For the last year and a half, Pocahontas County High School Spanish teacher Shirlene Groseclose and several of her current and former students – Samantha Collins, Emett Doolittle, Emily and Katie Gibson, Briana Mills and Caitlin and Carly Keatley – have been planning and preparing for a trip abroad, and on March 25, the group began its nine day exploration of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Groseclose and her students arrived in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, on March 26, and from there, they met their Education First tour guide Christian Mata, as well as the tour’s Maryland participants. They then drove an hour and a half to Granada, where they spent the next two days exploring all that Nicaragua had to offer.
During their first day in Granada, Mata led the group on a walking tour of the city, where they visited La Plazuela de los Leones. According to Groseclose, plazas in Latin American culture are similar to what we might consider a park, serves as an outdoor place where people can gather, and are normally situated close to a church.
While at the plaza, students were given a mini-scavenger hunt to complete, and it challenged them to use what they’ve learned in class in order to communicate with the locals. Caitlin Keatley, one of Groseclose’s returning students, remembered the challenge from her last trip to Costa Rica.
“I had to figure out how to get us to our next point,” she explained, “so it was up to me to ask a local ¿Dónde está la Iglesias? – Where is the church? It was a lot of fun, and I liked being able to help out more this time around.”
On occasion, the locals would speak faster than what the students could keep up with, but through key words and directional gestures, they were able to lead one another through the hunt.
“They were able to communicate, which is the ultimate thing,” Groseclose remarked. “I don’t care how they get to an answer as long as they can communicate. My ultimate goal is not for them to speak correctly to them and use perfectly conjugated verbs. My ultimate goal is for them to communicate in whichever way they can.”
Following the walking tour, the group made its way to Nicaragua Lake for a boat tour of the lake’s 365 islets – small islands known as Las Isletas. While on the tour, Groseclose’s students learned that some of the wealthier Nicaraguan households made the islets their home, and that 14 families owned 60 percent of the economy’s commerce.
“Nicaragua was definitely a really good cultural experience,” Caitlin said. “Here, everyone helps out their communities, but in Nicaragua, only a few people do that. Everyone else does their own thing.”
The tour’s second day was meant to be spent hiking the Masaya Volcano and exploring the surrounding area, but due to volcanic activity, a change of plans brought the tour to the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve instead.
Their next destination was Costa Rica, and for the students, crossing the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border highlighted a stark contrast between the two countries. As a poor and undeveloped country, Nicaragua’s trash system was less than favorable. However, Costa Rica thrives off of its ecotourism and is incredibly conservational, as well as mindful of the country’s different species.
Once in Costa Rica, the group spent the day in Guanacaste. Located on the Pacific side of the country, the group visited a beach for a snorkeling activity before making their way to the Caribbean side Arenal Region, where they spent the next few days visiting cloud forests, natural hot springs, volcanoes and waterfalls.
Groseclose and her students indulged in a canopy tour of the cloud forests via zip lines and ended their day with a trip to Rincón de la Vieja National Park’s hot springs. While the 20-some pools might have been man-made, each is fed by natural spring water. Beginning at the bottom in cooler water, the group worked their way through gradually increasing temperatures until they reached the top.
Their next day was spent out on the waters of Lake Aernal, where they enjoyed a kayaking trip around the base of Arenal Volcano. La Fortuna Waterfall was the group’s next stop, and on the eighth and final day of their trip, made their way to Sarchi for a tour of a coffee plantation and a visit to crater volcano known as Poás Volcano.
That evening, the group arrived in Costa Rica’s capital, San José, where they were treated to a night of folklore. Over a traditional Costa Rican dinner, the students were given an opportunity to learn about the culture, and following the meal, were treated to entertainment and marimba music performed by a local group.
Throughout their trip, the students utilized much of what they’ve learned under Groseclose’s tutelage.
Katie Gibson, another second timer, explained.
“If you didn’t want to eat what the rest of the group was eating that night, you had to order your own food,” Katie said. “We used it [Spanish] all the time when talking with people – be it thanking them, asking how much something was, or when we had to bargain and haggle.”
“I let them use their Spanish as freely as they liked,” Groseclose added, “but there were times when they were required to use it. Sometimes they wanted to turn to me for help, but I used those times to challenge my students to negotiate meaning and figure out how to say what they wanted to say.”
Groseclose and her students – then seventh and eighth graders – began touring Costa Rica with Education First Tours in 2009.
At the time, PCHS’s Spanish teacher Mali Minter was taking her students on trips to Spain, but being a native to the Caribbean herself, Groseclose wanted to expose her students to other Spanish-speaking countries and cultures.
“There are many differences between the mother Spain and Costa Rica,” she explained, “and I wanted my students to have a different perspective of the culture and the language. When it comes to the language, we don’t use the lisp – nor do we use the ‘vosotros’ pronouns.”
Differences can be found in the cuisines, as well. Unlike in Spain – where paella is a common food – the cuisine of Central/South America and the Caribbeans is highly centered around rice and other staples, such as black beans and tortillas.
Additionally, each country’s origins and influences differ. Groseclose pointed out that, because Spain is part of Europe, the culture has a strong European presence, where the ancestry and influences of Latin America is derived from the Aztecs and the Mayans.
“Central/South America and the Caribbean’s native backgrounds play a key role in the cuisine and language – everything,” she added. “You can see it physically in the people, as well as in their houses – their adobes.”
In order to participate in Groseclose’s trip, sign-up began a year and a half in advance, and the last year has been spent fundraising in order to cover some of the expenses. According to Groseclose, the group worked as many festivals as they could, and during the Maple Festival, assisted by making doughnuts. For their help, every student received $8 for every hour that they worked.
However, the students weren’t the only ones fundraising. Groseclose did her fair share, as well, in order to help off-set the cost of the trip, as well as provide adequate tips for their bus drivers, guides and restaurant servers.
“I love seeing the rest of the world,” Groseclose said, “and I want my students to experience as much of the world as I can help them experience To me, getting a kid to see what they can of the world is a great experience, and the trips to Costa Rica are especially fun. Costa Rica is often compared to West Virginia, so it’s neat to see my students to make their own connections and see the similarities.”
“I really enjoyed both trips we took,” Katie added. “I enjoyed seeing Nicaragua during Easter, and it was so interesting to see how their culture celebrated a major holiday. That was very educational, and it was only one part of a bunch of different things I normally don’t get to see. I’d definitely go again.”
Cailey Moore may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.