Saturday, April 21
We arrived safely in Mexico City, and our students were welcomed at the airport by their host families with excited screams, hugs, posters and flowers. A warm welcome awaited us in the Kipling school gym, which was decorated with balloons, U.S. and Mexican flags and a feast. We were treated to freshly made tacos, all kinds of Mexican candy and a beautiful cake frosted and decorated with both the Kipling and Stevens school logos.
The weather was warm and the students spent time together, playing soccer outside and basketball in the school’s gym. Some of our students’ host families were planning to take them on a tour of the city this evening and all of our families are excited for the plans they’ve made for tomorrow! Stevens students and their hosts will spend the day enjoying a variety of fun cultural experiences. Tomorrow promises to be a wonderful day for everyone, and hopefully the students will get some rest tonight.
Saturday, April 29
After an exciting week of adventures, activities and culture, students met at the Kipling School to say their goodbyes to their host families and students after a fantastic week together. Many tears were shed as students realized how profoundly the exchange program has impacted them.
We loaded the bases and headed to the airport. Some students sung on the bus to celebrate the experience while others stared quietly out the window thinking about their time in Mexico and wishing they could stay longer.
We are thankful to the Kipling families for taking fantastic care of our 8th graders this week and to the Kipling faculty and administration for their attention, support and love. It has been a truly inspiring week. Finally, thank you to the students who demonstrated themselves as mature, kind and thoughtful citizens, worked hard to take care of one another, and opened their hearts to Mexico and their Kipling School family.
Friday, April 28
The students arrived this morning and attended their last classes with their Kipling match. Then we had a closing assembly where we watched a video of photos put to music that encapsulate the entire experience since the Kipling students arrived in New Jersey.
Today is "el dia de los ninos" or children's day in Mexico. In honor of this day, the entire middle school had a huge carnival that our students were able to participate in. You will see from the photos that part of it was using colored powder to have some messy fun! Before we left, all of the students from the Stevens and Kipling schools did a reflection activity where they wrote about what assumptions they had about their exchange student's country, people, and culture that have now changed as a result of this exchange. They also reflected about how they have grown as individuals. Finally we asked students for feedback about what they enjoyed most, what they would change about the program, and what we can improve. We were really moved by their authentic comments that we look forward to sharing with you.
Our students were dismissed at 1 PM and had authentic lunches with their family and friends. Following this students preparing to attend this year's special farewell party, a quincienera for one of our students turning 15. The students have had a wonderful time experiencing culture!
Tomorrow morning we will meet at the Kipling School at 9 AM where students will say their goodbyes before we depart for the airport in Mexico City.
This week has been filled with growth, learning, and a lifetime of memories. Our students have handled themselves with integrity and grace and all of the chaperones are really proud of them.
Thursday, April 27
Our day started with a bus ride to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a major Catholic shrine in the outskirts of Mexico City. In 1999, the shrine became the most-visited Catholic shrine in the world. We broke up in small groups and visited the ornate new and old Basilicas. Our Lady of Guadalupe underpins the faith of Catholics in Mexico and Latin America and she has been recognised as patron saint of Mexico City since 1737. Students visited the different churches, heard some singing inside and climbed up the steps to the beautiful gardens. They also saw many different groups dressed in traditional clothes of the different regions of Mexico who had come to pay their respects.
We then returned to school for a lunch of soup and flautas that the school had prepared for us. After a little rest, we were back on the bus to visit the girls' orphanage. The school had prepared special piñatas for the girls. It was a steep climb up to the orphanage where the students singing a song warmly welcomed us. There were girls of all different ages. These girls have no families but one another. The breaking of the piñatas was very exciting for them and our students cheered as the girls tried to break them. Our students then spent very special time playing card games with them, threading beads, talking to them, pushing them on the swings and spending memorable moments with them. Our students were so wonderful in how they interacted with these girls and the time and attention they gave to each one them. It was a very fulfilling afternoon and our students are bringing back wonderful memories of their time with the girls. We are so proud of them, the joy they brought to these girls was invaluable.
Wednesday, April 26
After a day of classes yesterday, we were out exploring the city today. We started the morning by visiting the Chapultepec Castle on top of Chapultepec Hill. It is located in the middle of the Chapultepec Park in Mexico City at a height of 2,325 meters above sea level. The site of the hill was a sacred place for Aztecs and throughout history the buildings have served different purposes, including Imperial residence, Presidential home and at present, the National Museum of History. The students enjoyed seeing the beautiful murals, self-portraits and the different rooms that have been preserved with their original architecture and furniture.
After a snack break, we headed down the hill to the world famous Anthropology Museum. On the way we were entertained by some acrobatic performers that represented the four cardinal points and who spun from a very high pole, spinning 13 rounds representing the 52 weeks of the year!
At the Anthropology museum, students and their hosts in groups went to the cafeteria for a relaxing lunch before beginning their exploration of the museum. The students were assigned to find the god that they had researched with the goal of reporting their findings to the whole group in addition to four new things they learned. In small groups, students visited the different rooms as well as outdoor areas that are replicas of ancient civilisations. The museum contains significant archaeological and anthropological artefacts such as the Stone of the Sun and Aztec Xochipilli statue.
It was a culturally rich day and the students are now all with their host families doing different activities that the families had organized. Tomorrow we will head to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and visit a girls’ orphanage for a service-learning project.
Tuesday, April 25
Students arrived bright and early for a 7:00 a.m. school day start at the Kipling School. Students followed their exchange student's class schedules, attending classes in Math, PE, History, and Literature all taught in Spanish as well as the students' English class. We are so proud of our students for introducing themselves and participating in class activities, such as completing graphing assignments in math or learning about African History.
In History class, students in the exchange program worked in groups to create skits that represented the legends about the role of the volcanoes Popocatepetl (the smoking mountain) and Iztaccihuatl (white woman in Nahuatl, sometimes called the Mujer Dormida or "sleeping woman" in Spanish), which overlook the Valley of Mexico. Students re-enacted various myths explaining their existence. Finally, Stevens students ended their school day by discussing (and listening to) the Mexican monuments they had researched in Spanish. Our 8th graders also answered questions asked by professors and other students.
Students spent the evening with their host families and friends further connecting and experiencing Mexican routines and culture. Tomorrow we are off to see the Castle of Chapultepec and the famous Anthropology Museum!
Monday, April 24
It was a crisp Monday morning as Kipling kindergarten through 12th grade students assembled on the outside courts for an all-school assembly. Our students were gathered excitedly together. The chaperones and the students were welcomed with claps and smiles. As the band played, the student officers marched solemnly across the playground bearing the Mexican flag. To the singing of the Mexican national anthem, the flag was hoisted and as it unfurled, a sense of pride and respect descended, pervading the air. Sergio addressed the whole school, with great pride, in Spanish and thanked everyone for their warm welcome and tremendous hospitality.
Soon after, two coach buses filled up to take the students on the much-awaited trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacan. Once at the amazing historical site of the pyramids, the students were told about how in ancient times, the people worked with the obsidian rock. Students learned about the way people used to live here and worship their gods. Wall paintings brought some of this alive for the students. Our students happily climbed both the sun and the moon pyramid.
Lunch consisted of delicious Mexican food – sopa de tortilla or consome de pollo. This was followed by a choice of carne asada (fried steak) or pollo asado (fried chicken), quesadillas or enchiladas de mole. After a satisfying meal, we headed back on the coach bus to take us to school. The host families came to collect the students and everyone headed back for a good night's rest. Tomorrow we will spend the day at the school and our students will attend classes with their host students.
Sunday, April 23
It was a fun filled and culturally exciting day for all of our students today. The host families had planned wonderful outings for their visitors and our students spent the day getting to know their host families and visiting different places in and around the area. Our Mexican chaperones were regularly updating us with pictures of our students' smiling faces.
Some families went to Toluca Six Flags and Xochimilco. At Toluca they took a tour bus and visited the area, Cosmovitral Turibus. Others went to the Fridas Kahlo museum and toured the Coyacan, a beautiful region a just south of Mexico City. Some others experienced the Trajineras Canales music in Xochimilco. We will hear more about their day when we see them tomorrow.
They will be getting some rest this evening, as it will be an early start tomorrow at 7.00 a.m. Our day will start with an all-school assembly and then we will be off to see the pyramids of Teotihuacan.
Saturday, April 22
This morning at 5:30am with all of our students ready for their adventure, our 4 chaperone groups headed to the gate terminal where we had a thorough chat about expectations in Mexico, student conduct, accessing us as chaperones at anytime, and about the week's activities. Following this we were off! We had a seamless flight into Mexico City Airport and arrived 30 minutes early! Once students collected their luggage, we were greeted in the airport reception area by the host families carrying banners and applauding. It was so lovely to see and feel their warmth, joy and excitement for our arrival.
Host families drove students to the Kipling School where the families and school staff had a wonderful welcome celebration in their gymnasium, which is attached to an outdoor soccer turf. I mention this because after a short time eating everything from fruit, flautas, fajitas, salad, and dessert, the students showcased their sports skills! We also played a traditional Mexican piñata game where some of our students were blindfolded, we all chanted, and students broke the piñata with hundreds of pieces of candy pouring everywhere!
By 6pm, Kipling host families brought their children and Stevens match student home for a relaxing evening of getting to know one another and settling in. Tomorrow our students will be heading to various sites in large groups to experience a cultural taste of this beautiful country! We look forward to an amazing week and hope you enjoy today's photos!
Friday, April 15
Today was our last full day in Mexico. Students begin their day taking a science class in Spanish. Following this, the students headed to an underprivileged all-girls boarding school called Internado Guadalupano Catacoaya, where they brought a tremendous amount of supplies. We were welcomed by about 50 girls of various ages who sang songs about peace and love and welcomed us in Spanish with a speech. Following this we presented all of our supplies, and then students interacted with the girls for about half an hour, playing games and singing songs as well as getting to know them personally.
When we returned to the Kipling school, our students received awards for their participation in a variety of activities during the week. We then had a reflection where the students from both schools were asked to respond in writing about the following questions:
- What assumptions and perceptions did you have about the country you came to visit and about the people there?
- How has this exchange program changed and informed those perceptions?
- What have you learned about yourself as a result of the exchange program, and how did you challenge yourself?
- What advice would you give to students who participate in this exchange program in the future?
The end of the school day was very emotional as students realized that their time together was coming to an end. Before long, they were back together during the evening to have a going-away party at one of the host family's homes. Tomorrow morning we will be at the Kipling school at 9:00 am for goodbyes and then head to the airport. Our students have had a phenomenal time and have certainly grown as a result of the exchange program.
Thursday, April 14
Today we took our trip to the National Museum of Anthropology. Upon arriving, students first had a guided group tour to learn about the culture of different indigenous people of Mexico. Replicated and authentic historical artifacts that were over 20,000 years old helped students to further understand the cultural context and richness of Mexico. Small groups then visited large rooms that serve as replicas of ancient civilizations. They saw Mayan and Aztec ruins and learned about ancient use of the sun as related to the planned calendar and keeping time. Students were assigned to find the god that represents them (based on their birthday) and had to report back their findings.
Following this visit, students headed out on a double-decker tour bus of Mexico City. Over a month ago, students had been studying about and creating digital presentations of various famous monuments and areas of downtown. As a treat, the tour guide allowed many of our students to present from memory (and in Spanish) about their monument of study on the microphone to the entire bus! Students recited information they had learned about everything from the Monumento a la Revolución and and Monumento a la Independencia, to Reforma e Insurgentes, Fuente de Cibeles and Glorieta de Colón! Our students did a wonderful job speaking in Spanish, and we are so proud of them for taking this risk and leaving their comfort zone.
Tomorrow we look forward to our final day at the Kipling School where students will attend classes, do a community service project with a girls' boarding school, and have a reflection activity as we look back at our week together. How the time has flown! The evening will end with a goodbye being held at one of our host family's homes with music and great food. We look forward to a wonderful final evening.
Wednesday, April 13
Today students spent the day at the Kipling school engaged in a variety of fun activities and classes. We began the day by reflecting on our trip yesterday and gauging students' understanding of the pyramids and their cultural context and history. Next students prepared for a community service project taking place on Friday. They took inventory of the supplies they had brought to Mexico and discussed the girls' boarding school they would be visiting. Following this the students participated in art class where they decorated frames for a memorable photo action shot of the entire group.
After lunch, the group engaged in an Olympic sporting event where all Kipling and Steven students were broken up into four teams and played a variety of sports, including basketball, soccer and volleyball. The team with the most points after the entire competition won, and each team did phenomenally! Following this the students were dismissed to their host families for the evening.
Tomorrow we look forward to a tour bus ride of Mexico City and a visit to the National Museum of Anthropology. This museum is one of the national museums of Mexico and is the largest and most visited museum in the country. It is one of my favorite destinations, and I look forward to our students' experiences there.
Tuesday, April 12
This morning we traveled to the Teotihuacan pyramids where we spent the day learning about the history of the various structures, some of which are over 20,000 years old. We had the opportunity to climb the pyramids and our students did quite well! Following this we were able to visit some underground caves and learn about Aztec history related to various gods and forms of worship. Our tour guide, whose nickname was "Gorilla," did a fantastic job providing a deep historical context for understanding the pyramids and the area's history. The students were delighted to learn that he has also served as tour guide for famous stars such as Sting, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Katy Perry!
Following our trip, Gorilla invited us to his house where we had wonderful Mexican authentic food. Our students were exhausted at the end of the day and look forward to returning to the Kipling school tomorrow for a day of classes, athletics, and preparation for an exciting community service project later in the week. It's hard to believer we are halfway through our trip, and we can't wait to see what the next half will bring.
Monday, April 11
Stevens and Kipling students arrived at school this morning at 7:00 am and began with an all school welcome assembly including the national anthem, flag raising, speeches and music. I was excited to give a three minute speech in Spanish. After this, students gathered to study the legends and history of the pyramids (in anticipation of our trip tomorrow) by breaking into groups and re-enacting historical practices. This helped our students to gain some background knowledge that they would apply when we see and study the pyramids in person.
Following this, our students learned that a school platform through Google Classroom was available so that they could work on collaborative projects with their Mexico City counterparts for the remainder of the school year. The rest of the day included a technology class, recess, lunch, science, math, art, Spanish, English and social studies.
At the end of the day, chaperones checked in with students before they were dismissed with their host families. Tomorrow we are off to the pyramids!
Sunday, April 10
Today students spent the day with their host families getting to know them and visiting a variety of places with other host families. Some students went to the Frida and Diego Museums and toured Coyoacan, a beautiful region a little bit south of Mexico City. Others went to Xochimilco, an area where they rode boats and were able to buy crafts and other items from vendors who sailed right up to them! Other groups went to a soccer game, a ballet, the theater or to Chupultapec to see ancient castles. The Stevens chaperones and I had the opportunity to see a good number of the students today as we toured areas with some of the Kipling administration, and we shared in our 8th graders' excitement as we touched base with each student via text.
This evening our students have been told to get some rest because school begins tomorrow at 7:00 am! We look forward to a great Monday.
Saturday, April 9
This morning 8th graders arrived excitedly at the airport at 5:20 am, and before we knew it, we were departing to begin our cultural exchange adventure at the Kipling School in Mexico City! We arrived to a warm welcome of banners and cheers from Kipling parents and students. Next stop was the Kipling School where families and students had a huge celebration in honor of our arrival. Students played basketball and soccer, engaged in a pinata game, listened to music, had authentic floutas, papas fritas en spiras (spiraled french fries) and much more! Dessert consisted of a cake that was designed with our school logos. ¡Que delicioso!
Following a three-hour celebration, students headed to their exchange families' homes for a quiet and relaxing evening of unpacking, engaging with each other, enjoying a first meal together at home and preparing for a week full of fun, challenge and new experiences that will certainly expand our students' horizons. We look forward to an amazing week!