At first when I looked at studying abroad I desperately wanted to study abroad in Argentina, Buenos Aires. That was the place I was set on studying. I did two years of community college at Wake Tech and once I transferred to UNCW and I realized after my first semester that I was not going to be able to balance working as much as I used to and also taking 16 hour credits. This short summer session was the perfect amount of time for me to study. It saved me so much money and it was jammed full with full on experiences every day, every minute, every second of our trip we were running to be observing something new. Our first weekend of this trip after we traveled to “La Paz” everyone was in complete awe of what was next to come. For me, this trip was to learn Spanish and that was it. I have not completed any Spanish through school and I really wanted to take my Spanish to that next level. I can say after completing this experience that I not only have taken my Spanish further than I ever before but also have had the experience of my lifetime that I probably will never have again.
Comparing San Jose to Monteverde, I have to say I liked San Jose better for the area we were in. I loved how fast we caught the bus, the shopping mall, I loved how social San Jose was however; I enjoyed my company better in Monteverde. Monteverde as the locals call it is much more “tranquil” meaning relaxed, there is less crime, the families are closer and everyone is a local and they know if you are from out of town. San Jose I did not feel comfortable walking around downtown or even late at night, also I had a lot of trouble figuring out where my house was. In Monteverde everything is so close it’s impossible to get lost and also it’s much safer later at night. The people of Monteverde are very trusting and caring; if you need help they are there.
The family I stayed with, in Herdia was great, they had three daughters and Thursday night I began to really get to know them. We left Friday for Monteverde, I was upset because I didn’t want to go through the transition of that change again, changing to a whole new family, getting used to a whole new situation. When I arrived to Monteverde the first night it was just me and my mother and immediately it was so comfortable and I felt very at home. I met Edwardo Tuesday when he arrived home from San Jose from helping his sick brother. I quickly learned that the mother, Mayela wanted and really enjoyed helping and doing things for me. She also told me that Edwardo was unable to have children, which was very sad because they would be amazing parents. Edwardo was sometimes harder to understand and I often looked to the mother to help me translate what he was saying. I learned that the couple had never been outside Monteverde but one time for a vacation. Edwardo is deathly afraid of flying and this is the reason they stay here. They have no hot water, no car but Edwardo owns a motorcycle to get to and from work each day. On my paper is said Edwardo was in the field of construction, but May 2nd we visited him at The Cloud Forest School and I learned what his real job was.
Edwardo works for “La Creativa” or the Cloud Forest School as basically the biologist of the school. Edwardo takes care of every plant; every tree and also helps the students create new protected forest areas. He is responsible for 106 acres of property that the school owns for basically everything that is planted. The group learned from the guide that Edwardo’s class is the most popular class at school and it fills up so fast that students are turned away often. Edwardo is a people person and has an amazing personality. I watched him at school with all the kids and he was so natural playing around with them. I have truly enjoyed everything about my host family, they are special are very unique, caring people who have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable. I don’t’ think I could ever live in Monteverde, but I would most definitely come visit the couple again. They have been amazing to get to know and visit with each night.
I found that the cloud forest school made the biggest impression on me. I thought it was awesome that the director told us “Anyone who really wants to come to school here can.” They make things happen and I believe as teachers we need to create an up and moving generation. The director was telling us how they are teaching students to reach out to companies, write proposals and also plan for their future all in one lesson. The thing that impressed me most about the school was the fact that they were educating the students mostly outside the classroom. Although some of their education obviously takes place in the classroom, most of their life lessons take place in their organic garden, or in the luscious trails of the 106 acres the school owns.
Becoming a teacher is a huge step for me that I’ve looked forward to since I chose this major. I’ve always been very nervous about it however, because I am not extremely smart, horribly creative nor am I artsy. Going to Spanish class daily has given me so much more insight as to what it’s like to be a student from a foreign country. I knew in my head this Spanish course was not a real grade, but I can imagine being a student from a foreign country trying to make sense of the non sense English talk going on for hours at a time could be so frustrating. Also certain topics we covered in class were much harder than others and some of the times people in our small group of four would zone out of get extremely frustrated. Teachers need to recognize those students who are falling behind or not understanding the material. I had a math teacher in 8th grade who I keep asking for help over and over and she repeatedly would tell me to look the material over in my book. Obviously I was not understand the material because I was failing all my quizzes and test in her classes; however she overlooked this and just thought I was not studying and not paying attention. It was later that year that I officially got diagnosed with epilepsy and we found out I had been having seizures and part of the reason I did not understand the material was due to the right lobe in my brain. Part of your job as a teacher is to connect with your students, I truly believe this is the only way your students are going to open up to you and share things with you. We are not just teachers most days, some days you may be a counselor or a friend, some days you may be more of a parent, and often you might just be a teacher. Part of this job is to understand each student and knowing what they need. Teaching is kind of like having 20 of your own children.
Another thing that has really opened up my eyes on this trip has been the way teachers instruct students. I have taught a few lesson plans in the past and I think it’s so important for teachers to connect lessons with meaning. I know Dr. Powell has emphasized this for a reason because it’s so important to know why students are leaning what they are. For me in high school if I knew I was not going to use the material again I would not try as hard; however if I knew I needed it for a test or a quiz then I would study harder or try to remember it. When we went and observed the English teacher at Santa Elena we saw a form of teaching where the teacher just instructed the children very basically and then had them repeat the terms back. Everyone had noted that the “family” terms were first off being taught wrong to the students and secondly it was not given meaning. I see this quite a bit with ELL students where they are learning tons and tons of vocabulary words and it’s excellent but then you ask the student “Ok, what does this mean?” The student doesn’t understand the meaning of the word they are just doing what they are told and using their rote memory skills for the time being to satisfy what the teacher is asking them to do. I also experienced this when I was in high school with my math class where my teacher told us that we were not going to use this information past this quarter test. Well if a teacher tells me that and math, a subject I despise is what we are trying to learn, I am not going to go out of my way to learn and comprehend the material. The importance of not only knowing the material you are teaching is one thing. We saw in Santa Elena that the English teacher on staff, although she knew the family terms was still teaching them incorrectly. Now she is instilling false knowledge upon the students of the family tree. Knowing the material and then more importantly connecting it to something the students can really relate to. In our discussions we had talked about the students instead of drawing out these numerous pictures possibly talking about their family members. It would be more beneficial for them to learn the word “grandmother” in English and then maybe describe their grandmother. Not only are you drawing in your family tree, but you are asking the students to use their verbal skills to describe using adjectives to describe their family members. There are so many ways you could teach the family tree to your students besides direct instruction.
What I ultimately took away from this trip was an amazing experience and cultural emersion trip. I have learned more Spanish in this short three week trip than I have all of high school and also private tutoring. I also realized that I truly want to become an education major, children are where my passion lays and I cannot see myself doing something different with my life. I’ve seen and experienced so many different things on this trip that will probably never happen again in my life. I realized I don’t think I want to teach in Costa Rica, however; I still want to teach somewhere in South America. My passion for the Spanish culture is just as strong as it was before and now I have an even stronger motivation to learn the language. Javier was telling us that Meggie when she arrived to CPI barely knew how to say “Pura Vida” and now two short years later she is fluent. I truly believe you can study textbooks all day long and still not have an understanding for a language. Just as I mentioned before you have to put the language into context. I can sit and drill vocabulary into my head nightly and know every meaning in the dictionary, however this does not mean that I can form a sentence or understand what Costa Ricans are saying when they talk. I’m very sad to return to the states where I cannot practice Spanish on a regular basis. I took away the fact that we need to teach our children things for the future, not just to educate them for the EOGs or the next big test coming up.
In high school I had so much trouble learning because I never saw the point of math and how it applied in my life. Now as I am twenty one years old and attempting to cook I have trouble with the difference switching from cups to liters, something we learned in math class. As a teacher I want my students to walk away and tell me “Yes I actually learned and I know how I can apply this theme in my everyday life.” Everything that we saw from the Cloud Forest School related back to the students and how it can benefit the environment, their future, or their families. Every single material was used and if it was not used then the material was recycled for compost. We need to make our children more active in the community, make them aware, conscious and environmentally friendly. We need to make sure as teachers they know how to reach out in the community, to use their resources and know what resources are available. This trip was a once in a lifetime experience for me and I learned a lot about myself, the education system and of course Costa Rica. Thank you so much Dr. Powell, you’ve been an amazing teacher and also I’m so glad you were our instructor on this trip! PURA VIDA!