Argo-es to LASA

Ambassador Joseph Stafford and his wife Kathleen, came to LASA on Oct. 6 to talk to students about their time in the U.S. Foreign Service and specifically their experience during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The Staffords were among six American embassy workers who escaped the takeover of the American Embassy by Iranian students and hid out with other diplomats.

“It’s important that students understand that history isn’t just about kings and queens, it’s the people that lived through it,” LASA social studies teacher Kim Pettigrew said.

What is now known as the Iranian Revolution began in 1977 with protests against the reigning Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was supported by the United States. The Shah was overthrown by supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious and political leader who had been in exile for 15 years after opposing the previous Shah, in 1979 and was taken in by the U.S. so he might receive adequate treatment for his cancer, which intensified the already present anti-American sentiment in Iran. The Staffords arrived in Iran in Sept. 1979 on their first post with the U.S. Foreign Service. According to Kathleen, the anti-Westernism in Iran was strong and unlike anywhere else she had been. Kathleen said that the regular demonstrations weren’t huge and she did not hear much of them from her post in the embassy.

“Iran is the only time I ever arrived at the airport, and there were some revolutionary guards and they weren’t trained soldiers, they were vigilante-type of people, but that was the first time and the only time I’ve ever been told to go back where I came from,” Kathleen said.

Both Staffords worked on the visa line, reading applications and approving immigration visas to the US. There was a large backlog of visa applicants because the US, in response to a February takeover of the embassy, had suspended all visas from Iran and only just began to re-offer them when the Staffords arrived.

“I came along really as a temporary employee because there was this huge backlog of visa applicants, and since I had taken exactly the same courses that they did, I did the same thing,” Kathleen said.  “I interviewed visa applicants and basically my word went too. Maybe in a tricky case or something I would just go talk to Joe because I thought he was very fair.”

However, the events of Nov. 4, 1979 would be very different from a regular day of protests. Just one year after a number of protesting students were killed by the Shah’s forces on the Tehran University campus, demonstrations were planned to honor the martyrs.

“This was also the day of the martyrs,” Kathleen said. “That’s why the ladies, when I went over and they were in such a bad mood. They were worried because… it was the anniversary of when a number of students, I don’t know how many, had been killed in a protest on the Tehran University grounds. So they were called martyrs. So the lady said ‘this is the day of the martyrs’, they asked me why I came to work at all that day when I went over to do the card business. And so the demonstrations had already been planned for that.”

The demonstrations soon turned violent as students breached the walls of the US Embassy compound, flooding the grounds and brandishing weapons.

“It wasn’t spontaneous, you know, they planned that, to do it the same day,” Kathleen said. “I mean they had bolt cutters and somebody had guns. They didn’t get them, you know they had guns that they did not get by taking over the embassy. They had guns themselves that they used against Al, they were going to shoot him if somebody didn’t open the doors of the embassy.”

The Staffords and their co-workers soon realized this takeover would be different than the more peaceful February occurrence and set about destroying documents and visa plates. Someone placed a call to the police, but there was no answer. When they realized no help was coming, the Staffords, along with others in their building and the Iranians in the visa line, decided they needed to leave the embassy. Their building had street access and led out to a small alley, where Kathleen said there were only two revolutionary guards who did not seem to care about the escaping embassy workers.

“I think it was mainly just a decision in our building, our boss kind of decided what to do,” Kathleen said. “So we could get out and we were the only building on the embassy compound that could get out.”

The Staffords, along with fellow escapees Cora and Mike Lijek and Bob Anders, spent the next six days moving between houses, their own and those of fellow embassy workers, who were now being held hostage inside the compound, before finally ending up with John and Zena Sheardown, members of the Canadian foreign service and friends of Anders.

“We also had Kurdish friends [who] came and offered to help us,” Kathleen said. “Our landlord offered to help us, and we had to turn everybody down because we knew they could be in trouble if they helped us. So it wasn’t just the Canadians.”

For the next three months, the Sheardowns would host four of the six escaped Americans; the Lijeks, Anders and Lee Schatz. The Staffords, however, went to stay with Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife, Pat. Life in the Taylor’s home was fairly constant; The Staffords would wake up and eat breakfast at the same time every day, spend their mornings reading books and the news, have lunch and in the evenings sit with the Taylors  and listen to the latest news.

“It was pretty regimented,” Kathleen said. “We didn’t decide when we were going to have breakfast, we knew we needed to be downstairs. I mean you already feel like you’re putting these people out, so you’re trying to make as few demands as possible. In the morning we’d sit and read, [Joe would] read the paper. [Joe’s] farsi was very good by the time we left. And I would read all these books including John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, all that stuff taught me about being confident and acting like you know what you’re doing.”

While the Staffords stayed hidden with the Taylors, the US government was working to find a way to get the six out of the country before the embassy occupiers noticed the escapees were not among those hostages still in captivity. In late January, CIA disguise and exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez, arrived in Iran, bringing with him Canadian passports and an intricate plan to get the six Americans safely back to U.S. soil. The plan, chronicled by the 2012 award-winning film Argo, involved the six posing as a Canadian film crew on a location-scouting trip. Kathleen posed as the crew’s artist while Joe played the part of producer.

“I was going to be the graphic artist,” Kathleen said. “I had some different drawing tablets and stuff like that. We just had the Canadian clothes. There wasn’t really a whole lot to it. It was just learning our names and our birthdays and a little bit about of Canada, just where something is. We had one day. There was this young Canadian junior officer, has lots of war equipment, he had like Nazi helmets and stuff like that so he put that stuff on and he pretended to interrogate us.”

On the morning of Jan. 27, the six left the Sheardown residence and headed for the Tehran airport, one of the first times they had been out in public since going into hiding. According to Kathleen, they were nervous because they had spent their time in the embassy working on the visa line, where they had seen thousands of hopeful immigrants and now feared being recognized.

“I did remember from my acting days that if you focus on something then other people will focus on it,” Kathleen said. “So I thought to keep myself calm I [watched] a couple, an Iranian couple that had been put to the side and they were giving them a hard time about leaving and so I looked to them. I just watched them. I just watched them and told myself to be calm because that would put attention on them and not on me.”

The six made it safely home to the US after 79 days in hiding, where they laid low and avoided the press to help ensure the safety of the hostages still trapped in Tehran. The escape plot remained secret for the next 18 years and the six escapees all returned to work in the foreign service, with the exception of Kathleen, who instead focused on her art.

“It’s difficult to be a spouse, a trailing spouse, so I’m lucky that I paint… and, as an artist, I can take my profession wherever I go,” Kathleen said. “Probably because of what happened in Iran, I realized life is short and I really loved to paint and so what I wanted to do was my artwork so I just stuck with that.”

For Joe, continuing on in the foreign service was an easy decision. His next post would be in Cairo, and he would continue to serve in calmer nations until being posted in Algiers in 1996.

“This is a one-of-a-kind assignment, circumstances, so you don’t expect this is going to happen again and so go on to more normal assignments,” Joe said. “Still, it’s my view that this is an interesting career, interesting line of work, still there, didn’t change that.”

According to Kathleen, no one really cared much about their story after the information was declassified, that is until Ben Affleck’s film Argo came out, triggering a slew of new interest.

“What’s going to happen is everybody’s going to remember Argo as history,” Kathleen said. “That’s the odd part.”

The critically-acclaimed film dramatizes such events as the rush to the airport, which in reality was calm and relatively uneventful, makes up events like the trip to the bazaar, which in the movie adds even more suspense but did not actually happen and leaves out things entirely, like the role of the Sheardowns in the escape.

“I just wish they’d put a footnote there at the end; it would’ve been easy to do that for the Sheardowns,” Kathleen said. “I understand that you can’t tell all these details and have an interesting story, you have to edit, to keep the focus, so I understand that.”

The film has been criticized for downplaying the role of the Canadians, as well as the other embassies and private individuals who risked their safety to help the escapees. After Argo came out, the Canadians produced their own documentary, titled Our Man in Tehran, which featured Ken Taylor and Zena Sheardown and emphasized the Canadian role in the caper.

“It had been hard on [Zena] all along because [John] never did get much credit,” Kathleen said. “And you know he hid four of the people and it was thanks to him we found them in the first place.”

The Staffords retired in Austin this year. After moving in next to LASA sophomore Eliza Fisher, they agreed to come to LASA to speak about their experience in Iran and the foreign service.

“I think, still think [foreign service is] a very good career, but people who do join should recognize that there may be challenging assignments,” Joe said. “Not as challenging as that one, one hopes, where they have to surreptitiously flee the country where they’re posted or endure the seizure of their embassy. But they will find they have a challenging situation, but it can be interesting work, it can be demanding work but it’s important work so I would encourage anyone with an interest in international relations to consider it.”

 

story by Sam Zern

Sword Savvy

LASA junior Jacob Laves begins in the default stance with his right foot in front of him, his left foot behind him and his sword extended forward. He advances to his next move, stepping his left foot forward while simultaneously swinging the sword towards his opponent.

“There are a few people who, when I tell them I sword fight, look at me weirdly,” Laves said. “Other people think it’s really cool. And then you have people that think it’s some sort of ultraviolence, and that I’m a serial killer with a sword.”

Laves started sword fighting in the eighth grade at the Austin Warrior Arts studio after practicing fencing for the three years prior. Laves said most sword fighters were fencers before hand. But even if the sword fighters have fencing experience, they first must learn the sword fighting theory before they start practicing.

“A lot of what we do isn’t actually sparring,” Laves said. “You have to get each motion down, and you have to practice the different drills so that you learn the feel of it all first. Then you can move into a bit of sparring.”

Sparring in sword fighting is going through the motions of a sword swing, but instead of striking the opponent, only the tip of the sword is to make contact with them. The practice of sparring serves to keep sword fighting safe, because despite its common connotation, modern sword fighting is not a dangerous activity.

“It’s not really all that violent,” Laves said. “It’s sword fighting, so its roots are violent, but I would describe this style of sword fighting as more of an art. It’s very graceful.”

Before Laves began sword fighting, he said he imagined it would be more violent than it actually is. Although his expectations were completely different from the real thing, he said he actually enjoys what he practices now more than what he had imagined he’d be practicing.

“It is a very cathartic activity,” Laves said. “You do get a lot of frustration out from the day, even if you aren’t sparring aggressively. You can just channel whatever anger you have from the day into your practice.”

Laves said anyone interested in sword fighting can join. The practice gym is filled with with all sorts of different people from around the city who are interested in trying out the sport.

“There’s not really one demographic that you can fit to the group,” Laves said. “Guys, girls, all ages. There are high schoolers in there, and there are people in their fifties. It’s a huge range.”

Laves’ classmate, LASA junior Emily Pencis, is also part of Austin Warrior Arts. Pencis said she has not been practicing sword fighting as long as Laves, but she loves it just the same. She started sword fighting in the middle of her sophomore year after being exposed to it in a camp she has worked at for the past six years.

“I spend my summers working out at Camp Half-Blood, a camp run by BookPeople,” Pencis said. “I started working as a counselor and training out there, and the sword instructor that teaches there also teaches the classes that I now attend. He and [Laves] kept bugging me to go to the classes after school started, and I eventually gave up arguing and ended up going.”

Although Pencis was exposed to some sword fighting technique at Camp Half-Blood, she said the classes at Austin Warrior Arts are different than any prior training she experienced at camp.

“The after school classes are attended by people of all ages and they’re accumulative, whereas the Camp Half-Blood classes were just for the age of the kids who attend Camp Half-Blood, which is mostly young people,” Pencis said. “So, at camp, he teaches the same stuff over and over again.”

After joining the after school classes at Austin Warrior Arts, Pencis said she felt overwhelmed at first. Pencis said sword fighting is an intense practice, so the classes are very physically strenuous.

“Some days it’s a strain on my mind and body, and it’s really tiring to do, and other days when we actually get into the rhythm of things, I forget that I’m the least experienced person in the room,” Pencis said. “I’m really able to get into the movements.”

Pencis and Laves’ sword fighting instructor at Austin Warrior Arts, Da’mon Stith, said he aims to maintain a comfortable aura in the studio.

“We try to cultivate a close family feeling in the class,” Stith said. “I’m real informal with everyone, and we try to keep that environment.”

Stith said part of the warrior culture that Austin Warrior Arts is trying to share with everyone is the theory of control in the martial arts.

“As a warrior you have a responsibility to preserve and protect life, and if you do have to draw your sword, you do that for a purpose, not just to serve your own end,” Stith said. “[It’s about] being refined and being poised and being ready when the time is right to act, but not going out and seeking to create imbalance in the world. I think that’s the reason why it [shouldn’t be] seen as a violent activity.”

Although in actuality students of sword fighting are meant to master restraint and control of violence, Stith said people have misconceptions about the classes prior to attending. Just the name, ‘sword fighting,’ might fascinate a person looking to release anger and violence.

“You attract certain people to what you’re doing,” Stith said. “It definitely provides a release for aggressive tendencies. It allows you to hit something and go through the emotions of those kinds of things and also to kind of channel it. We need a release like that.”

Sword fighting as an energy release is characterized differently for each student, Stith said. The students are taught the fundamental moves in sword fighting but then each student expresses the movements a little differently.

“Each person is learning techniques but they’re also developing their own signature way of moving,” Stith said. “I may do a technique a little differently just because [that] is what I feel. [That] is how I like to express myself.”

For Laves, developing his own style of movement with the sword has been a gratifying part of his experience, he said. Although he had participated in baseball and soccer in the past, Laves said he didn’t enjoy playing them because the rules are very strict and there is less individuality put forth.

“I think sword fighting is a lot better of an outlet for you to get your own energy out there, because it’s not so confined to ‘this is how you swing best’ or ‘kick this ball over there the best way,’” Laves said. “There’s not much structure or many rules. You just express yourself.”

story by Victoria Mycue

Halt of the Hierarchy

Senior year is supposed to be gloriously care free. I realize that LASA is not your typical American high school, but when my graduating year rolled around I did expect some sort of seniority to come with it.

As I was rising through the ranks of high school, all of my peers were constantly looking forward to becoming an upperclassmen, but I never empathized. I liked being the youngest in the school; having older kids to look up to and a seemingly endless amount of people to befriend was always what made school interesting. I looked forward to graduation and being done with high school but I never looked forward to the year itself. Now that senior year is finally upon me, I realize I was right to not look forward to it. All the respect and awe I had for seniors my freshman year is simply nonexistent in the mentalities of the current underclassmen. In the hallways, kids bump into me so forcefully I almost fall over, in complete disregard to the hierarchical structure of high school.

Some of the most coveted senior traditions have lost their intrigue. Leaving campus is no longer a novelty. Especially when you run into half the school, undoubtedly including the underclassmen you are trying to escape, while frequenting Chipotle. The course load is way more involved than expected. I am not taking any easy classes, nor do I have an off-period. I have mountains of homework every night not to mention twelve college essays with looming deadlines. I have not had the time to go to a football game because of my hectic schedule, so I have not even been able to enjoy the VIP area of the student section yet, assuming it still exists and the underclassmen haven’t ignored that tradition as well.

My experience on the volleyball team perfectly exemplifies my struggles as a power-hungry senior. When I was a freshman playing volleyball it was understood by me and my fellow underlings that it was our job to set up the net, fill up the water and complete all other team related chores. I knew all the varsity players and genuinely looked up to them, staying until the end of every single one of their games every Tuesday and Friday for the entire season. Now that I’m a senior, this has all changed. Most practices I find myself doing the freshman’s work for them, only to be halfway thanked and simultaneously called the wrong name. I do not know when the power shift happened, but I would like it to be restored to the seniors so that we can rule the school like we are supposed to.

I am mostly joking when I say I want to be feared by the underclassmen. My views are not actually this extreme. I would just like the be shown some respect from time to time. After three grueling years of LASA, I think that I, along with my fellow seniors, have earned some seniority.

story by Mary Louise Gilburg

In Between Life

Being Conservative at Church and Liberal at School

“Blessed be your name” flowed from my muffled iPhone speaker and immediately I felt the heat in my cheeks. I quickly hit the skip forward arrow and relaxed as Katy Perry transformed everyone’s uncomfortable faces to smiles and giggles. Having returned from camp only a week prior, I was experiencing what Church of Christ Christians call a “camp high.” Essentially, after being surrounded by similarly bred-and-branded-at-birth Christians for a week straight, I felt incredibly close to God and wanted to hide in a bubble of everything Christian. My summer consisted of Christian music, Bible verse selfie captions and phone backgrounds and eight new crosses to add to a growing collection.

Then I walked into my first week at LASA. Now, don’t get me wrong, LASA is an incredibly open place. I’ve never felt like I couldn’t be myself or that I had to give in to things I didn’t want to do in order to fit in. But, all the same, LASA hit me like a brick wall that first year and has continued to do so each year since. LASA kids are not especially judgmental of or opposed to Christian ideals, but hearing a “church song” play from their pro gay rights, feminist friend is confusing to them. They, like so many others, hear “Christian” and think three things: Republican, homophobic, and close-minded.

I understand where these presumptions come from because when I discuss these issues at my church, these stereotypes are generally proven to be true. Often, we’ll be talking about gay rights and a high schooler in my youth group will say something like “it’s not necessarily a sin, but it’s definitely wrong.” Or I’ll hear “Obama painted over the American flag on Air Force 1, can you believe that’s how he’s spending his term?” as if all he’s truly done thus far is get out there and paint his own plane. But on the other hand, I think it’s rather close-minded in it’s own way for someone to accept and encourage these stereotypes. By doing so, you’re actually just closing your mind to the fact that there are indeed Christians who don’t embody said stereotypes.

My family fits almost none of the Christian stereotypes mentioned. I grew up in the church and my first memories are of playing in my church’s sanctuary, praying with my grandparents, and taking communion. However, despite what most people think about such an upbringing, my family is quite liberal. I remember being confused as to why President Bush’s face was on a roll of our toilet paper at our election party in ‘08 and I grew up watching Zoolander and Seinfeld with my parents. As a child I was always confused about why my Sunday morning friends thought being gay was a sin, but when I walked into high school on the first day of Freshman year I saw QSA posters everywhere.

For a long time I hated the idea of being associated with the label Christian, and to be honest, I’m still figuring out how that label fits me. Though I still don’t appreciate the connotation that accompanies it, I take pride in the fact that I can define my religion however I see fit, despite other people’s assumptions. Overall, I like my awkward in between life. It opens my mind and allows me to experience things through different lenses. Because I’ve had to talk about these issues so much, I have learned how to have respectful conversations about faith, politics and everything inbetween. Primarily, the dynamic has created two major support systems for me. I know I have a family at school and another family at church I can talk to and grow with as our opinions on all of these issues evolve.

story by Grace Fullerton

LBJ Football Team Defeats Long Term Rivals

Last Friday, the LBJ football team defeated Reagan with a score of 62-0. Reagan and LBJ have been rivals since they opened in the 1970s, and consequently an abundance of hype occurs for this game every year. Friday’s victory was a significant win for the student body and has given the football team hope for a successful season.

LBJ Athletic Director and football coach Andrew Jackson shares his players’ excitement for the Reagan defeat. Jackson said that he is content with the team’s performance and hopes that they keep playing hard in games to come.

“I was real happy about how we did offensively,” Jackson said.  “We had very few plays, but we scored pretty quick. It was good to see us being consistent and moving the ball around.”

Historically, LBJ’s football team typically defeats Reagan’s, however, the score isn’t always as drastic as it was this year. Jackson said that this score is representative of the team’s growth this year.

“I think we surprised Reagan with our team’s overall speed,” Jackson said. “We are faster than most people think we are.”

Jackson and the rest of the football team are continuing their efforts to prepare for the district games. If the team plans to win district, they have to keep practicing hard and improving their speed.

“Right now we can control our own destiny,” Jackson said. “Our first goal right now is to win districts and after that, to try to play out until Thanksgiving. We’ve got a long season ahead of us.”

Jackson said that he is looking forward to the rest of the season, because team has done tremendously well so far and is undefeated in district. Jackson is confident that we can get through districts winning nine out of 10 games.

“The future is bright. My objective when I first this job is to turn this team into a state recognized team,” Jackson said. “We have a chance.”

story by Willow Higgins

 

Seniors Transition into Adulthood through Voting

LASA senior Ben Taulli registers LASA senior Dyllan Scheuster to vote.

LASA senior Ben Taulli registers LASA senior Dyllan Scheuster to vote. photo by Mary Louise Gilburg

Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis and Republican State Attorney General Greg Abbott are running in Texas’ first open election gubernatorial race since 1990 this November. Incumbent Rick Perry declared that he would not run for reelection, leaving the republican slot open for Abbott. With two vastly different platforms in the running, the November election may be a significant turning point in Texas politics. This year, high school class of 2015 seniors will have a chance to vote in the gubernatorial election and make a difference in the political future of Texas.

LASA senior Ben Taulli said he believes the race for governor is important and has worked hard to contribute to the Davis campaign. By walking door-to-door and participating in phone banks, Taulli was able to provide prospective Democrats with information about Davis’ platform and field questions that potential voters have.

“I think we do have a good chance of electing Wendy Davis,” Taulli said.  “We just have to get out the word, and perpetuate the idea that a democratic vote does count in the state of Texas. There is a lot grunt work that needs to be done that is completely necessary to get her into office.”

Having dedicated his summer to the campaign, Taulli said he hopes his fellow high school seniors that are of voting age will step up to vote. He said that this election is incredibly important and people should contribute if they feel strongly about it.

“There is nothing more important in the political scope if you live in Texas than voting in Texas,” Taulli said. “Texas voter turnout is so low, and I think a lot of Texas Democrats get discouraged because it is really hard to get a democratic candidate elected, but that is only because Democrats don’t vote in this state. Only 18 percent of the Texas population voted for Rick Perry, which goes to show that if voter turnout was higher, the Democrats could have a real chance.”

LASA government teacher Ronny Risinger also supports participation in the upcoming election, and stresses the importance of voting in his government classes.  He works as an election judge in Williamson county, assisting people in the voting process.

“I tend to think that all people should be involved,” Risinger said. “While it’s easy to say that young people are stupid and don’t know what they are doing and shouldn’t be allowed to vote, democracy is supposed to represent all people including the young and the old. Every voice should be heard.”

Taulli is working to bring the campaign to LASA and inspire up-and-coming Democrats by co-creating a new club. LASA seniors Zia Lyle and Willow Higgins collaborated with Taulli in the creation of a Young Democrats of LASA club. Its purpose it to spread the word about the importance of voting and participation in politics.

“The Young Democrats club is hopefully going to be a branch to organize people into Battleground Texas,” Taulli said. “It will give people who do not know about the organizations an opportunity to volunteer. Hopefully we will get a lot of people to join and volunteer for the Wendy Davis campaign. We are also reaching out to people who will be 18 in November to make sure they are registered to vote in time.”

Voter turnout is extremely low in Texas. Texas is ranked forty-eight in the nation  and in some elections turnout reaches below 1 percent. Risinger acknowledges that many high school seniors can now vote and work to become more involved in Texas politics.

“At a minimum, I hope my students who are allowed to vote, because they are 18, will engage in the issues and study the issues instead of just listening to the paid campaign commercials,” Risinger said. “Sometimes those commercials are very misleading or deceptive.”

Taulli and Risinger both said they want  eligible seniors to participate in the election and take advantage of the fact that their vote counts as much as anyone elses. They are deeply involved in the election process and have worked hard to inspire LASA and LBJ students to as well.

“Democracy thrives based on the people’s involvement,” Risinger said. “If we don’t involve ourselves in the affairs of government we will become a slave to our own creation.”

story by Mary Louise Gilburg

Summer Service and Sights

LASA junior Zennie Wey with her campamento students in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Zennie Wey with her campamento students in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Hannah Read plays soccer with her campamento students in Peru

LASA junior Hannah Read plays soccer with her campamento students in Peru

LASA junior Hannah Read and her Peruvian host family

LASA junior Hannah Read and her Peruvian host family

LASA junior Hannah Read

LASA junior Hannah Read

LASA junior Zennie Wey paints a basketball court in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Zennie Wey paints a basketball court in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Zennie Wey in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Zennie Wey in the Dominican Republic

In the thick of the summer heat, LASA students traveled across the globe to enrich their cultural understanding. Students dispersed themselves into Latin American nations, offering their labor and knowledge to small communities who needed an extra hand. No matter what country visited, the total immersion into a foreign land gave these students a new-found appreciation for the world of travel.

As school has begun and summer comes to a close, LASA senior Sadie Barron, LASA junior Hannah Read and LASA junior Zennie Wey are benefitting from the experiences they have gained on their trips. Their time abroad has changed their perspective on American culture and education and has transformed their understanding of foreign lifestyles.

Wey traveled to the Dominican Republic this summer for a service project within the Neyba community. Going into the trip, Wey said she was very nervous. Wey said that Dominicans live a very different lifestyle than what she has grown up with, so she was worried that she may not be prepared for what was in store.

“I was really hesitant about being able to spend seven weeks in a country that didn’t speak English,” Wey said. “I also wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable with their very simplistic lifestyle. We had no running water, bucket baths, some pee buckets, and really sketchy electricity. But I ended up enjoying everything a lot.”

Read’s trip to Peru and Barron’s trip to Nicaragua were fueled by an interest in the Spanish language. They both participated in the Amigos program, which combines language immersion with service work in third-world countries. Barron, Read and Wey all said that their service trip tremendously improved their Spanish skills. Because they were completely immersed into a Spanish-speaking culture, Barron said they had no other option but to speak the native language.

“If you don’t like something, you’re going to have to eat it, or you’re going to have to tell them ‘I don’t like it,’ which forces you to speak Spanish,” Barron said. “Either you speak Spanish, or you’re going to die.”

Barron visited the community of Monte Grande in municipal San Ramon, Matagalpa, Nicaragua where she stayed with a host family which nine children.

“I liked living with a host family, because it’s like you’re actually in the culture, like you aren’t American anymore,” Barron said. “Rather than being the outsider looking in, you’re actually the person.”

Read said that she became comfortable with her community and the language that they spoke by teaching children at summer camp. Spending time with the same kids every day allowed her bond with the community as a whole.

“We would walk 40 minutes up a mountain about five days a week for ‘campamentos,’ or extracurricular camps, with the kids at the primary school,” Read said. “At the school I would teach the kids about nutrition, health, sanitation, children’s rights and leadership. I would also play lots and lots of soccer and Duck, Duck, Goose.”

Read engaged with the Peruvian community, even outside of the school system. She worked closely with her host family and assisted them with their daily chores as well as working on a community improvement project.

“The second part of the program was the Community-Based Initiative Process,” Read said. “My partner and I worked with our host family and other members of the community to find and create a sustainable and beneficial project for the community. We decided to build soccer goals out of plastic tubes at the school and at the main soccer field where the adult men played twice a week. I also helped [my host family] with daily activities such as bringing the cows to water, harvesting crops, preparing food and just getting to know my family and other members of the community.”

Wey’s service project had goals very similar to Read’s. Like Read, Wey taught at the ‘campamentos’ within her community, and focusing on healthy lifestyles and leadership skills. She also worked on a community improvement project that she said was very successful.

“For our project, we repainted their basketball court,” Wey said. “We also put in lights so the community members could not only play basketball after dark but also host more basketball games more frequently.”

Getting to know the children within the community was Read’s favorite part about her trip. She said that the more she played and worked with the kids, the more she saw the group as her family.

“One time, the school of San Ignacio was playing in a soccer tournament in another community and my partner and I went with our kids and watched all the games,” Read said. “Our team lost, but I had so much fun spending time with the kids. They loved using my camera to take pictures and I taught them how to do cartwheels. After that day, I felt really accepted and welcomed as a member of the community.”

Wey most enjoyed spending time with her community because it gave her a new understanding of cultural differences and standards. She said that everyone she met was so welcoming, and their positivity was astounding.

“The area [I was in] was very rural and a lot of the houses either had adobe, straw or tin roofs,” Wey said. “So coming from America, I considered the people to be poor. But one day when one of the children was talking to my partner during Campamentos,  and he told him that they weren’t poor.  He told them that they were middle class because they had enough resources to feed their families.  Going to the Dominican Republic redefined my idea of not only social class, but [it] also changed my perspective on the lifestyle that people in America, myself included, lead.”

Each student has said that their experience has been extremely beneficial and has enlightened their cultural understanding.  Read said that she learned so much that she returned to the United States with a new perspective on the world and with many newly acquired skills.

“I experienced so many things that were wildly different from my life here in the United States,” Read said.  “I faced many challenges at first, but was able to grow from those. My Spanish skills improved incredibly, and I learned how to be flexible. I tried new things like eating guinea pig and harvesting a vegetable called oka with my bare hands. I am now much more grateful for all the wonderful things and commodities I have in my life, but I know I can be happy and successful without things like the internet and a shower.”

story by Willow Higgins

 

Cutting the Ribbon with Music

photo courtesy of Ciara McDaniel

Section leaders of the LBJ band perform at the Grand Opening Ceremony of the ACC Highland Campus. LASA senior and LBJ band head drum major Sydney Robinson conducts the group. “It was a lot of fun and we felt very honored to be performing at the event,” Robinson said. photo courtesy of Ciara McDaniel

As rapid drum beats come to a close, LBJ band members play energetic stand jams under a large tent with about 300 people present. When the ribbon is cut for the grand opening of a new Austin Community College (ACC) campus, the LBJ fight song rings through the air.

LBJ band section leaders and the Reagan High School drumline performed at the Grand Opening Ceremony of the ACC Highland Campus. Many Austin dignitaries, AISD school officials and others were in attendance. These groups were chosen to perform because of their close relationship with ACC through the Early College High School program present at both high schools.

LBJ head band director Don Haynes said the grand opening ceremony was a great opportunity for LBJ and for the band. He also said the campus was beautiful.

“I felt great about the event and how we performed for the opening ceremony of the Highland Mall campus,” Haynes said. “After we performed three selections, our students were given a marvelous walking tour of the facility.The inside is very impressive and artistic in style.”

LASA senior Sydney Robinson, the head drum major for the LBJ band, attended the event. Section leaders of the LBJ band performed after the Reagan drum line. Robinson said the section leaders got a tour of the ACC building after performing.

“[The LBJ band] played stand band regulars, like ‘Do What You Wanna,’ [‘Knocking Pictures’] and the [LBJ] Fight Song,” Robinson said. “I thought it was a lot of fun and felt very honored to be performing at the event.”

Haynes said he chose these songs because they fit the upbeat occasion. He said the band members present represented LBJ/LASA very well, as did the Reagan drumline.

“[The LBJ band] played football music, which was most appropriate [for] a spirited and uplifting mood for the grand opening,” Haynes said. “There was a ribbon cutting part where we got to play our Fight Song.”

According to Haynes, this event was a great performance experience for the LBJ band. He also said it was a good way for members of the Austin community who would not typically attend football games or band competitions to see the LBJ band play.

“This event is a good example of how we show up in the central Texas area,” Haynes said. “most of the folks there such as the mayor, our state representatives, and our US Congressman don’t get to see our Band in action at games or parades. I feel we added a great deal to the success of the ceremony.”

story by Frankie Marchan