歡迎來到中國 – Welcome to China


Hello! My name is Nick Sokoll, and I have been at Westtown since seventh grade! For my Senior Project, I am departing on a trip to the opposite side of the world to explore the nation of China. I speak no Mandarin and have never been to Asia, which makes this trip all the more exciting to me. I initially became interested in exploring the East in my World Religions course with Teacher Brian. We were learning about the religions of the world, and I did a project on Chinese Pure Land Buddhism. Ever since learning about this fascinating form of Buddhism, I knew that I needed to explore China.

On this trip, we will be visiting seven different cities around the country, ranging from the ultra-modern cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai to Xi’an, home of the Terra-Cotta Warriors. My flight leaves in just a couple of hours, and I still have an essay to write for my English class, so this is all for now! I will keep you all updated, through this blog, as I explore the opposite side of the world. 謝謝, thank you!

– Nick

Prologue​ to China: Classroom to Reality

Written and posted February 25th, 2018

你好, 我的名字是 Anna Harrison. For those of you who do not speak or read Mandarin, I said, “Hi, my name is Anna Harrison.” At least that is what I hope it reads. I (as well as the majority of the people reading my blog, I assume) do not know Mandarin either. I asked one of my good friends how to write that sentence and, hopefully, she is not making a fool out of me. I have tried to learn Mandarin, believe me. I have been using Duolingo every day, asking my friends how to say words, and going to the weekly cultural sessions my teacher, the trip leader, has been hosting since I decided to go on this trip to China back in October. However, learning a new language is not as easy as it seems. I should know. I have been taking Spanish since Kindergarten and, yes, I am in Spanish 5 at the moment. Yes, I can understand, read, write, and speak Spanish, although I am nowhere close to fluent.

You might be wondering, “Anna, you have been taking Spanish for most of your life and know very little Mandarin, why in the world are you going to China instead of a Spanish-speaking country?” Well, the answer to that question is, IT IS CHINA! I have been to Mexico a couple of times, for service and for vacation and, while I would love to go back or go to another Spanish-speaking country when I heard that China was an option for a Senior Project, I was incredibly excited! 14 days, 6 cities/provinces, mouth-watering food (Dim Sum), the Great Wall of China, Terracotta Warriors, Tang Dynasty show and dinner, and so much more! I could actually visit the Forbidden City, the former Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty, in person. Images from my five-pound, highlighter-filled history textbook would be brought to life. I also chose to go on this trip because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course, you are thinking that sounds cliché, “once-in-a-blah blah, everyone says it, okay, we get it,” but it truly is. Without this trip, the opportunity Westtown and my parents and family have given me, I believe that I would have never gone to China. While I wish that was not the case because I love to travel and want to go everywhere, most travel abroad programs default to western European countries instead of Asian ones, and I do not think China is a place I would travel to on my own. I am extremely grateful for all everyone has done to put this trip together and cannot wait to be watching at least six movies (it is about a sixteen-hour flight) and relaxing on the plane four days from now.

See you in China!

– Anna

P.S. I want to let you know that my other blog posts will (I hope) not be as long as this one. I really enjoy photography, so I plan to accompany each post with lots of photos. I also want to let you know that China limits access to sites, and I may not have WiFi for a majority of the trip. I may have to post my blog posts when I get back to the States. However, feel free to keep checking in case I do get WiFi and can post. Thank you for reading!

Into Thin Air

When the students saw on our itinerary that there would be an “overnight trek high into the Andes,” they asked for more. “Can’t we do another one?” So before we departed, Maria and I asked World Leadership School to add a day of hiking to our plans. The representative knowingly chuckled, “Let’s just see how this one goes first. It’s hard, you know, climbing at those altitudes.”

Continue reading “Into Thin Air”

3/13/14 – Parting Thoughts

We left Ollantaytambo and headed to the bigger city, Cusco, where we would spend our last night and complete our final purchases before our flight to Lima and then to JFK. This was a nice hotel that had a beautiful outdoor courtyard with gardens and a breakfast room that was made entirely of windows. When we arrived in the afternoon we split off to do what we wished and were only told to stay in groups of at least four. I stuck with a group of five other girls and we decided to head right out and do some shopping. We had been consistently told throughout the trip to save our money until Cusco because everything would be cheaper there, so we were in desperate need of gifts for our families and friends at home. We walked down to the different markets where there were many vendors selling colorful tapestries, sweaters, t-shirts, jewelry, and other trinkets. It was hard to resist all of the beautiful things they had displayed. The vendors were pretty aggressive but we quickly learned how to bargain and were proud to tell our friends of the good buys we made.

Continue reading “3/13/14 – Parting Thoughts”

Day One and a Half

March 2, 2014

The first day of our Senior Project began with Qdoba, at least for a few of us. We thought of it like our last hurrah. Our last American meal. After our last supper (or lunch), we drove to Westtown where we proceeded to pack our bags, say our goodbyes, and board a school bus. Of course, the bus had some technical difficulties, so we switched buses, along with our thirty some suitcases. We spent four hours on our way to JFK International Airport, managing to see some of the city on our way. As there typically is on a Saturday afternoon, traffic kept us on the road for a little longer than anticipated, so we rushed through the airport to catch our 9:00 flight.

Check in and security were a breeze. Other than the fact that my walking boot (I had surgery on my foot a few months ago) had to be tested for explosive material residue. We walked what seemed like miles until finally getting to our gate. Of course by this time it was around 7:30 and we were supposed to board at 8:00. The rush to get food was incredible. Luckily most of us managed to snag a burger and milkshake at Shake Shack.

My ticket was scanned, and I was off. All I wanted was to be settled into my seat with nothing but the ocean separating me from Ghana. I had an aslie seat but still my legs couldn’t find anywhere to go. I enjoyed a movie before falling asleep with my heaad on the traytable (this left my classmates in awe). Sleeping on a plane is never easy, and our ten hour flight had quite a bit of turbulence, so my eyes constantly opened and closed. After a few naps and movies, the screen finally showed that there were only 30 minutes of flight time left. I asked for a coffee and glued my eyes to the completely unexciting scene outside of the window. In what seemed like seconds later, we were on the ground in Africa.

I was hit by a wall of heat as I left the comfort of the air conditioned plane. We walked across the scathing hot blacktop of the runway to the airport. You could smell the heat. It was everywhere. We waited in line after line and finally reached the front. Right as I walked over to my customs desk, a man touched my arm and asked, “Americans?” I nodded and he smiled and walked away. I guess we stick out like sore thumbs.

After collecting all of our bags we headed to the van that would take us from Accra to the Jimmycom guesthouse: our home for the next 18 days. Men surrounded us as soon as we stepped out of the airport, wanting to help us with our bags. We were warned by the group leaders to say no, as they demanded ten dollars continously if they lent a hand. After losing them we stopped for lunch at the beginning of the ride at a very nice hotel. I savored every slice of pizza before we hopped in the van again. The ride was unbearable in every way. No leg space, 17 people crammed into a space hardly meant for 14, and heat. So. Much. Heat. It took us around two hours. Thankfully, we were introduced to the culture as we rode. We saw many people carrying baskets full of merchandise on their heads, pushing it through peoples windows trying to make a few bucks.

When we arrived at the Jimmycom guest house, we were pleased to see our beds. We got settled, took showers and ate dinner. It was delicious. We hung out for a while, but after a short group meeting we were pooped. It was bed time. I fell asleep to the sounds of goats and the rustling of the wind in the trees. We were finally here.

Andes Mountain High

The two-hour bus ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo allowed us to behold the Andes for the first time. Gasps were audible as the kids scrambled for their cameras, elbowed their neighbors, exclaiming, “Look at that!” I felt as if I’d never seen a mountain before these; hills and bumps, maybe, but not a real mountain. The imposing rocks jut sharply toward heaven and are something to be with reckoned with, for sure. Be careful here. But they are also majestic and breathtakingly beautiful. Oddly, they also seem welcoming. Perhaps it’s because they inspire such awe that we feel beckoned unto them.

We stopped along the road to take in the vistas and, I’ll just be honest, to use the bathroom. (Will I never again take a trip without a kid asking to stop to use the potty?) We tumbled off the bus and our relationship with the Andes began. Students sat down to stare at them. A few began to meditate. We hadn’t reached our destination yet and already we felt moved by this extraordinary space on the planet. It made me hunger for knowledge about the people who chose to carve (very literally) a civilization into these monstrous, unforgiving mountains.

Our home for two weeks is the village of Ollantaytambo, perched  in small valley where about six craggy peaks meet.  This was an Inca stronghold in the Cusco province and the estate of Emperor Pachacuti. It’s an amazing archaeological site and the footprints of the Inca have not been washed away by time. You can see the Inca everywhere, not just in the ruins that surround us, but in the faces of the inhabitants. You can hear the echo of their voices in the local tongue.

We met our representatives from World Leadership School who, on the first day, sent the students on a Global Issues Scavenger Hunt. The kids divided into teams and, without maps, had to find local products, sites or items. How do you do that without a map? How do you find items that you’ve never heard of before, such as a chakana? You ask the locals. It was a clever way to quickly break down barriers to interacting with villagers, to learn the layout of the town together and to simply learn what things are called. The students relished this competition won not by speed, but by quality of their answers.

Yesterday we hiked the massive ruins built on the side of a mountain, arriving at the Sun Temple. To stand in the Temple and survey the expanse around us left us as breathless as the altitude.  We saw specks of orange rooftops of our little village below. We saw the mountain we will climb for our trek and overnight camping. We saw the granaries of the Inca built impossibly high, magically high, otherworldly high on an adjacent peak. It’s difficult to comprehend the lives once lived nearly dangling from a precipice.

After our descent from the Sun Temple, we were guided to another sacred space in the ruins. There, we sat in silence to meditate and to journal. It was a profound silence broken only by the sounds of birds and the winds of the past and future.

What treasures will the Andes share with us next?


Almost Time for Peru!

I cannot believe in a few short days I will be in PERU!!!! I am so incredibly excited. In Peru we will be living in the Sacred Valley, learning about culture, living with a host family, doing service and exploring the amazing country! It feels just like yesterday I was sitting in Collection as a freshman listening to all the amazing things the seniors would be doing on their projects, and here I am! It seems so surreal that in just a short 48 hours I will be in the airport starting my journey to South America. I chose this project because of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it presents. I have such a desire to learn about different cultures and meet great people from all around the world.

One thing I am so excited for is the “Unplugged Challenge”.  This is a rule regarding technology, that’s pretty simple: it’s not allowed. I, too, find myself constantly using my mobile device or in need of a computer. I love the idea that we will spend all two weeks just taking in the beautiful country with nothing but our eyes. Continue reading “Almost Time for Peru!”

On Top of the World

Napaykullaki! That’s Quechua for hello.  Twenty-two students, my colleague, Maria, and I are about to embark on the first-ever Senior Project to Peru. Westtown has partnered with World Leadership School to provide students with what I am sure will be an extraordinary experience. WLS was chosen because its mission aligns so well with Westtown’s. They specialize in offering hands-on experience in leadership, service and cultural immersion.

We will complete a service project (building a retaining wall at a school), spend time within the school interacting with students, engage in leadership training, meet with local leaders and see many historic sites, not the least of which is Machu Picchu. Continue reading “On Top of the World”

Spain 2012

Hi everyone!

It’s hard to believe that I am leaving for Spain this Saturday. My mom and I will travel around Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo and Salamanca over the course of our two weeks abroad. We will be visiting spiritual heritage sites as well as some museums. In Salamanca, I’ll be checking out the university as it is where I hope to study abroad in college.

My senior project has started a little early as I have been away from school with a stomach bug, but I am hoping to be fully recovered by Saturday.