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NRHS students travel to Costa Rica

One of the benefits of being a Spanish student at New Richmond High School is the optional trips the group takes bi-annually.

This year a group of five students ventured to Costa Rica from June 22-30. While there, the students spent nine days absorbing the culture, language and traditions of the Costa Rican people.

"This was different than any other trip because Costa Rica was a lot more Americanized," said Heidi Stephens, high school Spanish teacher.

For example, whenever students tried to buy something they were given the purchase total in American dollars instead of the native colón currency.

Although bits of America could be seen throughout the trip, Stephens said the students' homestays were the most beneficial.

Small groups of students are assigned to native families and stay with them for two nights.

"Through the homestays they get to stay with actual families and eat authentic food, see how their houses are set up and speak only Spanish," she said.

On this trip, students were assigned to families in La Guácima, Alajuela, Costa Rica.

While most identify the homestays as a favorite part of the trip, it's also usually identified as the scariest part of the trip, Stephens said.

"They start off scared to death," she said. "But when we go to pick them up, their faces just light up and they'll say things like, 'Mrs. Stephens! I had a conversation in Spanish last night!' They're always so proud of themselves."

The Spanish level varies from student to student, she said. As long as students have taken one Spanish class, they're allowed to go on the trip, she said.

Although New Richmond High School Spanish students speak Spanish every day in the classroom, it's the bi-annual trips that really teach the kids the most about the language and culture, said Stephens.

"It's like any language. There's textbook language and then there's what people really speak. You can learn a formal language and in English, you'd write, 'With whom are you going?' but you wouldn't say it that way," she said.

In addition to staying with the host families, the group took a boat trip to view the native wildlife - including howler monkeys and a sloth, took a canopy tour of the rainforest and learned to make chocolate from a cocoa bean, toured a pineapple plantation, learned to make coffee from a bean, viewed a volcano and relaxed on the beach.

This year students also elected to volunteer at a local school.

Students spent the day at a high school painting desks and playing soccer with the students.

"They really enjoyed that," said Stephens.

It's the interaction with kids their own age that the students always seem to enjoy the most, Stephens said.

"They seem to cling to the kids every year," she said. "I think they're just more comfortable with them."

In the past Spanish students have traveled to Guatemala and multiple destinations in Mexico. The group hopes to plan a trip to Peru in the future.

Stephens said each trip is different in terms of customs and culture. In this case, the students were very open to new experiences, she said.

"We had a group that was really accepting of different things," she said.

For the majority of the students this experience was their first time out of the country, Stephens said. For one, it was her first time on an airplane.

"Even that was a lesson," she said. "Going through customs and immigration and seeing how that worked..."

Included were Hailey Davis, Susan Kilian, Patty Nelson, Megan Suckut and Hannah Wheeler. Stephens was the lone chaperone. The trip cost each student $2,095, which included airfare, meals and lodging -- whether at a hotel or with a homestay family.

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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