Robert G. is a High School Social Studies teacher who first traveled with EF in 2003. He travels every year and has brought a global education program to two different school districts. Bob believes that complementing immersive travel experiences with personalized learning projects provides students with a unique opportunity to learn outside of the classroom.
After being an EF group leader for over 10 years, I was recently presented with an opportunity to change roles and chaperone a tour that one of my colleagues was leading. This meant I could be a wingman, on the edges, a Robin and not a Batman. But with this status came a few concessions. When my colleague mentioned the tour’s destination, I immediately found myself hesitant. I had always gone to Europe, but this trip was headed for Costa Rica. I didn’t want something different. I like familiarity – cathedrals, museums, cobblestone streets – this is what I associated with international travel. But Karen (the group leader) saw this experience as something that should be different. And different it was.
As our students read more about Costa Rica and became increasingly excited, I was sure to match their energy despite my initial feelings of hesitancy. We were going to experience something different, something the locals call Pura Vida. “Let’s do it!,” I thought. “Let’s all experience PURA VIDA!” In the back of my mind, however, I had couldn’t help but think… “Snakes… I hate them. Bugs… ahhh great that’ll be bad, zip lines… I am very, very afraid of heights.” But I knew that if our students could do it, so could I. Because I believed in them, and they believed in me. PURA VIDA!
As students began to sign up, I made sure to get them excited and worked hard to continue to spread the word. I taught a weShare personalized learning class on Costa Rica where students were inspired to create their own experiential projects based on their individual interests. Quickly the excitement grew. Some had gone to Europe in past trips, and they were excited because they knew this would be different. The chants of PURA VIDA could be heard throughout the halls of the school! PURA VIDA! PURA VIDA! PURA VIDA!
It wasn’t long before I found myself staring down a Costa Rican trail. I thought, with a chuckle, “where is this Pura Vida?” The same hesitancy I first encountered around the new destination came flooding back. “What is wrong with you?” I thought. “Would you rather be in a cafe in the south of Spain wandering through Cathedrals, and seeing statues in Italy?” That’s what an EF tour at my school had always been. “Why am I walking up the side of a volcano in Costa Rica? WHY BOB!?” But through these doubts and heightened hesitations came a moment I will never forget – the wind off the Pacific Ocean hitting my face for the first time. And as I looked around at the faces of the students, they were, for the first time in a long time, just being kids again. They had escaped the expectations of society and were finally just being kids, being alive, being happy in that moment.
As the trip continued we went on a Zip line tour in a tropical rainforest. For me it was terrifying as I am so afraid of heights, but I did it. We all did it. We supported each other and did it. We laughed so hard that we cried. Kids complained that their faces hurt from smiling. When was the last time one of your students told you that?
Discover Pura Vida with your students on a Costa Rica tour.
Costa Rica is a world away from a typical American town. The people move at a pace that isn’t slower, but that seems to have more purpose. Students don’t necessarily experience multiple old world sites from a history book, but rather a unique culture that they won’t find many other places.
What can you expect when you go to Costa Rica? Unpaved roads, exciting bus travel, family-friendly hotels, hospitable people, incredible food, daily exercise, and the most impactful cultural experience I have personally had in 15 years of touring. I will go back many times. Your students will be more confident, friendlier and patient.
As the trip came to an end, I asked my students what they wouldn’t forget. They remarked on how the people were so kind, the food was so fresh, the views looked like a postcard from a faraway land, and the bonding created new and deep friendships. They came back happier, healthier, and full of energy and positivity. You could tell their experience even helped to change the attitude of the whole school. They were excited and reinvigorated, and this rubbed off on their peers. The entire trip is an unreal learning experience from beginning to end. We decided on that trip that we were going to take Pura Vida back with us. We were going to be a positive energy in the school, and we would support each other if someone tried to take that energy away.