Just as diverse as Costa Rica’s biodiversity are the lessons teens can learn from traveling there. This past summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to explore Costa Rica for 21 days with 14 bold and adventurous students on Bold Earth’s Ultimate Costa Rica adventure. Throughout our time together, I watched each student learn and grow. Whether it be through an adventure based activity, exploring a new and diverse ecosystem, participating in a Spanish lesson, or immersing themselves in the new culture and Pura Vida lifestyle; Costa Rica provided each teen with daily opportunities to push themselves outside of their comfort zones.
While it’s frightening for us all, pushing our comfort zone is what leads to growth, especially in our younger years. However, getting to this place takes intention, and sometimes a bit of encouragement. it’s so much easier to sit back and be comfortable, to take the safe choice. It was inspiring to lead a group of teenagers who were collectively willing to take reasonable risks and push their comfort zones together.
Learning Spanish in Costa Rica
Our Ultimate Costa Rica adventure started with language lessons in Monteverde. Upon arriving at our language school, students were hesitant to take the placement test, personally questioning their Spanish speaking ability; worried where they would place amongst this group of new friends. However, tensions were soon eased as groups of 2-3 students were created and classes started. Laughter escaped classrooms and filled the hallways as groups dove right into introducing themselves in varying levels of Spanish, and began playing games such as Jenga to build their Spanish speaking skills. Each lesson was filled with activities that had the students conversing in Spanish, applying their lessons, and growing their confidence.
On the last day of classes, we found ourselves back in the same room in which students had nervously taken their placement tests just days earlier. However, unlike the first time, you could no longer hear a pin drop, as students were performing skits, singing songs in Spanish, and confidently showcasing the learning that had taken place over the course of the week. Throughout our weeks in Costa Rica, students continued to speak to each other and the locals in Spanish, as they had gained confidence in both speaking Spanish and their ability to enter a new situation and learn new skills.
Learning about Local Culture in Costa Rica
Along with learning the language, students learned the Costa Rican culture through a wonderfully authentic and immersive homestay experience. Not only were students divided into language groups that first week, but they were also partnered up with another student and introduced to their host Tico family. Local families opened up their homes, and warmly welcomed our Bold Earth students in to be a part of their family for the week. Students were able to observe and participate in the day to day routines of a Costa Rican family, starting their mornings with a traditional Costa Rican breakfast, and closing their evenings with dinner around the table often followed by various games and activities with members of the family.
Each morning when we would meet back up with the students, the bus would buzz with excitement as they shared their stories from the evening before. Along with lessons learned through new experiences, bonds were created. On our last evening in Monteverde, students proudly introduced their Tico families to the other students in our group as we enjoyed a meal together and reminisced over the magical week. To show their thanks, students spoke (Spanish of course!) in front of the whole group, sharing their favorite homestay moments. Many students were nervous about the homestay part of our trip at the beginning, and to see them embrace it so wholeheartedly made me proud and grateful as a leader.
Learning through Adventure
After our first week, we left the classroom behind and headed out for some adventure! We had two weeks full of adventurous activities ahead of us. On Bold Earth trips, each student comes to us with various skills and experiences. Many students are trying activities such as whitewater rafting or zip-lining for the first time. In the supportive community we were able to create, students were comfortable stepping outside of their comfort zones, trying new activities while their friends cheered them on.
In addition to trying new things, students learned lessons in perseverance. I witnessed many of my students repeatedly getting back up on their surfboards over and over again, until eventually being rewarded as they caught their first wave!
While many of the lessons surrounded their individual experience, one of the most important lessons was how to work as a team. Living and working in a group is hard work, and those skills directly translate to success in college and future employment. I watched students actively display excellent teamwork as they navigated their rafts down the rapids of the Rio Pacuare; listening to their tour guides, attempting to paddle in unison so they could stay in the raft.
Learning to Have Fun in Costa Rica
Costa Rica helped teach our students a lot of important lessons, one of the most important being how to disconnect and have fun! Many of our students are under a tremendous amount of pressure from school and sports, and our adventure to Costa Rica provided them with a great opportunity to disconnect from those pressures (and technology) and be their most authentic selves. As for me, that was one of my principal takeaways.
On a personal level, I’m grateful for my time leading in Costa Rica. I made some incredible connections with some amazing students, and I fell in love with Costa Rica’s beauty and culture. I can confidently say I will be back! In the meantime, I’m looking forward to summer 2020 and our amazing adventures. As always, feel free to call us at 303-526-0806, we’re always excited to talk adventure!