Author Archives: bmcmahon

Baltics: Final thoughts

Wow! What a journey! The ’19s and ’17s began this trip as a group of awkward acquaintances and, over the course of twelve days, morphed into a close group of friends sharing a special bond. We began as struggling map-readers but finished as seasoned travel experts. We fully immersed ourselves in the Baltics, kicking off our trip in Helsinki, exploring Tallinn and Riga, and finishing in Stockholm. We spoke with natives from various backgrounds and statuses, learned about the culture and history of each country, ate new foods, and attempted to learn new words in other languages. We spent many hours happily roaming around the cities (Mr. Craig often reached 20-30,000 steps in a day!). Each one of us was forced outside of our safety zones in new and different ways, testing us and expanding our horizons and preparing us for leadership and life.
I think we can all agree that each of us developed as people, as leaders, and as a group throughout this trip.

Here is a quick summary of our experiences in\ each country from the ’17 who planned it:

Helsinki, Finland (Alix Galumbeck): In Helsinki, we learned about Finnish culture from a scavenger hunt in the National Museum of Finland, various churches, and my Finnish relatives, Ritva and her family. We toured her work and then visited her home. By meeting with my family, we were able to learn about Finnish history, culture, and society in a more personal way.

Tallinn, Estonia (Luke Cromwell): In Tallinn, we immersed ourselves deeply into Eastern European culture. We visited the US embassy and the Estonian parliament, and had productive discussions with representatives from each location. We also explored Tallinn’s fascinating and rich history with visits to the Tallinn TV tower, old military fortresses, and churches around the old town.

Riga, Latvia (Chris Kazakis): We acquainted ourselves the city of Riga with a kayak tour on our first night. Our second day was spent digging deeper into the culture and history of the city with visits to two museums as well as a culinary tour. We also tested our navigational skills with a challenge to find as many coffee shops as possible in the old town. Our last day in Riga, we had the opportunity to meet with students from the University of Latvia, who gave us a younger generation’s perspective on the country.

Stockholm, Sweden (Hallie Griffiths): Stockholm was an awesome experience for me both as a leader and a traveler. I learned not only how to plan every aspect of a trip, but also how to be flexible and adapt when situations did not go exactly as planned. I think that our time in Stockholm overall was a great balance of historical, modern, domestic, and international.

Here is a quick Summary of how we developed as leaders from Nico Moscoso, our leadership activity coordinator:
Leadership was a big component of our trip to the Baltics. Every day a ’19 was our leader of the day and executed the days plan which was created by a ’17. All of us learned a lot from our own and others’ failures and success. Each day we got better and better at leading and I can confidently say that we are all much better leaders now than we were entering the trip.

Perspectives on different cultures: 
On our last day of this amazing Baltics trip, the group gathered together to discuss what we had seen and learned about each city’s culture and how it all fit together. Some noted how distant Helsinki seemed from the rest of the Baltics, seeming to be happy and at peace in its own world, despite the struggles of living so far north.  Another emphasized Finland’s national pride and identity.  Others pointed out how Finland enjoys being remembered by the western world, referring back to a conversation with a finish native, who very surprised and excited by the fact that we were on a school trip from the States and chose to visit Finland!  Different from Finland, Estonia is far more ambitious in its dealings with the west, refusing to let Russia bully it around anymore. It seems self-conscious of its size and, therefore, goes the extra kilometer to ensure NATO’s protection from scary neighbor Russia and ensure support from EU. It is incredibly proud of spending 2% of its GDP for NATO and fulfilling its part. It continuously boasts its groundbreaking E-stonia culture and e-government and follows the Western model precisely, choosing to look to the future, as repeatedly mentioned by many a fellow. On the other hand, Latvia, as everyone seemed to unanimously agree, is looking towards the past. Its focus is more on showing off its history and less of a concern with NATO and EU. However, both Estonia and Latvia are known for being in the top five of most unhappy countries. In drastic contrast to all of this, Sweden, never conquered by the Soviet Union, continues to proclaim itself as “capital of Scandinavian countries”.  It is clearly proud and confident in the fact that it is developed and huge and has an illustrious, conquering history. All these countries we have visited provide various glimpses into the Baltic States and show the similarities and differences within one region.

Our Favorite Quotes :
“During my days as leader, I had some struggles. But I learned to persevere and work through them”.
-Arman Shekarriz

“The diversity of culture between countries that went through the same events in history is quite interesting.”
-Daniel Moscoso

“…I got nothing…”
-Mr. Craig

“This trip was an enlightening experience and I learned a lot… I learned how to deal with people.”
-Alex Burkett

“Let’s roll.”
-Hallie Griffiths

“Olen iloinen!” — Finnish for “I’m happy!”

“This journey saw the fellows grow on so many levels.  They opened their eyes to new cultures by examining, experiencing and exploring first-hand, life in each country.  They grew by pushing themselves outside their comfort zone by sharing frank discourse with locals, tasting different cuisines,  and tackling long sleepless days while traveling via a wide array of transportation.  Each Fellow grew and strengthened their ability to lead and follow.  They problem solved, honed their communication skills and perfected their personal leadership style.  At each turn they were challenged and in every case they excelled! Their efforts, compassion, empathy and resolve made us proud! They are ready to take on the world!”
-Bernie McMahon

Baltics: Stockholm

We began our last day in Stockholm with the Vasamuseet, a museum dedicated to the only fully intact 17th century Swedish warship, Vasa, which sank in the early 1600s. We followed the Vasa museum with a leadership activity in a nearby park, in which we formed a “human knot” using our arms. Through communication, attentiveness, and strategy (and a few practice runs) we successfully freed ourselves. After lunch in a nearby café, we spent a few hours exploring the lavish carriages and arms at the Swedish Royal Armory. Following an hour or so of free time in Gamla Stan (Old Town), we walked to the Fotografiska, a world-renowned photography museum in Södermalm. Following a few hours engrossed in the thought-provoking exhibits, we enjoyed our final evening of the trip dining at Söders Hjärta, a traditional Swedish restaurant. We took a leisurely walk back to the hostel, making sure to relish our last few hours in Stockholm. Back at the hostel, we conducted our final nightly meeting and prepared for the long day of traveling ahead of us. Everyone had such an amazing trip, and we are grateful for all of the friendships and experiences that have come out of it!

Olen Iloinen,
Hallie & the gangimage image image image image

Baltics: Stolckholm

Welcome to Stockholm! Home to the Nobel prizes and Swedish meatballs! Land of confusing public  transportation, beautiful architecture, and challenges and rewards at every turn! In the morning on the ferry, the fellows ate breakfast and watched the Stockholm port grow closer and closer, disembarking at the terminal and navigating through customs and hordes of fellow travelers. Despite setbacks, our leader of the day Arman, and the Stockholm itinerary planner Hallie, figured out the bus system and coaxed tickets out of the machine, leading us to the hostel.  They used every ounce of their leadership smarts to navigate a new city to get the group to our destination. After a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant, called Urban Deli, we headed to the island Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town, home to the royal palace, the armory, the parliament, the Nobel museum, and storkyron, Stockholm’s central cathedral. After visiting the fascinating, detailed, and modern Nobel museum, the team headed to the central cathedral, with its tall steeple, arching hall, and vivid display of paintings and sculptures. We all took the better part of an hour to journal and reflect on the effect the trip has had on our leadership and how much we have grown throughout these past two weeks. Afterwards, we split up into groups and wandered around the little island, admiring the architecture of old Sweden, witnessing the changing of the guards, and dining on ice cream. Finally, we topped off the day with dinner at a restaurant famous for serving Barack Obama.  The Turkish owner treated us like family and gladly shared his views of the forthcoming US presidential  election.

Brammy –




Baltics: Riga

Today, the fellows embarked on another adventure in Riga, this time with Daniel Moscoso leading the charge. We started the day with a visit to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, where we learned about Latvia’s brief independence and the subsequent Soviet and Nazi rule over the country. After that, we dove into the gastronomic side of Latvia with a culinary tour. Our guide, Marcus, showed us the many oddities and delicacies in Riga’s central market as he offered his own unique perspective on Latvian culture as an Australian expatriate. We finished the tour by sampling a variety of local specialties such as smoked deer, rye bread with hemp butter, pickled cabbage, and cottage cheese pastries. Once we had had our fill, we set out for the Riga Film Museum. There, we were introduced to the surreal world of Latvian animation with Ansis Bērzinš beloved classic “Phantadrome 5. Milk”. We also heard the intriguing details of a court battle over the rights to films commissioned by the now defunct communist governments of Latvia and Russia. After the film museum, we engaged in a competition of navigation and observation. The task: to find and take photos of as many coffee shops as we could find in Riga. The reward: dessert paid for by our chaperones. After great effort by all of the two person teams, the challenge ended in a tie with several groups close behind. We finished our day with a lovely dinner at a medieval themed restaurant, where we filled the entire eatery with lively discussion about chivalry in the modern era, high school athletics, and the days to come. Now, we retire to our rooms to catch up on lost sleeping and journal about our experiences.

Chris Kazakis-image image image image image

Baltics: Tallinn/Riga

Today is Tuesday, August 2nd and we have enjoyed our last day in Tallinn as well as our first in Riga, Latvia. This morning, we started our day off by visiting the Estonian Parliament. It was very interesting to see where major decisions take place for Estonia and the building was incredibly beautiful. Our guide told us about Estonian politics and gave us a better understanding of what smaller countries like Estonia think of countries like the US and Russia. After this visit, we ate lunch and headed to the city bus station where we got on a bus to Riga. The bus was very comfortable and had a great movie selection. When we got to Riga, we checked into the hostel, ate a delicious dinner, and went on a kayak trip from 11pm until 3 am. Alex and Alix, after attempting to reenact a Viking sea battle with Luke and Lawrence, found their kayak capsized in one of the canals.  After a brief dip in the warm Latvian water they resumed their journey better for the experience. The kayak trip was an incredible opportunity and a chance to circumnavigate Riga’s old town at night. It was overall an amazing day.

LB –

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Baltics: Tallinn

To start off the day we met with the Political Affairs officer, the Economic Affairs officer, and a Public Relations intern at the US Embassy in Estonia. We discussed how issues including the refugee crisis, Brexit, and Russian aggression affects Estonia.
Afterwards, the group split for lunch before meeting again to explore the Guild Hall in Old Town. The old church and guild hall has been converted into a church, displaying items such as furs, coins, weapons, clothing, bibles, and even an oil lamp from Pompeii.
We had free time to explore and wander around Old Town. Some visited the highest point in town: a church steeple. They climbed to the top of the steeple and were awarded a breathtaking view of Old Town Tallinn.
We met with Aap Neljas for dinner. As an Estonian diplomat who served as the ambassador to the United States and as a member of the Estonian parliament, he offered us insight into the current crises of the modern world and how they affect Estonia. We discussed many of the same topics as we had earlier at the US embassy, but we learned how an actual Estonian felt and responded to these issues.






Baltics – Tallinn

imageOur first full day in Tallinn was quite a treat. With the group growing closer each day and everyone excited for the packed day ahead, morale was high during the morning meeting and leadership activity. Soon we set out for Kiek en de Kok, a fortifications tower with bastion tunnels underneath. After a tour through the chilly tunnels that provided a behind-the-scenes look at Estonia’s riveting history and colorful atmosphere, the group headed out through the pouring rain, led by leader of the day Arman, to the food court of an Estonian mall. After dining at a restaurant called lido with its extensive buffet options, the Fellows splashed through the streets towards the KGB museum inside Hotel Viru. We toured the headquarters of the KGB, which sat inside the hotel as a  long kept secret during the Soviet times. We learned about the myriad of ways in which the KGB kept tabs on the foreign visitors staying at the hotel, ranging from microphones in the flowers to undercover spies mingling amongst the guests. Afterwards we all got time to ourselves to wander around the city, some climbing to the top of a tall church, others shopping at the open air market in the square, and others simply sleeping. Finally, we navigated, via city bus, to the TV Tower and took in the great view at the top, ending our day with “dinner in the sky” at the tv tower.

~Brammy Rajakumar (’19)




Baltics – Helsinki/Tallinn

This morning, we explored a Finnish grocery store. It was vastly different, and there were only a few brand names we recognized from the U.S. We then had breakfast at Stockmann, a department store. Their cafe had a wide variety of fresh baked goods that we treated ourselves to. After eating, we walked to the Helsinki promenade where we held our morning leadership meeting. I failed twice to capture a pigeon. Then, the group split up and roamed the surrounding area. Lawrence, Chris, and I took a ride in a ferris wheel and got an excellent view of the city. Others explored the Helsinki Cathedral. We then returned to the hotel to pack our belongings and check out. We set up shop on the promenade and split once again for lunch. All of us tried something new, from moose meatballs to reindeer. After lunch, we watched the promenade come alive as Fins enjoyed a classic summer day. We traveled via tram to the port of Helsinki, where we boarded a cruise liner bound for Tallinn, Estonia named the Tallinn Superstar. The views exiting Helsinki and entering Tallinn were stunning. We navigated our way to the Merchant’s House Hotel and dropped our bags. Next, we enjoyed some tasty local cuisine at Hell Hunt for dinner, then moved back to the hotel for our evening meeting. It was a productive and exciting travel day for the group. Looking forward to the next couple of days in Tallinn!!
-Luke Cromwellimage image


Baltics: Helsinki

A primary key to effective leadership is the ability to quickly develop and effectively execute a plan, all the while remaining flexible when curveballs inevitably arise. As the ’17s and ’19s came to realize, those are also the keys to being a solid international traveler. During our (approximately) 20 hours of travel time, we met unexpected delays, quick connections, and long hours in the sky. Although we’ve only been together as a whole group for about 26 hours, we have already formed tight bonds within close airplane quarters, in front of giant monuments in the city center of Helsinki, and over heaping plates of pizza and kabobs. Group morale is high thanks to our favorite Finnish phrase, “olen iloinen,” which roughly translates to “I am happy!” We all cannot wait for the leadership challenges and shenanigans to come!

Olen Iloinen,
Hallie & the gang

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