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Mustangs Travel To Costa Rica

Nicole Joy Balawon and Senora Smart

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About Language Immersion Trips

Many adults often claim knowing languages, in particular Spanish, at a “conversational” level, their only evidence being “I took it back in high school, all four years,”. What many people don’t understand is that language is a part of a culture – something that needs to be embraced and experienced to fully understand and learn the language. There’s so much history behind languages and the way they fit into cultures that it’s hard to really learn it sitting in a classroom and hearing a teacher talk to you in the language.

That’s why there are language immersion trips.

The reason many people often forget the language is because they never get a real chance to practice. Sure, you can order your lunch at the nearby Mexican restaurant and sing along to a snippet of an English song with a Spanish insert, but that doesn’t mean you really know Spanish. When you don’t use it, you lose it.

Language immersion trips are the best way to retain the language. That is done by travelling to a native country and immersing yourself in the culture. You don’t have a choice but to listen and to use the language to get around the country, so there’s no excuse in not “practicing”. This year in early February, a group of KMHS students traveled abroad to Costa Rica and immersed themselves in the Costa Rican culture. Their target language, Spanish, was spoken for every tour, shopping trip, meal, and little conversations!


The Experience

“¡Bienvenidos a Costa Rica! ¡Pura Vida!”

Sixteen  Kennesaw Mountain and Wheeler High School students and three adults received this warm welcome when we stepped foot on this beautiful Central American country during our Winter Break in February 2016.

Our week-long Spanish language immersion tour was a complete success! We learned about the rich culture, tasted traditional cuisine, explored the history and customs and, of course, spoke the language everywhere we went. Our journey began in the northwestern part of the country, a large city called Liberia, and over the next seven days, worked our way across massive mountain ranges, rain forests, and picturesque towns, ending in the capital city of San José.

In touring organic, self-sufficient farms, we learned how important protecting the environment and sustainability is to Costa Rica. The people not only talk about recycling, reducing and reusing – they live it. Recycling bins are everywhere in the countryside as well as in San José.

Our eyes were opened to the role that composting, fermentation and microorganisms play in the sustainability of this fragile environment through visiting these farms where nothing is wasted. Livestock is fed only organic plants and vegetables grown on the farm. Workers recycle waste including ¨boñiga¨ – Spanish for manure – and turn it into rich fertilizer for their crops. Power comes from nearby rivers and streams through dams producing hydroelectric power, a renewable energy source. Farmers raise livestock and grow the freshest fruits and vegetables in the world with no chemicals or unhealthy additives. We were given the opportunity to harvest Yuca plants, Cilantro leaves and cabbage and ate the freshest strawberries, pineapple and watermelon ever tasted – a typical fruit called “Cas” became a favorite in our group.

Our guide, Freddy, and our bus driver, Reimer, were absolutely amazing. Freddy sharing his love and pride for his native country in both English and Spanish while Reimer, who spoke no English, bonding with the guys in our group through handshakes that lasted 10 seconds.

We learned to dance the Salsa and Merengue and used those skills when we visited a local family who invited us to a traditional Costa Rican home-cooked meal. We spent time speaking Spanish with elementary-aged school children and getting directions from locals in the small town of La Fortuna. We got a bird’s eye view of the majestic rain forest while on a thrilling zip line canopy tour. The last stretch was 1 mile long!

We ate Costa Rican cuisine which included rice and beans, sweet and fried plantains, fresh fruits and vegetables and our personal favorite, ice cream. We toured coffee and cocoa farms and got to taste the harvest.

We brought home T-shirts, bracelets, jewelry, coffee and a few bug bites too.

We will miss the warm embrace of the Costa Rican people, some of whom opened their hearts and their homes to a group of American students who didn’t know what to expect from this journey.

The natural beauty of Costa Rica is overwhelming. We will never forget the sunsets, the wildlife, the tropical climate, the landscape and, of course, the people of this beautiful country.

“Pura Vida” means pure life. But it’s much more than that. It means live in the moment and appreciate the small things in life. We will take this lovely message with us as we continue this journey called Life.

Nos vemos pronto, Costa Rica y Pura Vida!

Join us for our next adventure in Barcelona, Spain, in April of next year. See Mrs. Mitchell in room 200 for more information.

-Senora Smart


Nicole Joy Balawon

Nicole Joy Balawon is a Junior at Kennesaw Mountain High School. Though involved in the Magnet Program, Nicole surprisingly finds enough time to be an active member of 15+ clubs and contributes to the community through various volunteer work such as playing piano for seniors and refereeing martial arts tournaments. In her little free time, Nicole enjoys sleeping, eating, and organizing things.

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Mustangs Travel To Costa Rica