Sturgis Travels 2014-15

Nicaragua 1 (1)

Last summer, during a World Challenge expedition to Nicaragua, fifteen Sturgis students hiked to the top of Momotombo Volcano to watch the sunrise.

Sturgis students and faculty have an opportunity to participate in a wide variety of travel experiences in 2014-15. Some trips are organized by Sturgis; others are independent student initiatives. We hope the following reflections will provide a sampling of their experiences. 2014-15 trips include: Habitat for Humanity – Michigan; Spain; Holocaust in Europe; French Exchange Program; Kenya Service and Learning; Montreal IB World Student Conference; Nicaragua World Challenge Expedition; Princeton University High School Diplomats Program; Istanbul, Turkey and NYC IB Theatre ISTA Workshops. Future Sturgis travel opportunities are described in the last section of the article.

Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge Build – Battle Creek, Michigan – February 2014

Habitat Team- with Habitat home-owner

Sturgis Habitat Team – with Habitat home-owner

By Jen Walts, CAS Coordinator – West

A team of ten Sturgis West Juniors and Seniors and two Faculty Advisers spent their February vacation in Battle Creek, Michigan working on a Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge Build.  This team did a variety of construction projects as part of a voluntary service learning experience. First, they refurbished the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate’s new office which was a recent donation after they experienced extreme loss in a fire last November.  The team then worked alongside a future Habitat home-owner who suffers from severe brain trauma and loss of mobility in the left side of her body after she was struck by a drunk driver. Students built a wheelchair ramp, deck, windows, and more as the future Habitat home-owner completed her sweat equity hours with Sturgis students. The last two days of service consisted of building an ostrich pen at the local Binder Park Zoo.  Students led valuable reflections each evening at our cabin. They focused on such concepts as team building, goal setting, sharing their experience and adapting service as a way of life. Sara Booth and Julia Marquette shared the following reflections.

Student Reflections

Sara Booth,  Class of 2015 – West

Claire Gilliland ('15), Taylor White ('15), and Sara Booth ('15) work on applying OSB before siding Stephanie's home

Claire Gilliland (’15), Taylor White (’15), and Sara Booth (’15) work on applying OSB before siding Stephanie’s home

Today was probably my favorite day so far. I am beginning to finally understand what a powerful and life changing thing I am doing. Most kids wouldn’t want to spend their entire February break waking up at 7:00 AM and building all day. But honestly, right now I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Today, Claire and I accomplished so much – with the help of Spence of course. We put more dry wall up, ripped the tiles off the ceiling and skimmed ti cracks. It was pretty challenging and took a lot of energy, especially scraping the tiles off the ceiling. It required us to really work together. We figured out that I was better at getting off the bigger pieces and she got the little fine pieces that I couldn’t get. I have really enjoyed working with Claire these past two days. She is so strong and always willing to try new things. She is always looking for something to do and some way to help. It’s funny because we never used to talk that much at school, but we are getting along so well and really getting to know each other.

Claire and I also got to work a lot with Stephanie. She is truly amazing. She has a wonderful sense of humor and always makes everyone laugh. I am beginning to realize how much of an impact we are really making on her life. She will be living in this new house. It is so important to her and I really feel like I am helping her and making a difference in her life. It is an amazing and satisfying feeling. I am very proud of myself.  Before the trip, I don’t think I realized that I would feel this way and truly feel like I changed someone’s life. But I do and now I want to do more of this type of thing. I am going to look into more local build opportunities.

Leaving the site today was really bittersweet. It was the last time we will see Stephanie, at least until we come back to Michigan. Saying goodbye was tough. Not only have we made an impact on her life, she has also made one on ours. She is truly an inspiration. She promised that she would send us pictures of her house when it is finished. I know I will never forget this experience. It is a life changer.

Julia Marquette, Class of 2015 – West

Lasting friendships-

  • Chris Cifello ('14) and Julia Marquette ('15) work to build a wheel chair ramp for Stephanie's home

    Chris Cifello (’14) and Julia Marquette (’15) work to build a wheel chair ramp for Stephanie’s home

    It’s hard to pass any of the Habitat team members in the hallway without thinking of the bond that we all made over the duration of our trip. The teamwork that we all took part in led us to become like a family.

  • I realize how truly lucky I am to have a safe, comfortable home that is able to accommodate my family and our necessities. We were able to help Stefanie’s new home be more accommodating to her specific needs. We built a wheelchair ramp and helped to bring in kitchen cabinets, and other appliances, that will allow Stefanie to be able to do more things independently.As I wrote in my CAS questions, my goals were to “help successfully plan the trip, participate in many fundraisers, learn about and experience the culture of Michigan, strengthen my ability to work with others, and gain a new understanding of what having a safe place to live means to people.” What I got out of the trip was so much more. Hearing Kara speak of the fire that burned down the old Habitat ReStore and offices, meeting and speaking with Stefanie and realizing that life threw her a curve ball just when she was starting to do what she worked so hard for, seeing the joy on Justine’s daughters faces when we were all playing with them, receiving the drawing from Aakeeyla, seeing how happy we all made Stefanie to the point where she cried when we left, and seeing how appreciative every member of the Habitat Battle Creek team was for our help that week had a huge impact on me. Everyone in Michigan truly inspired me.
    Ostrich pen completed  for Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI

    Ostrich pen completed for Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI

    Kara is so passionate about Habitat. Stefanie was getting out of her wheelchair to help build her house (even though her friends and family can do/contribute to her sweat-equity). Justine is raising three daughters who are so sweet and fun to be with. The employees at the zoo who are so passionate about animals and want to give their animals the very best. The Battle Creek Habitat Team gives up time out of their lives on a weekly (and in some cases daily) basis to help others. Last, but definitely not least, everyone on our team who worked through the bumps in the road to get to Michigan and spent a week of their school vacation making a difference. I went to Michigan expecting that I would be “benefiting others by working on and/or building a home for a family who cannot afford a safe place to live,” but as cliche as it sounds, I truly feel that I received a lot more than I gave.

Sturgis Students Visit Spain during April Break, 2014

By Lauren Berkley, Class of 2016 – East 

Originally published in Sturgis Stormwatch May 11, 2014.  Reprinted with author’s permission.

The famous Palacio Real in Madrid (Photo by Lauren Berkley)

The famous Palacio Real in Madrid (Photo by Lauren Berkley)

During April vacation, one of the special school trips offered by Sturgis was a 10-day trip to Spain. I was lucky enough to be one of the students on this EF Tours-guided trip, and it was an experience I will never forget.

Traveling to Spain was not easy, however. After leaving school on the Friday before break, students from both Sturgis East and West boarded the bus to Logan Airport in Boston. From there, we took a 7 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, followed by a quick hour-long flight to the airport in Madrid. Finally, after an entire day’s worth of traveling, our EF Tours guide dragged our group of sweaty and exhausted teenagers into the city of Madrid. It was so beautiful, however, that no one seemed to mind.

My first impression of Madrid was that it feels like a Spanish Times Square. It is busy, the people can be rude, and its streets are lined with trendy stores and restaurants. Here it was difficult to speak Spanish with the locals, while ordering food for example, because most of them were wanting to practice their English. During my attempts at conversing in Spanish, the clerks would simply speak back to me in they spoke back to us in English. That being said, Madrid had a certain energy that was really unique to anything I had experienced before. It seemed invincibly cheerful due to its vast size and electricity, despite the attitude of the people around us.

The narrow, cobblestone streets of Córdoba

The narrow, cobblestone streets of Córdoba

Córdoba was the next stop on our journey. This strange city was by far my favorite place we visited on the trip due to its uniqueness and near isolation from the rest of the world. It was inherently peaceful there. Narrow, winding, cobblestone roads cut through simply gorgeous white houses that held secrets blooming patios inside. Sections of small gift stores and restaurants were fit into this white serene labyrinth. In the center of the maze was “La Mezquita,” a mosque constructed from ancient Roman ruins. Now the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Córdoba, La Mezquita is a hidden treasure inside this simple and beautiful place.

We then traveled to Seville, a popular city in southwest Spain. Seville seemed to be a mixture of Madrid and Córdoba. It had the electricity and business of Madrid, yet still had some hidden and winding streets similar to what we saw in Córdoba. It was full of beautiful architecture, trees, and gorgeous sunlight. After two nights in Seville, we went to Madrid for one more night before moving to the final city on our trip: Barcelona.

Berkley Barcelona

A picturesque view of the Barcelona coastline

Barcelona was the favorite of almost everyone on the trip. It lies right on the coast of the Mediterranean sea and is truly as beautiful as it sounds. We were lucky enough to spend an entire day at the beach enjoying the sun and the palm trees lining the water. Not only did Barcelona offer this peaceful coast, but it proved to be a big, bustling city as well. We spent our last day of the vacation spending our final euros on souvenirs and gifts while taking in the excitement and the joy of Barcelona.

Finally, after spending eight full days living out of a suitcase and taking several forms of transportation to travel all over Spain, it was time to take the long flight home. To say that it was the best week of my life would be an understatement. It was fun, beautiful, and an experience I will never forget!

My Thoughts on the Holocaust in Europe Field Trip, April 2014

By Peter Keefe, Class of 2015 – East

Originally published in Sturgis Stormwatch May 19, 2014.  Reprinted with author’s permission.

Holocaust Trip - Keefe

The words “Arbeit Macht Frei” are seen at the entrance to Auschwitz 1 {photo by Peter Keefe}

During this past April break, a few dozen Sturgis East students had the opportunity to go take a tour of some of the major sights of the Holocaust and other WWII events in Europe. Spanning four major cities in three different countries, all with their own currency, the trip was a healthy mixture of excitement, fascination, and weariness.

The first city we toured was Berlin, the capital of Germany. There we met up with our kind and charismatic tour guide named Daniel. Having grown up in East Berlin, Daniel had personal insight on and stories about the barrier created by the Berlin Wall, as well as the effect which the government had on society. Some of the major sites we saw throughout various Berlin tours were the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, and the Olympic Stadium.

After our two days in Berlin, we boarded a train and traveled to Warsaw, Poland. In Poland we viewed the border that separated the famous Warsaw Ghetto from the rest of the city. We were able to see the major sites of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, such as several hideouts and places where key rebels had taken their last stand against the Nazis. Although it was not yet open, a memorial museum was being constructed to commemorate the brave men and women that died during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

After we left Warsaw we went to Auschwitz 1 and 2, and walking around in these camps is something I will never forget. It is hard to put that experience into words. I cannot adequately describe the chills I felt as I walked through the gas chambers. Overall, visiting Auschwitz (which is about half the size of Manhattan) was a very emotional and solemn experience.

Our next stop on the trip was Krakow, the second largest city in Poland. In Krakow we were given a tour of the old Jewish community and were amazed by the ancient synagogues in the area. We also saw newer sites such as St. Mary’s Basilica and memorials to Saint Pope John Paul II, who grew up in Krakow.

Our final stop on the trip was to Prague, the capital of the Crzech Republic. Some of the most memorable things we saw there included the picturesque Prague Castle and the Celestial Clock. What was very interesting about the Prague Castle was that it was more of a small village than a castle. Within the Prague Castle was its own church, many public courtyards, and homes for the guards.

Overall, this trip to Europe was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It was very enjoyable as well as educational. Not only did I gain more knowledge of the Holocaust through this experience, but I also gained a better emotional understanding about the nature of the Holocaust and about the sufferings of the Holocaust victims.

French Exchange Program with Lycee Therese d’Avila, Lille, France – Summer 2014

By Haley Meaden, Class of 2014 – East

Sturgis Students with Madame O'Keefe at Logan Airport

Sturgis students en route to France with Madame O’Keefe at Logan Airport

Last summer I had the privilege of traveling to France with twelve other Sturgis students. We traveled to Lille, France, in the north east next to Belgium, where we each stayed with a French family from Lycee Therese d’Avila. We stayed with these families for two weeks, and during those two weeks I was able to become part of a French family. While staying with my family, I was able to see other parts of France as well. We went to Paris for a day, as well as to a beach at the English Channel. We were even able to travel to Bruges, Belgium as a group.

I was also able to stay an extra week on this trip. I travelled south towards Lyon by train to visit Madame Blanc. We stayed in a tiny village about 30 minutes outside of Lyon called Villieu-Loyes-Mollon. While there we took day trips to the mountains and to Lyon.

Map of France with points placed where I traveled

Map of France with points placed where I traveled

I got to see two very different sides of France during my stay. The city was very Americanised from what I experienced. I expected to experience the French culture that we learned about in class with long family dinners, small French boutiques and cafes, a population that spoke almost solely in French, some guy walking around playing an accordion wearing a beret and eating a baguette – you know the classic image of France. There were McDonalds on almost every corner, almost everyone I encountered spoke at least some English, almost all of the music played on the radio and in stores was by American artists, and almost any product targeted at teenagers had some American tie, whether it was an American flag on it or English sayings. Needless to say this was completely different than what I had imagined.

Haley Meaden and Madame Blanc in Lyon

Haley Meaden and Madame Blanc in Lyon

Once I got out of the city and into rural France, it was more like what I had expected. Almost every dinner was five courses of some of the most incredible food I have ever had, there wasn’t a single McDonalds anywhere near us, almost no one spoke English, and the buildings were old. Although I didn’t encounter a baguette eating, beret wearing, accordion player, this was the image of France that I had in my head prior to traveling there.

This trip was one of the most enriching trips I have ever taken. Of course I got to experience the touristy parts of France, but I also got to experience France on a deeper level, not to mention I got to improve my French skills.


  Service and Learning in Naro Maro: Daily Dispatch from Kenya,  June 30, 2014

Kooharian - seventh grade class

Sam Kooharian teaching 7th grade class

By Sam Kooharian, Class of 2014 – West

Today was the first day that we taught at our schools, and it was definitely a unique experience for me, but one that was enjoyable and eye opening at the same time. I was assigned to teach at the Gitinga public school with Brandon, and I was a little anxious heading in because I had heard that the public schools were much less organized than the private schools and could be very poor in quality.

Kooharian - Grade 3-5 Classrooms

Grade 3-5 Classrooms

We arrived in the morning around 8:20 and were introduced to the teachers, a couple of whom I had met the night before. The teachers were happy to meet us and did not hesitate to give us plenty of classes to teach. I was given classes from sixth to eighth grade, in science, social studies, math, and English. It was immediately striking how rural the school was and the buildings were pretty much exactly what you would expect if someone asked you to think of a school in rural Africa. There were three school building with nine classrooms, and another small structure for the teachers’ workroom and headmaster’s office.  Off to the side was the cook hut, where meals were prepared over an open fire. One of the school buildings is made of stone, and was recently built by past SLIK groups. The rest of the school buildings were wood with dirt floors.

Koo homework

Grading homework at the end of class

On our first day there were no lessons for us to teach because the children had just taken their district exams in each subject, so the teachers gave us copies of the test with an answer key and instructed us to review the answers with the students. Walking into the classrooms, the students seemed very exited to meet us. They all remain standing until they are instructed to sit, and were surprisingly well behaved, considering that I was a substitute and there were no other teachers in the room. To try and make the review more fun I divided the class into two teams and had them compete for points, which they really enjoyed. I was surprised but also really excited at how the kids responded to the game, and so I did a similar thing for the rest of my classes.

Kooharian - happy student

7th grade students

The teachers at Gitinga were very polite and welcoming, however I felt there was no sense of urgency regarding the teaching and preparing the students for their tests. On more than one occasion a classroom would be empty for the entire period, with the students waiting for a teacher to come in. Despite this, Gitinga is actually rated as one of the best public schools in its district, so they the teachers must be doing something right. The teachers definitely face challenges though, and due to the lack of funding it is hard to buy proper textbooks, let alone any kind of technology or teaching aid. In fact, the government budgets only one textbook per three students at any given school. Over time the texts become dog eared and worn, and some go missing.  In one of my classes five students huddled over one book!

Overall I left the school tired and a little in shock at the condition at the school.  Despite this, the students are all very excited to be in school and they all want to learn. I am looking forward to seeing the kids again because their enthusiasm is truly contagious and I am further motivated to help in any way I can.

Kwa heri,


Montreal – Human Rights for The 21st Century IB World Student Conference, July 2014

By Cameron Perkins, Class of 2015 – West

Human Rights for the 21st Century - IB Conference

This conference, as a whole, was unbelievable. The first unique aspect of the experience was going to Montreal. This was my first time going to Canada, and I was pretty excited to spend a week somewhere new. Jacob, Dylan, and I spent the entire first day exploring the city of Montreal as well as walk around the campus of McGill University, where the conference was being held. After the first day and meeting the other early arrivals, the three of us took others who were arriving out into Montreal, going from the dorm out to the city a total of six or seven different times that day. We basically walked a marathon. Every time we got back to the campus, there would be new people that we would meet, that we would then take out. That night we all hung out with each other, then went to bed relatively early in preparation of the day to come. The next morning, we had our welcoming ceremony. From that point on, we attended around 3 lectures a day from experts on human rights ranging from UN members to even a former child soldier. Each night we were graced with an exciting evening program. We went to a mind blowing magic show, saw a play of Shakespeare’s in one of the local parks, took a ghost

Michel Chikwanine

Michel Chikwanine

tour of Old Montreal, and had a wrap up dance. One of my personal favorite parts was being drawn in by the lectures. The one that struck everyone the most was given by a former child soldier named Michel Chikwanine. It was very different hearing about Michel’s experience live and in person, as opposed to reading a book such as A Long Way Gone By Ishmael Beah, because Michel was speaking to us, looking into our eyes, allowing us to only barely tap into how painful his experiences were. I spoke to Michel after his lecture, thanking him for being strong enough to power through every agonizing story of his childhood, and he told me that he felt it to be his duty to tell his story so that the people who listened could learn from what children all over the world have had to face.

After the first two speeches in the day, we would form into smaller groups of around 20 kids known as GAT Groups. I still do not know what GAT stands for, but that wasn’t too important. In these groups we got onto a more personal level with each other and spent time talking about the speakers we had heard, as well as have discussions off of some guiding questions, which provoked a session long discussion when we were asked, “Is torture ever justified?” after we listened to a speaker who had made some pretty radical claims against torture including, “We would have found Osama much quicker if it weren’t for torture.” Over the course of the week we produced some extremely productive discussions while simultaneously relating what we were learning to our own lives. I had kids in my group from Canada, US, Colombia, Mexico, England, Texas (we did not consider Texas a state by request of the student from Texas), China, and Kuwait. We learned a lot about each other’s cultures, as well as how these places human rights were either protected or infringed.

Other than opening my eyes to a much larger global scale, my favorite part of the entire experience was the people I met. By the third day, it was to the point where I would greet and was greeted by almost every single student attending the conference when passing by in the dining hall. The craziest part is that this is literally no exaggeration.

This is partially because on the first and second days I made it an effort to talk to as many new people as possible and learn a bit about them. As for my close friends at the conference, the majority of smaller friend groups would sit together when eating. My particular close friend group filled an entire large table, which sat around 25 people. The smaller 15 of us who were the closest were with each other very frequently over the week of the conference, learning and loving one another as if we had known each other since childhood. In fact that idea came up in conversation daily. The people I met at the conference I will never forget. We had such a strong bond that the 15 of our closest group are planning to come to Cape Cod next June to stay for two weeks. We all had two things in common; We all came to the conference in the pursuit of learning about human rights, and we could complain about the IB with people who understood our struggles. This alone created life long bonds for us.

As a person who loves to talk, I was actually very nervous talking in front of everyone at the conference. My GAT group had created a presentation that three of us then gave. The three of us were Donald Gee, Max Robb, and myself. The three of us had a lot to speak about during all the GAT sessions, and were chosen to be the ones to talk about our topic of Sex Trafficking of Minors. I spoke about the sheer number of children who are recorded being forced into sex trafficking worldwide, as well as talk about how it is not only in select places, but everywhere, including close to home to one of our group members from Georgia. All three of us were nervous, but when we went up on stage, it was honestly very easy. It was my second time or so speaking into a mic for a large group of people, the first being MUN. I was congratulated by many for presenting, even by a high ranking staff member of the IB, Dr. Kumari.

The experience as a whole was life changing. The bonds, the information, and the sense of purpose are what truly made me love every second of it. It was also a bonus to be in one of the coolest cities around too, and it was terribly sad leaving on the last day.

Nicaragua – World Challenge Expedition, Summer 2014

By Emily Williams, English – East
Matt Lee, Emily Williams and Jake Tomkinson World Challenge Leaders

Matt Lee, Emily Williams and Jake Tomkinson
World Challenge Leaders

World Challenge is incredible. During our group meeting on the last night of the trip, I told the students how honored I felt to now be inducted into the society of teachers who have traveled internationally with Sturgis students and also to have experienced the excitement and physical/emotional demands of the trip alongside of them. It was more often that I felt like a fellow traveler than any sort of authority figure, because connecting as equals became our default mode after collective experiences like losing control of our bodies as we were battered by the most powerful winds the local guides had ever experienced on top of a volcano and simultaneously being pelted with large volcanic rocks. As I’m sure you can imagine, the students were wonderful; they were responsible, energetic, and (almost always) positive. I particularly enjoyed getting to know the nine West students who as a cohort brought such humor to the table.

Nicaragua photo5

El Hoyo with Momotombo in the distance

I’m attaching some photos from our adventures. We hiked up and tobogganed down the black ashy volcano, Cerro Negro, and the greener summit is of the second volcano we hiked, El Hoyo. In the distance you can see Momotombo, which is the third volcano we hiked. Prior to hiking, we spent three days in a rural community outside of the city of Leon where we painted the outside and a few classrooms of a primary school. We camped and played soccer with community members on the “lawn” of the school, where we availed ourselves of the filth of the deep volcano ash on which the school is built. We were shadows by the end of our stay!
The urban experiences were meaningful as well. We spent two days exploring Leon. There we climbed to the roof of the Cathedral of Leon, which is the largest in Central America, and and we put on our analytical hats at a contemporary art museum. The students’ interpretations blew me away. So insightful. Chatting about art was a personal high. Finally, we spent our last day exploring the Spanish colonial-style city of Granada.

Student Reflections

Dan Kamb, Class of 2015 – West 

Nicaragua photo1

Tobogganing on Cerro Negro

Looking back, I still cannot believe that I actually did this. I actually spent ten days away from any sort of communication, from my friends, from my family. This trip was so far out of my comfort zone that I am honestly astonished that I actually signed up for the trip in the first place. I am so proud of myself for being able to complete this whole journey, and when I look back, I don’t think about how much I wanted to go home, because I actually had one of the best times that I have ever had on a “vacation.” I am so proud of myself for being able to step this far out of my comfort zone. I now know how long I can go without my computer and my iPhone, and everything else that I am used to. I learned what my absolute limits are regarding patience, and willpower, and most importantly, I feel like I learned a lot more about just who I am.

When I go back and look at those CAS questions and saying my goals, I realize that I met every single goal that I set for myself, and that in itself is a great accomplishment. I am so glad that I took this trip of a life time, and I know that in 30 years, I will look back and think to myself, “I still can’t believe that I did that, but I am so glad that I did.”

Olivia LaBarge, Class of 2015 – West 

The Service Phase

nicaragua 3The “Service Phase” of our World Challenge expedition was repainting a school in the village community of San Rafael, about an hour’s journey by truck along very rural roads from the larger city of Leon. Repainting the school may not seem like it was a very important task we could’ve accomplished while we were down in Nicaragua, but for this community it was. In Nicaragua all the schools are supposed to be painted the national colors of blue and white. This school of San Rafael was built years ago, by a group of Americans who put it together, but with a budget. The cheapest paint at the time was apparently awful hues of green, pink, and orange, and so, the school was painted in combinations of green, pink, and orange. You might think, “What’s the big deal?” As a member of the Sturgis community you might be remembering Eric Heiser’s famous words, “Buildings don’t make schools, people do.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate as well into the Nicaraguan culture.

nicaragua painting 5In San Rafael, the school’s appearance was unappealing to families whose children’s only option for an education was the one provided there. Therefore, by repainting the school and making it fit into the standard of beauty Nicaraguans hold their school buildings to, more of the community recognized the school’s legitimacy and potential benefits for their children, and so the attendance is expected to increase, giving those students an education they wouldn’t have received before, which then makes their chance of graduating and doing something other than working the fields as an adult ever so much greater.

What really hit home was when one of the teachers approached myself and some other students and said to us, “Even graduating primary school is difficult here, and usually secondary education is out if the question, but we hope that now, having met you, we hope that some of these kids will now try to go into the city and to high school and get a diploma. They could never even could’ve imagined it before, but now you might inspire them.” Knowing that I could be a factor, however small it may be, in just one student going to get their diploma is so flattering and so extremely humbling. Being part of this particular experience was easily the most impactful experience of my life and I hope to continue similar work.

High School Diplomats Program, Princeton, New Jersey

By Katie Curran, Class of 2014 – East

Diplomacy In Action: High School Students Take On the Mantle of Global Leadership

Originally published in Sturgis Stormwatch  Aug  27, 2014  Reprinted with author’s permission.

Diplomacy In Action

Katie Curran (right) and fellow High School Diplomats at the Japanese Culture Festival

We live in a global society that is pulsing with breaking news by the second.  Our world is consumed by the media.  The spotlight is often shone on conflicts overseas and tragedies that strike our nation. In a world that appears to be stricken by perpetual conflict at first glance, there exists peace and progress.  We live in a world where diplomacy is put into action.  One example of this diplomatic process can be seen by a set of faithful friends that fly together: the Japanese and American flags. This past summer, 40 American high school students and 40 Japanese high school students flew these flags as one.

Each year, 80 students from across the globe gather at Princeton University and attend the High School Diplomats (HSD) Program for 10 days.  HSD is in affiliation with the National Association of Japan-America Societies and is sponsored by AIU Insurance and the Freeman Foundation.  As noted on the High School Diplomat website, the goal is “to provide academic and social activities intended to spread international understanding among Japanese and American high school students. In addition, the program hopes to foster the creation of meaningful and lasting friendship.” Each student admitted to HSD receives a full scholarship to attend the program. This year, I was fortunate enough to be one of 40 American students who participated in this cross cultural exchange.  It was an honor to be selected for this prestigious program.
For me, High School Diplomats was everything I could have ever imagine and so much more.  It was an educationally enriching experience that allowed me to learn about the Japanese culture in such an incredible way. 40 Japanese students and 40 American students were put into roommate pairs and spent everyday together getting to know one another.  Every roommate pair developed their own unique relationship, finding connections in the least expected places.

From Rockstar Day to the Olympic Games, each day at Princeton University was a true adventure.  I, along with the other High School Diplomats, participated in “Diplomat Talks,” in which we discussed issues such as global poverty and gender inequality in the 21st century. Japanese students from Hiroshima, Japan, told stories about the Atomic bomb that was dropped on their city. There was even a moving presentation from students impacted by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. My view on these historical events was transformed when I heard personal stories from fellow diplomats.  These presentations and certainly inspired and taught me to strive to make a difference in the world.

Every morning I took Japanese language and culture classes.  By the end of the program, I was able to hold basic conversations in Japanese.  In the culture classes, I prepared sushi, learned calligraphy, made origami, and experienced a traditional tea ceremony.  At HSD, we played Suikawari, a Japanese game that occurs at festivals and picnics where people split a watermelon in half with a stick while blindfolded.  One night we also held Bunka-No-Hi, a Japanese culture festival. Everyone dressed up in traditional Japanese clothing and participated in culture stations that covered an array of Japanese cultural activities. I learned karate and Japanese archery, decorated fans, played traditional New Years Games and learned Japanese dances.  HSD was an invaluable opportunity to gain a true insight into such a fascinating culture.   To this day, I still picture everyone’s smiling faces and hear all the students laughing or singing in Japanese.

If you are interested in applying  to the program, I strongly encourage you to visit High School Diplomats. To be eligible, students may apply during their sophomore and junior year of high school.  The application process includes an application with 3 essays included, sealed teacher recommendation and passport photo.  HSD has a strict application postmark deadline in order to be eligible for consideration into the program.  Each applicant has an in-person interview in March.  Final decisions are announced in mid-April.  The program contact for HSD is the American Director, Ms. Celine Zapolski. Her email is:  HSD in America runs from the end of July to early August. If you would like to see HSD in action, check out the video slideshow I produced: HSD 2014 .


By Cooper Heilman, Class of 2015 – East

Turkish Citizens “Have Not Forgotten,” Protest for More Democratic Rights

Originally published in Sturgis Stormwatch Oct 5, 2014  Reprinted with author’s permission.
Cooper Heilman Travel

Protesters bearing a sign that reads “Unutmadik!” meaning “We have not forgotten”, and “Sosyalist Yeniden Kurulus Partisi”, meaning “Socialist Refoundation Party”

I have recently returned from my vacation in Turkey, during which I stayed in uniquely different areas of Istanbul, Turkey’s capital city. The European side of Istanbul, where the Galata and Taksim neighborhoods are located, was the “happening” area of the city, as I soon learned. On this side of the city, it is said that nine out of ten people that you will come across will be citizens of Istanbul. These neighborhoods contain most of the traditional Turkish businesses and restaurants, as opposed to the tourist-influenced Sultanahmet district on the opposite side of the Galata Bridge.

Although I had heard of the civil unrest that Turkey has been going through since last year, I actually encountered less of it than I would have imagined. The wave of civil protest began on the 28th of May 2013, beginning with a relatively harmless “sit-in” the urban development of the Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul. However, when these protesters were dispersed violently by the police forces of the city wielding riot hose tanks, tear gas, and riot shields, the situation escalated. Eleven were killed, and around eight thousand wounded during the police retaliation of the Taksim Gezi Park movement. Protests broke out across Turkey, with radicals calling for more freedom of speech and the press. Socialist movements and parties gained popularity and staged protests throughout Istanbul and other parts of the country.

What I encountered was luckily much less violent than the protests that had occurred during the past year.  As I walked down Istikal Street towards Taksim Square, I came across a group of protesters shouting and chanting in Turkish, and holding banners and flags. The only words I could make out from the banners were “Sosyalist Yeniden Kurulus Partisi”, meaning “Socialist Refoundation Party”, and “Unutmadik!” meaning “We have not forgotten, “likely referring to the violence shown by the police during the Taksim Gezi Park sit-in.  Across from the protesters was a phalanx of police wielding riot shields and clubs.  They were reinforced by water cannons attached to tank-like military trucks.

Although it was a frightening scene, the citizens on Istikal Street simply walked by as if they were used to it (which was probably the case). Fortunately no violence broke out, and the protesters left peacefully. However, it was still clear to me that the civil unrest in Turkey is far from over. The prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still retains too much dictatorial power for the Turkish people’s satisfaction, and the citizens will likely continue to fight for more democratic rights. Witnessing this protest with my own eyes was a fascinating and exciting experience for me, and I am sure to remember that moment, along with the rest of my trip, for a long time.

New York City IB Theatre Trip, October 2014

By Anna Botsford, Theatre – West

Theatre NYMembers of the junior and senior IB Theatre classes traveled to New York City this past week for IB workshops led by ISTA, the International Schools Theatre Association.  Students spent three incredible days in workshops with Theatre and Film professionals from both the US and abroad.  They studied and delved into a myriad of things such as physical theatre, devising theatre, scene work, sound design and directing.  In the evenings, the groups were able to see three unique Broadway and off-Broadway shows: Shakespeare’s, The Tempest, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (a Sturgis summer reading book), and On The Town, a modern revival of a classic musical. After watching Curious Incident, our group was able to tour the stage and meet with the lead actor.  Each of the these students left with re-ignited passions for their art and a plethora of ideas for their theatre journals and projects.

Future Sturgis Trips

Panama – February 2015 

Beach Break Surf Camp

Beach Break Surf Camp

The Sturgis Surf Club will be going to Panama during the February break! Students will be staying at the Beach Break Surf Camp in Playa Venao, Pedasi. Beach Break Surf Camp has 14 beachfront rooms right in front of the beach where we will be surfing! The trip will include a visit to the Panama Canal, daily surf lessons for beginner and intermediate surfers, boards, snorkeling, as well as some opportunities to kayak, fish or Stand up Paddle board (SUP). Breakfast, lunch, airfare, housing and airport transfer from airport to Surf Camp are all included in the $1900.00 price. We will travel, as a group for dinner each night. Students should have their $500.00 deposit in asap and make payments beginning on the second Friday of November, December and January ($ 500.00, 450.00 & 450.00). If you would like to hear more please contact Rich Mathews (, Marsha Yalden ( or Jim Albrecht ( We still have a few openings available for the East & West Students.

Paris to the Pyrenees – April 2015

ParisNext Spring break (April 2015), Sturgis will be traveling to France and Spain on EF’s Paris to the Pyrenees tour. The Pyrenees separate Spain and France, making for an interesting blend of the two cultures. Students will get to experience the local flavor in Paris and Barcelona where world’s best art and architecture are on display—and border cities like Biarritz, San Sebastian and Pamplona that show subtle variations in French and Spanish culture. This trip is for both East and West students.

Barcelona-ParisWe are fortunate enough to be planning our journey through EF Education, a global education company with over 50 years of abroad programming experience. They will provide an amazing educational experience, the best safety and support and, above all, the best value on the price of the tour.

For more information, see: Paris to the Pyrenees

Science and Innovation in England – April 2015

London, Bath, Plymouth  Throughout the long timeline of scientific progress, England has often found itself at the center of the greatest breakthroughs. Become a part of that scientific tradition; past, present and future. Ponder the mysteries of Stonehenge, see Watson and Crick’s three-dimensional DNA model and visit the different biomes at the environmental venture known as the Eden Project.

For more information, see: Science and Innovation in England

World Challenge Belize – Summer 2015

Belize1Sturgis’ World Challenge expedition is going to Belize this year! World Challenge is a unique trip in that the students will be completing community service and trekking through the countryside on this eleven day trip. This trip is open exclusively to juniors and will depart shortly after the school year ends. What a great way to start your last summer before senior year! This trip is a great CAS opportunity as it fulfills every aspect the IB looks for. Although we’ve already had informational Belize2meetings and team building sessions, it’s not too late to join. Contact Mr. McDonald (East) or Mrs. Rhoads (West) to find out how to get signed up.

For more information, see: World Challenge Belize


Experience China – Summer 2015


Many of you might be familiar with the wide range of educational travel that he been offered to our students over the years. This year trips went to Spain, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.
June of 2015 will see another great travel opportunity for our student. I will be leading a trip, through our trusted travel company EF tours, to China.  This is a nine day excursion that will include four days in Beijing and 4 days in Hong Kong.  Travel dates are June 18-27 2015. The cost of the trip is $3425 which includes all travel, lodging and breakfasts and dinners.
During this trip our students will see iconic sports such at the Great Wall, Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City.  They will also experience new cultures in participating in a traditional tea ceremony, touring a Chinese school and making traditional egg rolls.

For more information, see: Experience China



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