One of the main reasons we decided to send our son to Costa Rica for a week was the perspective shift that we hoped he would experience, and also to teach him that the world is not a scary place. Sure it would be great for him to go ziplining and kayaking, but we hoped for a deeper change and appreciation of things. Not that he is a bratty or ungrateful kid by any means—quite the opposite. But we wanted him to get a glimpse of how the world was outside of Utah and even the United States. I believe it was during our visit to a Costa Rican middle school that he got that new perspective.
Our awesome native guide, Alonzo, who is very proud of his country and loved sharing it with us, seemed unusually hesitant about taking us to a local middle school. It may have been that we brought some care packages of student supplies and he didn’t want us to offend the school treating them like they are in poverty. Costa Rica is considered one of the richest countries in Central America. In fact, many people from Nicaragua to the north, often come to Costa Rica to work the way that Mexicans come to the United States to work.
We convinced him that it would be great for us to visit their English classes and allow the students to have one-on-one experiences practicing English on kids their age.
The arrangements were made with the school; and our students were asked to dress a little nicer than the swimming attire they had been in for our visit to a waterfall earlier that day.
Our large tour bus pulled up in front of the “Escuela Experimental Bilingüe” about mid day. By now we had seen many structures in Costa Rica, but I heard some from our group whisper “That’s a school?!” These cement open air buildings with bars on the windows instead of glass and surrounded in chain link and barbed wire was quite different from their privileged schools in Southern Utah.
We filed inside just in time to catch the younger students last class of the day. We were definitely a distraction as many students in other classes were waving at us and trying to talk to us from their classes. But the principal and the English teacher at least seemed very pleased.
We were told to pair up with a child and have them tell us what they had been learning in school. The girl I attempted to speak English with was close to the same age as my 9 year old daughter back home (who was learning Spanish in her dual immersion school). I got a little emotional as she asked me very basic questions like “What is your name?” and “How are you?”
When their class was over they all said “Thank you!” to us in unison. Many of their parents were waiting for them outside. Some had cars and some walked. The English teacher told me that she rides a motorbike each day.
Next, the older kids came out and paired off with our kids in the courtyard area. These conversations were easier than with the little kids, but still broken and involved a lot of body language.
My son, who was talking to a girl his age, would occasionally ask me how to say certain things in Spanish. At the end of the experience, he told me that he really wants to learn Spanish.
As school ended, the English lessons morphed into a soccer game in the field across the street. Language barriers became irrelevant as the ball was kicked around the weedy lot.
Days later, on the last night of our trip, our guide gave up his microphone on the bus to anyone who wanted to share their thoughts about any of their experiences that entire week.
Several students got up and shared their thoughts.
When my son got up, I was very curious what he would say. He started by mentioning the exhausting long flight and the very long lines to get through customs and how at that time he wondered if the trip was going to be worth it. But then he said that his experience changed when we went to the school and that was what made it all worth it for him.
Each day had been packed full of experiences—horseback riding, planting trees, going to the beach, seeing monkeys — but without a doubt the most mentioned experience by all of the students who shared was going to the school and interacting with those Costa Rican students their age.
They learned that in a foreign land, speaking a foreign language, and going to a foreign looking school were kids very similar to them. Some were surprised to find that they liked some of the same music and movies, had crushes on the same celebrities, and/or played the same sports.
Once you get past the thin outer veneer, people are the same where ever you go. The world is smaller than you realize. And there is no need to be afraid.
Also, serving others brings more happiness than any thrills or site seeing. You wouldn’t imagine that to be the case, but it’s true (even in Costa Rica).