Friday 8-9-13 Last Day & Final Reflections

Wow, I can’t believe it is Friday evening at 7:30pm. Our Prague experience is rapidly coming to an end. We just finished dinner and now the group is heading back to the hostel for warm clothes and rain gear. The day started off warm as we have been experiencing until a significant thunderstorm rolled in around 2:30pm and it has been raining ever since. The temperature has also dropped about 30 degrees and it is quite chilly now. “Chilly” isn’t a word we ever thought we would be using after all the heat we have experienced. For Erin and myself, it has been a busy day with meetings, staffing our booth and my YMCA History presentation this afternoon. We are going to spend the evening at the main stage, rain or not!

imageThe plan for tomorrow is as follows. We are getting up at 7:00am to pack and check the rooms one last time. Then breakfast at 8:15am and load the bus which will be picking us up at the hostel to drive to the airport. From there we will secure a space and wait for our various flights. Most of us are changing flights at Heathrow and then flying on to the US. Barring any weather or mechanical delays, we should arrive to our final destinations on time for pick up. For parents or friends picking up travelers, please check the flight status to ensure we are running on schedule.

On a personal note, it has been a delight to travel with this group. We have had our challenges with unexpected events but everyone rose to the occasion to ensure that the ultimate outcome was a positive one, and based on the laughter and chatter I was listening to at dinner, we have been successful. I think you can expect everyone to sleep quite late on Sunday morning as we are all exhausted from late nights and busy schedules, not to mention the six hour time difference but there will be plenty of stories and photos to share. I hope they really internalize this experience and think about their own legacy and role on the world based on what they have learned and been exposed to. They have been with 5,000 teens and young adults from 62 countries, all with a passion and desire to make a difference. With graduation just a short one or two years away, now is when they need to really start formulating how they are going to make their personal mark on this global world we live in. The opportunity to touch lives, to make a difference and find a career path that will bring meaning and purpose to their lives is the ultimate outcome. The opportunity to have felt the energy, commitment and excitement of the future that has been present all week at this youth festival should hopefully have a lasting impact on everyone. This is a group of wonderful young adults and both Erin and I are excited about their potential going forward.

I want to say thanks to my colleague and friend Erin Friedman who has put so much energy and planning into this experience. Her commitment to excellence and managing details is what has made this trip so successful. And as tired as I know she is, never is she without a smile or a positive outlook on things. Erin, you are the BEST!!! You make this experience for me a delight and I truly appreciate your support and friendship!

Thanks to Tammy Biggins who is our office administrative assistant. While Erin and I are off on our adventures, she is always there in the office keeping things moving and managing the many details that come up on a daily basis. Tammy, Erin and I really appreciate your effort!

imageThanks to our spouses, Tim and Anne. You both keep the home front daily lives going in our respective homes while we are away. Neither of us could be away on the many trips we run without the continuous support from our families and it is always comforting to know that you are there waiting for us on our return home.

Thanks to the Springfield College International Center for helping to fund the trip and for sending along Sarah Heminger, the assistant director of the Center who has been a huge help to Erin and myself. Thanks for staying up to all hours and allowing your room to be a hangout for the students!

Thanks to Bill Allen, Trustee of the Elwell Fund which is a significant funding source of this trip. Bill, without your enthusiastic support of us and the financial funding, we would not be here.

Thanks to the various college departments who have helped us with logistics of being here. It is always nice to know that we can count on our college colleagues to come through. One notable department is MarCom who helps us in so many ways, including setting up the blog we have been posting to. Brian, you are always there for us.

Thanks to the families, friends, relatives and other people who have supported the students with this endeavor. Your emotional (as well as financial) support is what has provided each of them the confidence and opportunity to travel to a foreign country and have an experience with memories that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

It has been a pleasure trying to keep everyone connected to the experience we have been having through this blog. WiFi connections have been exceedingly rare and difficult to find so I apologize for the delays at times but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

With that I am going to sign off for the last time and try to find a connection. Thanks again to everyone for following the blog and for your supportive and caring notes to your loved ones.

Harry

ps: Jessica is fine and back with us after a good night sleep! She will be continuing her adventure exploring Europe with Nicole. Be safe and have the time of your life!

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Thursday 8-8-13 Palace and Music

Hi everyone, it is 10:30am on Thursday and I have to laugh thinking that you are all still sleeping as it is 4:30am your time. This post will be very short as I am camped in a Costa Coffee shop right now while the girls are shopping in the adjoining shops. It is the first connection I have been able to find in 24 hours. We just finished visiting the Palac YMCA with the open faced elevator cars that are constantly looping around and you just jump on and off. No doors, very cool! We are tired as our nights are going later and later. It was 2:00am this morning when we finally got to bed and we were then at breakfast at 8:00am. Everyone is holding up well. It is amazing what a good cup of coffee will do for them. Unfortunately, poor Jessica had a reaction to her medication so Erin has taken her to the local hospital to change her meds. Yesterday was a busy day. We visited the Lennon Peace Wall, explored the west side of the Charles River Bridge which was very different and very European with narrow streets and outdoor cafes. After climbing endless stairs to the sky, we arrived in Prague Castle. It is a huge complex as in its day, this is where people lived and worked while being protected by the high walls. The views of the river and the city were incredible. We had climbed 250 stairs to the top of the tower which had us all breathing a little faster and feeling our quads a bit. While we were up there, we noticed in the courtyard below us the palace honor guard gathering for a performance. While the band played, we watched precision driving by their motorcycle squad as well as marching and rifle routines by the drill team. It was incredible to view it from a birds eye view as you could really see the various patterns they were creating. After having lunch in the quaintest little sidewalk cafe, we headed back to the festival. The big stage performance was by teens from around the world who have been planning this for months. It was as professional and well done as anything I have ever seen. Their energy, excitement, passion, and talent has been amazing to watch. They have a connection and love for the YMCA that is incredible and their desire to change the world for the betterment of those less fortunate is awe-inspiring. Their cause is to help eliminate poverty around the world and if the energy we experienced last night is any indication, they will get it done. After the big stage closed down, the crowds of young peopleimage image image image image image imageimage image image image image dispersed throughout the festival grounds to listen to music from YMCA teen musicians at three different locations. There were camp fires with marshmallows and singing, people sitting in the HUGE treehouse complex which was set up as a coffeehouse, arts & crafts, big screen movies under the stars and food were all ways to keep busy until we left at 11:30pm. Unfortunately, Erin, Sasha and myself jumped on the wrong tram due to our level of weariness so it took us longer to get back than usual but that is an easy mistake to make in a strange city with a difficult language. It is just part of the adventure! It is amazing how much we have done, how fast things are going and how soon we will be departing but while we are here, we are certainly trying to see everything we can. Have to run as we are on the move again. I will have to post this later. We are having a great time and the experience is incredible. Everyone is holding up well. We miss everyone at home! Harry

Tuesday 8/6/13 A Fun Day At The Festival

Boy, how the time is moving. I can’t believe it is Tuesday already. We have covered a lot of ground since my last post yesterday, taking advantage of everything to all hours of the night. These 1:30am bedtimes with 6:30am wake-ups are wearing on this advisor but we are going strong. Yesterday we spent the day exploring the old city of Prague with much shopping along the way. I’m not sure how these suitcases are going to accommodate all the bags I see the students carrying but there should be some nice gifts and remembrances coming home. The YMCA Festival finally kicked off last night after the storm delay. There was an atmosphere filled with energy and excitement as the ocean of young people descended on the festival grounds at 5:00pm. There were activities, music, dinner and networking opportunities going on all over. As the evening moved along, we decided to leave and take the tram back down to the Charles River Bridge which is simply breathtaking, both during the day and at night. Views of Old Town on one side and Prague Castle on the other keeps you standing in the center spellbound. We stopped for ice cream and worked our way towards the old town square which is as European as you can get with the old structures, spires, statues and obvious history. It was late when we arrived back at the hostel but quick showers and some sleep had us ready for the day today. We arrived at the festival grounds by 9:00am for a leadership training which took the morning. The afternoon has had us busy volunteering leading sports activities for the other participants, attending workshops ourselves and touring the extensive grounds. It is amazing how many things are going on for everyone to take advantage of from arts & crafts, dance, high ropes, singing songs, listening to music and just meeting people from all over the world. There are even two pools for the students to swim in which have been filled all day with young people due to the heat. A surprise was the huge tree house complex that many participants are actually living in for the week. Bottom line, we haven’t been bored. It is still hot but we are making sure everyone is drinking lots of water. We are going to dinner shortly so I’m going to wrap up. I’m in a hotel lounge right now where I was able to find a WiFi connection waiting for the students to show up from the hostel. Oh, they are here now, off we go! Thanks again for the messages. We love them! Harryimage image image imageimageimage image image imageimageimage imageimage image image

Monday, 8-5-13 Coffee in Prague

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageMonday morning and it is a beautiful day. We had a fierce thunderstorm with high winds and major rain one hour into the opening of the festival last night which forced the evacuation of the fair grounds and canceling of all the events last night. Spirits were low with wet and hungry bodies but after hot showers and a great meal once we returned to the hostel, they all bounced back. Today is gorgeous with sun, cooler temperatures and blue sky. The festival was cancelled until 5:00pm to allow for cleanup to take place so we have had an unexpected free day to tour again. Erin is at the festival headquarters helping to reschedule events as she is on the US Planning Committee. I have the students back exploring the city. We started at Starbucks and they all feel like a million bucks now with coffee and croissants to start their day. We had toured this area yesterday so they want to shop and reexplore everything.

There is no question we have had a few unexpected bumps along the way. Erin and one of the students missed our connecting flight in London when they were held up in security. I took the main group through to Prague and we met them later at the hostel on Saturday morning. When we landed, three suitcases were missing but they eventually made their way to us that evening. Saturday hit 100 degrees for a record high and yesterday was quite hot as well. We are expecting heat until Friday when it will be 70. The hostel is actually a college dorm, very simple with shared bathroom facilities. The language has been challenging as there are no words that we can guess at. French or Spanish would be easier, but this language is entirely different so we have been unable to communicate at all unless they speak English. We are starting to figure out the underground and tram system. One of our biggest difficulties has been finding WiFi for internet connections as there is nothing at the hostel and it has been hard to find in other locations. At this morning’s group “how are we all doing” discussion, I talked about the fact that when you travel, you have to expect the unexpected and find ways to adjust without it affecting the entire experience. Overall, they are starting to appreciate what they take for granted in the US, how good we have it compared to other countries. I think they will come back with a much broader perspective and appreciation for all that we enjoy on a daily basis.

I have given them until 4:00pm to explore and have fun in the historic section of Prague. We will then head for the festival for the restart of all the events. We are meeting in the center of the Charles Bridge which is BEAUTIFUL, looking over the old town and Prague Castle which we will explore on Wednesday.

So bottom line, everyone is adjusting to a six hour time difference, being tired, finding their way around a strange city, and having limited communication with home but they are learning, growing and having fun. What an adventure that they will look back on years from now and be glad they experienced it!

For Erin and I, we are enjoying these extraordinary young adults. We always enjoy our students and we both feel privileged to be able to create these experiences for them. Well, it is time for me to now go explore a bit myself. I apologize for the not being more regular with this blog but connections have been our issue. So don’t expect any regular schedule of postings and I’ll try to get something out to you when I have the opportunity.

Thanks for your messages and keep them coming!

Harry

Sunday, 8-4 Discovering Prague

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Hi everyone, this blog will be short tonight. We were in a fierce thunderstorm late this afternoon so everyone had to wait out the rain and wind at the festival site which was then cancelled for the evening. We had a great opening ceremony for the 500 student delegation from the USA. There are 5,000 young adults from YMCAs from 62 countries. We are meeting people from Japan, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Iceland, Scotland, Germany, Netherlands, as well as Ys from 32 states in the US. This list will continue to grow through the week. We had a terrific tour of Prague today with a tour guide. What a beautiful city and so much history. The students are taking plenty of photos so you will have plenty to view. One of our frustrations is the fact we are struggling to find WiFi connections so our posts are going to be erratic, much less regular than I had expected. This has been a significant challenge, much tougher than I expected. (Later) I am back on line. We left the festival site before I was finished writing. We headed back to the hostel after the storm and we now having dinner in a very nice restaurant. Hot showers and good food does a lot for spirits and smiles. All of the students are heading into the city tonight on the metro to walk around and view the sites. Here are a few photos from today. Thanks for your messages. The students enjoy hearing them. More tomorrow. Harry

 

 

 

A Note From Harry

Harry checked in with the Office of Marketing and Communications to let everyone know things are going well in Prague, but they are having difficulties finding an Internet connection or WiFi.  Everyone is looking forward to sharing their adventures on this blog, and they will be sure to check in and continue posting as soon as they can!

 

Crossing the Atlantic, Friday 8/2/2013

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It is hard to believe that we are in the air crossing the Atlantic as I write this. It was exciting for Erin and me to reconnect with our students at the British Airways ticket counter as we haven’t seen them since May. There was certainly a buzz of excitement as we approached them. After acquiring our boarding passes, we headed for the security checkpoint only to be horrified at the length of the line snaking down the long lobby. With an hour until loading for our flight, it was clear there was no way we were going to make it through in time. However, Sasha (our only male besides myself) quickly produced a receipt from the adjoining restaurant where he had lunch and with a promise of express cutting us through the line off we went. I will admit I was a bit suspect that this simple receipt was going to put us ahead of literally hundreds of impatient travelers but off we went to the front of the line! After a five minute wait, we headed through the scanning machines and soon we were headed for our gate. Well done Sasha, you can travel with me anytime, as you so often do. :)

We loaded on time but we are spread throughout the plane so none of us are sitting near each other to allow us to catch up on our summer activities. The plane made it’s roll down the runway at 7:30pm, just 20 minutes late which is pretty good for the airline industry. It is a 5hr 40min flight so it will just be getting light as we land in London. After a bit of a layover in Heathrow, we will reboard for Prague. It is always amazing how you lose your night as you fly east. We will certainly be sleep deprived tomorrow (Saturday) but we will keep everyone moving to try to adjust to the six hour time difference as soon as we can. Well, that’s it for now. Time to take a nap myself! Harry

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Welcome to the Prague Blog by Harry Rock, YMCA Office Director, 8-2-13

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Greetings to all of the students, family members, friends, faculty, colleagues, relatives and interested parties who will be following our trip to Prague. This will be our primary means of communicating where we will be, what we are doing, and how we will be traveling. We will try to post a fresh blog every day to keep you updated. Recognize that there is a six hour time difference, Prague being ahead of us here in the US. Example: When you wake up at 6:00am, it will be noon for us in Prague. Generally we will write our posts the evening prior so when you wake up, you should have something to read from us. The challenge for us however is getting a WiFi signal that we can connect to. Our past experience with international travel tells us that this can be a challenge sometimes so if you aren’t finding a fresh update, it is either because we haven’t been able to connect or we have been on the move so much that we haven’t had time to actually write one. So while we will try to post everyday, we won’t make that a solid promise, but we will do our best. Also, don’t be shy about sending us messages and responses to the blog. We love reading notes from everyone and we share those with the entire group. It is kind of like “mail call” at camp!

Trip leaders Erin Friedman (assistant YMCA Office Director) and myself (Harry Rock, YMCA Office Director) are very excited about this unique experience for the 11 students who will be traveling with us. Sarah Heminger, Assistant Director of the Springfield College International Center will also be joining us as a travel companion for the event. We will be attending the YMCA Europe Festival in Prague, Czech Republic which is essentially an international gathering of 10,000 young people from YMCAs from 50 different countries. This event only takes place once every five years so it is truly a unique opportunity to take advantage of. If you desire to learn more about the actual festival, Google YMCA Europe Festival where you can find information on the daily schedules and everything that is going on.

To our students, safe travels until we meet in Boston at the airport at 4:30pm on Friday at the British Airways ticket counter. Look for the check-in line for London-Heathrow, flight #212 with a departure time of 7:10pm. For the three students flying separately from our main group, please be safe and we’ll look forward to connecting with you in Prague. Remember to call either Erin or myself on our cell phones or text us. Good luck everyone and Prague, here we come for the adventure of a lifetime!

Group Photo in Y Club Rm