Fun After Finals

You did it, Falcons!

The first semester is officially in the books tomorrow (Jan. 26), and we think you should go explore the Twin Cities and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather after studying hard for finals all week!

So here’s a list of some events going on around St. Paul and Minneapolis you should definitely check out!

St. Paul Winter Carnival | Downtown St. Paul


Ice carving, automated snowplow competitions, ice skating, food, snow sculptures, and… ICE CASTLE! St. Paul’s Winter Carnival promises to be bigger and better than ever in its 132nd year, and there are nonstop events from Thursday (Jan. 25) evening and for the next 17 days! Most events are free.

Art Shanty Projects | Lake Harriet, Minneapolis


Take a ride on The Thwing, snag some free coffee, and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Minnow. Confused? That’s because the Art Shanty Projects are something you have to see to believe! Head on over to south Minneapolis from 10am-4pm on weekends through February 11. Free.

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships | Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis


If you’re more sporty than artsy, then you’ll want to head to a different lake in south Minneapolis and take in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. Teams from around the world make their way to Lake Nokomis to battle for the Golden Shovel this weekend. Free.

City of Lakes Loppet | Bde Maka Ska, Minneapolis


If you haven’t noticed a theme here yet, basically if there’s a frozen lake, you’ll find Minnesotans on it. Taking place all weekend (and next) is the City of Lakes Loppet Festival, a celebration of all things cross country skiing, on Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun).  Be sure to check the website for the list of events. Most stuff is free.

Championship Cat Show | Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul

cst cat show 23500

Come see some #floofs, shop for cat things, and view some cat royalty in all their splendor at the Saintly City Club’s Annual Championship Cat Show in at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. Tickets are $4, and the event runs from 9-5 on Saturday, January 27. More of a dog person? Good news! The Doggie Depot runs from 10am-1pm at Union Depot in St. Paul. You can chat with doggie experts, buy doggie trinkets, and see the Canine Royal Court. You can see the doggos for free.

Want to know more going on this weekend? is a great resource for everything happening in Minneapolis and St. Paul!


Traveling? Know Your Forms!

With holidays and Winter Break right around the corner, now is a good time to refresh everyone’s memory on all of the paperwork we require to ensure our international students have a safe trip!

Any international student planning to travel with or without their host family must follow the SPP Travel Procedures. International students may only travel independently by air, and must be accompanied by a relative or adult who is at least 25 years old.

If a student is planning to travel outside the U.S., they should first talk to the Admissions Office regarding any visa forms that need to be signed in order to re-enter the U.S. Students must abide by visa restrictions of the country they plan to visit.

Forms are due 2-4 weeks before the start of a trip.

Here is a summary of the forms needed for various types of travel:

FORMS REQUIRED MUST BE SUBMITTED TWO WEEKS BEFORE TRAVEL DATE Travel Proposal Form Host Family Permission Form (on proposal form) Natural Parent Release Independent Party Receiving Form I-20 must be signed for re-entry to the  U.S.
Travel with a Host Parent yes
Overnight travel with an adult other than the Host Parent yes yes yes yes
Independent travel to meet a third party (relative) yes yes yes yes
Travel outside the U.S. with a Host Parent/Family. yes yes yes
Travel outside the U.S. with a

non-Host Parent adult.

yes yes yes yes yes
Holiday travel to home country yes yes yes yes
Overnight travel in U.S. with Natural Parents yes yes yes
Traveling with Natural Parents outside of U.S. yes yes yes yes

Find these forms and more on the St. Paul Prep website.

Advisor’s Angle: All Americans Live in Mansions

Janel Cook 2017

By Student and Host Family Advisor Janel Cook

A stereotype is defined as a non-factual assumption about individuals or a group of people. Stereotypes can be positive or negative and can pertain to race, religion, gender, occupation, age, culture, and more.

Everyone around the world holds stereotypes to some degree. Some are conscious and some are subconscious. Many factors influence stereotypical thinking, including: culture, communities, religion, advertising, movies, TV Shows, music, celebrities, news, etc.

For example, some commonly held stereotypes about Americans are that we are loud and arrogant, we eat a lot of fast food (particularly McDonald’s and pizza), and everything in the U.S. is large compared to other countries (i.e. houses, streets, cars, yards, food portions, and people).

Pop Culture Collage

St. Paul Prep students are influenced by American pop culture well before they arrive on program. They have probably watched American films or TV shows, listened to American music, and read about American celebrities and/or politics. That exposure has most likely influenced their ideas of the United States as a whole.

One of our goals is to foster international understanding between cultures. Every student who decides to participate in one of our programs is deciding to live in the U.S., which means they will come face-to-face with the reality of life in the U.S., and therefore, with any stereotypes that they hold about Americans and the United States of America.

Host Families are in the same position. They volunteer to host a student from a specific country. The student arrives and perhaps it is different than expected. Ultimately, both sides are faced with the realities of each other and must learn to allow one another to be who they are as individuals. Sometimes reaching full cultural understanding takes a while, depending on how strongly assumptions are held by each party.

Cultural exchange is a wonderful opportunity for students, Host Families, and SPP staff to challenge what we think is true, which is an important factor in breaking down stereotypes. Through these experiences, we grow more knowledgeable to the realities of cultural exchange. What an enriching experience to share with one another!

TwInstagram Cities

Whether in St. Paul or Minneapolis, there are plenty of opportunities around the Twin Cities to snap an iconic photo and rack up the likes!

These spots are sure to get your followers to double-tap!

#1 Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis


Not many other places can lay claim to a 60-foot waterfall within city limits, but head to Minnehaha Park near the Mississippi River in southeast Minneapolis, and your ‘Gram will earn #waterfullhunter status immediately!

#2 Cathedral of St. Paul


Serving as the Co-Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St.Paul, the immense Cathedral overlooking downtown St. Paul. It took seven years to build (1907-14). In recent years, Red Bull’s “Crashed Ice” has been held in front of the cathedral.

#3 Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis


Standing as the only fully stone arch bridge across the Mississippi River, this former railroad bridge has become an icon in the Mill City (Minneapolis’ old nickname). Great spot to snag pictures of the Minneapolis skyline and St. Anthony Falls.

#4 Sunken Garden/Conservatory, Como Zoo, St. Paul


Let your filters run wild! A popular place for weddings, the flowers in the sunken garden change with the seasons, but it’s always a balmy, tropical feeling inside! And, while you’re at it, check out some monkeys over at the zoo!

#5 Minneapolis Sculpture Garden


Snag one of the most recognizable images from the Twin Cities with a picture of the Cherry & Spoon Bridge in Minneapolis’ newly redesigned Sculpture Garden. It now features a 25-foot blue rooster, as well.

#6 Downtown St. Paul from Indian Mounds Park


You can get a good ‘gram of downtown St. Paul in a number of places, but one of our favorites is from Indian Mounds Park. Colorful sunsets make for a good background of the “Saintly City”.

#7 Mall of America


Take pictures shopping! Take pictures building a bear! Take pictures riding an indoor rollercoaster! Take pictures of your food! Endless photo ops here!

#8 St. Paul Saints game


Crazy promotions? Check. Cheap tickets? Check. Ball Pig? CHECK! Welcome to the joys of a St. Paul Saints baseball game. What is a Ball Pig, you ask? Well, get ready to fill your Insta with fun. Also, the stadium is just a block from St. Paul Prep!

#9 Minneapolis Institute of Art


Like old art? Like new art? Don’t like art? Go to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and be amazed! (And amaze your followers with pictures of 2,000-year-old pots)

#10 Rice or Mears Park, St. Paul


Rice Park is good for that “winter wonderland” ‘gram, while Mears Park is a beautiful summer oasis. Both are located in the middle of downtown St. Paul, and are great places for students to escape and snag a few filter-ready pics!

Where are your favorite spots for the best ‘gram in the Twin Cities? Let us know! Follow us on Insta @stpaulprep!

Guest Blogger Aleksander: Tabula Rasa Part 2

IMG_1513I hope you’re all familiar with the term “butterfly effect.” If not, it is a concept that theorizes how small causes can have large effects, such as the flap of the wings of a butterfly in Rio de Janeiro changing the weather in Chicago. Let that sink in for a moment.

This post will be a rather positive example of this theory. I want to tell you all how the trip to the USA saved my life. Literally, not just figuratively.

Test day

The air in the room was very dense. We sat at tables and looked at each other in terror. “What happens next?” – everyone thought.

It’s not an excerpt from a horror book. It’s simply an accurate description of how the test day went down. It was the day when we were given the tests to asses our knowledge of math, English, etc. I remember that very first day I met the person who altered my life: Margaux. Long story short, thanks to her I have identified depression, anxiety, and OCD in myself. Now, three years down the road, I am in the middle of therapy, that I’ve started last year.

What would have happened if I wouldn’t have met her in America? Or rather – what would have happened if I would not have talked to the representative of the American Embassy in Poland? I could have been dead by now. While of course, that’s just my interpretation, many other bad things could have happened, too.

What else saved me? The Mobile Jazz Project. This project changed my life. Let me explain:

It is a project where young people interested in making and/or playing music (not necessarily talented; of course there were some brilliant musicians, but talent was not necessary) could do what they wanted to do – transform their thoughts into language understood by everyone on earth (music). Every week we listened to a short musical performance. Then there was a time for questions for the performing artist/band. After that, people could split into dedicated groups. I remember that I was in a “tech” group which created music from scratch in Pro Tools. At the end, I recorded my take on “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder. I was very inspired by Stevie Wonder’s pop/funky sounds and Jimmy Ray Vaughn’s cover of the song, so I decided to combine these two styles.

Right now, in my bedroom, I have a MIDI keyboard, an electric guitar ,and Ableton Live installed on my PC. Music was an escape during my dark days. If you want to hear some of my jams, go to my soundcloud profile. It also led me to publish my pictures on the internet. If you want to see some of them, go to my society6 profile. The Mobile Jazz Project showed me that if I want, I can be an artist, too. It’s up to me. I actually liked the idea of becoming a music producer so much that I went on a tour of a college where I could get MA in music production. I loved everything except for the price. So I am studying in Warsaw instead. That’s another one of these things I still regret.

I wish you actually realized how different the teachers I met in SPP were from my teachers in Poland. Teachers in Poland would MOSTLY (not all) destroy your grades. They would bomb you with everything until you just couldn’t take it anymore. The teachers at SPP were so much different. They encourage you to learn. They praise you when you have done a good job. Ms. Larson showed me that math can be bearable. Ms. Stormont showed me that I also can be a good writer. Ms. Redding showed me that democracy in a classroom works.

If you are going to get out one thing out of this article, then let it be this: if you feel that you need a change, go and make it happen.

A Step Forward

fullsizerender-8By current SPP student Valeria from Venezuela

Since 8th grade, I’ve been looking forward to graduation day; to finally step out of school and enter college; to study things I care about, and to surpass the limitations I was given in my previous schools. However, in senior year I felt different.

“You’re too immature, Valeria. Too immature, too young, and too dependent on your parents for you to leave to college,” a little voice whispered inside my head.

During the first two months of my stay in St. Paul, I was struck with the realization I was not prepared to enter this new phase of my life. It all started at the beginning of the first semester last fall. The story goes a little something like this:

I was clueless as to what university I wanted to go to, nostalgic of my family and culture, out of my elements in class, dispirited in my only A.P course, and consumed by preoccupation over standardized testing for colleges. The weight of my responsibilities kept sinking me to the bottom as I drowned on my own. I had never struggled in my life without having someone to make it better, as I grew up in a collectivist culture. For quite a while, I thought that I had lost that here, until one day as I sat alone studying for the SAT, one of my teachers took the initiative to help me out a little. Every day that I sat down with him, I sighed of relief; his sincere willingness to help me without receiving anything in return was heart-warming. His advice not only brought tranquility to my soul, but gave me strength to stay persistent. I was no longer alone.

In addition, later on Vicky came into my life. I had gone to our school counselor Ms. Hill several times, however what I wanted her to do for me would have required the use of too much of her time, considering that she had to guide 63 other seniors (some that might be even more lost than me in such a labyrinth).

Ms. Hill, being the consummate professional that she is, sensed I was lost at sea, and so she reined me in back to shore. She gave me a small, fairly mundane, contact card with the name “Vicky” sprawled in simple black lettering (little did I know the impact that small, mundane card would have on my college search). Vicky is a former SPP counselor and Advanced English Composition teacher who left her teaching job for a job as a lawyer; still, she spends her free time helping students in my situation.

I still had a sea of colleges to pick and choose from, and yet the question remained, where would I really fit in? Which one would have the best broadcast journalism program? Which one would have the biggest diversity of cultures? Which one this? Which one that? Which one? Vicky helped me figure all this out by making me form my own conclusions.

I had to re-start my college search, only this time with her there, over my shoulder guiding me. To be frank, I was irritated that I’d have to start the search process all over again from scratch, but looking back it was probably the best thing that I could have done. When I was on my own, I let my own bias for big name schools get in the way of what I was really looking for, and began to apply to colleges that offered a curriculum I did not even want or would not even be helpful for my desired career.

Can you imagine? Going to a college I don’t like, far away from my family and home (which was a sacrifice I guess I was willing to make) and coping with the stress of college life who knows how. I was well on my way to imploding because of how unprepared I was for college, the concept of adult independence was still new to me and I wouldn’t have an altruistic teacher to guide me anymore. Thanks to Vicky, all the self-destruction was spared.

Vicky also made me understand the one thing that kept on adding weight on my shoulders. This whole time, I had been looking for some sort of emotional shelter within my Host Family and I failed in my attempts. I told Vicky the story of how I couldn’t find emotional comfort with them, and she said, “Valeria, you cannot go to a hardware store and expect to buy raisins, you have to go to a grocery store for that. What you are looking for is something they might not be able to provide you with, because they are simply not used to it. There will be other people, like your teacher, that will make your experience unique and fascinating, leaving a mark in your heart.”

And she was right, I was looking in the wrong places. My Host Family had been great, but they were not the ones that would give me the affection and support I craved. Emotionally, the burden was off my back as I stopped making my Host Family into something they were not: my actual family or any Venezuelan. I finally understood I couldn’t force them to act like my culture does.

A month later, I was in Ashburn, Virginia spending Christmas with my family and finally finishing my college applications. All the stress was gone, but something was still aching. Was I really satisfied with my decisions?…I think I wasn’t.

I left my father’s family living in Ashburn for a few days to visit my mother’s sister in Washington D.C. Her name is Carmen Beatriz, but I always called her Aunty Triz. I hadn’t seen her in years because Venezuela’s situation forced her (along with many other relatives and friends) to leave me. We had a great time together, but the clock was ticking and it was time for me to go back to Ashburn.

As we were getting closer and closer to Ashburn, anxiety kept taking over me and when I had to say goodbye I shattered. That’s what had been bugging me this whole time. Ever since September all the way to that cold night in December, I realized I was unsatisfied because I will never be able to live in peace If I am away from the warm people I love and the culture that shaped every aspect of my personality. Although the Universities I applied to were the best options when it came to the education they would provide; wasn’t my personal happiness a huge factor to consider as well? I never thought about it because I did not think it was a thing that would bother me. I had always been a happy person, but I wasn’t in the culture that I’m from; the one that truly brings me internal peace and enamors me more each day of my existence.

That night was a massive paradox to me, I was broken and cured. It cleared my blurred vision and I realized what I’d wanted this whole time: great education near my family. What a better place for that than Colombia? The most similar country to Venezuela that offers me infinite opportunities and a near location to my precious home. Today, I see clearly what I want, and feel immensely grateful for my teacher, who will always have a place in my heart, Vicky, and my school SPP. Without them I would have made the wrong decisions and postponed my happiness and inner serenity. Moreover, SPP, its passionate staff, and my experience with them taught me how to manage my time, control stress, work hard independently, but most importantly prepare me for the next phase of my life.

Guest Blogger Aleksander: Tabula Rasa (Part 1)

IMG_1513When I came to America, I was like a clean slate. I both knew a lot, and I did not. I knew how to function as a person, but I didn’t know what it was like to live across the ocean from your parents. That was one of those things I had to learn the hard way. I was both afraid and excited. Luckily for me, excitement was stronger than fear. Quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It’s the same thing with the first days at a new school. As soon as you stop fearing the unreasonable, you advance. Your development goes forward.

In the beginning, I started off my guest blogging keeping it light and easy. In the end, however, I have decided to keep it real. There are enough light and easy “my year in USA” type of posts already. These type of posts are supposed to make friends and everybody you know jealous. If that’s what you have expected, then you might wanna close this page.

You have decided to stay? Good, let me continue then.

There are very few nights when I don’t regret the things that I did/didn’t do during my exchange. First and foremost, I realized too late that I’d only have this opportunity once. Much too late. My first Host Family lived in West St. Paul, Minnesota; a place perfect as a base for trips. My second Host Family lived in Bloomington, Minnesota; a place far worse to start trips from. Most of the Host Families took their students to various places, even to different states. Mine didn’t bother with that, but it’s fine. It’s not something I could have demanded. Nevertheless, I had to think about visiting the most popular spots in the Twin Cities alone, which I did not. Mostly, I preferred to stay in my safe zone: my Host Family’s house. By the end of the year I had seen some cool places, like the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis, so it’s not all that bad. I do regret staying at home then. I know I should have pushed myself.

Along with not visiting places, I did not hang out with friends and colleagues often. Now I know I should have been doing that. Although that doesn’t mean that I didn’t make friends at all. I just regret I didn’t meet them face to face when I had the opportunity to do so. If you’re having some questions about what happens after you come back home – let me clear some things up. You’re most probably not going to see your friends from abroad again soon. Of course, I am not saying that you won’t be able to right away. From my experience, though, it’s not very likely to happen. I visited my a girlfriend (now an ex-girlfriend) from Germany a few times. That’s about it. On the other hand, having friends all around the world might be a huge asset. Once you start to make money, you can visit them! Before you start making money, you might start a business with your friends around the world. Nowadays, the sky’s the limit, and keep that in mind.

Whenever I argue that English classes are too focused on doing the exercises versus teaching everybody how to actually communicate with people, I give the same example every time: me going to a mobile carrier on my first week in the U.S. Long story short, my English was good when I had to understand written English. However, when I approached a regular person at the shop, I was left astonished by how much I needed to learn. I did not understand much from what an average American was saying, and I was always among the best in my English classes in Poland. I’m not showing off. It’s just a fact. Did I refrain from communicating in English after that? No. If anything, it motivated me to improve myself.

Let’s talk about classes in the U.S.

Let me clear up the biggest misconception: American school is not easier. If you think so, and you’re gonna go to America – please sign up for an AP class. Any. Unless you’re a genius in a given field, you’re gonna have a bad time. Or maybe you’re I-pek and you have to be perfect and be the best. Your call.

If anything, school in the US is more personalized. It’s sort of like comparing iOS and Android (yes, I’m a nerd). iOS tells you what your home screen should look like, it tells you that sending files via Bluetooth is passe, and it thinks like Henry Ford. With Android, however, you’re free to change your home screen. You have wayyyy more customization options. iOS is Poland, and Android is the US. You didn’t get my nerdy analogy? Let me try again: cars. Poland is like a manufacturer that produces only one model of a car equipped with only one type of engine. USA is like a normal manufacturer. “So do you want your car in blue? No? Okay, how about red? Still no? Worry not! We have got like 12 different colors for you to choose from.”

The American school, or at least SPP, focuses more on understanding different concepts, knowing how to apply them in real life, and not on remembering stuff by heart. I feel like this approach is a lot more modern. Twenty years ago nobody would have thought, that we would have computers in our pockets. American school goes – hey, it’s time to change. Polish school goes – computers?

SPP has got some great teachers as well. Ms. Larson, Mr. Wiggin (if you’re reading this, then I hope that somebody continues my “Friday” thing), Ms. Stormont, Mr. Shai. I also have to say that I very much respect the work of Ms. Redding.

With that being said – this is the end of part one. In part two, I will answer the question “Can a falcon play jazz?”, and much more. Stay tuned and follow SPP’s blog. If you have any questions, hmu on Twitter!

Aleksander Jess (@AJWRSW)