In the summer of 2017, two Thacher Spanish teachers traveled with a group of nine students on an off-campus study trip to Costa Rica. They spent two-and-a-half weeks in various cities, with Atenas, home of their host families, as their base. The focus of this trip was sustainability and their learning experiences centered around this theme. The group visited four sustainable sites: a palm oil plantation, coffee permaculture farm, university food production lab, and the Oro Verde Biological Reserve. Their adventure activities included trips to two national parks; white water rafting in the Balsa River; hiking and zip-lining in the Cloud Forest. The students also had an opportunity to play indoor soccer with a local group, and enjoy a World Cup soccer match between Costa Rica and Switzerland at a local streaming venue. Three-hour-long Spanish language classes on most weekdays helped to solidify their Spanish skills.
Molly Perry, head of the language department and Spanish teacher
Juan Sánchez, Spanish teacher and sustainability coordinator
Why did you choose Costa Rica?
Juan was born in Costa Rica and lived there until he was 25 years old. He started his teaching career there, teaching biology, English and environmental science. Costa Rica is a world leader in sustainability (the country has been running on renewable energy for almost a year). Juan grew up in a small and quiet town in the mountains that is the perfect location for students’ cultural exchanges and learning Spanish.
What did you hope to accomplish with this trip?
The focus was twofold: language study and sustainability education.
From the Spanish perspective, we wanted students to be immersed in the language and learn about the culture. We worked with Juan’s high school Spanish teacher and other native teachers who provided real-world situations for the kids to be immersed in the Spanish language.
In terms of sustainability, Costa Rica is a world leader and its current programs are easy to understand and see. For instance, we visited coffee farms that are implementing sustainable practices as well as those that are less environmentally friendly and asked our students to compare their operations and impact on the environment, economy, and people.
“One memorable experience was the first dinner with our family. It was probably one of the most difficult things I've done because it was so different and new to me. I was in a stranger’s house in a country I had never been to before, eating dinner and speaking in a language that I was not fluent in."
Patrick '21, Santa Barbara, California
“Even though I could already speak Spanish, I had never been outside the U.S. Everyone I spoke to was very nice. They knew I wasn't Costa Rican because I had a different accent, but regardless, I liked speaking to the Ticos. Unlike most of my peers, I was able to make a strong bond with my host mom. We would talk during our dinners and throughout the day. I also spoke to her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend. We spoke mostly about soccer because of the World Cup, which we all were very passionate about.
Another of my favorite moments was when we visited the Green Valley School. We shared some time with students our age. After we introduced ourselves, we played charades and exchanged phone numbers to stay in contact. Some days later, we invited them to play soccer with us, which everyone seemed to enjoy. Bryan, a Junior here at Thacher, scored some unbelievable goals that were even more unbelievable because you would not be able to tell that he doesn't play soccer."
Jose '20, Hawthorne, California
“My three weeks in Costa Rica were extremely memorable. The opportunity to apply my two years of Spanish education in a full immersion setting was both challenging and a fun learning opportunity. In addition to compelling me to apply the knowledge I had already acquired, I learned vocabulary and colloquialisms I had not encountered prior. Furthermore, living with a host family gave me the opportunity to appreciate and understand Costa Rican culture and traditions in a way that I never imagined. By the end of my three weeks, I had tried numerous dishes native to Costa Rica, all because of my wonderful host mom and her excellent cooking!
Another valuable aspect of the program was the opportunity to directly experience the sustainability and environmental measures Costa Rica incorporates. For example, Costa Rica’s electricity has come almost entirely from renewable sources, mostly hydropower and geothermal. It was a powerful and eye-opening reminder of the efforts we, as Thacher students and Americans, can continue to make to help sustain our precious environment.”
Benjamin '20, Scottsdale, Arizona