Learning Through Travel – St. Francis Student Shares Argentina Experience

Nov. 10, 2011

Paul Dean poses in front of the Casa Rosada, the “White House” of Argentina. (Photo courtesy of Paul Dean)

Eight weeks in Argentina was all it took for Paul Dean’s perspective on the world to change.

“[This trip] made me think I’m pretty small in the world, and I can affect how countries view each other,” said the St. Francis High School senior.

And now, after having gone to South America, Dean is considering pursuing intercultural business.

Dean traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina this past summer through AFS, a non-profit international exchange organization that operates in more than 50 countries. It allows students and adults to learn about different cultures through various programs.

“For students who realize that there is a world beyond Southern California, an AFS exchange can present a once in a lifetime opportunity to live not as a tourist, but as a citizen of your host country,” said Matthew Jacobs, volunteer sending coordinator for AFS in Greater Los Angeles.

Those who participate in the program live with a local family, attend school in the country they visit, and meet people in that country.

Dean did all of these, and observed differences between the American and Argentinean education systems.

“Schooling there is a really big problem,” he said.

Since he was there during the summer, he wasn’t required to take tests or complete assignments, as his credits wouldn’t count. However, he noticed that there were only three tests given during his time there, that teachers were lenient during class time, and that there was hardly any homework given.

After attending school at Rio de la Plata Sur, Dean finds the American education system better.

“A lot of times teachers there are seen as friends rather than authority figures,” he said.

Another aspect of the culture that stood out to Dean was the friendliness of the Argentinean people.

“If you ever need help if you’re trying to speak Spanish, they’re more than helpful,” he said. “Friendship means a lot to them…. People were glad to meet me.”

Paul Dean poses with his Argentine host family and friends on his last night before returning to California. (Photo courtesy of Paul Dean)

What also helped Dean fit right in was his love for soccer, as the sport is popular in Argentina.

“I’m a soccer player, but soccer in the U.S. is nothing compared to soccer in Argentina. Soccer is like more than a religion there,” he said.

One of the highlights of Dean’s trip occurred on his second day in the country when a riot broke out following the demotion of River Plate, an Argentinean soccer team.

“For a week, that’s the only thing people talked about,” he said.

While the AFS program is designed to have participants live like locals, Dean also visited tourist sights including La Casa Rosada (which literally means “The Pink House” and is the equivalent of America’s White House), El Obelisco and La Plata.

Dean’s participation in the program was encouraged by his mom Terri, who at one point was an exchange student in Ecuador through AFS. Like her son, Terri’s experience gave her an appreciation of different cultures and people. She also remains in touch with her host family and sees several of them every few years.

“The fact I still have another family in another country and still keep in touch is a pretty special relationship,” she said.

Dean said he recommends the program 110%.

Paul Dean is seen here with his host family at an amusement park, “Ciudad de los Ninos.” (Photo courtesy of Paul Dean)

“If you’re willing to give up one summer … it will change your view and you’ll have a ton of fun doing it,” he said. “It’s hard missing your family [while you’re away], but it’s something that’s worth it. I’m glad I did this while I have time.”

More information about AFS programs is available at www.afsla.org and www.afs.org.

Neighborhood Uses Facebook to Keep Watch

Aug. 4, 2011

From personal profiles and games to event listings and business pages, Facebook serves a number of diverse purposes for more than 750 million users.

For Sparr Heights, a neighborhood located in northern Glendale, Facebook Groups has emerged as a popular function of the networking site. A group called “Sparr Heights Neighborhood – 91208” was created in June 2010 and serves as a virtual neighborhood watch program for the community.

“I wish every zip code had [a Facebook group],” Evan Gore, founder of the Sparr Heights Neighborhood – 91208 group, said.

Gore created the group after his high school reunion and after his house got robbed, both of which occurred last year.

“[The robbery] sort of got me more mindful of wanting to tell people and communicate with neighbors,” he said.

The group currently has more than 180 members who also use the group as an open forum to make announcements about various topics, from yard sales to upcoming events.

“It’s a great way to advertise neighborhood events that one might not know about otherwise,” said Lynda Hessick, a member of the group.

Unusual observances are also posted on the group’s wall. Recent concerns include recurring helicopter noise earlier in June and American flag thefts in early July.

Apart from these purposes, members use the group to announce if they’re giving things away, ask for recommendations on professional services (like for good plumbers and accountants), look for missing pets and seek resources from others.

While not all members are personally acquainted with one another, the group has fostered an online sense of community that has even assisted newer members in becoming more acclimated to the area.

“[Everyone] is sharing information and so welcoming and friendly,” said Valerie Robinett Joico, who just moved to Sparr Heights from San Francisco. “It has helped us with our daily lives as well as our social lives. As far as neighborhood watch is concerned, it gives such good info and everyone has each others back … that helps me sleep at night.”

Additionally, the Facebook group has served as a platform for members to organize donations for a family whose house burned down a few months ago, as well as donations for a needy family last Christmas.

The Sparr Heights Neighborhood Facebook page is open and visible to the public, and although privacy has long been a concern with the networking site, Gore doesn’t think the issue is something to worry much about. He hasn’t seen any evidence of abuse and pointed out that people can adjust privacy settings so as to share only specific information.

For Gore, one of the more positive outcomes of the way Facebook works is that he has developed acquaintances with people in the neighborhood who have recognized him from his profile photo.

The group has been up and running for a year now and users continue to use it as a means of informing fellow members and seeking information.

“I’ve asked for information, referrals, ideas and never been disappointed with the results,” group member Renee Brandt said. “I know the people offering input and trust it.”

http://www.crescentavalleyweekly.com/news/08/04/2011/neighborhood-uses-facebook-to-keep-watch/

Foothill Resident Stands Amidst the Clouds

July 14, 2011

La Crescenta resident Gary Nelson is at the top of Mount Everest on May 19. (Photo courtesy of Gary Nelson)
In May, Gary Nelson stood more than 29,000 feet above sea level. After days of trekking through snow-covered mountains in Nepal, he made it to the top of the world’s highest peak: Mount Everest.

“I’d been thinking about [climbing Everest] for a long time,” Nelson said. “A year ago I realized, given how old I was and the fact I fall out of shape so fast … that it was either now or I probably wasn’t going to do it.”

At 52, Nelson, a lawyer specializing in trademarks, is an avid climber.

“He climbs mountains because with every climb, there is a goal which is to reach the top,” his wife Sherrie said. “The satisfaction of reaching the top is what drives him to climb more mountains.”

In addition to Mount Everest, Nelson has tackled Mount Kilmanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa; Denali in Alaska; Aconcagua in South America; and Mount Elbrus in Russia.

The La Crescenta resident began preparing for the climb last summer when he scaled Mount Baldy. He also worked out regularly on a stepmaster.

Nelson’s ascension to the peak of Mount Everest involved going up the mountain and coming back down three times to help his body acclimate to the change in altitude. There were a total of five camps where trekkers would rest before continuing their way upward.

He reached the top of Mount Everest at 7:45 a.m. on May 19, beginning his final ascension at 9:45 p.m. the previous day.

Gary Nelson stands in front of prayer flags at Mount Everest.

“Summit day was pretty fun. [It] was pretty spectacular,” he said. “It felt great. The weather was perfect. There was no wind, and it can get vicious up there.”

Although Nelson was physically fit enough for the climb, he developed a mild case of pulmonary edema, a condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs. The buildup in Nelson’s lungs was due to the rising altitudes. He had to see a few doctors, but the damage wasn’t permanent.

“What [the pulmonary edema] does do is probably make me more susceptible to it [in the future], should I go up that high again. And so it’s something I have to worry about now if I ever climb [Everest] again,” he said.

He added that he didn’t observe symptoms of the condition unless he was higher than around 23,000 feet. He does intend to take precautions for future climbs by bringing medication along.

Scaling up thousands of feet in the snowy slopes of Nepal where temperatures dipped below freezing required Nelson to wear a special suit that weighed five pounds. And while ascending with the extra weight posed a challenge, he found going back down more difficult.

“Coming down you have more opportunity to fall,” he said. “That’s why it’s easier to get hurt.”

In fact, during the climb Nelson fell into an ice crack covered by snow, causing his left knee to twist. He also banged the same knee against the Hilary Step, a rock face well known to climbers near the top of the mountain. Yet despite this injury and the pulmonary edema, he successfully made it to the top of the mountain, back down and returned home in mid-June.

“Once he made the decision to take on this climbing challenge, I knew very little would prevent him from achieving this goal of summitting Everest,” Sherrie said. “He doesn’t back down from anything in life unless there is a really good reason.”

Making it to an altitude of more than 29,000 feet may seem a daunting goal, but for Nelson, it serves as a useful reminder.

“I need to constantly remind myself that I can do things that I don’t necessarily think I can do when I first think about it,” he said. “Climbing … eliminates your excuses of why you can’t do things.”

http://www.crescentavalleyweekly.com/news/07/15/2011/foothill-resident-stands-amidst-the-clouds/