(qCOSTARICA TRAVEL) Wyndmere to Costa Rica – Discovering a new culture is an ultimate goal behind the educational journey undertaken by Wyndmere High School students.
But this year’s experience was more unexpected than Spanish teacher Cara Cody-Braun had planned as the trip to Costa Rica was restructured less than one day before the six Wyndmere students arrived. Heavy rains created flooding throughout the region in Costa Rica where the Wyndmere contingent was supposed to be headed, so everything about the trip changed.
Cody-Braun organizes a trip about every three years through Intercultural Student Experiences. She and her students drove to the Twin Cities and only discovered the evening before their flight that everything had been changed.
Carlie Brown described the experience in two words, “pura vida,” which literally means “pure life” in Spanish.
In Costa Rica it is used frequently to say everything from hello to goodbye, or most commonly to convey that everything is just great.
Early on, it put things into turmoil as students corresponded with the families in which they were going to do a home stay, but Cody-Braun and her students learned to be flexible that trip. The village itself was safe, but the bridges and roads leading to it were not.
“I didn’t even bring any pants. The region was cold,” she laughed.
Despite this sudden change of plans, the entire experience went well. New home families were selected for the students, which went well despite having never corresponded before arriving in Costa Rica, she said.
Cody-Braun was glad she used Intercultural Student Experiences for this trip because trying to reschedule the experience on her own would have been impossible. There are other aspects of ISE that make each trip memorable. “I like their programs because of their emphasis on language and the fact that they always include family stays,” Cody-Braun said.
The family stay was to take place in a region of Costa Rica known as Sarapiqui, but students were shifted instead to a small town in the mountainous Dota region.
Wyndmere students adjusted to the change in plans, and after arriving in the capital city took a four hour bus-ride up mountainous roads to the small town of Trinidad. It is even smaller than Wyndmere, featuring only one church, a two-classroom school and a small convenience store, Cody-Braun said.
As a teacher, she said the family stay is the most valuable experience. “Culture is part of what we are supposed to teach in foreign language classes, but with 21 Spanish-speaking countries, what culture do you teach? We end up focusing on things that are different, but in the family stay I hope that what they learn is that people and families are pretty much the same,” she said.
Students who went to Costa Rica were Sasia Heitkamp, Ana Braaten, Abbi Metzger, Macy Wright, Carlie Brown and Catherine Manstrom. The students were nervous at first, but in the end they made connections with their Costa Rican families, she said.
Heitkamp said the family stay was her favorite part of the trip. “I liked that my family was so kind to me and was willing to take us in on short notice.”
Manstrom said the last night of the family stay was spent trying on each other’s glasses and taking pictures. “It was really fun.”
The Dota region is agricultural and families make their living growing vegetables, blackberries and strawberries, and working at or owning small dairies.
Students spent an afternoon helping out at an eight-cow dairy operation. It was quite a work out walking down to get cows in a low pasture and bring them back up the mountain to be milked. The community also organized a soccer game for the American visitors and students helped finish a painting project at the town church.
Wright said the volunteer project along with a school visit was her favorite part of the trip.
The second part of the trip was spent taking in some of the natural wonders that Costa Rica has to offer. Costa Rica has a high percentage of land protected for wildlife and native vegetation. There is a large variety of birds and students were able to see the rather elusive quetzal, which is a prize bird for bird-watchers. It is on the critical list for its low numbers. Students also saw several sloth, monkeys, koari, snakes, as well as lizards and crocodiles.
Besides hiking, the group went white water rafting, zip-lining and took surfing lessons.
Braaten said zip-lining was her favorite part of the trip. “It was an adventure and got most people out of their box. We were 500 feet up and that was beautiful and scary at the same time.”
The group was accompanied by a naturalist guide, Onik Morris, throughout the entire trip. “Onik was really impressive,” Cody-Braun said. “She has such a passion for the plants and animals and seemed to know everything about her country.”
Cody-Braun enjoyed the school visit where the school children had prepared some dances and games to play with the American students. The American students shared a game with them as well. “I was interested in learning about their school system. We learned that every town, no matter how small, has its own school. The government provides some food for lunch, but usually the parents supplement that with produce or meat from their own gardens or livestock. The parents are also in charge of cleaning and maintaining the schools. It’s definitely a community project,” she said.
Metzger enjoyed seeing how other people live, and she has been keeping in touch with her Costa Rican family.
Brown described the experience in two words, “purr vida,” which literally means “pure life” in Spanish. In Costa Rica it is used frequently to say everything from hello to goodbye, or most commonly to convey that everything is just great.
Cody-Braun has been the Spanish teacher at Wyndmere for 11 years. She doesn’t know where Wyndmere students will go on the next educational experience, but plans to make it more of a service experience, she said.