11th-Grade Cultural Immersion in Costa Rica

11th-Grade Cultural Immersion in Costa Rica

This 11th-Grade TEA trip to Costa Rica was designed to provide students with a unique opportunity to experience a new culture, learn about sustainable living practices, and engage in meaningful service work. During the trip, students worked with ASOMOBI, a local NGO that supports women-led economic development initiatives. In addition to Spanish language immersion, students also participated in service projects at a women-run coffee and chocolate farm, learned about the local economy, ecology, and culture through guided tours and interactions with locals, and reflected on their experiences through group discussions.

To prepare for their trip, students in Spanish 3 & 4 read up on the history of the United Fruit Company, honed in their ability to introduce themselves and communicate their needs in Spanish, and explored how to humbly and responsibly travel. After the trip, students would share out findings from talking and interacting with local people, compare how the pre-trip research compares to the findings from the trip, and finally debrief the travel and cross-cultural experience.


For a re-cap of their travel experiences, we're sharing a message our trip leaders (Ana Remis and Haley Schreier) shared with the 11th-Grade families upon their return. 

Monday after school we piled into the cars of Brendan and David and headed to San Francisco! After reuniting with Haley we ordered in some food and students enjoyed the gym and pool amenities before tucking in early for the first of our two big travel days ahead. Tuesday we awoke before dawn to catch the shuttle to the SFO airport and pass through Dallas before finally landing in San Jose. After catching a ride to the Hotel Mango and settling in, we were off on foot to La Casona, a nearby restaurant where we got to try our first taste of authentic Costa Rican cuisine– including what we all agreed was the best batido de piña (pineapple smoothie) on the planet. Students also enjoyed jugo de tamarindo (tamarind juice), arroz con pollo, patacones (fried plantains), and playing pool.

Wednesday we had our second early morning departure, this time loading up into the shuttle that would take us 6 hours away to the small town of Biolley, where we stayed the majority of the trip. On the way we stopped at the Rio Tarcoles to see crocodiles and stocked up on snacks like rambutan, mango, bananas, plantain chips, and empanadas de guayaba (guava). The bus took the scenic route along the Pacific Coast and the group made it to ASOMOBI for lunch. We had a rest and after exploring the gardens and landscape around the beautiful location, we began to read excerpts from The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. After an amazing dinner including specialities like fried yuca and jugo de maracuyá (passionfruit), we helped clean up the kitchen. The group ended the day discussing the reading and relating it to the stories we had heard that day from Ticos and Ticas. All students were in their rooms by 9pm to rest up for another big day of adventure.

Thursday we toured the first women-run coffee farm in Costa Rica and learned about every part of the coffee process from bean to bag. Students got to pick ripe berries and remove weeds sprouting around seedlings, and see the washing, toasting, and sorting machines that turn the fleshy berries into recognizably brown coffee beans.

Friday the group spent the morning doing service work organized by ASOMOBI for the community of Biolley. Together we washed and painted a bus stop and wall of a community center, leveled ground, and began to construct street-side gutters to help with water management. After hiking home, we had a well-deserved meal and rest. We spent the rainy afternoon reflecting on readings and helping to prepare dinner, and rested up for another big day of volunteer work!

Saturday the kids finished repainting the town’s welcome sign and bus stop, and we started to restore a community space that was flooded by last year’s hurricane. After volunteering we dug into our readings, which connected the dots between the farms and resources we explored to the larger economic and political spheres of history between Latin America and colonial powers.

Sunday we got to visit Züba Chocolate farm, a family owned cacao farm that hand processes their cacao into artisanal chocolate. After a tour led by cacao expert Yolanda, whose family has grown cacao for 5+ generations, students got to try raw cacao, toast and shell the beans, and grind the cacao nibs down into a paste. We then cooked down the paste with some milk and sugar and pressed the chocolate into molds that we chilled and tried. We finished off our cacao tour with a cacao mask for Jahotzy and visited some sculptures and creative structures built by a local artist from recycled materials. Lastly we stopped to have some artisanal ice cream made from local fruits before we returned to ASOMOBI for lunch. It was great to see how all the community businesses support each other and tourist economy for this rural community. That evening we had a nighttime tour of the endemic amphibians and reptiles of the area. We had an amazing time and saw glass frogs, black and white owls, bull frogs, and tarantulas!

Monday the students had their last volunteer day on the ASOMOBI property. They worked hard in the coffee processing zone as well as in the gardens, mixing compost and soil and clearing rocks to create new growing areas. We rounded out our day by discussing and reading a feminist poem by Panamanian Bessy Reyna.

Our last day in Biolley we went on an incredible hike to a nearby waterfall. We got to see many native plants and enjoy the mist. That afternoon we discussed one last reading, a poem by Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda about the effect and expanse of the multinational corporation The United Fruit Co. This was followed by a community dinner where students did a beautiful job sharing their gratitude (in Spanish)! We packed up and headed out the next morning on an extra-long bus ride, slowed down by San Jose traffic. After an in-house dinner at the hotel, we returned to our rooms ready for sleep.

The final day was uneventful as we traveled smoothly from SJO to Dallas to SFO and finally drove back to TEA. Thank you to everyone for your support on this trip & pura vida!

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