5,920 miles away from East, senior Sophie Paulk wakes up, turns off her buzzing alarm clock and walks onto the back patio of her room on a cruise ship touring the Mediterranean. The salty ocean breeze fills her lungs and the bright sun shines in her eyes. She then puts on her tank top and jean shorts, grabs her sunglasses and purse and steps onto the deck.
8,573 miles away on the opposite side of the globe, in Tanzania, sophomore Maura Kate Mitchelson wakes up at 8 a.m. to Mama Anna knocking, calling her to breakfast. Mitchelson rolls out of bed, yanking on a shirt and pair of worn army pants. A steaming cup of porridge and toast sits on the wooden table just big enough for three people. Mitchelson quickly scarfs down her breakfast and heads outside, ready to work.
4,536 miles away in France, junior Ellie Stewart-Jones, gets out of bed, pushing away the covers. She opens up the blinds and frowns when she sees the rain showering the Eiffel Tower. She throws on her shorts and shirt. A serving of bread with butter and fruit spread awaits her on a blue plastic plate. On her way out the door she throws on her rain jacket and says goodbye to her host mother, Cecilia.
Five miles away from Shawnee Mission East, sophomore Sam Friedmann is still sleeping — he doesn’t wake up before 11 a.m. Three hours later, Friedmann groans and climbs out of bed. He quickly runs to the tv to try and beat his older brother. He opens the cabinet, pulls out a pillow and blanket, turns on the TV and starts watching a recorded show.
1,808 students attend Shawnee Mission East and together they have experienced 1,808 different summers. Some go halfway across the world like Mitchelson, Jones, and Paulk. Some go a few states away. And some only leave the state to go to Quik Trip in Missouri.
Back in Greece, Paulk is touring Santorini with her grandmother.
“Santorini is up really high and you can see all the water around you,” Paulk said.
She spends her days shopping in little villages and meeting new people. She is taking pictures to share on her Instagram.
6,132 miles from Santorini in Tanzania, Mitchelson starts her day by mixing concrete filling in the foundation of the dining hall in the school sponsored by Rustic Pathways. The children try to help her lift the dirt and rocks but Mitchelson refuses. The children don’t realize that she wants to help them build their school.
While Mitchelson labors under the hot Tanzanian sun, 4,400 miles away in Paris, Jones walks into a classroom, surrounded by foreign exchange students.
“[There were] people from Italy, Spain, Brazil, Switzerland, England. There was even a girl from Kiev, [Ukraine],” Jones said.
The students begin the day by talking in only French to Estella and Justine, the main teachers.Next comes the grammar and vocabulary section of the day.
Sitting on his couch 4,536 miles from Paris, Friedmann is just starting a fourth episode of Criminal Minds, eating Cheez-its and drinking orange juice. After this episode, he says he is going to play basketball, but he knows that he will end up watching the next one instead.
A sixteen-hour plane ride away across 5,920 miles, Paulk is enjoying the beauty of Greece.
She’s currently on the deck of the cruise ship eating a gourmet lunch and preparing to get off the boat to go to Mykonos, Greece. Even out at sea, she can see the white buildings and the donkeys scaling the cliffs. She whips out her camera and snaps a few pictures. She then gets off the ship and begins walking around Mykonos. A cable car takes her up to the top of the city. She is in awe of the beauty of the clear blue water and stark white houses with blue shutters and railings. Mediterranean restaurants are all around just like in the vacation brochure.
Just 6,025 miles to the south, Mitchelson wipes her brow with the back of hand, exhausted after mixing concrete made of rocks, dirt and water all day. Mama Anna and Baba Ruben had been making lunch all morning, waiting for her to have a break. The plate is full of rice, fresh fruit, and stewed meat.
“The meat is pretty much all fat because in the village if you’re fat it means you’re rich so they give fatty food as a sign of wealth,” Mitchelson said.
Two little girls, Nicegodlove and Joan, hold Mitchelson’s hands as she headed down to the river to collect buckets of water. The water is used to make the concrete.
Rocks. Dirt. Water. Rocks. Dirt. Water. Rocks. Dirt. Water. All day long to build the dining hall. By the end of the day, Mitchelson is covered in dirt, but she has never felt better.
6,263 miles away, back in France, Jones has been speaking French all day every day. Even though she just started learning French she can already speak it fluently.
“It is hard to be somewhere you can’t express yourself,” said Jones.
She cannot even speak to her family unless it’s in French. She is becoming very good at speaking because she has no other choice but to pick it up quickly.
Meanwhile, 7,288 miles to the southwest, Friedmann has just hopped off the couch and went into his room to change out of his pajamas. He puts on a Nike T shirt and Nike shorts and jogs out of the house, warming up his legs after watching tv all day. He picks up the basketball and spins it on his pointer finger, dribbling it when it falls. He does a few spin moves, banks in some layups and drains a couple threes.
Although each of them had a different summer, all four were memorable. Whether it was spent on the couch eating too many bags of Cheez-its to count, cruising around the Mediterranean taking pictures of clear blue water, speaking French all day every day with students from all over the globe or introducing children in Tanzania to their newly built -school, they all had a special meaning. It’s only 286 days until Jones goes back to France. 286 days until Friedmann starts a new tv series. 286 days until Mitchelson does another volunteer trip, and 286 days until Paulk takes another European adventure.