Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open


Fifty Upper School Saints and their chaperones traveled far and wide this spring, journeying to Taiwan, Denmark, France, and Spain.



The first-ever SSSAS exchange program to Taiwan was an experience of a lifetime. Flying into Taipei, we were greeted upon arrival with the colorful and bright city. During the next couple of days we tried to experience all that big, busy Taipei has to offer. After a trip to 7-Eleven and a good night’s rest, our group’s first day in Taipei began.

Our first stop was the fascinating National Palace Museum, where we saw the famous Jade Cabbage and Meat-Shaped Stone. We then headed to Jiufen Old Street, where we had a lovely lunch and explored the market. It was a small, crowded alley that was full of new and intriguing sounds and smells. We ended the day lighting lanterns with our wishes written on them and sending them into the sky. Watching our wishes and dreams fly high, we were ready for whatever this trip brought us.

A new day and a new adventure. After leaving Taipei, we drove to the beautiful Sun Moon Lake. A long bus ride and multiple rest stops later, we arrived. We were at Taiwan’s version of Six Flags, the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. After an impressive cable car ride across the mountains, we got our first glimpse of Sun Moon Lake. It was beautiful. The green-blue waters were surrounded by lush forests. Boats traveled across the waters, touring the hidden corners and the wide open middle of the shimmering lake. We stepped out and saw the view from a peaceful balcony. We then explored the more amusement park aspects of the attraction. After enjoying multiple waterslides and some bumper cars, we returned to the hotel. After another delicious dinner and checking out a loud night market, it was time to go to sleep. 

The next day was exciting. We boarded a boat to tour Sun Moon Lake and then jumped on a bus to go meet our fellow exchange students. We pulled up to the meeting point and there they were, holding welcome signs and huge smiles on their faces. We greeted them and their families with an excited “붤멕懃훰街콱!”(Nice to meet you!). Our host students then took us to another night market, the most crowded and best one yet! There was so much food. We tried tanghulu, fried mushrooms, fish balls, and even stinky tofu! Although definitely smelly, it was very tasty. Our students then took us to participate in some fun carnival games. With prizes, photos, and full bellies, we were ready to see the homes we would be staying in. My exchange student and her family were incredible! They were very welcoming and amazing hosts.

For the next few days we went to school and had an incredible time visiting all their different classes. We saw their color guard put on a show for us, sang karaoke with their singing club, did a lab in their chemistry class, cooked seafood omelets in their cooking classes, and so much more! Their school day is similar to ours, although much longer. Starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., they have a long and tiring day. One major difference between their school day and ours, however, is the hour-long nap they have in the middle of the day! How relaxing! 

After saying a sad goodbye to the school and our hosts, we made our way back to Taipei. Coming full circle on our trip, we spent one last day in Taipei. We visited the famous skyscraper mall, Taipei 101. Peering out onto the city from the 91st floor, we could see for miles. Though we couldn’t see across the country, looking out and seeing the expansive city beneath us, the memories of our trip rushed towards us. We could feel our trip coming to a close, and on the plane the next day, looking down over a similar view, we were ready to say goodbye and go home.



“Boulanging.” That was the word of the 33rd Annual Normandy Exchange trip. It means “to go to a boulangerie,” the simple bakeries that are all over France. It isn’t a real French word, but we made it our own word to express our group’s insatiable appetite for croissants, pains au chocolats, and other pastries. Whether we were taking in the towering Bayeux Cathedral, climbing the steps of the Mont-Saint-Michel, or waiting for our correspondents, we always found time to go boulanging.

Taking a train from the airport to Paris, we were welcomed to France in a very French way, a man playing the accordion. Although tired from traveling, we emerged into the sunlight in central Paris filled with energy and excitement. We went to a true Parisian cafe to eat crepes while we looked at Notre Dame, before seeing the Sacré-Cœur at Montmartre. The sheer size and majesty of the basilica was amazing, and from the top of the steps, we took in the sprawling Paris skyline. That night, I decided to try escargot. After being shown how to pry the slimy little creatures out of their shells with the little pick, I took my daring first bite, only to discover that it was actually really good!

The next day we climbed the Eiffel Tower, walked to the Arc de Triomphe, and spent a few hours shopping along the Champs Élysées before heading to the Louvre. After taking in the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and French McDonalds, we walked back to our hotel along the Seine. Out of everything in Paris, one of the most surprisingly beautiful experiences was walking around at night seeing the lights illuminating the elegant architecture and the Seine. On top of the glowing Notre Dame and twinkling Eiffel Tower, the views were stunning, and I understood why Paris is called the City of Lights.

The third day, we took a bus to Bayeux, where I was reunited with my correspondent, Alban, and met his parents. At this point the trip no longer felt just like a vacation, but like a completely new life, as I became a part of Alban’s family. He took me to the coastal cliffs to see the German artillery bunkers from WWII, and then to the seaside town of Arromanches. Remnants of the war were everywhere. Learning more history at the D-Day Museum made walking around the town even more interesting.

The following day, we went to school! The first class I had was economics, in which I was completely lost with dense and complicated French, but geo-politics was a really fun and special experience.  Not only is the subject matter very interesting to me, but the fact that I could understand and learn about it in French was extremely gratifying.

We went to many English classes, ranging from sixth graders who were just starting to learn English to seniors whose English was far superior to my French. I particularly enjoyed working with the younger students. It was fun to help them with English words, and hilariously cute to hear them ask me questions about my life. Whether we talked about American and French stereotypes with the older kids, or Fortnite and Mr. Beast with the younger kids, it was incredible to communicate in both French and English.

Our first excursion was a private tour of the Bayeux Cathedral. Our guide took us through narrow passages and winding staircases up to the roof to look out over Bayeux. He also let me try playing the organ! Never had I played “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with such majesty and power. We then saw the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which details the epic story of the Norman Conquest of England, before being formally welcomed at the mayor’s office.

We took a guided D-Day tour starting at Pointe du Hoc, where we saw huge bomb craters blanketing the landscape and walked through abandoned German bunkers, followed by Omaha Beach, and ending at the American Cemetery—an extremely powerful experience. From the statue of the youthful spirit rising from the oceans, to the countless rows of thousands of white tombstones pointing westward towards home in the U.S., to hearing “Taps” played while the American flags were taken down, the experience at the cemetery was touching and incredibly moving. 

We spent a whole day at Mont-Saint-Michel with our correspondents exploring the narrow streets, stone ramparts, and never-ending interior of the abbey. We visited the Mémorial de Caen Museum to learn more about the French experience during WWII and ended the day with a bowling party. Our last day in France was spent shopping and walking the streets of Bayeux.

What really made this trip special was life with my host family. Whether it was having conversations in French, watching French movies, eating French food, or simply being surrounded by French people, it truly felt like I was living a different life than my own. I became so immersed that I had a moment of shock when I realized I was thinking in French instead of English.

This trip changed my perspective of the world and my understanding of other cultures. In my previous trips to foreign cities, I had always felt like a tourist experiencing a taste of the culture. On this trip, rather than just seeing French culture, I was living every detail of it. Through this experience I gained a new sense of confidence and independence. The relationships with my friends deepened through our unforgettable shared experiences. The most valuable lesson I learned was the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things. Whether it’s in Paris or Bayeux, I look forward to going boulanging again in France!



The Danish exchange is a relatively new program, starting in 2019 when Saints first traveled to Denmark to the Haderslev Katedralskole high school. Unfortunately the program had to pause during COVID, but it returned last year when our Danish counterparts came to visit the United States. The Danish exchange is an opportunity to learn all about Danish and Scandinavian culture. 

As a group we visited the Haderslev Cathedral, the oldest church in Haderslev. The pipe organ is stunning and the cathedral has so much history and tradition. We took a day trip to Hamburg, Germany, where we took a boat tour of the port. The guide was very funny and made it a very exciting tour. We walked around and visited the shopping district, all stumbling across the same vintage clothing store at the same time!

 Of course, it’s not a complete trip to Denmark without stopping at the capitol, Copenhagen, an absolutely incredible city. The architecture is breathtaking. Our canal tour guide pointed out the flags on top of the royal palace, which indicate that the King and Queen are in residence.

Some Stand Out Moments

• Danish schools are very casual! The students are on a first-name basis with their teachers, and can argue with them over grades and assignments. It was shocking to hear students calling teachers by their first names and not getting odd looks from the staff. The school had a very large area for students to sit, chat, and work, as well as providing a variety of games that they could play. Table hockey, foosball, and a card table always seemed to be in use when we were there. 

• If I called the architecture of the cities we went to absolutely gorgeous; it would be an understatement. Haderslev and Coppenhagen are stunning cities with a ton of personality. They are easy to navigate and offer so many things to do. There was shopping, gaming, food, and even a theme park in the city center. 

• The Danes have their own version of “Karens!” I was on a trip with my host family to a popular beach, and we saw some people speeding and drifting in their cars. My host father whispered “Brians.” My host explained that a Brian is someone who is always showing off. They have a buzz cut, tattoos, and always try to impress other people. Funnily enough, their neighbor, Brian, fit this description perfectly. 

• Bread is a HUGE part of their diet, served at almost every meal and as a snack for school. For most breakfasts on the trip, we had rolls with a thin slice of chocolate. Usually, I don’t eat a full breakfast in the mornings. I just grab something quick and leave my house, but in Denmark I sat down with my host family and ate breakfast before leaving for school.

• On our visit to a Cold War bunker underneath the school, we were taught about Danish Cold War strategies. Now, I don’t know if this is my American mind speaking, but hearing how the Danish strategy was to defend for as long as possible and then surrender was definitely something new to hear. In fact, the bunker only had two weeks worth of food, because that is how long they figured Denmark would last if invaded by the USSR. The plan was to wait for aid from the U.S, and hope they got there in time. After learning so much about U.S. history, this strategy was definitely a foreign concept.

Going into the trip, I knew I wanted to try something new in Denmark. I decided to try a staple Danish food, the open-faced sandwich. I enjoyed the sandwich overall, but I have to admit that it was pretty difficult to eat. I also tried a popular candy, licorice! Specifically the salted kind, which was very, very salty. I needed a glass of water close by and don’t think that I would willingly eat it again. I thought that the taste would grow on me by the end of the trip—it didn’t. 

If I was able to take anything from Denmark back to the U.S., it would be the city structure. All of the cities we traveled to were super easy to walk, and biking is a very popular mode of transportation. It was also interesting to see how different the school system is from ours. I was amazed that Danish schools host parties for students where alcohol is served and the students drink and play games. Gap years are very common and usually encouraged by parents and teachers. It is typical for a student to take a year off after finishing high school to work or travel before continuing their education if they choose. University for the Danes is free and the courses are more focused on a specific field of study rather than including general education courses. I would compare it to our version of graduate school, law school, or medical school.

I think it was extremely valuable to have a sense of independence while exploring the cities. In addition to taking walking tours, we had free time to explore on our own. It was an opportunity for me to be away from home and learn to function in a very different environment. I learned the importance of communication, as being in a country where I didn’t fully speak or understand the language was pretty challenging. When we traveled to Hamburg, just a two-hour drive from Haderslev, I was surprised that many of the Danish students didn’t know much German. Most of the Danes were able to carry on a conversation in English, but my host parents’ knowledge was limited. Spending the day with them made me value how we communicate and appreciate the humor in the amount of times we used Google Translate. 



I was fortunate to spend my spring break in Madrid through the school’s exchange program with Colegio Villa de Griñon. I feel so lucky I was able to have this unique experience and I am eager to share the ups and downs from the trip. The three words I would use to describe my experience with the Marid exchange trip would be: enjoying, interesting, and troubling. 

Enjoying: Without a doubt the first word I used to describe this experience is enjoyment. My favorite days were the days we visited other cities. Midway through the trip we joined the Spanish students on a trip to the ancient city of Toledo, where we visited ancient cathedrals and spent time in a museum learning about the city’s history and its impact on Spain. Although that was fascinating, the part of the day I enjoyed most was sitting in a café pretending I was a local and not a tourist. 

The next day my SSSAS group went to Segovia, another ancient city with great Roman influence. We saw Roman aqueducts and also visited a castle that’s older than the U.S. We visited a large cathedral but again, I enjoyed having coffee with my friends. Coffee figured prominently on my trip! 

I was lucky to visit Madrid with the school and my host family many times. I toured the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium where the football club Real Madrid plays. A highlight was going to the famous Chocolatería de San Ginés café, which was founded in 1894 and is known for its mixtures of chocolate and coffee. Enjoyment not only came from the special places we visited, but also from spending time at the school. I enjoyed playing football with the Spaniards and experiencing school life with them. 

Interesting: Before I went to Spain my host, who was Chinese, reached out to me and asked, “Do you mind eating Chinese food? And do you speak Spanish? Because my parent don’t speak English and only a little Spanish.” I responded with “Absolutely I love Chinese food, it won’t be a problem.” I was unsure whether or not I actually liked Chinese food, but I knew I was in for a week of new discoveries and a lot of miscommunication. Some of my peers felt sorry for me,  because they felt I might miss out on a true Spanish experience staying with a Chinese host family, but I thought it was great because I was going to have two different cultural experiences on the same trip. 

My first real experience with the family was over dinner the first night. I was exhausted from the day of traveling and a couple of hours at school. We had rice, fruit, and chicken that was traditional from my host mom’s village in China. I felt obligated to eat as much as I could because I told them how much I liked Chinese food. The first dinner was definitely awkward. Andrés, my host, had a sister who spoke English very well but was too shy to speak to me. Andrés spoke English well but his parents spoke barely any English or Spanish. I spent the majority of the dinner looking at my plate while they all spoke Chinese. I felt very home sick, missing friends and family and being able to communicate with others. But after a couple of days I felt at home with my host family. A special moment was having a dinner of dumplings and fruit with Andrés and his mom, followed by a long conversation with her. Even though there was a language barrier we were able to communicate through Google translate and gestures to have a deep conversation. I enjoyed shopping with her, pushing the cart around as she picked up foods and showed them to me for approval. I feel so lucky to have lived with this Chinese family in Spain. Through the different foods, instruments, music, and just regular day-to-day life I experienced both Chinese and Spanish culture simultaneously. My host family were some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, which made my next take away from the trip so concerning.

Troubling: My biggest take away from this trip was the extent of the racism that I witnessed in Spain. My first encounter was during my first day at school. The teacher in our first class did not speak English very well, giving some of the Spanish students the freedom to say whatever they wanted. Racial slurs, comments about George Floyd, September 11th, and anti-semitic gestures were the most memorable. Even on the playground there was a clear divide between races. Andrés and his Asian friends played basketball together while the Spanish students all played football. Throughout the trip I was unable to spend time with some of our American group because their Spanish hosts didn’t like Andrés because he was Chinese. Sometimes the other Spanish hosts argued that they didn’t like him because they didn’t know him, but it was clear the lack of effort to become friends was rooted in racism. It wasn’t just the Spanairds who made racist comments; even my host made racist comments about others. Many people including Andrés told me to be careful of Moroccan and Black people because they would steal my things. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and how many of these terrible acts were occurring in school. I wasn’t able to comprehend how these students felt so comfortable making these comments, especially in school and in front of unknowing teachers. I talked to Andrés about the racism towards him but he seemed to not care because it had been prevalent for his whole life. It broke my heart to see how people were excluded from activities solely because of their race. With all of this said, total blame cannot be put on these kids. In the end they’ve been influenced by their parents. One of the Americans on the trip commented they regularly heard racist comments in their host family’s home and that it seemed to be normal, acceptable behavior for the students and adults.  

All of our host students were younger than us. Many of them were 15 while we were 17 or 18. Youth is not an excuse for these racist acts and comments and yet, at 15 everyone makes mistakes. The difference is that our school holds students accountable for their actions. Most of the kids didn’t seem to understand the gravity of what they were saying. I was shocked by the apparent lack of education. Through four years of work on our Student Committee on Racial Equity (SCORE) and the opportunity to travel to Texas for the Student Leadership Diversity Conference, SSSAS has prepared me for the actions and lack of action that I observed in Spain. 

I want to reiterate how it’s easy to put blame on these individuals, but in reality it is the influence of generational racism and a lack of education that is to blame. The problem is clear, but a path for a solution is murky. It seems unlikely that the school has no knowledge of the racism going on between students. Believe it or not, many of the people making terrible comments were also extremely kind. We played football, shared meals, and enjoyed one another’s company. My comments and what I am sharing does not define all of these people or the youth in Spain today. 

I absolutely recommend this exchange trip to everyone who is able to participate. I encourage the school to continue this program, because learning about the good and bad of a country is the definition of an exchange. If everything on the trip was peachy it wouldn’t be an exchange program it would be a vacation. It’s important to learn the good and bad and be able to have conversations, so that maybe, something is done about it.