Directors’ Retreat 2014: Cape Cod

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The Putney Barn Team is back and ready for summer 2015 after our annual directors’ retreat  this year in Chatham, Massachusetts, on beautiful Cape Cod. The relaxing ambiance of the harbor served as the perfect backdrop for an amazing three days getting to know new members of our team, reviewing this past summer’s student travel programs, and brainstorming exciting new ideas for next summer. After group meetings in the New England sunshine, we found some time in the twilight hours to take kayak and boat rides, forming new friendships with local seals and horseshoe crabs. Others found some free time to bike or jog along the shoreline and enjoy the gorgeous ocean views.

The Putney Barn is ready for another great year

The Putney Barn is ready for another great year

After long days of hard work, soaking up a breathtaking sunset with good friends and delicious food reminded us of how lucky we are to have such an amazing team of passionate co-workers here at the Barn. We’re excited to hit the ground running back in Vermont in preparation for another successful season. Give us a call, send us an e-mail, and get pumped for summer 2015!

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Songs from Rwanda: Student Connects Through Music

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This past spring, we featured a project by Chris Zaro, a rising senior at Flintridge Preparatory School and an alum of our summer public health program in Rwanda, on our blog. Chris wrote four different songs inspired by his experiences at the AVEH Umurerwa center for students with disabilities. Each song focused on a Rwandan with whom he connected that summer. Take a look at that post for Chris’s explanation of his project and the lyrics the songs as well. Below, you can listen to the finished product and donate to the cause. According to Chris, “The purpose of the album is to help eradicate the stigma that surrounds mental and physical disabilities, bridge cultures, and exemplify the fantastic beauty of children. All donations are optional, 100% of which will go to AVEH Umurerwa, a non-profit in Nyamata, Rwanda, that not only gives direct aid to children with mental and physical disabilities but also works within communities to eradicate the strong stigma surrounding mental illness.”

We’re proud to call Chris and alumni and inspired by his work!

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Head to the eastern city of  Colmar with high school students on our language immersion program in France. This blog post details their experiences with their homestay families along the border between France and Germany.  

We are just finishing our week of homestays with our French brothers and sisters in the beautiful Vosges mountains in Alsace, on the German border. We are each tucked away with families living around the adorable little city of Colmar. This heavily Germanic region has a completely different feel from any of the regions we have been to so far — coastal Brittany, regal Loire, dazzling Paris. The little city here is a maze of cobblestone lanes with overhanging pastel-colored Renaissance houses with big timber frames and glazed tile roofs. The waitresses in traditional restaurants wear dirndels, and the bakeries have large racks of twisted pretzels next to the normal baguettes. It’s like we’re in another country altogether. In fact, some might argue that Alsace is not really France or Germany.

Colmar France

La Petite Venise canal in Colmar.

The families have been extremely warm and welcoming, and we surprised ourselves with how easily we started chatting with our new French friends!

(The leaders, James and Susannah, were bursting with pride seeing the happy, boisterous, fully integrated group of French and Americans, chatting as if they were long friends. The students have more confidence and ease than they imagined possible at the start of our journey. The changes are simply remarkable.)

On Friday, the entire group of French and American brothers and sisters headed out together for an excursion. Our morning was somber: we took a guided tour of the Struthof concentration camp, high in the hills above Colmar. It was powerful, serious, and the French brothers and sisters kindly helped explain some of the context when the vocabulary of the guide got hard.

In the afternoon the mood lightened significantly and we visited the towering Chateau Haut Koenisgsbourg, high in the Vosges mountains. So different from the ornate, feminine, dreamy castles of the Loire, this was a solid, squat, fortified castle on the peak of a mountain overlooking the entire valley. The view was magnificent.

Colmar France Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg

Panoramic shot of the Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg.

High School Language Trip France

The group!

Yesterday we had another outing together to Strasbourg, the major city in the region. We were privileged enough to get a private visit to the Conseil D’Europe, the international governing body that works to protect the fundamental rights of 48 European countries, and promotes democratic ideals. We sat in the main assembly room, and spoke with a French representative about this organization’s important work.

Picture time at the Conseil d’Europe.

Picture time at the Conseil d’Europe.

In the afternoon we explored the bustling city center of Strasbourg, which is essentially an island within branches of the River Ill. At the center towers the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, and the picturesque Petite France neighborhood is filled with flower-lined courts and tiny quaint shops. We enjoyed ice cream cones, then explored with our French friends.

Tomorrow we have to say goodbye to our families, but we are already making plans to keep in touch.

Onward to Aix, the vibrant cultural capital of Provence!

— James and Susannah

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Homestays and Service in Costa Rica

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Spend some time with high school students from our summer community service program in Costa Rica by reading this blog excerpt featuring student writing. The group recaps their homestay experiences and their efforts to finish their volunteer projects in the Costa Rican community.


Over the past few days we have been immersed in the colorful culture of Costa Rica. On Thursday, we participated in a fun-filled dance-fest with the local youth, which was a wonderful bonding experience for everyone. In addition to the bailando (dancing), there were delicious home-made brownies and a ukulele sing-along.

Friday marked the beginning of our individual homestay experiences. Every person was selected to stay at the home of one of the local families in San José de Rivas for two nights. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with the families of the village, and everyone had a positive experience. The families were extremely generous and welcoming to every student, making each one feel at home. They shared their meals, gave us real beds to sleep in, treated us as one of their own, and were very patient when it came to communicating en español. In general, everyone agrees that his or her Spanish was greatly improved after the homestays and is grateful to have had the opportunity. We all found that by talking to our homestay families and watching movies in Spanish, our vocabularies expanded a great deal. In addition to Spanish, many of us also learned new recipes from our host-mothers, and we are eager to try them out when we return home!

Eleanor and her host-brother, Jafet.

Eleanor and her host-brother, Jafet.

After two wonderful days of being completely immersed in the daily life of the local families, we all came together on Sunday to make tamales as a community. First, the president of the town helped us gather banana leaves to wrap the tamales in, and then we spent the next few hours chopping vegetables and socializing with the women and children who were making them. The finished product was muy delicioso!

Two of the local ticas, Raquel and Milady, and two of our students, Katherine and Amanda, work together to make tamales!

Two of the local ticas, Raquel and Milady, and two of our students, Katherine and Amanda, work together to make tamales!

Two of the local ticas, Raquel and Milady, and two of our students, Katherine and Amanda, work together to make tamales!

As for our continued construction work, we have finished the work on the church and have made great progress building the outdoor kitchen. We only have a few more work days left so we are going to make the most of them and do as much as we can to help the community before we go.

Callie removing nails from the unfinished church walls.

Callie removing nails from the unfinished church walls.

The church with newly furnished walls.

The church with newly furnished walls.

In addition to our work on construction, individual projects have taken off as well, such as the mural on the community center pictured below.

Matthew and Tywone working on the mural.

Matthew and Tywone working on the mural.

Now we are off for a quick trip to the beach before our last week in San José de Rivas.

¡Hasta luego!

— Nelson, Katherine, and Eleanor

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Travels in the Australian Outback

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Explore the Australian outback alongside our summer program in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji! Although the group has since moved on, we love this update from their travels and thought we’d share it with the Putney Student Travel community. Enjoy!

So much has happened since we last blogged! We’ve had many milestones in the group: first time sleeping outside, under the stars; first time seeing the sunrise; first time eating kangaroo, and so much more. We had an incredible time in the Outback but everyone is so excited to get back to Sydney and get the dust off ourselves and our clothes!

High School Hiking Trip Australia

The first day in the Outback was a jam-packed one. We landed in Alice Springs and our amazing guide for the next few days, Katie, met us at baggage claim. We soon learned that Katie is actually a Kiwi from New Zealand but has been living in Alice Springs for the past four years. We made a note to get some advice on New Zealand before leaving her in a few days. Katie walked us outside to her massive eight-wheel Outback truck (with attached trailer for baggage), which was to be our home for the next few days. We piled in and she gave us an overview of our itinerary. We learned that the Outback is huge and, though we were going to see several amazing sights, we would have to drive a decent distance to see it all.

Wildlife Excursion Teen Travel Australia

Our first drive was a mere 1.5 hours and brought us to Oak Valley where our Aboriginal host, Loy, met us for lunch. After lunch Loy took us on a tour of her family’s land and showed us some plants used for bush medicine. We also saw some rock art in one of the caves there. One of the highlights of her talk was about her “totem animal,” which is a bit like her “spirit animal.” Everyone was so intrigued with the culture and the meaning of totem animals. Following Loy’s talk, we went back to our little camp site, on her property, and started a fire. Katie gave a little tutorial on how to set up our “swags” (an Australian type of sleep sack consisting of padding, a sheet set, sleeping bag, blanket, and pillow all wrapped up in a canvas sack). We positioned our swags around the campfire to keep warm and after dinner we were eager to climb in. This campsite was the most rustic of all the places we stayed and many of us were worried about sleeping outside and fending off critters both big and small. But Katie assured us we would be safe and, aside from the hilariously intense moo-ing of cows nearby, we didn’t come across any wild animals!

Teen Camping Trip Australia Outback

We woke up the next morning to Katie restarting the fire and the sun coming up. We all shouted a “Happy Birthday” to Michael and ended up celebrating the following night with banana cake and sparklers. Though it was very cold that morning, we were all cozy in our swags and didn’t want to get out. But Katie said we had to get moving in order to see everything we wanted to see. Our next drive was on a very bumpy four-wheel drive road where we buckled our seat belts and enjoyed the amazing Outback views. We stopped a few times for bathroom breaks and to stretch our legs but in total we drove about 3.5 hours to another Aboriginal community called Wallace Rockhole. There we met Lia, our Aboriginal guide for the day who took us on a little walk up into a canyon and then set up an Aboriginal painting tutorial for us. We all tried our hand at painting in the Aboriginal style (using a chopstick-type implement to make dots with). We also got a snack of sauteed kangaroo meat — free-range, organic, and humanely-killed — and damper, a type of locally-made bread, served with whipped cream. We slept in the Wallace Rockhole community that night and were thankful that the cows hadn’t followed us there.

After another night under the stars, we woke up, rolled up our swags, and boarded the bus for Kings Canyon. There we hiked one of Katie’s favorite trails in Australia, starting with a short but very steep climb up to the top of the canyon. Katie gave us some great information on the flora and fauna of the area, as well as background on how the canyon was formed. Along our hike we saw some incredible cliff views, yelled some echoes, and took some really fun group photos. Halfway through the hike we landed in the “Garden of Eden,” a little shady oasis in the middle of the canyon. Katie gave us a small snack and we all took some quiet time to let the beauty soak in. That night we stayed at Kings Creek Station where we soon discovered a novelty — tents! Most of us chose to sleep in the tent that night for extra warmth and we all slept well.

Student Travel Group Australian Outback

Our last full day in the Outback brought us to Kata Tjuta, which is the rock formation next to Uluru. This site is actually, in some ways, more sacred than Uluru, but not as popular. We did a short hike to a scenic overlook while Katie gave us information on Aboriginal life and the importance of this sight. We learned about the geologic events that formed Uluru and Kata Tjuta and saw fossils from when the area was under water. Because this was our last night in the Outback, after dinner we put Katie on the hot seat and everyone asked her all sorts of questions about her life in Australia and her childhood growing up in New Zealand. We were sad that this was our last night with her, but glad to get to know her better.

Our final stop in the Outback was Uluru. We woke up at 6 a.m. and had a quick bite of breakfast before getting on the bus to see the sunrise at Uluru. We were the only group there, watching the sun peak out from behind the horizon line. We sang some Lion King songs (mostly just “Circle of Life”) to help keep us warm and took some great pictures with Uluru in the background. Our hike around Uluru started just after that. Blake and Becca had the students walk in staggered one minute sections so that everyone could walk silently and take in the beauty and spirit of Uluru. Everyone was really excited about this and some said it was the highlight of the trip so far. We walked all 10 kilometers around the base of Uluru and then met up with Katie at the beginning/end. Katie showed us a sign in front of the infamous “Climb” of Uluru which is a place where people climb up the rock using handrails that were installed in the 1960s before Uluru was returned back to the Aboriginal people and became a protected sight. Because many people come to Uluru to do the “Climb,” the park cannot yet close the attraction until they create another source of tourism, and therefore funds. We were lucky to have Katie there who told us all about why we should not do the “Climb” and how it is disrespectful to the Aboriginal cultures and the groups of people whose land sits under Uluru. Though there were many people doing the “Climb,” we were glad not to and happy to know that we were doing the right thing. After Uluru we had a quick lunch and then Katie dropped us off at the airport. We all gave her hugs and exchanged contact information. We will miss her but we all are glad to be de-dusting ourselves at the hotel in Sydney. After five days in the Outback, a shower and a real bed go a very long way!

We have a full day in Sydney today, where we will check out the Opera House, Manly Beach, and see a rugby game in Sydney’s stadium. Go Roosters! Tomorrow we are heading up north to start our sailing adventure from Hamilton Island. More to come soon but until then … Cheers, mate!

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Summer Camp with Community Service Dominica

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Join in on Summer Fun Camp, the camp that the students on our summer community service program in Dominica have set up for local Dominican children. Check out some photos from camp activities and learn a bit about Dominican cuisine as well!

Summer Fun Camp has been rolling along, with our group experiencing increased confidence and success. More importantly, they’ve become closer with the kids. With each new activity and game, a bond is strengthened, and a robust web of connections expands. The camp hasn’t been without its share of frustrations, but because of the caring relationships that have developed, with a startling intimacy in such a short period, the highlights will reign in our memories.

Volunteer-Dominica-High-School-Summer volunteer-community-service-dominica Teaching-English-Abroad-Summer

Our afternoons this week have been filled with (sometimes literal) tastes of Dominican culture, thanks to the unceasing generosity of our hosts. On Tuesday, we returned to Chaudiere Pool; but this time we were treated to delicious crayfish and crab (freshly caught with spears), river snails, and roasted plantains. The broth with the sea (well, river) food in it was glorious. After dinner that night, we played games and ate snacks with a local family. On Wednesday afternoon, we learned Creole songs and Dominican dances, and then took a lengthy scenic drive up the mountains along the Atlantic coast, stopping at boiling cold springs. The environment has been nothing short of sublime.

dominican-seafood dominican-cuisine dominican-barbeque community-service-dominica-teen-travel

But, of course, it’s the people we’ll miss the most. Our final full day tomorrow, when we have to say goodbye to everyone we’ve come to love, is sure to be bittersweet.

— Lou and Kelsey

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8 Steps to Building a House in Vietnam

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Build a house alongside students on our summer community service program in Vietnam by reading this excerpt from their blog. These 8 photos take you step-by-step through the process of building a “compassion house”, of which our group builds three each summer. 

Over the past three weeks, we’ve learned exactly how the locals build a home using only their hands, small tools, and simple materials such as sand, bricks, and cement. With their expertise guiding us, we’ve been able to contribute our labor to be a genuine part of this house-building process. We’ve tried to snap photos of each step along the way — below we present a series of panoramic photos of Site One, one of the three construction sites where the students have been working.

Community Service Site Vietnam

1. In the first few days, after we demolished the existing home, we used the broken pieces of rubble to fill the foundation.

Next, we covered the rubble with sand to fill and level the foundation.

2. Next, we covered the rubble with sand to fill and level the foundation.

Once the foundation was full and the cement base was set, we began to lay bricks.

3. Once the foundation was full and the cement base was set, we began to lay bricks.

The house grew taller as we moved from the ground onto scaffolding to continue laying bricks.

4. The house grew taller as we moved from the ground onto scaffolding to continue laying bricks.

Next step was adding the roof — this was done by the experienced local workers.

5. Next step was adding the roof — this was done by the experienced local workers.

With the brick-laying complete and the roof in place, we could begin to cover the brick walls with a smooth layer of cement. In this photo you can see where the upper part of the front walls have been plastered.

6. With the brick-laying complete and the roof in place, we could begin to cover the brick walls with a smooth layer of cement. In this photo you can see where the upper part of the front walls have been plastered.

Eventually, all the interior walls were plastered and received a layer of primer to prep them for some color.

7. Eventually, all the interior walls were plastered and received a layer of primer to prep them for some color.

Last step was the paint — this family chose a mint green!

8. Last step was the paint — this family chose a mint green!

A few more remaining touches will be added after we depart: plaster and paint on the side walls, as well as some large tiles for the floor of the house. The local workers should be able to complete most of this work over the next few days, and the family of five will be ready to move in next week! We visited all three sites yesterday to present each family with a housewarming gift and to bid farewell to the hospitable locals who have kindly fed us lunch each day in their homes. Many of the children who live nearby were also present to say goodbye and have one last informal language exchange with the Putney students! In the evening, a final ceremony with the local government youth union included speeches, some gifts as tokens of their appreciation for the Putney students, and some fun song and dance! Today we are headed north (via Hoi An for lunch and Da Nang for a flight), arriving in Hanoi late this evening. Hard to believe that we will be flying home in just five days!

Until soon,

Community Service Vietnam leaders Jenn and Cam

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Travels in South Bohemia

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Explore Bohemia alongside students on our high school summer writing program in Prague through this excerpt from their summer blog. The group is currently spending some time in the countryside with epic fantasy writer Brian Staveley (featured here in a previous blog post). 

The Writing in Prague students arrived by bus to Schlosshotel Zdíkov, the restored 14th-century hunting estate we are lucky enough to call home for a few days while we explore South Bohemia. After we arrived, our invited guest writer Brian Staveley led the group in an exercise that focused on the origins of modern English and the informed choices we make when selecting words for our writing.

high school students in summer writing workshop

Brian Staveley leads our group in an exercise in the garden of our hotel in Zdíkov. (Photo: Bridget L.)

teen writers workshop in czech republic

Madeline, Margo, Rachel, and Anna. (Photo: Bridget L.)

Author Brian Staveley

Brian Staveley leads our group in an exercise in the garden of our hotel in Zdíkov. (Photo: Bridget L.)

student writing on summer program abroad

Alex writes intensely. (Photo: Bridget L.)

High School student reading her writing

Rachel shares some work with the group. (Photo: Bridget L.)

summer writing program for teens

Caroline and Daly at Brian’s talk. (Photo: Bridget L.)

After a delicious lunch at the hotel (including some cake made from locally gathered wild blueberries!), we set out for some adventure. Most of the group headed to Kemp Rohanov, a lovely swimming hole well patronized by locals, to take a dip and do some reading and writing.

A few of us started a hike from the village of Javorník that eventually took us to meet up with the group at Rohanov. We trekked up to an observation tower with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, walked through the forest, and met some very kind people along the way.

students hiking in south bohemia

Olivia and Madeline hiking in South Bohemia. (Photo: Bridget L.)

hiking Javornik Mountain

Madeline, Olivia, Brian, and Annie hanging out at Javorník Mountain. (Photo: Bridget L.)

We returned to our residence for a fun, medieval-themed “Knight’s Feast,” and then headed off to bed, tired but happy after a full day.

More to come!

— Annie, Matt, and Henk

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Summer Begins: Community Service Costa Rica

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Summer has officially begun! Several of our groups have touched down in their program destinations, including our first Costa Rica community service program. Check out this excerpt from their first blog post, and get excited for a summer of wonderful stories from around the world.

The chicos have arrived in Costa Rica! After a long day of travel we headed to the beach, where we spent two nights getting to know each other, playing on the beach, taking salsa lessons, and watching Costa Rica make history in the World Cup! Taking the scenic route, we made our way to our village where we were greeted enthusiastically by the smiling faces of our new neighbors. We had a Bienvenida (Welcomingparty at the school where we will be working on our main project, which included introductions by the kids to the community, food, drinks, and the thunderous cracking of a piñata that sent kids scrambling for sweets.

Community Service Work in Costa Rica

The local Boy and Girl Scout groups have been helping us work on our projects at the school.

During our first few days in the village we turned our simple living space into a home, picked fresh mangoes from the trees behind our house, scrimmaged some ticos in a soccer game, and began our construction of a fence and garden for the local school. The group has already formed many friendships with the plethora of kids who stop by our house on a daily basis and has made significant progress on our projects in just a few short days.

Until next time, Pura Vida!

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Teen Travel Advice from Summer Program Alumni

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Each year, we ask alumni of our middle school and high school summer travel programs to offer some words of advice for future Putney Student Travel students. What would you tell high schoolers who are about to embark on their first teen summer program abroad? Here are some of our favorite responses from the past year. Check out last year’s post for even more wise words!

High School Volunteer on Community Service Program in Vietnam

Alanna Jamner, Community Service Vietnam and Global Awareness in Action Rwanda.

“For starters, GO!! Choose a location and a project that excites you, and get ready to expand your world! My second piece of advice is to be adventurous and never say no to an opportunity that arises. Some of my most memorable experiences have occurred when I took a chance, so while you are away do not be lame- live a little! Finally, talk to locals. Find a way to make a connection to someone and to learn about them. Who knows, you could meet a 10-year-old girl who ends up changing your life!”

- Alanna Jamner, Community Service Vietnam and Global Awareness in Action Cambodia


Evan has led programs in Costa Rica and Peru.

“Start exploring early and often.  You’re already on the right track if you’re planning to join a Putney summer program.  Push yourself to get out of that comfort zone on your trip.  You’ll be surprised by what you find out about yourself and the people around you.”

-Evan Ross-Miller, Community Service Costa Rica and Community Service Peru veteran leader

high school volunteer in ecuador south america

Katherine Corell, Community Service Ecuador.

“You have to be open, which is one of the hardest things to be. You have to be open to meeting new people, trying new things, and stepping out of your comfort zone. Just say yes – say yes to trying the strange food your host family offers you, say yes to taking a long hike even though you may be exhausted from a day of work, and say yes to any opportunity offered to you because it’s in these moments that you choose to say yes and step out of your comfort zone that you get to have those life-changing moments that you hear people talk about. Take a chance and just go for it. I know it sounds cliché and you’re thinking that this program is just something fun to do during the summer and a good thing to write about for a college essay, because this time last year I was thinking the same thing. But if you let it be, this program can be so much more.  This is your chance to do something that matters and you can make as much or as little out of this opportunity as you want, and I desperately want y’all to make the most – but you have to be willing to go for it.”

-Katherine Correll, Community Service Ecuador


Hannah Nohstadt, Community Service Peru.

“⁃ Before you choose a program, make sure you are choosing it for the right reasons! When and if you choose to go on a community service trip, realize that it is hard work and you need to be ready for action from day one to the final day!
 Make sure to pack everything Putney has given you for the packing list! It’s there for a reason!
⁃ Make sure to start off right with group! Don’t be afraid to be yourself and start creating a close bond with the other students as soon as you see them!
⁃ Always do what you can do for others.  Be friendly.  Be generous. Be the best YOU!”

-Hannah Nohstadt, Community Service Peru

travel writing programs for teens

Writing instructor and renowned travel writer Alden Jones, Pre-College and Community Service veteran leader.

“For students preparing for their first travel experience abroad, you probably know what my primary advice will be: Get dirty; be uncomfortable; put yourself out there! Always remember that you will leave an impression about your culture wherever you go, so be thoughtful about that. And beware, because once you travel abroad in a meaningful way, wanderlust has a way of working its way into your bones…you may never be able to stop.”

-Alden Jones, Pre-College Summer Program Writing Instructor

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