Sauk Centre students immersed themselves in Costa Rican society and used their Spanish skills to communicate with the public during a study abroad trip June 12-19.

“As chaperones, I think we all agree seeing kids communicate in the grocery store, with students at the school, or with a vendor at the beach is one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip,” said Judy Viere, Spanish teacher at Sauk Centre High School. 

Viere was one of five chaperones who traveled with 30 junior and senior Spanish students to Costa Rica. 

Students are required to take at least four semesters of Spanish to qualify for the trip to ensure they have the language skills necessary to communicate in the foreign country.

“One goal of the trip is to give students the opportunity to use the Spanish language in an authentic setting,” Viere said. “They typically hesitate at first, because they don’t want to make mistakes.” 

During the trip, students visited a local school to speak with Costa Rican students, using their Spanish language skills. 

While the trip was designed to immerse students in the Spanish language, it was also a moment to learn more about another culture. 

“Some of the best comments from students were when they tried something new. We hope the students experience another country and its culture,” Viere said. “Sometimes young travelers expect to see glaring cultural differences, so this trip gave them the opportunity to see that culture is really seen in the subtleties of daily life.” 

For example, the Sauk Centre group observed a keen focus on conserving the environment. They learned about sustainable practices from tour guide Roman Odio.

Students shared Odio’s passion to make a positive impact by planting trees to help the Costa Rican environment.

“[Odio] is incredibly knowledgeable about Costa Rica’s natural history, and the plants and animals that live there. He is enthusiastic and shares his passion of environmental conservation,” Viere said. 

The trip also offered time for sightseeing.

Costa Rica is a small country, about one-third the size of Florida. It is considered a safe country and welcoming to visitors because tourism is a large part of their economy, said Viere. 

“Within the small country, students could experience a wide variety of natural environments, from volcanoes to cloud forests to sandy beaches,” Viere said. 

During the course of the trip, students had the opportunity to visit the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano Park, horseback ride throughout the countryside, visit the La Fortuna Waterfalls, kayak on Lake Arenal to see a view of the Arenal Volcano, visit the Santa Elena Biological Reserve, take part in a zip line canopy tour, whitewater raft, and enjoy time on Guanacaste Beach. 

“We frequently heard the country motto ‘Pura Vida,’ literally translating to ‘pure life,’ which basically means things are great or life is good,” Viere said. 

Through multiple examples of cultural differences and immersion into Costa Rican life, students saw many things not commonly found in the United States.  

“We were so lucky to have a team of five chaperones committed to keeping student travelers safe while experiencing fun, adventure, and learning,” Viere said. “I hope that students have noticed other similarities and differences as they returned to their own routines at home.”