past days we have had on this trip as we arrived in a completely different environment, but this new environment came with a common new excitement as well.


Experiencing Difference: Colombia 6

Lucy Beimfohr ’17 and Ryan Collins ’15 discuss the uncertainty, awkwardness, and fun that comes from experiencing life in a different culture:

Lucy Beimfohr ’17: After reflecting on the challenges we faced during our day hike, the group decided to relax and let loose by having a salsa and merengue class led by the Los Nogales students. During the first song, the only people dancing were the five very experienced Los Nogales girls and a few brave souls from Deerfield. I associated myself with the bystanders and observers until one student, Ana, approached me and said, “When is the next time you will have the opportunity to learn to dance from native Colombians?” Soon enough, I was part of the group, robotically and pathetically attempting the three-step rhythm. I was really grateful for Ana’s support and patience and in the end, I had a lot of fun.

Megan and Kofi dance Colombia

Photo Credit: David Thiel

It was interesting the see the comparison between the native and the novice salsa dancers as well as our norms in terms of dancing. The Los Nogales girls and our very own Colombian leaders had an innate rhythm that was evident as they danced. They made dancing look much easier and natural than it actually is. My peers from Deerfield and I, at times, felt awkward, confused and insecure. This difference in dancing ability was also evident when we showed the girls our norms of moshing, fist-pumping and jumping wildly. They described our dancing as “aggressive” and “strange.” My experience salsa dancing with the Los Nogales girls was impactful, fun, and helped the group bond.


Ryan Collins ’15: After hiking Iguaque, the group was visibly tired. But after sleeping in an extra hour the next morning, we regained our energy and were on the bus leaving Villa de Leyva. We took a short ride to a nearby village where we briefly met in the plaza and talked about bargaining with the storeowners in order to practice our Spanish. This was easier said than done, as many of the storeowners were hesitant to negotiate. Having students from Los Nogales in each group was helpful, as they could do some of the bargaining and tell us when we found a fair price for different items. The village was centered around shopping, and it was both fun and interesting to see the different customs that existed there in comparison to shopping in America. After shopping for about an hour and a half, we met again in the plaza to talk about the different experiences each group had.

Photo Credit: David Thiel

Photo Credit: David Thiel

We then walked back to the bus and began a short ride to the house of a local Artisan named Guillermo. When the trip leaders told us that we would be there for three hours, we didn’t really know what to expect. We got off the bus and met Guillermo, who talked briefly about the culture and history of his job making pottery. After hearing some of his life story, we went to the area of his house where he made his pottery.We formed a circle around him, eager to see what his job entailed. As he constructed the first item, everyone in the group was struck by his speed and fine touch. Within a minute he had constructed a vase, and we all applauded as we were both surprised and amazed. As he started a new piece, someone asked if he could do so with his eyes closed. He smiled at all of us and quickly closed his eyes. He then proceeded to construct a detailed piece, which he easily finished without opening his eyes once.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Everyone in the group was shocked by his talent, and we continued to applaud. What struck us the most was the joy and passion he displayed while working. He maintained a broad smile the entire time we were at his house, even as we struggled to make our own pieces.

Maggie Pottery ColombiaCaroline Stedman PotterSerena pottery


Some of the students started to put their clay covered hands on the faces of others, and a small battle began, which resulted in every student leaving the house covered in clay. Goofing around and getting to see Guillermo’s passion combined for a very real experience that I believe would be almost impossible to find at home. I know we all appreciate the time that Guillermo and his family gave us and that the experience is one that we are all lucky to have. 

Photo Credit: David Thiel

Photo Credit: David Thiel


Cultural Ambassadors: Colombia 5

The Deerfield group has spent the last several days traveling with students from Los Nogales, a high school in Bogotá.  In this post, Jason Han ’15 explains how much he has learned from his Los Nogales partners, and Elisa Schrader of Los Nogales describes the importance of being a cultural ambassador for Colombia.  At the end of the post, the twelve other Deerfield students and one other Los Nogales student express their feelings about the day in a sentence or two:

Deerfield and Los Nogales students smile for one last picture before saying goodbye to each other. Photo Credit: David Miller

Deerfield and Los Nogales students smile for one last picture before saying goodbye to each other.
Photo Credit: David Miller

Jason Han ’15: For the past few days, we invited five Colombian students from Los Nogales to join our trip. They have been so helpful to us, not only in our understanding of Spanish but also the culture of Colombia. Together, we visited Villa de Leyva, which is a beautiful colonial town full of life.

View of Villa de Leyva

Photo Credit: David Thiel

Without the Colombian students, our scavenger hunt would not have been as smooth as it was. Deerfield students had to go around Villa de Leyva and ask numerous questions about the history, economy, and environment of the town. Sometimes, when asking questions and communicating with them, we could not understand what they were saying because of the lack of vocabulary and the fast pace of the Spanish speakers. When this happened, the Nogales students decided to enter the conversation and help us. Even though I had some difficulty understanding everything, everyone was extremely patient with me and, because of this, I was able to successfully answer many questions and gain a greater understanding of Villa de Leyva. I am going to miss these students who made our experience in Colombia much more valuable.

With the help of a student from Los Nogales, Ryan Collins '15 interviews a resident of Villa de Leyva. Photo Credit: David Thiel

With the help of a student from Los Nogales, Ryan Collins ’15 interviews a resident of Villa de Leyva.
Photo Credit: David Thiel

Elisa Schrader of Los Nogales: Being a Colombian student traveling with the Deerfield group, I feel that it has been a great learning experience not only for the Deerfield students, but also for me and my classmates. We have been able to show a little part of our country and in only two days we have been able to see how our new friends are willing to open their minds to the reality of our country, ignoring any prejudgment that they might have had before the trip.

 Today, for example, we were able to bond with them on a challenging hike up a mountain in which we all helped each other, so that we would pick each other up every time someone stumbled or give a hand when climbing a big step. At the end, even though we didn’t get to see the lagoon that we planned on seeing, we were able to enjoy an amazing and unforgettable view from the peak of the mountain. Although my classmates and I will only get the chance of accompanying this group for three days, we can all agree on the fact that even though they may not be coming back anytime soon, the Deerfield students are certainly going to leave with a completely different view than that which most of the world has of us.

Students Hiking Colombia

Photo Credit: David Thiel


Sentence Stories

Andrew Hollander ’16: The best part of today’s hike was everyone working together as a group to get up and down the mountain, especially during the rainstorm.

Helena Tebeau ’17: Suddenly the fog receded and I first glanced at the view from the top of the mountain; the landscape of hills overgrown by trees made the group gasp in wonder. All the hard work paid off.

Serena Ainslie ’16: While I thought that turning back before reaching the lagoon would leave me disappointed, I was only proud of myself and my group for working together so well and grateful for the beautiful view from our own summit.

Maggie Kidder ’16: On the first day of being in Bógota, I was in the elevator when a native Colombian began to ask me questions and we had a conversation. I was surprised by how much he genuinely cared about helping me with Spanish, and I have been pleasantly surprised by how nice and encouraging the other native Colombians have been in regards to engaging in conversation and helping me with Spanish.

Ryan Collins ’15: As I was talking to a local storeowner in the village, I realized that she didn’t have an answer to one of the historical questions I was asking, but a man sitting on a bench behind us said he knew the answer to my question and would be more than happy to talk. I had seen the same man earlier and was somewhat scared to approach him, but as we talked I realized how genuinely friendly the people in the village are, which was amazing to witness.

Ana Duzan (Student from Los Nogales): At first it was a little bit awkward being with all these foreigners in the same room, but after meeting them things got less awkward, and I got to meet really cool people.

Lucy Beimfohr ’17: After our trip to Villa de Levya yesterday, we took some time to listen to music, talk about our lives and “chillear” with the Los Nogales students. It was interesting to see how much we had in common in spite of our cultural differences.

Kofi Adu ’16: I was very surprised of how the people of Villa de Villya treated us. Not only were they welcoming and friendly, but they wanted us to come back and live in their town.

Megan Retana ’15: As the man dreamily gazed at the warm, glowing lights that surrounded the darkening plaza, he said, “Something always brings me back to Villa de Leyva. It is…magical.  Don’t you feel it?”  Yes.

Ileana Glyptis ’16: Even after rain that caused you to look down, the view the second you’re able to look up makes enduring the rain worth it.

Caroline Pappas ’17: When I arrived in Villa de Leyva, I was enchanted by my first impression, with its quaint houses and friendly feel.  Upon talking to the natives, I discovered that the people were just as friendly and helpful as my first impression of the village.

Phillip Chung ’16: The people of Villa de Leyva received us with lots of kindness, which was different from my perception of their view on foreigners, and I came away from this experience with a personal goal of returning this respect.

Bri’ana Odom ’15: Not much time had passed before my body was letting me know through cramping and sweating that the Iguaque hike would be the most challenging experience of my life, thus far, both mentally and physically. Words can’t express how proud I am of myself and fellow teammates for not only finishing the hike but finishing it together.

group photo from hike on Day 4

Photo Credit: David Thiel

Unscheduled Moments: Colombia 4

Bri’ana Odom ’15 celebrates the unscheduled moments of the trip:

Scavenger Hutn with Briana Kofi Day 2 Colombia

Although we have only completed the second day of our trip, Day Two was jam packed with challenges that forced us to call upon our prior knowledge, as well as discover new ways of thinking. Different parts of Day Two all came together to create a collective experience for us all. At the same time, as I reflect on today’s activities, one day in Colombia feels like it could be three or maybe even four days in the United States! Today we learned about Colombian history, visited a paleontological research site, and conversed (in Spanish of course!) with locals around la Villa de Leyva in order to answer some questions for a scavenger hunt.

Serena and Lucy digging at Paleontological Day 2 Colombia

Despite all of the scheduled activities — I memorized the start times for each of them at breakfast before we left to start our Day Two adventures– I think that the things that I will remember most from this day weren’t scheduled to happen. They never could be. I will always remember that on this day I woke up and took the elevator down to the lobby of the Holiday Inn only to find that the employees were not in their normal attire. Instead they all sported Colombian “fútbol” jerseys in support of their team making it to their second game of the World Cup. 

Ileana and Colombian jersey Day 2 Colombia

As we traveled we saw the streets filled with Colombian flags and jerseys. Even dogs were wearing hats in support of the Colombian soccer team! We were able to listen to the cheering of thousands of fans in the stadium in Brazil over the radio, and we even joined in and erupted in applause when we heard “GOAL!” being yelled by the announcer. We laughed and conversed with Colombian students our age who we are traveling with, and they taught us about their music as we described what a typical Deerfield dance is like. We realized that although the words of our favorite songs may be sung in different languages, we all like to dance to them just the same.

Group outside Restaruant Day 2 Colombia

And so from this point on, for the duration of the trip and beyond, I think that I am going to learn to look for those unscheduled moments — those things that cannot be found on the itinerary. Although I have only been here for two days, about eight American days back home, I have already learned more than I thought I would. I can’t wait to experience more of what Colombia has to offer!


Embracing Uncertainty: Colombia 3

Serena Ainslie ’16 reflects on the important lessons she learned from a Deerfield alum abroad:

Bogota Colombia Day 2

We didn’t hesitate to jump right into our trip with an action packed first day that included a visit to the Gold Museum, a walk around the Old City of Bogota, and a funicular ride to a breathtaking view of the entire city from Monserrate. But the part of the day that made the biggest impact on me was a talk we had with Deerfield alum Roberto Powers, Consul General of the U.S. Embassy in Colombia.

Cropped Group with Roberto Powers Day 1 Colombia

I went into the meeting knowing very little about foreign services, and ended the talk anxious to fill out an application. Roberto only spent two years at Deerfield before attending Wesleyan and then Harvard Law School, only because he “didn’t know what else to do.” After realizing that working for a law firm was the most boring thing he could do, he moved to France on a whim where he enrolled in university and was hired to work for an international company for eight years. This adventurous life full of risk taking and culture already sounded appealing to me, but when he started to talk about his experiences at each of the 10-plus countries where he had been stationed and the six languages he once spoke, I thought I was dreaming. His exciting stories of South Korea, Morocco, Sudan, Italy, and more sounded too good to be true.

While of course his incredible accounts only fueled my desire to travel more than ever, the most reassuring and important thing that I took from our meeting with him was the uncertainty he had about his future when he went to Deerfield. He told us that in high school, working in foreign services was the last thing he would have expected to be doing, especially since he didn’t know what a diplomat was until about 10 years later. The amount of times he changed his career path and still ended up with a job that he loves and has been doing for 29 years was a relief to hear about given the pressure our society puts on us to plan out our futures. Being told by a Deerfield alum that the future is flexible and that taking risks can pay off is something that will greatly influence the way I carry myself and think about my future throughout my remaining time at Deerfield and the rest of my life.

An Entire Trip in One Day: Colombia 2

Ileana Glyptis ’16 marvels at the many adventures that one day of travel can hold:

On our first day in Colombia, I experienced things I’ve never experienced before. This one day in Bogotá felt like an entire trip with all of its landmarks. 


After walking all around the downtown area of this city and visiting two museums, our group went Monserrate, the highest peak in the city. Aside from Bogotá being 8,000 feet above sea level, we took a funicular up another 1,000 feet to the peak. The ride up takes about five minutes, so the ride up on the funicular was a steep one.

 When going up the ride, everyone was buzzing with excitement. All of us were waiting to see the incredible view of the city of Bogotá and take some beautiful photos. Once we arrived, we walked all the way up to the peak where a cathedral stood, looking over the city. The view was breathtaking. On one side, the city was bustling below us, while on the other, hills covered with trees went as far as the eye could see. Just our luck, since it had been drizzling the entire day: a rainbow was visible and ended in the hills. It was a view I was lucky to see, and I can’t wait to explore more of the beauties of Colombia.

Helena Briana Ileana Kofi Colombia Day 2


Caroline and Lucy Colombia Day 2


Andrew Jason Philip Day 1 Colombia

Megan Ryan Serena Maggie Day 2

Ready to Go! Colombia 1

Today, thirteen students and four faculty members are heading to Bogotá, Colombia. The group will spend two weeks traveling throughout Colombia, learning more about the country’s great ecological and cultural diversity. The participants will speak Spanish for most of the trip. 

Photo Credit: David Thiel

Photo Credit: David Thiel