By Elyse Voyen, CCI Greenheart Part Time Program Assistant for the Greenheart Club.

Every year the Greenheart Club honors four outstanding exchange students who have demonstrated commitment, enthusiasm, drive, and love for volunteer work. We honor them by awarding a weekend trip to Chicago where they have the opportunity to learn about and experience the Windy City, through theatrical entertainment, sports games, food, tours, and a volunteer activity. This year, I had the honor of sharing these fun experiences with our fabulous winners, by leading the Eco-Weekend trip. This year our recipients of the Eco-Weekend Trip were Nini from Georgia, Sonia from China, Lera from Kazakhstan, and Pauline from Germany.

The greatest part of co-leading the Eco-Weekend trip with the stunning Rihah, was having the opportunity of learning from the girls themselves. The girls, after their tour of Greenheart International’s Chicago offices, shared their volunteer experiences with the Chicago Staff. Each one of them had a unique perspective on the importance of volunteerism and hearing of their experiences and how volunteering influenced them was truly heartwarming. Not only did I learn more about each of their unique volunteering experiences from their presentations, but it was also wonderful to learn about each of their cultures. Our Eco-Weekend winners were from such various countries that each student (as well as the leaders) was able to learn from another. I learned how to say du bist doch nicht aus zucker gemacht (you aren’t made out of sugar) and я люблю вас (I love you, pronounced ya lyublyu vas), and that I must eat Khachapuri (cheese bread) when I go to Georgia, and Chinese hot pot when I got to China (or when I head to China town).IMG_3464

While Rihah and I learned about the cultures of these girls, the girls were introduced to the wonders of Chicago. We volunteered together at Bright Endeavors, making candles to help support new, low-income mothers. In this way, the students were able to gain a unique perspective of the community initiatives in Chicago. From the view from our hotel, to the sparkle of the sun on Lake Michigan, the Eco-Weekend was picturesque. We went on an architecture river tour where we learned about Chicago’s rich history, told through the buildings along the river. We even saw from the boat, the hotel penthouse that Obama usually stays in. From the river we went on to Wrigley field to see a fierce game between the Cubs and the Cardinals. After enjoying a Chicago-style hot dog at the Cubs game, we stopped in at the Greenheart Shop to get all our faire trade goods. Following further shopping along Michigan avenue, we had a night out at the Chicago theater performance of the Blue Man group. The show was made extra special when our very own Sonia was taken up on stage as an audience guest on the show!

All in all, the weekend was full of new experiences for all, and everyone had difficulty saying goodbye to Chicago, new friends, and exciting new experiences. To see some of the most picturesque moments of the weekend check out the slideshow below!