2013 Upper School Intersessions

Intersession is a one to two-week period in the spring in which the School’s normal routine is interrupted so that all students and faculty can participate in special projects. All Upper School students are required to participate each year. Intersession projects might involve community service, physical activity, arts activity, cultural or informational trips.

This year, students will participating in some incredible trips, including:

NY & DC: Immigration Past, Present, & Future
CRAGGING:  Clean Sites and Cleaner Lines

You can see full descriptions of the trips here: https://www.ssfs.org/upper/us_academics/intersession_descriptions_1213.pdf

Check this page throughout the week of March 18-22 for trip updates and photos! Updates will be posted most recent first.


Spring Break

Friends School Lisburn Visit:

lisburn1Last year, 15 Upper School students led by Ariel and I were hosted by the Friends School Lisburn near Belfast on our Ireland Intersession trip.  This Spring, it was our turn to return the favor.  8 students took time off their Spring Break to help host 39 students from Northern Ireland.  It was good craic (Gaelic for fun) for all.




First SSFS students led tours of our campus and small group icebreaker activities.


Next, we taught them Frazleerham and how to use our climbing wall.


Then we enjoyed a meal together.


Lastly, Lisburn students taught us a traditional Belfast song and Irish dance.


Some students had such a great time that they joined the Lisburn students as informal tour guides in DC the next day.  I know all of them will keep in touch on Facebook for years to come.  We hope this will be just the beginning of continued partnership between our schools.  Thanks to Bill Mena, Ian Hoch, Bim Schauffler, Kelsey Gaffigan, Anna Guo, Peipei Liu, Julia Hardt, Anna Mckay, Gibel Sowe, Sara Howard, and Rachna Bal for their help in making their visit such a success.

March 23

Spain’s Camino de Santiago Intersession
spain_march23_3It’s either the easiest job in the world or the hardest:  Meteorologist in Galicia.  We have been tickled day in and day out to watch the forecast on the nightly news for the following day.  Invariably, the weatherman shows a graphic over this region that includes a sun, a cloud, and raindrops.  Well, that seems to just about cover it, doesn’t it?  A thoughtful matriarch, Mother Nature continues to oblige.
So under another steady rain, we embarked Saturday morning on our remaining 20 kilometers bound for Santiago de Compostela.  Quickly the theoretical became real, as we marched one by one through each remaining hamlet — Pedrouzo, San Antón, Amenal –, past kilometer markers 20, 19, 18.   Noticeably more pilgrims merged with us, as yet another route — the Camino del Norte — connected with ours –, past San Paio and kilometer marker 11.  Along country lanes and forest paths, we all pressed onward together.
Reaching the town of Lavacolla, we giggled like young school children upon learning of its all too frank origins from our guide, Bruno — Lava Colas (Butt Washing) — ascribed this pragmatic name for its proximity to the holy site and pilgrims’ understandable desire to arrive clean and presentable after months on the dusty and dirty Camino.  Onward to Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy) whose monument, like any well-orchestrated crescendo, signals the end is near.
spain_march23_1With Santiago de Compostela now in plain sight.  The excitement grows palpable, as it’s all downhill from here following in the footsteps of millions of others before us, entering the city limits, drawn to the Plaza del Obradoiro where all routes converge, the Camino del Norte, the Camino Francés, The Camino Portugués, and the Vía de la Plata.  It is here, at kilometer marker 0, that we all suddenly stop walking, jaw-dropped before the impressively colossal Cathedral.  Our awe surrenders to such unadulterated joy and satisfaction for what we have accomplished together that it instantly manifests into each of us embracing one another.  It is a magical moment, one that if you are here is hard to describe and if you’re not is equally hard to appreciate.
After seven days of walking a total of 128 kilometers, today the Camino led us all the way to Santiago de Compostela.  Tomorrow our Way leads us home.
P.S.  Because our itinerary on Sunday results in our final checkout by noon, lack of reliable WiFi outside the hotel, and a subsequent overnight bus ride to Madrid in order to catch the first leg of our return flight home, please note that this will be our intersession’s final blog entry.  It is hoped that these modest efforts helped bring you just a little closer to us on our Way.


March 22

Photos sent from the Great British Pilgrimage Intersession:
Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross Station

Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross Station


Quaker Tapestry

Quaker Tapestry










Breakfast at the YHA York

Breakfast at the YHA York


Student on Tour in York

Student on Tour in York











In front of the YHA in London

In front of the YHA in London


Snow in Trafalgar Square

Snow in Trafalgar Square













Kathleen B from the West Virginia Service Intersession writes:
Yesterday, a group of us went to Logan High School. We all wanted to experience the  school, but they only had room for the 6 international students on the trip and a moral support buddy for each one. The international students were asked to prepare a bit of information (mostly history) about where they came from: Meano from South Africa, Zurum and Odunayo from Nigeria, Ariel from Democratic Republic of Congo, Naiomi from Ethiopia, Doori from Korea, and Ayo from Gambia.
We woke up at 6 in the morning just like a normal school day, but none of us had any idea what to expect. 12 seats were lined up onstage in their theater, and two or three classes came in at a time to listen to what we had to say. The students seemed really engaged and interested in these new cultures. We learned new facts about each other, and when Doori told them that in her school in Korea, the kids went to school from 7AM-10PM, everyone in the room gasped. They also asked a lot of questions about our school at home, and why we chose Logan, WV, out of every where we could have gone. The questions varied from good questions (“What was your first impression of Logan, WV?”), to not as good questions (“Are you smart?”), to some awkward questions (“Do you guys have boyfriends/ girlfriends?”). Some students even wanted pictures, numbers, and Instagram names from us. They were a great audience and laughed at the right times. At lunch, instead of ignoring us, the students sat, talked, and led us around the school.
At Logan high, there are few black students, Hispanic students, and no Asians. They don’t have the privilege of going to school with students from all over the world like we do at Sandy Spring, or even students of a wide variety of religions or races. This lack of experience might cause some of the students, and even teachers, to be closed-minded to people of other races, religions, and beliefs. Most people were friendly, but hopefully our presentation helped expand the views of those who were not as accepting. Even we had some previous assumptions about the WV teens that were eliminated after actually meeting them. Another thing that was different was the student/teacher relationship. A few of us asked where the bathroom was and one teacher pointed and then apologized because there were girls smoking in the bathroom. A few of us also witnessed a fight in the halls.
Overall, the visit to Logan High School was successfull because although we were there to inform them about different cultures, we learned a lot about their community as well. Many of the Logan teens expressed that they wanted to move away from Logan. They grew up in a much different community than most of us. Going to Logan High gave us perspective, and reminded us to be grateful to be given the opportunity to go to a school like Sandy Spring.
The Iron Chef Intersession group posts its final blog for the week:
iron_chef_march22Today was the last day of intersession, which meant it was time for the Iron Chef competition!
Yesterday the teams were assigned and learned that the secret ingredients would be carrots and ginger.  All five dishes (appetizer, main dish, vegetable, starch, and dessert) that each team made would need to have one or both of the ingredients.  Since we determined our menus yesterday, this morning we went grocery shopping!  Since both teams came in well under budget and finished shopping early, the group went to Starbucks for a little treat.  Back at school, it was time to unpack the groceries, set up the kitchens, and then eat lunch.
At 1 PM the battle began.  The two teams (Team Carrot and Team Ginger) went to work peeling, chopping, frying, and baking.  Then after about an hour or so, a surprise twist was added.   Each team had to choose an ingredient from the other kitchen they were not themselves using and make a dish incorporating it in 45 minutes – while continuing to make their five competition plates.  The challenge winner, Team Carrot, earned ten points to be added to their final score in the competition.
iron_chef2_march22 iron_chef3_march22At 4:30 the teams began moving their food to the dining hall to plate for the judging at 5 PM.  Each course was scored as on the Iron Chef America television show, with a maximum of 10 points for taste, 5 points for plating/presentation, and 5 points for originality.  In addition to the judges, friends, family members, and members of the school community also gathered.  Each team presented their food to the judges, and then shared it with the audience and other team.
Team Carrot made Mini Spring Rolls with Ginger Sauce, Shrimp Kabobs, Marinated Vegetable Salad, Vegetable Fried Rice, and Nutty Carrot Cake Bars.
Team Ginger’s menu was Moroccan Carrot Dip with Pita Bread, Salmon with Carrot and Ginger Vinaigrette, Carrot “Jeon,” Baby Arugula Salad with Carrot and Ginger Vinaigrette, and Gingerbread Whoopie Pies.
Both teams made terrific food, but, in the end, Team Ginger won.  Congratulations!
Spain’s Camino de Santiago Intersession
photo2In contrast to yesterday’s 11 hour marathon, today’s 20 kilometer hike from Arzúa to Rua seemed more like a stroll along rural paths and surfaced country lanes, through a series of vegetable patches, fields and oak groves, then pine and eucalyptus woods.  Beautifully verdant, Galicia doesn’t get this lush without rain.  Four times more than Manchester, England, it can rain upwards to 300 days per year in parts of this region!  Whoever coined, “The rains in Spain fall mainly on the plains” was…a dumb poet.
While the morning greeted us with steady showers, we agreed that walking the Camino dry would not feel as authentic.  Well-equipped, our group is grateful to its adherence to Cross Country Coach Barry Merritt’s longstanding claim that “there is no such thing as bad weather, only  inappropriate apparel.”  Continuing to be blessed by atypical Galician weather, the skies cleared before lunch and we arrived under sunshine to the bed-and-breakfast-charming Hotel O Pino before 4:00pm, earlier than any other day yet.  Our rewards: a hot shower, some precious personal time to decompress and/or reconnect electronically with loved ones back home, and even an indulgent Spanish siesta before dinner.
The mention of dinner demands a dedicated cultural sidebar on food in Spain.  Little has surprised us more than the heaping portion sizes exacerbated by three-course lunches and dinners (i.e., Primeros, Segundos and Dessert), each of the first two courses a meal unto itself.  Overwhelmed by the quantity served and the ensuing guilt for our inability to oblige, our guide, Bruno, explained that it remains a response to the end of the Franco regime and his austere policies.
From the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 to his death in 1975, Spain was ruled by Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the longest ruling dictator in European history, and from Galicia no less.  For nearly forty years, Franco’s rule brought with it a period of great austerity, including heavily regulated and rationed distribution of and accessibility to staples and comestibles.  In the wake of his death, and to this day, many local restaurants across rural Spain continue to overcompensate by providing their customers with a remarkably disproportionate amount of generosity.  Fascinating.  Fattening too.
Here are just a few of the Spanish and regional delicacies sampled thus far:
– Churros con Chocolate
– Pulpo a la Gallega
– Pimientos del Padrón
– Torta de Santiago
– Jamón Serrano y Jamón Ibérico
– Queso de Tetilla
– Caldo Gallego
– Tortilla Española
– Cuajado
– Natillas
The foodies among our readers are invited to research.
From food to fútbol.  Coincidentally, Spain hosts Finland tonight in a tune-up for the 2016 World Cup in Río de Janeiro, Brazil.  As a result of the game being played in Gijón, Spain, not too far from where we are (in the adjacent autonomous community of Asturias) there is a palpable excitement in the local air (or at least across the local airwaves).  So, “when in Rome” (you know what I mean), we have decided to immerse ourselves in this spectacle by watching the game after dinner in our hotel’s pub with the staff, other locals and pilgrims.
Tonight we cheer and chant like Spaniards.  Tomorrow we conclude our Way like pilgrims.


March 21

From the Silver Comet Biking Intersession:

Today we started out bike ride back to the starting point. We started our day with breakfast at the Huddle House. The people down here are extremely friendly and nice. Their always very interested in what were doing down south and wish us luck on our journey.

We bike 40 miles each day, and with each day the miles seem shorter and shorter. This leg of our journey includes many hills, and even though it’s very challenging, nothing is better than feeling accomplished once we reach the top of the hill and are rewarded with the ride back down.

This whole trip has been a very long and difficult journey, but it leaves you with an amazing feeling. Even though our butts are about to fall off and our legs are the sorest they have ever been, we are sad tomorrow is the last day.

From the DC/NYC Intersession:

Yesterday, we went to China Town and understood the situation of workers in China Town. The workers did not get paid much, and they did not get a fair amount of wages. Most of workers worked in restaurants. The law was only a benefit to the owners of these restaurants. The place we went was nice, but the meeting room was so hot, it made me fall asleep. The shopping in Soho and Times Square was fun, though I did not buy many goods. We took a long time for the baggage, and 7:00 is too early for me. I liked the trip!!

From Spain’s Camino de Santiago Intersession:
spain1Despite yesterday representing the midway point of our ten-day journey, we’ve understood since the itinerary was first shared that today, Day 6, with its 30 undulating kilometers separating Palas de Rei from Arzúa, would be our collective rite-of-passage.  While an indisputable hard test, success would mean that our destination of Santiago de Compostela would go from a distant dream to a tantalizing reality, leaving us only 34 kilometers away and two days to get there.  Driven by endeavor, today we put in “overtime,” as we were on the Camino for nearly 11 hours.
Undoubtedly, the Camino de Santiago has a defined target on which pilgrims are singularly focused.  However, the journey — that is the process — is often the most satisfying and revelatory part of any trek.  To say the least, there’s a lot to be learned along The Way.  In Quaker terms, eventually the way really does open. In our case, The Way has been opening.
spain3For example, the mundane seems exceptional in the wake of our long walks.  Food tastes better, a smile warms more, kindness is precious, a shower heals, rest is a reward, and sleep’s a gift.  Virtues, like gratitude and humility rise to the surface, just as perspective becomes clearer.
Among the rolling green landscape, dotted with farms, stonewalls and tiny Romanesque churches lies the town of Melide.  Here the main branch of the Camino Primitivo — the earliest of all the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela — merges with our route, the Camino Francés.
Understandably, the closer we get to Santiago de Compostela, the more pilgrims we encounter and the more friends we reconnect with, leapfrogging one another at our respective rest stops and in many cases staying at the same albergues and hostels.  Like characters in a great novel, here are just a few of the pilgrims with whom we’ve crossed paths…
  • spain2The Romanian Paralympic Javelin Champion with a prosthetic right leg riding the Camino in search of individual sponsorship via his website at Camino Solidario;
  • The self-proclaimed German Anarchist-Pacifist who goes by the name Tobias of the Flowers traveling away from the self-described “punk” he was towards the person he hopes to become, and doing so without money, but carrying his most powerful weapon: his heart;
  • The solitary but devout Puerto Rican Catholic walking every step of his Way most definitively not alone;
  • The mystic Mexican-American and his daughter;
  • The six Spanish gentlemen dressed in traditional pilgrim garb walking hypnotically in formation while repeating ad infinitum the rosary every step of their Way;
  • The eccentric Texan biking alone since last November from Norway through some of Europe’s great and nearly impassable peaks during the coldest winter months, because “why not?”;
  • The South African girlfriends in search of the perfect glass of wine and a little adventure;
  • The Canadian couple reconnecting with their two daughters;
  • The 76-year-old retired Australian naval officer healing in the wake of the end of his second marriage;
  • The chemotherapy patient in search of hope.
Not all of us are on Intersession, but we are all on our Way.
From students on the NYC/DC Immigration Experience Intersession:
  • Today is my first day in New York. It’s a really nice day, but I’m tired. I woke up at 6, and we left at around 7. After we arrived in New York, we just found a hotel. I like New York, it is a really big city. Also I learned a lot about immigrants. We took the subway to every place. The subway was old but looks another style. The most interesting thing is dancing. I learned how to dance today, also I can dance a little now. Tomorrow I will go shopping . I am very excited.
  • Today is the second day of the New York City trip. I was very excited about today.  It was awesome. Our group went to a Jewish restaurant for breakfast. I ordered a Greek cheese egg. It was tasty. Today is still windy. We were heading to the UN and we had to cross a couple blocks. We were freezing. Finally, we got to the UN Plaza. A lady named Jennifer gave us an introduction to immigration. She asked us to draw a timeline about our immigration experience.  We drew pictures about our experiences and shared with other. Each of us has a different experience.  There was a lecture from an immigration agency. The lady who gave the speech told us something about the immigration service.  After that, we got Japanese food for lunch. In the afternoon, we played a game about immigration.  We ended the immigration service with a lecture from UN refugee service. We also went to Times Square. We spent some time hanging around until dinner. After dinner, we watched a Broadway show called “Once.”  It was a great show. Today was a great day.
  • How can I feel so different from others after I visited the UN plaza? Maybe it’s because I was thinking too much. People usually consider me a great thinker. What we talked about was kind of related to the problems that I am facing right now. Segregations and discriminations, but mainly segregation.  I tried many ways to make our school more mixed. However,  I have failed many times and it really discouraged me in a way. Many people told me I totally failed; I would say I just found a hundred ways that won’t work, but I believe I am on the right track and all I have to do is keep trying. I think we all have to work on our social skills. I never really worried about making friends when I was in China. I was a good athlete and also I am a good student; people would come to me. In the U.S things are completely different. As an outsider you have to take the initiative, you can’t just sit there and wait for people to come to you, it will take forever. I think I have to use a quote here, someone once said: “People don’t tell you who you are, you tell them.” I really enjoyed the play that we watched. It was a love story called “Once.”  The play was quite interesting and funny. The play made my day. It made me forget all the pains and annoying things.


Howard Zuses checks in from the Great British Pilgrimage Intersession:

Our little (actually at 23 is not so small) group has passed the midpoint of our journey. We have been to the 1652 Country always the highlight for me. We spent a few quiet moments in the Quaker Burial Ground remembering Brook Moore whose ashes were scattered there on a previous Intersession. Our friend Tess (the warden) talked about the local Quaker history and our friend Nick came by to photograph us all after a short Meeting for Worship. We tore ourselves away after an al to brief visit and were off to the wind swept Firbank Fell to see where George Fox first urged Friends to let their lives speak. We closed out the day at Swarthmoor Hall the home of George Fox and Margaret Fell. The new Director Jane gave us a warm welcome and a team of local Friends helped show us through the historic sections of the house.
Tonight we are in York after a brief visit to Scotland and the city of Edinburgh. The Friends Meeting there provide a place to store our luggage, toilets and hot drinks (all important to weary travelers). Tomorrow we tour here and then head to London and the final days of our adventure.
In Peace,
Edinburgh Meeting

Edinburgh Meeting










Train ride along the North Sea

Train ride along the North Sea










Briggflats Meeting House

Briggflats Meeting House












From the Iron Chef Intersession, written by Wen Gu, Jialu Lin, and Emily Shi:

iron_chef1_march21 iron_chef2_march21Today is the fourth day of Iron Chef Intersession, and after meeting in the dorm lobby, we divided into four groups. The first two groups made original cheesecake and marble cheesecake since cheesecake needs more time to prepare, bake, and cool down. Once we put the cheesecake in the oven, we were not allowed to open it. After we were done, we moved all the equipment to the second floor. The other two groups worked on learning some of the mother sauces – béchamel and tomato sauces. While the tomato sauce simmered away, we sat and watched Food Network. Some of us who sat on the sofa fell asleep and once awake found that lunch was being prepared – salad with homemade vinaigrette, baked rigatoni with cheesy béchamel and prosciuttio, fresh pasta with the tomato sauce.  After the lunch, we had our delicious cheesecakes for dessert. Then we researched ingredients and prices for our  menus for the competition tomorrow. We decided the dishes and evaluated the budget.

The Historical Maryland Intersession reports:

Historic Maryland Service braves the elements! Wednesday on Solomon’s Island on a sunny day and Thursday freezing at the Shrine of St. Anthony.

historic_md3_march21 historic_md4_march21








historic_md2_march21 historic_md1_march21











March 20

Spain’s Camino de Santiago Intersession reports:

spain1_march20Waking to a thick fog, both meteorological and mental, few of us would have guessed that it would surrender by breakfast’s end to another glorious day.  Weather has a measurable effect on the spirit, and we remain blessed thus far to be uplifted by the inviting warmth of the sun.  Feeling the proverbial burn, the team arranged a morning stretch and massage following breakfast.

The beauty of Green Spain’s rolling landscape is so intoxicating that the accumulating physical toll appears almost to ambush you.  Through lush Galician countryside, today we walked 24 more bucolic kilometers, from Portomarín to our timber cabins in Palas de Rei.

Having reached the literal midway point of our shared adventure — Day 5 of 10 and kilometer 64 of 128 — something inspirational and gratifying has happened.  We have become a team: loyal to and concerned for one another while collectively driven to accomplish our goal.  Beyond good humor, the key ingredient that binds us together is the difficulty tied to the objective, as it’s precisely the challenge that makes what we’re doing special and worthwhile.  Perhaps this is in part what Maryland author John Barth meant in his acclaimed novel The Tidewater Tales when he wrote, “We will pay the price, but we will not count the cost.”  In other words, there are some things worth the sacrifice.  Our team has agreed that walking the Camino de Santiago is among them.  Tomorrow our Way continues.


Holly G., Abby B., and DJ P. report from the Iron Chef Intersession:

iron_chef3_march20iron_chef2_march20 iron_chef1_march20Today we became pastry chefs! First we watched chef Christopher prepare our lunch. We watched as he vigorously cut the fat off a lamb’s shoulder. He also cut up the largest carrot we all have ever seen, along with regular sized vegetables. He later introduced us to a small pasta called couscous. While he finished preparing our lunch, he sent us off into four groups to make dessert. We started with the Flourless Chocolate Torte and then later made Tangy Lemon Tartlette with Berries. Both of these pastries were very delicate and we needed to be precise with our measurements. We also tried to avoid  making scrambled eggs in our pastries which proved to be quite possible. We relaxed over a family style dinner waiting to reveal the pastries we created. For lunch we ate Tagine, a moroccan stew, that chef Christopher prepared. Finally it was time to eat the desserts we created. As chef Christopher’s’ assistant, Brian, brought our pastries to the table everyone let out a “whoa!” amazed at what we had done. It was delicious! After spending two days at Open Kitchen, we’ve learned many different cooking techniques and skills. Just remember to keep it simple and be precise.



The DC & NY Immigrants Intersession group went salsa dancing last night!














art_pyramid3_march20art_pyramid2_march20The Art Under the Pyramid Intersession reports:

Monday we made paper from scratch. It was messy, wet, and a lot of fun.

Tuesday we went to Visionary Art Museum and had an amazing dinner at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore.

Today we prepared our imagines and started the photo silk-screening process, and ate Sushi. The hearty ones took a walk in the woods.






March 19

The Silver Comet Intersession:

Rick Pfleeger writes, “Victory! We biked a total of 100 miles and reached the end of the Chief Ladiga bike trail. Today, the students enjoyed the beautiful weather in Alabama as they biked. Tomorrow we continue to bike eastward towards Georgia. It’s hard to believe the trip is already half-way over!”

silver_comet2_march19 silver_comet1_march19









Students on the West Virginia Service Intersession shared:

  • I really enjoyed digging, weeding, and planting. I had a lot of fun!!!!!!!!!
  • I enjoyed working together with everyone to finish the project; I especially enjoyed planting the mustard greens. As the weather became warmer, the time flew by as we talked, laughed, and finished our work. By the end of the day, we were impressed by the amount of work we had done.
  • Even though there were only five students on the job, we got a lot done in a short amount of time, while still having loads of fun.












Gospel Singing Solo by Natural Dennis

Gospel Singing Solo by Natural Dennis











Because it can be tough to celebrate a birthday away from home, we try our best to make birthdays special. For Julie Bae and Kathleen Bender, who share a birthday, their Intersession-week celebration meant flowers, two cakes, ice cream, homemade streamers, gifts, and singing.  Happy birthday to Julie and Kathleen, and thanks for spending your birthdays with us in West Virginia! ~Arial Vorhees


Spain’s Camino de Santiago Intersession

spain_march19Our trusty guide, Bruno, had shared with us that today’s walk from Sarria to Portomarín (Day 4) may be among the most beautiful of the entire pilgrimage (hard to believe following yesterday).  Having already passed our “warm-up” walks of Day 2 and 3, today would also be our longest to date — 21.5 km (though our longest trek will be 30 km on March 21st) — and, without the fallback of a minibus any longer, we were all understandably feeling as anxious as we were excited about the challenge ahead. Of course, not having available such a luxurious convenience makes the choice before us quite easy and singular; walk on. It’s really that simple…and it is what we each signed on for.  Moving forward gets us closer.  Or as DJ and Jalen coined, “Power Through.” It didn’t hurt that we had a picture perfect day — neither too hot nor too cold, and the sun accompanied us every step of the way.  So with one foot placed in front of the other we marched wherever the yellow arrows and scallop shells pointed, through verdant forests, grassy meadows, fertile orchards and simple stone-built hamlets scattered over a deeply rural landscape.  Along the way, off the beaten path, we were invited into a 12th Century chapel to rest our feet and take a load off our shoulders.  After sharing some details about its origins, and unbeknownst to us, the caretaker suddenly went to the altar and gave our group a private pilgrim’s blessing.  Accepting his invitation, Maddie even took to the altar herself to read aloud an English translation.  For us, it was a beautiful unplanned moment. We were all quite touched by the gentle gesture and gracious hospitality, though we are all noting that such acts of grace and civility appear to be the norm along the Camino.  After another heaping lunch which we happily “powered through” we pressed onward until reaching our destination. If a little weathered and weary, our collective feelings of accomplishment dwarfed our fatigue…and Portomarín makes quite a reward!  Perched on the banks of the Miño, one of Galicia’s great rivers, our accommodations in Portomarín, the Albergue Mirador — as its name “Lookout” indicates — gives us one of the loveliest picture postcard views of this slice of Galicia.  All the better at sunset, might I add.  We began this journey 128 km away from Santiago de Compostela.  Today we are 88.5 km away. Tomorrow we will walk on.

iron_chef_march19From the Iron Chef intersession, written by Carson Jarrell-Rourke, with assistance from Brenna Connell and Amelia Vignola:

Today, the Iron Chef Intersession began our journey to Virginia’s Open Kitchen by pointing out drivers who were texting–amongst other things. Naughty! Once we arrived at Open Kitchen, we jumped right in to knifing classes, which, contrary to its name, is not about stabbing people. After all, we are Quakers. We then were separated into four groups to make a feast of a lunch. This included herb-roasted chicken, creamy Parmesan polenta, grilled citrus adobe shrimp with pineapple salsa, and black bean and rice salad. The meals were delicious, and we got to experiment with plating for our upcoming Iron Chef competition.

After a soothing and button-bursting meal, we headed back to Maryland for some Yogiberry.

iron_chef2_march19Memorable Quotes:

“STEWART! Stop texting.”
“You smell good today.”
“I smell good every day.”
“When did you wash?”
“Jammin’ with Heather to some Kpop.”



From the 9th Grade Florida Keys Intersession:

fla_keys1_march19Greetings from the Florida Keys!

We are off to a great start! All groups have settled into their campsites and begun to explore the unique habitat here. Everyone woke up to the sound of a tropical rain shower this morning. Unlike in Maryland, rain storms in the Florida Keys pass through quickly. The students are having a blast and forming new bonds with their peers. They are eager to experience the upcoming activities.

We will see everyone on our return Friday evening!




Visitors the 1st evening in the Keys

Visitors the 1st evening in the Keys








The England/Quaker Pilgrimage Intersession sent along these photos, from the Bus in Bath, to the Caerphilly Castle Wales, and waiting on the platform. They took  5 trains in one day: Bath to Kendal!


















The Historical Maryland Intersession sent photos of the students at the museum, and working hard!




















March 18

From the Machu Picchu, Peru Intersession:


Here is our group in front of the Sacred Valley near Pisac. We arrived safely and are starting to feel better after adjusting to the altitude. Today we are exploring villages and markets and tomorrow we begin our hike. We also visited a local school.



We received two blogs/reflections from students about the first day on the DC & NY Immigrants Intersession, where they went to Catholic Charities and met with with a group of Ethiopian refugees, where they learned about the experiences of refugees and Asylees (those with asylum):

Omodele Durojaye writes: Today was interesting in many ways. To begin, we participated in a relationships course with refugees. The topic of discussion was parenting and discipline, and we talked about the ways our parents train us in decision making.  Yuze and I had the opportunity to speak with a man from Ethiopia who was at the beginner level in ESL, so we decided to spend time teaching him new vocabulary. In the process, we learned a little bit about his history, i.e. he has brothers and doesn’t usually eat breakfast! Some of us learned how hard it is to teach ESL to beginners even if it is just a basic word like “skip.” We ate lunch at Nando’s, a mixed African and Portuguese restaurant, and it was really good. After lunch, we came back into a workshop and talked with Alex from TASSC, an agency against torture. We listened to Carlos’s story about his migration to America after he was kidnapped and tortured in El Salvador. His story was very moving. Today was filled with new information about immigration, and it was fun.

immigration2_march18Yuze Le writes: It was great to talk to the people who work with refugees in downtown DC, and learn about the immigration process. People enter this country for diverse reasons. Some refugees came here seeking religious freedom; some refugees had to flee from their home land, because their life had been threatened due to their different political opinions. It is good to know that the government of the United States will provide financial support to these refugees for the first eight months in this country. Rex, Omedele and I gave an ESL lesson to a refugee from Ethiopia. Although his English was not fluent, he tried very hard and showed his passion about learning this new language. I look forward to the trip in New York and wish to learn more from different immigrants.

From Di: Today we went to Catholic Charities. We learned the definition of “refugee” and “asylee” and had the relationship class together. We discussed parenting and shared different principles of parenting of different people. Moreover, we met a refugee and shared his story. I feel sympathy for him. Today’s experience made me feel sad. Torture is a bad thing. People should not torture anyone. This is definitely illegal. We should help those people who are being tortured by other people and punish those people who are torturing other people.We should make a peaceful world.



From Spain’s Camino de Santiago Intersession

spain1_march18I don’t think any of us would have expected to travel through all four seasons in one day, but that is precisely what the magic of Day 3 along the Camino brought us in Green Spain. Our soundtrack continues to be Celtic music, as this area is so heavily influenced by its island ancestors.  very tavern we pass, restaurant we enter or store we peruse echoes with lilting harps and Irish flutes that rise and fall to the beat of syncopated drums, a perfect soundtrack to a stubborn clouded canvas in constant battle with the sun’s welcome penetrating rays. It all really comes together quite epically.

Following a lovely continental breakfast, our morning consisted of a walk about Villafranca del Bierzo.  Having arrived the night before, we strolled along the banks of the crystalline river that raced alongside our accommodations and whose rhythmic flow lulled us all to sleep the previous evening. Our guide, Bruno, led us up a steep ascent to a picturesque lookout of all the town, before we all boarded our minibus and pushed onward, westward.

Up and up we drove, switchbacking for the next forty minutes out of the valley and into the snow-line until reaching the summit at O’Cebreiro. Sprinkled with hobbit-like dwellings called Pollozas, this Tolkienesque mountaintop village is best known for its centerpiece, a lovely 12th Century Romanesque church that claims to house…The Holy Grail! Despite our best efforts, the monk on duty was no where to be found, so we couldn’t get in. Instead, we posed in front for a group photo.

spain2_march18From there we began a beautiful descent, walking our way out of the snow-line and cold through blossoming meadows, this time on the other side of the valley, and eventually, to our surprise, past palm trees until reaching Triacastella and “refueling.”  After lunch, we continued our way along the Camino through a Maryland-like landscape whose resemblance was comforting to the mind and warming to the soul. Upon reaching Samos, we roamed around the Benedictine monastery, one of the oldest in western Christendom, and then made our way by minibus to our evening’s respite, Sarria.

Upon arrival to Sarria’s Albergue Internacional, this evening we bid adieu to our “training wheels.” For these first three days we had the luxury of having access to our very own Rocinante, our trusted “steed” in the form of a comfortable minibus and its beloved driver Genaro.  From here on out, while our primary luggage will continue to get the royal treatment, by way of a luggage service, we no longer have the fortune of tagging along for the luxurious ride.

Today’s hiking totaled 12.7 km.  Tomorrow our pilgrimage begins in earnest, as we plan to walk the remaining 112 km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, starting with tomorrow’s 21.5 km stretch to Portomarín.  As the saying goes, “Buen camino.”


From the Iron Chef Intersession:

iron_chef_march18 iron_chef2_march18We started our morning by trying our hand at baking.  With an unlabeled recipe and one hour and fifteen minutes on the clock, we worked in groups to bake what turned out to be deluxe cupcakes:  Banana Split, Grasshopper Mint, Cookies ‘n’ Crème, and Red Velvet all with different frostings and decorations.

By 10:30 we’d tasted half of them, debriefed a bit about the process, and were on our way to a meeting with James Ricciuti, the owner of Ricciuti’s Italian Restaurant in Olney.

At Ricciuiti’s, we got a private tour of the tiny kitchen, prep area, and outdoor storage area.  We got to ask lots of questions and learned a lot about how restaurants run.  We were also treated to an amazing lunch where as a group, we may have tasted almost everything on the menu….twice.

iron_chef3_march18Back on campus, we were back in our cooking groups and each made one variation of a same recipe.  Even though we were still so incredibly full from lunch, another tasting was in order – oh we are soooo full! – to let us see what happens when just a ¼ teaspoon of an ingredient is left out.  We had to taste the final cupcakes as well and found that we actually did not like all of them.  Maybe because we were still ridiculously full…  Quotes from the day include:

  • What’s baking soda?
  • Don’t be afraid of salt.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Robert True is the guru of Swiss chard.
  • My stomach hurts….maybe because the five of us just ate enough for the whole table.
  • These are some irregular muffins.

So far, the group is getting along well and having a good time.  We are looking forward to heading off to Virginia for professional cooking classes tomorrow.


Photo sent from the Catalina Island Intersession:











From the West Virginia Intersession – written by Julie Bae, Natural Dennis, Zurum Okereke, Charlie Price, Danny Renbaum-Koss, Lizzie Benkart, Ilie Lichtenstein, and Madison Sultan at Head Start during the kids’ nap time:

Today some of us have been working with small children at Head Start while the rest of us have been clearing brush by the playground. When we all arrived, we realized just how different everything is from what we’re used to. The children and teachers all have such thick accents that we could hardly understand what they were saying, but eventually we each came to realize that they’re the same as we are. Danny and Charlie worked with special needs kids with autism and cerebral palsy, and although some kids were “fibbers and sock-stealers,” they were overall great group of kids. Zurum read “Clifford and the big storm” in his class, and he taught the children that they should all try to be heroes.  In another class, Madison, Ilie, and Lizzie played tag and dodgeball in the gym, trying to show the children how to share rather than fight during play-time. Some kids were a bit aggressive, trying to pull Zurum’s sweatpants down and hitting Natural with a checkerboard. Later today we’ll meet up with some local teens from the BAPS program and work with them at a soup kitchen. Even on this rainy day, we’re finding ways to be helpful!



March 17

spain_march17Spain’s Camino de Santiago Intersession: March 17th

Feeling rejuvenated from a well-earned night’s sleep in our wonderful hospedería in beautiful León, day three of our intersession marked the official start of our long walk westward with final destination of Santiago de Compostela. As such, and as the photo shows, in order to be “official” we first needed to become “pilgrims.” With our Pilgrim’s Passport in hand from the day before, today we were determined to choose our own scallop shell: symbol of the Camino de Santiago.

Our morning began with a short bus ride to historic Astorga, where we explored the town’s extensive Roman ruins. Exploited for gold, Astorga was chosen by the Roman’s for its critical location in the region. From the Legion walls and the Forum in honor of Octavius Augustus to the complexity of the bath house and sophisticated sewer system, Astorga serves as a powerful example of just how far west the Roman Empire reached. Equally interesting, but much more delicious, was the realization that Astorga happens also to be considered Spain’s chocolate capital.

Following a short transfer and stroll through the charming village of Castrillo de los Polvazares, one of Spain’s best preserved medieval villages, our first official walk on the Camino as pilgrims began on countryside tracks. Drawn by the traditional courteous “buen camino” of a gentle old man seated on a stool outside his workshop and home, we decided to turn around and purchase our scallop shell necklaces from him rather than at some store in town, having noticed his modest display hanging humbly from some hooks. Now we were officially pilgrims!

Our first short walk of some 4 km was like a preliminary test, to ensure our gear was working for us and that we were all working together, on the same page (read “pace”). Passing with flying colors, our reward was a delicious lunch in a Spanish pub…on St. Patrick’s Day no less!

A second short walk began from the mostly ruined stone hamlet of Foncebadón, gently climbing through pristine snow, but under a warming sun, to one of the simplest, yet most ancient and symbolic monuments of the Camino: La Cruz de Ferro (The Iron Cross). Here pilgrims throughout the ages have placed stones, creating a huge mound at the base of the cross, each representing someone’s prayer. Having carefully chosen our own stones along the way, each of us left our own prayers atop the mound of wishes. This was a very special moment both collectively and privately.

We descended the snowcapped mountain by vehicle, past dramatic switchbacks and stunning vistas of the valley below, through Manjarín, with its medieval pilgrim’s refuge, quaint Acebo and Ponferrada with its famous Templar Castle. From there, and like a dream, we walked alongside wine vineyards at sunset to our final destination of Villafranca del Bierzo, known as Little Compostela for its profusion of historic buildings. Feeling accomplished, and following another delicious dinner at the traditional 9:00pm hour, today we covered 17.5 km in some of the most beautifully varied terrains and locales in the region before laying our heads down for another well earned night’s sleep.


British Virgin Islands Intersession reports:

Smooth sailing… First leg of journey a big success. Students on a steep learning curve. Can tell they will be expert sailors by week’s end. Here they are enjoying the Beech at Cooper Island.







Some other photos sent by Julie Borsetti:












Silver Comet Intersession reports:

Silver Comet Intersession arrived in Smyrna, GA late last night tired, but in good spirits. We are biking the trail, now.











The England/Quaker Pilgrimage, West Virginia, and 9th Grade Florida Intersessions have also reported that they have arrived safely at their destinations.

Head of School Tom Gibian is on the Quaker Pilgrimage Intersession, and he writes the following blog post (you can also see it on his Head of School blog):

On Wednesday we arrive in Kendal, the heart of Quaker country and the origins of the Society of Friends.  I fell asleep last night thinking about whether a “Quaker pilgrimage” is an oxymoron or merely ironic. After all, the whole notion of Quakerism comes from a place of dissent and experimentation – the revolutionary idea that knowing God comes from experiencing the Light within and that the search for Light requires no intermediation by a designated person. The Quaker belief that there is that of God within each person takes the focus off of externalities; we have no amazing cathedrals,  and the early Quakers did not even use marked gravestones (a significant nod toward equality of all mankind or perhaps a reminder of the famous Quaker stinginess?). Again, the idea that we are all children of the Light encourages a certain simplicity.  Note the spare Meeting Houses devoid of stain glass and architectural flourish.

In any case, there are precious few Quaker relics that might inspire a pilgrim. It follows that the Quaker manner of seeking Truth is accessible and does not require much: an open mind, a few people prepared to sit together, an ardency, a sprinkling of hope, a dash of faith.

As I was saying, I am on a Quaker pilgrimage and am grateful that this is so, as from what I have heard it is a lovely experience.  But still. And then, this morning, in Meeting for Worship, in Salisbury (of all places!) with 22 of us from Sandy Spring Friends School (18 Upper School students), my son Nathan (a college sophomore on Spring Break) shared a message (the locals say “ministry”) which described his experience of settling into the silence. Of how distressing the feeling of being alone with one’s thoughts can be and how, occasionally, the silence can move you beyond to a place that feels better, that can feel sacred.

That’s when I understood that Quakers do go on pilgrimages. We just don’t have to go to England to enjoy the journey. Silly me.

March 15-16

Spain’s Camino de Santiago: March 15 & 16


Friday, March 15
With a highly anticipated, albeit long, overnight of travel ahead of us, including two flights — from Washington, DC to Frankfurt, Germany to Madrid, Spain — our Spanish adventure began with a 2:00pm departure from SSFS in order to arrive in time to Dulles International Airport with the requisite three hour check-in expected of all transcontinental flights, let alone student group trips. From unexpected flowing Beltway traffic and easy check-in to an uneventful security check and smooth boarding, all went as well as could be hoped for. Our Lufthansa Boeing-747 was as spacious as the service was exemplary. Between cat-naps, laughs, decent food, and great movies, time passed relatively quickly.

Saturday, March 16
After a brief layover Saturday morning in Frankfurt, Germany, our weary but excited group reached Madrid at 12:00pm local time, though it felt to us like 7:00am EST. Greeted by our charming Belgian expat guide, Bruno, an experienced Camino specialist, we boarded a private minibus and headed four hours north to our first stop: León. Despite the chill and occasional snow patches, the Spanish countryside is lush green this time of year, reminiscent of Ireland. By 5:00pm we had finally reached the beautiful city of León. Quickly we checked into our charming albergue, whose vista is of a two thousand year old Roman wall that puts the youth of American history into perspective. A tour with our local guide, Blanca, consisted of the great Gothic cathedral with its fabulous stained glass windows, one of the world’s masterpieces of Gothic art; the Royal Basilica of San Isidro to see the remarkable frescoes in the Pantheon of Kings, one of Spain’s great Romanesque treasures; and the Caja de León, one of only two Gaudi works outside of Cataluña. After our tour we picked up our official Pilgrim Passports and met our first two pilgrims: a devout Catholic teacher from Puerto Rico walking (not alone according to his admirable faith) from Toulouse, France, and an eccentric Texan biking definitively alone from Norway since November. As the photo attests, our reward for weathering a long day of travel with a great attitude came by way of a delicious dinner celebrated with a deserving toast. Salud y buenas noches.