By Sr. Eric Fleming and Sra. Katie Ritter Torres
The Spanish Department had the pleasure of chaperoning thirteen upper school students to Costa Rica over the week-long winter break. Our hope was that this immersion experience would give new meaning to students’ language studies and inspire them to travel and seek out opportunities to use their Spanish. We chose Costa Rica for its rich culture, diverse wildlife, friendly ticos*, and its mild climate, a welcome reprieve during the cold Pennsylvanian winter.
As we planned this trip, one of our biggest priorities was making sure that students would have ample opportunity to engage with native speakers of Spanish. That goal was a driving force behind many of our itinerary items, such as the school visit, our trip to the artisan market in San José, and our cooking class at El Rancho. Our bus driver and tour guide, both natives of Costa Rica, made a point to interact with our students in Spanish. In addition, students had the opportunity to interact with Costa Rican locals at hotels, restaurants, rest stops, and small shops. It was great to see their confidence and listening comprehension improve as the week progressed.
Another priority as we planned this trip was assuring that it appealed to a broad group of students and student interests. As mentioned above, students who wanted to improve their Spanish had the opportunity to engage with the locals. Those who wanted adventure got the opportunity to zipline, and students who wanted to see plants and wildlife got their fill at Monteverde cloud forest and Manuel Antonio beach. During our relatively short stay, we saw crocodiles, three species of monkeys, macaws, parakeets, deer, raccoons, coatís, sloths, and, an iguana. Students who wanted a break from winter had a chance to soak in the hot springs at Tabacón and work on their tan at the beach in Manuel Antonio.
People from all over the world flock to Costa Rica to experience pura vida** firsthand. Tourism is a major source of income in the country, and it is easy to understand why it is such a popular destination. That said, another main priority on this trip was making sure that students did not experience this trip simply as tourists; we also wanted them to come away with a better understanding of Costa Rican culture. Our tour guide, Cristian, was an incredible resource, offering a wealth of knowledge about the history, food, educational system, slang, and customs in Costa Rica. In addition, our bus driver, “Caballo,” gave us our daily dose of Costa Rican humor, joking with students and bumping fists with them every time they got on and off the bus.
Many of us returned home with more than a thousand pictures from our time in Costa Rica, and we look forward to sharing the best ones at a school assembly. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do justice to amazing panoramic views, relaxing hot springs, beautiful sunsets, endless miles of palm trees, or Volcán Arenal which towers above everything around. It is also almost impossible to capture the feeling of being in another country, especially as a group of students and teachers transplanted from school to a new setting. We enjoyed getting to know these students more and hope that they enjoyed getting to know each other better as well. More than anything we hope that this trip has sparked in students a love for Spanish-speaking cultures and inspired them to engage with the local Spanish-Speaking community here in York. It was especially gratifying to play a part in planting those seeds, and we look forward to planning our next international trip.
*nickname for Costa Ricans
**literally “pure life” – a Costa Rican expression