Day 1 – July 3rd The 17 students from Bogota, Colombia arrived in Minneapolis the afternoon of July 3rd. While at their connecting flight destination in Houston, they got their first experience to pay with dollars for something to eat. Though having been prepped on the exchange rates, they were still surprised how many pesos an apple or a cupcake would cost. The students’ blog in Bogota says that upon arrival in Minneapolis, “the meeting with our Cristo Rey and Pathways to Children hosts was simply amazing. We were finally together and excited of all that this country has to show us, in addition to looking forward to the plans made for us while here in the U.S.” Dinner included pasta, salad and brownies, catered by Vescio’s, thus the students were introduced to Italian food.
Day 2 – July 4th In the morning students from Cristo Rey and Bogota visited the Mall of America to do some shopping for themselves and family. They then took the train to Minnehaha Park for lunch along the river. Later that evening it was ice cream from Gracies and then celebration of the 4th of July in U.S. fashion by watching fireworks from the home of Ralph and Grace Strangis. Their Bogota blog says they closed their day by “thanking our hosts and God for all our blessings.”
Day 3 – July 5th In the morning at the National Sports Center in Blaine, the students watched the Minnesota United soccer team practice and then practiced with some of the players, including Christian Ramirez, Jamie Watson and Aaron Pitchkolan. Then the students got the opportunity to meet privately with Christian Ramirez, the team’s top scorer who is Colombian. Ramirez shared with the students experiences he’s had with the team in addition to stories about living in Minnesota. Lunch was held at the Sports Center, then it was off to Feed My Starving Children where students worked as a team to package meals (vitamins, vegetables, soy and rice) to be shipped to children in the Dominican Republic. The students were able to package meals that would feed 49 children for a whole year!
Day 4 – July 6th Today the students from Bogota experienced their first baseball game. And they did it in style as Twins President Dave St. Peter presented them each with Twins socks and a Twins jersey with an appropriate Spanish name “Rosario”. They were excited to be on the Twins TV screen but commented that Latinos are much more noisy and expressive at sports events than Americans!! After the game they traveled through Minneapolis history on a Segway tour, stopping at sites like the Stone Arch bridge, Guthrie theater, etc. (Another first experience for all) They were hosted for the evening meal by former students from their school including Martha Daniels who runs the Minnesota Columbian Dance studio.
Day 5 – July 7th Today started very early with a bus pick up at 6:30am and both Cristo Rey students and Bogota students were off to volunteer at the Northside Child Development Center in north Minneapolis. Students expressed that they felt their help was really appreciated. Then students from Cristo Rey invited students from Bogota to visit Cristo Rey High School and while there they painted a mural expressing the riches of both countries. Bogota students found the Cristo Rey High School to be “very nice but BIG!” Reflecting on the day one student said, “Today makes us appreciative for the opportunities that God gives us and thankful to the people that helped allow us to be together again.”
Day 6 – July 8th The activities on Day 6 of the trip included volunteering at the Lyndale Lake Garden Park where students got to help spruce up the gardens. Then it was off to Fort Snelling Base Camp Leadership Course where students were taught personal leadership and group skills and at the same time received a great physical workout! The afternoon also included soccer practice with some local high school soccer athletes. In the evening, Gandhi Mahal hosted an Indian dinner (the first time students experienced Indian food) and students met and thanked Ambassador Samuel Kaplan and his wife Sylvia for assisting in getting their U.S. visas and also met and thanked John and Julie Heinmiller who donated a large TV to the CASFA school. The evening event was a dance party where Bogota students took the opportunity to entertain for their enthusiastic audience by performing Colombian dances in beautiful native dance attire. A full day it was!
Day 7 – July 9thThe mural at Cristo Rey High School was finished today! It is a butterfly mural that was designed by one of the Bogota students with each wing designated to either Minneapolis or Bogota. The Bogota wing contains symbols of experiences the Cristo Rey students had while in Bogota last November and the Minneapolis wing contains symbols of experiences the Bogota students had while here. The Minneapolis wing will be sent to Bogota to be displayed in the CAFSA school and the Bogota wing will be displayed at Cristo Rey in Minneapolis. The broken butterfly is a symbol of the CASFA students and the Cristo Rey students being forever connected!!
After completing the mural, the students had a traditional American bar-b-que at Lake Calhoun followed by an evening dinner furnished by Cristo Rey parents and then a final dance party after which there was highly emotional goodbyes. It was a rich, emotional day with much gratitude for their deepening friendships and cultural bonding as the Bogota students prepare to head for Assisi Heights and the Sisters of St. Francis for two days before heading back to Colombia.
Day 8 – July 10th Bogota Student trip to Minneapolis Daily Report
Bogota students boarded the bus at 8 am in Minneapolis to head to Rochester, Minnesota to stay at the Assisi Heights Spirituality Center where they will provide volunteer services for the Sisters of St. Francis. Assisi Heights is the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis Rochester, Minnesota. The Sisters started and run the very successful CASFA school for economically disadvantaged children in Bogota, Colombia. In fact, the students got to meet and spend time with Sister Margaret, who is in her 90’s, who was one of the original founders of the school in Bogota. The students attended 11 am Mass with the Sisters, then were given private tours of the parish grounds as well as the city of Rochester.
Day 9– July 11th Bogota Student trip to Minneapolis Daily Report
It was the Bogota students’ day to help out the Sisters with their parish work which included cleaning gravestones and other general maintenance tasks and errands around the parish. The students were rewarded for all their hard work with a visit to Silver Lake which is not only a sanctuary for Canada Geese, but also offers trails for biking and walking, fishing piers, paddle boats and canoes. The day ended with a formal lecture and ensuing discussion about the current state of affairs and religious institutional involvement in various parts of the world. It was a day of great variety for the Bogota students before they head back home to Colombia tomorrow.
Day 10 – July 13th Final Day
Much of the day was spent reflecting on the events of the past 9 days and preparing for the trip back home to Bogota. One student’s reflection, “There are no words to express how grateful I am that my dream has become a reality. I am a better person having been on this trip. I was recently admitted to the public university in Colombia and now I want to work very hard at my studies so that one day I can help people as you’ve done in helping me.”
After saying their good-byes to the Sisters at Assisi Heights, the Bogota students headed to the airport for their scheduled 7 pm flight. There were lots of tears and hugs at the airport as both Grace Strangis and Cristo Rey students were there to say final good-byes and see them off. Some excitement ensued after finding out the Minneapolis to Houston flight would be 2 hours late, too late to make the connecting flight to Bogota. With no other connections options, United Airlines graciously agreed to hold the flight from Houston to Bogota so the students could make it home. Upon landing, the students raced through the terminals and we are happy to say all 17 arrived home safely along with their luggage and the guitars that were donated to them. It was another American adventure for the Bogota students to add to their list of memories.
What a memorable trip overall for both the CASFA students and Cristo Rey students. The Cristo Rey students were able to return the kindness and hospitality they had been shown while in Bogota last November and many life-long friendships were firmly established. Thank YOU to all who made these life changing experiences happen for a group of most deserving, economically disadvantaged students. We all firmly believe that more of these exchanges would make for a more peaceful and war free world!