Spring Break Israel: History, Culture & Adventure at BoothRight

By Brian Gracia, Class of 2017

By Brian Gracia, Class of 2017

This Spring Break, over 130 second-year Booth students, from 19 countries, experienced the culture, history, and nightlife of Israel on what has become an annual student-led trip nicknamed BoothRight.

The journey began in the holy city of Jerusalem. There, the group was greeted by the Mayor of Jerusalem who discussed a wide range of topics including movement of the US embassy, the Palestinian conflict, and decriminalization of cannabis. After, small tour groups experienced some of the world’s most important religious sites including the “Wailing” Wall, Temple Mount, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre while others took a trip to Jerusalem’s Western Market. Daniel Ochoterena (Class of 2017) described the old city as “awe-inspiring: ancient, thriving and majestic.” The group wrapped up their Jerusalem experience at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The next stop of the journey was a luxurious day floating in the Dead Sea with spa-like mud treatments. Unfortunately, the group could not stay forever and soon departed for an evening with the nomadic Bedouin people. Participants Andrew and Liz Ward found the Bedouin tent party to be one of the highlights of their trip, where “they had belly dancers who pulled each of us out of the crowd to shake it in front of our fellow BoothRighters!” The visit included a sunrise at Herod’s palace-like fortress Masada.

Boothies stop to take a cheery photo during a sunrise visit to Masada

Boothies stop to take a cheery photo during a sunrise visit to Masada

A special treat was an Air Force Base tour organized by trip co-leader and former fighter pilot Lior Sahaf. The group learned about Israel’s air capabilities in addition to watching F-16’s take-off up-close on the runway. Next, the group transitioned to the Golan Heights to take an ATV tour to a former Syrian base. The remainder of the trip included stops at the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth before two days of shopping, relaxation, and beach time in beautiful Tel Aviv.

Other highlights included “Bus Fun”, “Wakey-Wakey”, ladies favorite ‘Steve’, and “Thank You for Your Service.” Student leaders Lily Rapaport, Itai Koren, Lior Sahaf, Eran Lewis and Maayan Aharon did an amazing job leading a transformative experience on Booth’s largest annual second year trip and have earned lifelong appreciation from the participants. Class of 2017’s Rikki Singh put it best: “Israel provides the perfect background for honest conversations and getting to know 130 friends better without being overwhelmed!”

The group returns to the US with a new affinity for hummus and pita.

Spring Break Colombia: Painting Colombia Maroon

By Jehana Vazifdar, Class of 2018

By Jehana Vazifdar, Class of 2018

Off to a delayed start, my Colombia adventure began with a flourish. I was part of the “lost” crew; a cancelled flight, unexpected night in NYC, and another delayed flight later, 23 other Boothies and I finally made it to the party in Bogota’s legendary steakhouse Andrés Carne de Res. After an Aguardiente-fueled ride on the party-bus, we entered a labyrinth of what felt like a massive 3D doodle, with every inch of the sprawling bar decorate with neon signs and eclectic hangings. In the one-day head-start other Boothies had on us, they seemed to have already gathered a collection of moves they rocked to the tunes of Luis Fonsi’s Despacito. The song became the anthem of our rollercoaster Spring Break trip.

Although the travel rigmarole meant that I had missed the Bogota city tour, I got to soak in culture in Medellin the next day. 60+ Booth students trekked through what was once the most dangerous neighborhood in the world – the comunas (slums) of Santo Domingo. We ascended the steep hill on a wobbly bus packed with locals. Atop the hill, we bought beers from a local bar before traversing Camino de la Vida, or the path of life – designed to create a sense of pride and community amongst the slum dwellers. The landscaped path presented stunning views of the slums sparkling like jewels below us as the last embers of the sun faded.

The highlight of my trip was a boat party in El Peñol De Guatape. Caps bearing our names added a host of color against the landscape of green hills and water. The Booth flag was flourished as we conquered Colombia with our revelry. It was flourished again when a hundred of us committed our loyalties to the Colombian soccer team as they defeated Bolivia in a qualifying game for the 2018 World Cup. In our bright yellow jerseys matching the crowd, we felt fully immersed in Colombian culture.

But nothing could match the fiesta on Isla Grande (the big island). The party began in the morning on a boat – the best ones always do! Our matching neon shirts filled the white yachts with color. Each boat belted its own beats as its inhabitants dived into the ocean. The party continued on the glorious sands of Isla Grande, punctuated by a delicious meal of shrimp and plantain fritters.

Shrimp, sand and surf; it was a befitting last day in Colombia for many of us. For the others, we got another day of sun and fun on the islands.

A big thank you to Booth students Sebastián Pérez Restrepo, Valentina Díaz and Camilo Alvarez for organizing this trip. I'd also like to acknowledge the Vaova travel company team, especially Juan Pablo Toro and Christian Byfield, whose energy, enthusiasm and creativity infused the trip with fun. 

Spring Break Morocco: Bargaining and Barakah with Boothies

By Enrique Hederra, Class of 2018

By Enrique Hederra, Class of 2018

Who would have said that travelling with more than 50 unknown people from all over the world, in a country where you get lost in translation, and where you cannot drink tap water (but you always get a super sweet peppermint tea as soon as you step into a place) would have been such an amazing experience.

I participated in the Explore Morocco spring break trip, and this experience will remain vividly in my memory not only because of the magnificent country but also the friendships I walk away with.

The whole trip was a perfect blend of cultural visits, clubbing, relaxing and eating. We visited Tangier, Casablanca, Essaouira and Marrakech, each city offering a completely different experience; we walked through ancient medinas, did horseback riding at the sunset at a beautiful beach and climbed the Atlas Mountains on donkeys. We also ate like kings! Moroccan food has huge French and Spanish influence, which we were able to taste in lots of Tagines, including the meals we prepared ourselves in a cooking class!

Group enjoys the sites in the seaside town of Essaouira

Group enjoys the sites in the seaside town of Essaouira

The Moroccan sense of time, bargaining and barakah (good luck) were also some interesting learnings. Whenever we were told someone would arrive in 20 minutes they really meant one hour. Whenever somebody asked 800 dirham for something, you could easily buy it for 300. And you can attribute  to barakah nearly everything. I remember a friend buying a tagine. After getting the price down from 300 to 90 dirhams he found it full of dust. After complaining, he was told to better to keep the dust because it would bring him barakah.

As much as I was impressed by the country, I was equally impressed by the group of Boothies and their partners in the trip. I will honestly say that I have never been in a group with so many interesting people of so many different nationalities. Already in the very first minutes, I met people from as countries as far from mine as Botswana, Albania and Ethiopia. However, the conversations in the days that followed made me wish I could take more than just one spring break trip a year.

Finally, I want to thank Ziad Abouchadi who organized this trip to show us his beautiful country and its amazing culture.

Spring Break Patagonia: Falling Off The Grid and Becoming Leaders

By Christine Groesbeck, Class of 2018

By Christine Groesbeck, Class of 2018

Over the spring break, 16 Boothies embarked on a hiking expedition in Chilean Patagonia with NOLS, an organization that has been providing experiential leadership and wilderness training to students worldwide since 1965. Our group had a variety of reasons for signing on to the trip. Some wanted to learn proper Leave No Trace backpacking skills, others wanted to meet new Boothies in a smaller group setting, and a few of us signed up solely because Patagonia was high on our bucket-lists. 

The reality of the trip set in sometime between the hours we spent at REI poring over the extensive equipment list and the moment we tried to lift our heavy backpacks for the first time. We left our phones behind for a week off-the-grid and boarded a bus to the Cerro Castillo National Reserve. We were joined by three knowledgeable instructors who taught us everything from how to safely scale a steep mountain slope, to how to make some of the world’s best “camp-stove” pizza.

A magical moment under the stars. Photo Credit: Gustavo Centeno

A magical moment under the stars. Photo Credit: Gustavo Centeno

We hiked over two mountain passes, forded rivers and bushwhacked around waterfalls. The NOLS curriculum fit in seamlessly and we had the opportunity to set personal goals and take on leadership roles to ensure our group would successfully complete the course. We spent our last night in the backcountry on a local farm enjoying a traditional Chilean asado, or barbecue, and learning about the regional culture

Arriving back at the basecamp was bittersweet. Showering for the first time in seven days felt amazing but we were sad to say goodbye to our expedition family.

We headed home with a new appreciation for the power of nature and fond memories from one of the most challenging, rewarding and fun weeks of our combined Booth experiences.

Spring Break Tanzania: How Close Can We Get to That Lion?

By Tanya Puri, Class of 2018

By Tanya Puri, Class of 2018

The Booth Spring Break trip to Tanzania attracted over 20 Boothies united by the common mission of spotting as many wild cats as possible on our four days of safari game drives.

The trip kicked off with a traditional Tanzanian dinner in Kilimanjaro, followed by an early morning departure to the Tarangire National Park. Split into three jeeps stocked with binoculars, cameras and of course, unlimited frosty beverages, the Tanzania Spring Break had officially begun!

While we didn’t see any big cats at Tarangire, we saw zebras, giraffes, wildebeests and plenty of impalas and gazelles. We even spent a night in a tented lodge with the peaceful wildebeests as our neighbors. The next morning, after a half-day game drive, we stopped at a Masai Village where we were invited in to learn about their nomadic lives and learn some not-so-easy Masai dancing (read: jumping). Next, we drove to the Ngorongoro Crater which, at over 7000ft, is the world’s largest inactive volcano and is home to several animals, such as hippos and rhinos, and also featuring some incredible views.

Group pauses during an exciting game drive at the Tarangire National Park in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Group pauses during an exciting game drive at the Tarangire National Park in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The highlight was Serengeti National Park, where we were able to get close to our favorite wild cat, the lion. While it can be unnerving to be so close, with temperatures going up to 30 degrees Celsius, the animals were unaffected by our passing safari jeeps and were either seeking shelter from the harsh sun or searching for water. We spent two nights at the Serengeti, sleeping under the African sky full of stars and being escorted by Masai men back to our rooms after dark to avoid becoming lion prey.

The last day was a drive back to Arusha, with some Boothies making their way back to Chicago and others (ahem, second years) deciding to skip week 1, to explore more of East Africa. The group takes a moment to acknowledge James Levinson for fearlessly leading 20 Boothies to the African Savannah. James made sure we were close enough to the Lions to get incredible pictures but far away to escape with all limbs intact. In all seriousness, he handled all the logistics and planning and made this a once in a lifetime experience!