I just returned from an eight-day immersion trip to Costa Rica with 16 high school students (Spanish levels 2-4). What an incredible experience. From language lessons, soap-making, and cow-milking, to kayaking around volcanoes, exploring self-sustaining ranches and camping in the rainforest, it was an amazing adventure. We did so much in those eight days with our amazing tour guide and it was all pretty wonderful, but one experience stood out above all the others. It was our evening with Doña Alicia.
Doña Alicia, or “Abuela” as she is known by her family, lives on a large ranch which also includes several other homes for her children and their children. When we pulled up in our bus, many of her grandchildren were lined up outside eager to greet us with smiles on their faces. The youngest were 3-year-old twins, the oldest, Manfred, was 18. After introductions, we were shown some of the ranch by Manfred, and then went back to the house to visit and have refreshments before dinner was served. The rest of the evening was magical. The students and children began playing games, jumping rope, and engaging in conversations about their favorite Disney movie. Dinner was served (We had been told Doña Alicia was an amazing cook and this was confirmed after our first bite). One of my students was celebrating his birthday that day, so of course, Doña Alicia had made one of their family’s favorite cakes and we all sang and celebrated. After dinner, two of my students offered to do the dishes where they chatted with one of Doña Alicia’s daughters. And just like any big family, the adults sat around the table or relaxed on the porch chatting over a cup of coffee while the “kids” played. Any barricades formed by language and culture melted away—they played soccer, practiced gymnastics, exchanged dance moves, and forged friendships.
For me, that night was a language teacher’s dream. What is our primary objective in teaching language? According to ACTFL and the World-Readiness Standards of Learning Language, it’s the 5 C’s: Communication, Comparison, Culture, Community, and Connections. That’s exactly what I saw happening that night. Students were connecting with each other, communicating however they could. No one was worried about perfect verb conjugations, they just wanted to understand and to be understood. They compared experiences and came together as a community. It was a true cultural exchange. It was the ultimate classroom. An authentic immersion experience, and one that they will never forget.
When it was time to leave, it was like saying goodbye to family—hard to do. We dragged it on as long as we could, one more hug, one more picture. More than one student told me that night, “Sra. Bracksieck, I never want to leave.” Truth be told, neither did I.
Learn more about our Language and Culture tours here.