Modern Caballeros Andantes Discover ‘Pure Magic’ in Spain

By Christopher M. ’20
Photos by Grace G. ’20

Spanish Civilizations and Culture, or Span Civ, is a course that dives into an intense study of the history and culture of Spain. Since its inception, taking Span Civ has also meant a trip to Spain during spring break, a sort of ultimate test of your Spanish knowledge at LCDS. In March, the current crop of Span Civ students embarked for the nation we have been studying since September.

As we killed time at the Newark airport, the energy in the air was anxious but excited. Sure, we had studied the culture and the history, and we knew Don Quijote cold, but we all felt unprepared for our first real conversation with a Spaniard. There wouldn’t be any time to fix confusing the past tense with the past perfect tense. There wouldn’t be any way to correct some grammatical gender slip-up. Everything would be one take, and we were terrified. What we would come to find out, however, was that we had been prepared all along. As the week went on, our Spanish would become more cohesive and fluid, to the point where it felt unnatural to speak English when we returned.


Our first full day included a trip to a place that would become a favorite for many of us: Segovia. We arrived in the ancient city, beneath the massive Roman Aqueduct that has towered over the Old Town for the last 2,000 years. We continued to stroll until we stopped at el Alcázar de Segovia — a medieval castle where Queen Isabella once stayed. Its beautiful views left us breathless. For many of us, el Alcázar was when it first hit us: We were in Spain.

For all its beauty, el Alcázar wasn’t what we most wanted to see. That honor belonged to the windmill of Don Quijote, or los molinos de viento. The story of Don Quijote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, had captured our hearts, and visiting the iconic windmills was a fantastic way to commemorate our favorite knight errant (caballero andante). We reenacted scenes and took photos, and then made our way to Granada.

Our first night there, we ventured through the old section of the city for a traditional Flamenco performance. Our guide, Ulises, told me before the performance that at really good shows, there is something called “duende” in the air. There’s no equivalent word in English, but it connotes the emotions evoked by a fantastic piece of art. As soon as the performance ended, I rushed over to Ulises and whispered, “I think there was duende at that performance.” His nod told me all that I wanted to hear. The whole experience was pure magic.

The next day, we left for Sevilla, where we saw another Flamenco show and had the opportunity to learn a short routine. This lesson, taught completely in Spanish, left us tripping over our feet and smiling through it all. The lesson was one of many experiences that brought each one of us closer to the rich culture of Spain.

Our next day in Sevilla centered around La Alhambra, a Moorish fortress dating back to the ninth century. La Alhambra is famous for its intricate azulejos, a kind of mozaic, and beautiful gardens, called the Generalife. The atmosphere was illuminating.

From Sevilla, we travelled to Córdoba to visit La Mezquita, a mosque with a Christian cathedral inside of it. We were mesmerized seeing in real life the beautiful architecture that we had studied in class. The smell of the blooming orange trees in the courtyard provided a wonderful ambience that suffused our adventure. After a morning in Córdoba, we boarded a high speed train for our next destination: Barcelona.

Barcelona was the city that many in our group were most excited for. We had just finished our study of Antoni Gaudí, the famous Catalan architect. His creations dot Barcelona, and we could not wait to see them. We saw Parque Guell and Casa Mila, but the most incredible was La Sagrada Familia. This unfinished basilica has been worked on for more than a century, with the inside only being completed in 2010. When we walked into the basilica, the grandeur of the forest-like columns stunned us all. No other church that we had seen on this trip could touch the wondrous colors and sights of La Sagrada Familia.

Our final destination of the trip was Montserrat, a monastery about an hour outside Barcelona. The almost 1,000-year-old abbey rests completely within the surrounding mountain, and is spectacular. After touring the monastery, we took a funicular to the top of the mountain where we hiked in small groups. During these hikes, we really bonded as a group. Whether through the struggle of making it to the top, or the camaraderie engendered through helping someone find their headphones after they rolled down the side of the mountain, this final trip brought us even closer together.

As we woke up the following day, ready to depart for the airport, the feeling was bittersweet. We were excited to see our families again, sure, but we were dispirited that we would have to leave Spain behind. After bidding goodbye to Ulises and boarding the plane, we assured Señora Heim that we were planning to return as soon as possible.

Picture or Imagine: An Italian Wonderment Retrospective

By Maddie B. ’21
Photos by Alex V. ’21, Mae B. ’21 and Annika K. ’21

Photo Essay By Alex V.

My constant objective as a photographer is to capture fragments of life that can connect to the individual viewer. During this trip, my goal was to create a series of powerful, expressive images to encompass the inspiring environment I was surrounded by for 10 days. I hope you enjoy the series.

Picture sitting on a bench in front of an illuminated fountain, centuries old, surrounded by street musicians and architecture with a richer backstory than you would think possible. Or imagine strolling down a cobblestone street while the setting sun filtered through the buildings lining the sidewalks. Seventeen students were extremely fortunate to live in that feeling of peace and history for a little more than a week over spring break as we explored Italy with Dr. Pomponio, Mrs. Turner, and Mr. Bostock.

Starting off our trip in Florence (or Firenze, in Italian) directly following 20 hours of airport naps and multiple flights was an exhausting yet refreshing endeavor. The chill air relaxed us as we walked toward the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or St. Mary of the Flower. Commonly referred to as “il Duomo,” meaning “the Dome,” this red-bricked architectural feat designed by Brunelleschi is a staple of the Florentine skyline.

The next few days we spent in Florence were packed full of adventure and history. The medieval town of San Gimignano, just south of the city, captured our hearts with its tall stone towers and picturesque views of the Tuscan countryside that made it feel as if we were living in a fairytale picture book. In the city, ordering coffee at a local bar (cafe) and painting frescos with an Italian artist in his studio introduced us to Florentine culture and gave us a chance to practice our Italian conversational skills.

What struck us most was our visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia, the home of Michelangelo’s David. No words can describe the intense feeling of awe as you step into the sunlight cascading down the 17-foot statue and you realize no picture could ever capture the true magnificence of the sculptor’s artistry.

Following our three days in Florence, we headed to the region of Umbria, where the town of Assisi sits among the hills. With bright blue skies overhead, we hiked to the fortress above town and enjoyed some serene moments gazing across the rolling fields. After exploring the town, we visited the Basilica of St. Francis and the Basilica of Santa Chiara (St. Clare), where we took in the original San Damiano cross, before which St. Francis is said to have been praying when he was called by God to rebuild the Catholic Church. The silence and attention within these churches created an atmosphere of admiration and reflection felt by everyone.

Pompeii prompted a similar reflection on the history of the civilization that once thrived, only to face violent destruction at the hands of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Walking across the stepping stones, you could almost see what life had been like, even as the constant reminder of what caused swift, fiery end loomed above.

Our second day in Campania took us across the Bay of Naples to Sorrento, from which we took a ferry to the island of Capri. Once off the boat, we immediately understood what made Capri such an appealing vacation destination: On the winding roads up the hill to Anacapri, we had a perfect view of the beautiful turquoise water, the colorful houses on the hillside, and the lemon trees that have become as much a symbol of Capri as the Faraglioni (three famous rocks, carved by waves just off the coast).

Traveling inland once again, we spent the remainder of our trip in Rome. We began by entering Vatican City, where we saw amazing collections of art culminating in our arrival at the Sistine Chapel. As we craned our necks in an attempt to take in every square inch of fresco, a sense of wonder rose at the fact that Michelangelo was not a painter but a sculptor. That night we strolled through the streets, simply enjoying the culture and history surrounding us, and ensuring our return to Rome by throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain.

We spent our last day at the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, where we could see where they had once been buried deep beneath the ground. Rome is referred to as the “lasagna city” for that very reason: You can see the layers where buildings were built on top of others over the centuries. It is an overwhelming feeling to sit in the middle of a piazza and picture the chariot arena beneath your feet that the shape of the buildings still resemble.

Picture sitting back home reflecting on a trip filled with astounding architecture and beautiful settings everywhere you look. Or imagine looking at pictures of eating gelato and laughing with friends. We are fortunate to have left Italy with a greater understanding and appreciation of its history and culture, as well as a closer group of friends.

‘Possibilities We Can’t Even Envision’

On his first trip to China and India as Country Day’s emissary, Head of School Steve Lisk experienced a taste of the rich cultural bounty open to students.

While this was Lisk’s first trip to Asia on behalf of the school, it was the ninth for Special Projects Administrator Shelly Landau and International Student Liaison Helen Najarian. In addition to reaffirming existing relationships in China, the trio also deepened our newest one, with an independent school in India. The goal was to expand Country Day’s connections to schools abroad, increasing the opportunities for LCDS and international students to benefit from the exchanges. The resounding success yielded “possibilities we can’t even envision,” Lisk said.

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Candles — Prime!

“We want to build out our Global Program depth to offer our students a richer experience as they go through LCDS, and foster increased trust between schools and understanding between cultures,” Lisk said.

As part of that effort, Lisk’s first destination was Shanghai, home of one of our global partner schools, SMIC, as well as the parents of several current international students. One of the things that struck Lisk most in meeting our Chinese parents was the similarity to the value our American parents put on education.

“These families recognize that our [school] system is vastly different than theirs. The strength of American universities and colleges is also well understood and so parents who want to provide their children the best undergraduate opportunities know that attending a secondary school like Country Day is the best way for them to accomplish this. The Chinese families feted Lisk with gifts and meals, and conveyed gratitude and warmth about their children’s experiences at LCDS.

“One of the things we have going for us as a school, and there are many, is a remarkable name brand,” Lisk continued. “The word-of-mouth advertising that happens among similarly education-minded families is an asset that you can’t put a price on.”

He continued, “Trips like this one in October are emblematic of the evolving role of independent school heads. The rising tide of globalization has made foreign travel and education attainable for an ever-increasing number of people around the world, and Country Day is poised to reap that benefit both for our own students and those of partner schools as well.”

Our newest partner school is the Navrachana International School Vadodara, in Gujarat, India. NISV shares values and a mission remarkably similar to Country Day’s, though Lisk was fascinated by the many ways those shared fundamentals animated a distinct and different school experience.

Our introduction to Navrachana came thanks to Peter and Leigh Rye, parents of Caitlin ’06 and Oliver ’13, whose international business gives them close ties to the area. This beginning with NISV continues a tradition of serendipitous global connections for LCDS, beginning with John Jarvis’ alma mater Kelvinside Academy and continuing with the retired headmistress of SMIC, who happens to be Najarian’s aunt.

On the last Friday of their trip, Lisk, Landau and Najarian took in a genuine treat.

“We’re sitting in the audience and they’re staging a performance of ‘Don Quixote’ with a thousand students on a stage made of bamboo and rope. The feeling of community was overwhelming and the show of school spirit was truly impressive. It just drove home that people around the world live lives of meaning, but it’s different, it’s rich and it’s enriching. I’m excited for our students who’ll be exposed to this wider world,” Lisk said.

He wanted to give special praise to Shelly Landau and Helen Najarian, or “Shelen” as the globetrotting pair are affectionately known. Without their efforts, whether driving students to visit colleges or calling on families half a world away to let them know their kids are in loving hands, the school would quite simply be a different place, and not for the better.

“They’re extraordinary. It’s hard work what they do, and they take on their roles guided by a clear love of our school,” Lisk said. “I’m incredibly grateful for both of them.”

‘The Great Learning’ and The Sixth Grade

The first difference Catherine Haddad noticed when she saw a classroom of students too young to grasp the text, but nonetheless reading aloud “The Great Learning,” a collection of Confucianism classics, was how singularly focused they all were.

“Our kids expect to be entertained,” she said. “They want fun. I don’t know whether they think this is fun at first, but I do know that they can now sit through an entire class and their focus doesn’t waver.”

Haddad has gradually expanded the Chinese language curriculum at Country Day, from an Upper School Advanced Placement elective, to a semester-long introduction for fifth graders, to her latest class: a yearlong immersion in classics recitation, character recognition and pronunciation training for the sixth grade.

Two things differentiate Haddad’s method: The first is that it’s very old, despite falling out of popularity in China for several Cold War decades after the fall of the Qing dynasty. The second is that the source material is even older; the “Great Learning” was written around 400 years before Christ.

“My goal is to give them some human wisdom,” Haddad said. “I want them to recognize the value of the classics, but I don’t want to explain word for word to them, I want to give them the big picture.” “The same text will also be read in English in their World Civilizations course in ninth grade.” Haddad added.

Central to providing the big picture is separating the reading and spoken parts from the writing part. In Haddad’s experience, when exposing children — especially Western children — to Chinese for the first time, expecting them to listen, speak, read and write all at once often poses an unrealistic goal and the speaking is invariably the part that suffers most to accommodate the slower pace of learning to read and write in Chinese.

She pointed out that children don’t learn language by building on a spoon-fed scaffolding of grammar, but rather by listening, seeing and repeating the sounds they hear and recognize. It doesn’t matter, at least in the beginning, whether or not they understand what those sounds mean.

“It’s like painting,” Haddad explained. “You have to have the passion first. Then you can learn technique. If you have no passion, there will be no life in your painting, and writing characters is technique.”

In one of Haddad’s sections, the crinkling of snack wrappers ends as she launches into spoken Chinese without any introduction or warmup. Then, all at once and as one, the class stands and bows. They begin reading aloud in unison. An occasional voice stumbles out of sync, then catches up and restores the sonic unity.

Then Haddad starts beating a basic training-style rhythm on the desk, with the teacher as the tempo-keeper and the students echoing her words in call-and-response.

The point of this is to facilitate memorization as well as aiding pronunciation of the rhythmically dynamic Chinese language, where the rises and falls of stressed and unstressed syllables contain much of the spoken language’s meaning.

“With classics and the read-aloud method, comprehension doesn’t take the front seat,” Haddad said.

“Classics are valuable, sacred, remarkable books, the essence of human wisdom. They’re eternal and universal and their meaning transcends time, nations, philosophies and religions.”

A ‘Giddy’ Mr. Bostock & Other Italian Wonders

By Delphi A. ’18
Photos by Kendall K. ’19

Those of us who hadn’t slept on the plane had been awake for 24 hours and when Mr. Bostock said “taxi” as we stood on the cobblestone streets of Venice, I don’t think any of us imagined a small motor boat with just enough room for us all to fit. As six students raced across the choppy waves, watching our luggage bounce around with a nerve-wracking closeness to the edge, Mr. Bostock confessed discursively that he had once considered being a monk.

Our hotel was on an island called the Lido di Venezia. We found our rooms, dumped our things, and got ready to leave for our first dinner in Italy. 

For those of you who have never eaten in a restaurant in Italy, dinner means multiple rich courses of meat, pasta, and or salad, followed by a dense, filling desert. Needless to say, when the meal was done we were all exhausted and stuffed to the brim. We happily retired to our hotel rooms, endlessly excited for the week ahead of us. 


The next morning we rose early and took public transportation — another boat — to our first destination. The palace of the doge took ornate to a whole new level. Its tall painted ceilings and inconceivably large rooms were like nothing we had seen before.

We made our way through the palace to the dungeons. Stepping from the splendor of the palace into the dank, cold, musty, cramped stone cells brought us some perspective. While the doge may have been living it up, the common people of Venice were not afforded the same pomp.

After a quick lunch of pizza, we headed to our gondola ride. Our gondolier’s choice to comically rock the boat made an experience that had been equal parts scary and amazing, more scary. But as the six of us glided between tall stone building, completely unable to the see the bottom of the water, something occurred to me.

These homes, and businesses, while not particularly clean, or symmetrical, or matching, or perfect, were beautiful. I have found that in the United States beauty is often defined by “perfection.” And yet here we were surrounded by flaws and I had never seen something so beautiful.

After the gondola ride, we visited an art museum, the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, the museum which holds Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Much to our disappointment, this famous work does not stay on display for very long each year, and we had missed it.

We still had many hours before dinner when we left the Gallerie, so the eight of us began our mission to find and consume gelato.

At some point, prior to our departure Mr. Bostock had mentioned getting gelato in every city we visited, and we intended on holding him to that.

After tasting gelato for the first time, we slowly made our way through the city to our meeting location. Along the way, we stopped in many small shops. When Kendall K. ’19 and McKayla F. ’19 saw a spa-like shop where customers placed their feet into tubs of water filled with small, live fish, they were very excited, although the rest of the group failed to see the appeal, we were all entertained watching them get the dead skin eaten off their feet by little fish.

The next day we woke up, packed our last few items, and got in a van to head to Florence. On the way to Florence, we stopped for a few hours in Ravenna. While there we saw the Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia which were filled with intricate mosaics. Before leaving we saw the tomb of Dante. Inside the tomb is a stone plaque of sorts, covered in Latin. Mr. Bostock informed us that we could earn bonus points in our Latin classes if we could translate it.

We couldn’t.

Florence (or Firenze, as it is called in Italy) is filled with art. Particularly, the artwork housed in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Florence (home to the giant, magnificent statue of David), the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral whose dome is the largest dome brick and mortar dome in the world, and has been around for nearly 600 years, and the huge number of paintings and sculptures kept in the Uffizi gallery which holds pieces made by many of Italy’s most famous artists such as da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian and Rembrandt.

That night’s dinner was slightly different than those preceding it; this one we prepared! We rolled out our own spaghetti, made tomato sauce, meatloaf, salad and dessert. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to discover that we had succeeded and everything tasted amazing!

The next morning we left Florence en route to Rome. Once more we made a pit stop for hours, this time in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, and home to two important basilicas. The first we visited was the Basilica of Santa Chiara (or Saint Clare in English).

In silence we walked through the stone church, ending in the crypt where the body of Saint Clare was on display. Many of us lit candles, mine in memory of my grandmother. In that dimly lit stone basement, we bonded silently through mutual respect.

From the outside the Basilica of St. Francis looked as big as a small neighborhood, a perspective only encouraged by the vaulting ceilings and magnificent frescos covering them that can be seen throughout the inside of the basilica. The Franciscan monk who was our tour guide was also from the United States, which we discovered was not all that odd, because most Franciscan monks spend time in Assisi at some point in their careers.

While inside, our guide explained the meaning and artist behind many of the frescos, including one which depicted a skeleton in what appeared to be overalls. He explained that this was sister death, and from then on, everywhere we went we saw the symbol of sister death.

After leaving Assisi, we finally came to Rome. Our first experience of the city was that it was not unlike big cities in the United States. People rushed everywhere and the traffic was terrible. Overall the time we spent in the city on our first day was not what we expected, the entirety of the next day would be, though.

We began our morning in the Vatican Museums. In the Sistine Chapel, we all craned our necks to better see the famed ceiling. It is one thing to hear stories, or look at pictures of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, but it is entirely another thing to stand underneath so much history and art. Similarly, Saint Peter’s Basilica, its towering ceilings, and even taller dome all covered in frescos and statues cannot fully be captured in words or photographs.

The next location on our tour excited Mr. Bostock greatly. As we grew closer to it, the Colosseum appeared amid the city skyline. Once inside we climbed many overly steep stairs before finally coming out onto one of the highest levels of the huge ancient building. Even missing all of its beautiful marble facades and floor, the Flavian Amphitheatre is still breathtaking.

As we stood on the lowest level staring down at the labyrinth of stone walls that used to be cells to hold gladiators and large animals alike, Ms. D’Stair commented to me on the horror of the spectacle the ancient Romans had enjoyed watching so much.

We watched the other tourists that surrounded us take smiling selfies next to the stage on which so many innocent animals, prisoners of war, slaves, and debtors had died for sport. When we finally looked up from our deep conversation about the tragic nature of the site on which we stood, we discovered that Mr. Bostock and the others had left us behind.

We caught up with the rest of our group and headed to the forum. We each took a sip of the water from a fountain that is said to give you longer life, before heading into the ramshackle collection of ruins that used to be the city center. Many decades of architecture spread out before us. Mr. Bostock was giddy to tell us what each fragment used to be and what its significance was.

We were given some free time, during which we got gelato of course. Then dinner and a moonlight stroll to the Pantheon. We arrived just in time to see through the great doors to the inside of the temple, but we were too late to cross the threshold.

As we headed away from the temple, a huge number of birds took flight just over the temple, their white feathers illuminated by the moon behind them. In ancient Rome, the augurs would have called it an omen. If it was one, it must have been good because just like every part of the trip leading up to this moment, the rest would be amazing and jaw-dropping.

Our final location in Rome was the Trevi Fountain. The lights that shone all around the fountain seemed to bring the statues of Neptune and the horses to life before our eyes. We each threw a coin into the water over our shoulder, hoping that we could indeed return to Rome very soon.

The three-hour bus ride to Pompeii was worth every moment. The ancient city is amazingly intact. We walked on streets that have existed, mostly unchanged, for thousands of years. We moved through a house in which a family lived and choked to death on ash before the first century of the common era. We saw fireplaces, bedrooms, bathhouses, drinking fountains, gardens and restaurants. All the while, the menacing peak of Mount Vesuvius loomed in the distance. It was easy to put ourselves into the shoes of the many civilians who had been buried there for so many years, easy and life-changing.

We were back in Rome in the morning when we woke up at 3 a.m. local time to drive to the airport. We saw the sun rise in Rome, and many hours later when we touched down in London, the sun still shone above our heads. We arrived in Philadelphia around 4 p.m. local time, still the same day.

We had chased the sun home.

LCDS Global Programs include a robust, curricular, experiential learning travel program and a diverse international student community. For more information on our travel opportunities or learning about the rewards of hosting an international student, please contact  Heather Woodbridge, Director of Global Programs