Thursday, June 13, 2013

FInal Blog

I’m no longer in Costa Rica and I have to say that is feels a little strange being back in the US without all the beautiful scenery surrounding me, without all the friendly ticos, without Spanish, and without the 22 other members of my group. Even though the trip could be a little frustrating and stressful at times, it was the greatest and most life changing experience I have had in life so far. I went into the trip with a few goals: to learn how to empathize with second language learners, to learn more about the culture in Costa Rica, and to just get everything out of the experience that I possibly could. I have to say that I met all of these goals and learned even more than I intended. I learned how to empathize with second language learners primarily through being a second language learner myself. I constantly had to think in Spanish – at school, when communicating with my family, ordering food, asking for directions, everything. I learned how draining and how much of a struggle it is to think in a new language all the time. And how difficult it is when you need to tell someone something but don’t know how to, or someone is trying to tell you something and you don’t understand them. I was always thinking about how difficult it must be for non-English speaking students to sit in a classroom all day and not know what is going on most of them, having to think about what you say before you say it, feeling uncomfortable saying in because they are scared they might be saying it wrong, feeling embarrassed, and feeling like giving up. This is how I felt for three weeks and these students feel like this for years at school and are constantly given low expectations based on the fact that they do not know English. If people judged my intelligence on how well I spoke Spanish, then they would probably think I was very dumb. As for learning more about the culture in Costa Rica I feel like I met this goal through my home stays. My first family included me in everything they did, they took me with them to the store, my mama tica would take me on walks and tell me about the town even if I could only understand bits and pieces, and she introduced to almost every person in her family. Family life is one of the most important things I learned about their culture. It is treasured there and I really admired that. As for getting everything I could out of the trip, I think I succeeded in the aspect by just trying everything new I could, and being brave (even though Justin told us not to!). Whenever I had the opportunity I tried something new, even if it was something I normally wouldn’t do at home – ziplining for example as I am terrified of heights. I was brave in getting out of my comfort zone. I am very slow to warm up to people and get very bad anxiety in new situations. However, I did my best to let go of all that and get outside of my comfort zone and embrace the experience I was having. You can’t learn new things by being safe all of the time. IN addition to meeting these goals, I learned so many things when it comes to the different learners in my classroom. While this trip did open my eyes to how an ELL student feels, it also applies to how other struggling learners. I was not only a second language learner in Costa Rica but I was also a struggling learner. One of the most important things I learned was just how to better communicate with these students. Using other vocabulary if they don’t understand the first time, using pictures or other visuals, hand motions, and talking slow are all things I learned to do with ELLs because this is what helped me the most. Another thing I learned is how important building a community and building trust with these students is. The students I worked with in the schools were very difficult to talk to at first until they started trusting us a little more. I also think it is important to appreciate the effort that struggling learners and ELLs are giving. Everyone needs words of encouragement but they are especially crucial for students who are struggling. It gives you confidence and helps get rid of the desire to give up. Overall, I think my patience level when working with ELLs and special needs children will be so much higher now after this trip. Being in their position and knowing how they feel is essential to helping them learn. My most significant experiences on this trip would have to be the homestays, La Carpio, and the sustainability farm. The homestays were so signigcant because they opened my eyes to the true culture of Costa Rica. Without the homestays, it would have been a lot easier to stay in my little bubble and not be forced to communicate in Spanish and I would not have been exposed to some of the things that I was exposed to. La Carpio was an experience in its own that I will never forget. Going there made me truly grateful for everything I had and also made me want to kick myself for how ungrateful I am sometimes. Not only is this something important for me to learn for myself but it is important for me to tell others about it. The sustainability farm was very significant because of how much I learned there and how much it changed me. It also is very relatable to teaching and how I want to run my classroom. I learned so many things in Costa Rica, but I also learned a lot about myself, I think it changed me as well. Most of all, I learned that uncertainty is okay. I usually have such a strict schedule, I am a fan of making plans, and I like to know what is ahead of me. When I do not know these things, I get very anxious. In Costa Rica, I had to put all of that behind me and just move along without knowing what was going to happen next.  And through it all, I was okay. I think now I have become okay with not knowing what is ahead of me and just over all being more flexible and not freaking out on the inside when something changes or messes up my plans. In addition to this, I also learned how important it is and how life changing it is to have the perspective of others. You need a new perspective in order to learn. Without it, you will always think the same. During the trip, there were so many things that I kept telling myself that I would change. Now that its over, I don’t know if I would change too much. Every experience and every struggle I faced made me have the outlook that I have now and I wouldn’t want that to be any different. The only small change I think I would make is just a smaller group size because having such a large group everywhere we went not only made things more difficult, but it also drew a lot of attention to us. Before going on the trip I was interested in working in a lower income school and now that it’s over, that desire has grown. I think anyone who goes on this trip should try to work in a school with high poverty because we all gained the skills needed to do so. Schools in high poverty need people like us and I am glad this trip reaffirmed my decision and gave me more insight and knowledge of how to work with the students there. For anyone going on this trip in the future, I would want them to know that yes, it is going to stressful, yes you are going to struggle a lot, yes you are going to want to get angry, and want to cry, and maybe even want to go home sometimes. But, do your best to stay positive, keep in mind that it is all part of the experience and how much it is going to change you for the better and how much of a better teacher you are going to become because of the experience. You are in a new country, if you are negative all the time there is no way you are going to enjoy it and you will not be able to get the most you can out if it. The trip is truly life changing and I would go back again if I could. I only hope I can have other experiences in the future that were as great as this one was.

Cloud Forest School and La Finca Sostenabilidad

This week we visited the Cloud Forest School on Tuesday and then the Life Monteverde sustainability farm on Wednesday. Both places definitely showed how much the ticos care about the environment and both were very inspiring. The Cloud Forest school is a bilingual school for primary, middle and high school students. We were greeted by one of the directors and two eighth grade ambassador students who were fluent in English. The two ambassadors took us on our tour of the school. Everything there was just so awesome – it would be such an amazing opportunity to teach there. We walked to the kindergarten/pre-k school, then through the primary and middle school, and then went on a walk through their nature trail. They told us that every student gets to plant a tree their first year there in kindergarten and I thought that was so cool! They are steadily improving the campus of the school and adding more things. They have a garden where they grow vegetables and plants and all of them are in recycled containers that will eventually disintegrate.  I could tell how proud the students were to be parts of such a great school. The school allows for students to become bilingual but also emphasizes on being environmentally aware. Both of these skills are so imperative for the younger generation to acquire. Society is becoming so much more wasteful and taking such advantage of the earth. Knowing that there is a school like this one was so inspiring and really makes me want to emphasize on being sustainable in my future classroom. The cloud forest school offers positions to English speaking teachers and I would absolutely love to be able to work there one day. Being there for just a few hours was eye opening and impacting; I can’t imagine how life changing it would be to work there. In addition to the cloud forest school, we did he service project on the Life Monteverde which is a sustainability farm in Monteverde. Prior to going, I had heard the term and associated mostly with the environment. We were greeted by the owner of the farm and it was evident that he was very passionate about what he did. He explained a little bit about sustainability and then asked for us to go look around the farm and find things that made his farm sustainable. I don’t know too much about farming, but I was still able to locate some things on the farm that made it environmentally, economically, and socially friendly. Afterwards, he had each group share what they saw and gave us an opportunity to come up with questions. He did not answer the questions because he wanted to give us our tour first. We split into two groups – one that went on a tour and one that went to do some farm work, and then switched. The tour was very interesting; he told us the history of the farm, and his a lot of his personal beliefs. He was so inspiring to listen to and I admired his passion for nature and protecting it. He even had us all find a try and “communicate” with it – something new for all of us I think. I really enjoyed the style he used to teach us things. It was very relative for our group as we were all education majors. He allowed us to explore and ask questions – he let us control our own learning. He would ask us questions that would spark more questions from us. I have not entered my methods courses yet so I have not learned too much about this kind of teaching but it is definitely something that I could use as a teacher. After the tour, we worked on the farm by preparing the land for planting and then planting some corn and sunflower seeds. Afterwards, we went back to the classroom, has some coffee, and he answered any questions that he had not gotten to yet. I think this farm was one of my favorite things on the trip; mainly because I think it was one of the things that I feel like I can take back and teach others. I hope to become more sustainable at home and teach others how to be. It is something I would like to look into and learn even more about it. In addition, I hope to make my classroom as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. It is so amazing to me how everything we have done on this trip is so relatable to teaching.

Arenal Springs and the unforgettable bus ride

This past weekend we took a trip to the Arenal Volcano. On Saturday we arrived, took a little hike through the forest around the volcano and then checked in the hotel. The resort we stayed at was unbelievable. Each pair or trio got their own small cottage, there were tons of hot springs and a pool, and it was right at the base of the volcano so you had an amazing view everywhere you were! We all had some much need relaxation time in the hot springs and then a buffet dinner. The next day we got to relax a little more and enjoy the sunshine, and then had some free time to explore La Fortuna.  The views I saw this weekend were unforgettable and so surreal. After La Fortuna, it was time to head back to Monteverde. It was about a four hour drive and we had a little adventure along the way. On the way up the mountain to Monteverde, the roads are not paved. In addition to the unpaved roads, it rains a lot so most of the time they are extremely muddy. Our bus driver did his best to avoid holes and muddy spots that would cause us to get stuck. While trying to avoid a huge hole, our bus got stuck in a ditch and up against an embankment. Unfortunately, the side of the bus that was pressed against the embankment was the side of the bus where the door was located. With tree branches blocking us in and a muddy ditch, it was impossible to safely move the bus. So Javier opened the emergency exit at the top of the bus and one by one we all climbed out with our things. Luckily, the embankment we were up against was the same exact level as the bus so we were able to walk right onto it. We then found an area that was level with the road and waited for another bus to come get us. Throughout the experience, we all managed to add humor to the situation and keep calm. It was actually one of the funnier experiences of our trip and one that I am sure none of us will forget. And I even found that it related to teaching! Teachers encounter unexpected, sometimes scary, sometimes stressful situations almost every day. In these situations, it is important to be able to remain calm, stay level headed and do what you can to help your students remain the same way. This is exactly what we did. I also learned the hard way that I should always pack as lightly as possible because if your transportation fails then you’re stuck carrying everything! On another positive note, Justin, our chaperon, is using our story and photos from this experience in the effort to get the roads of Monteverde paved! Many people have been trying to make this happen and it ironically has been in the news recently that the unpaved roads are not safe. So hopefully our experience can help improve Monteverde! Even with our “bump in the road”, this weekend was my favorite yet.

La Carpio

On Thursday this week we visited a town called La Carpio. La Carpio is an area where many immigrants from Nicaragua began squatting at in the late 80’s. They eventually grew in population and started building tin shacks for themselves and their families. Everyone in the town lives in extreme poverty and drugs, alcohol, and domestic violence are sadly very common. However, a woman named Gayle, has worked tirelessly to help the people of this town and improve it. We had the great opportunity of meeting her when we arrived. She discussed the idea of “poverty as a disease” with us. Many of the symptoms associated with disease and sickness correlate with the symptoms of poverty. It hit me very hard and very quickly that so many children live and grow up in such great poverty – not only in La Carpio but all over the world. We started our walk to the preschool to meet with the “abuelas”. While walking to the school, I noticed beautiful murals painted all over the town. The juxtaposition of the situation was incredible. Here in a town of poverty and dirty tin shacks, there were dozens of hand painted inspiring murals painted all over the walls of buildings. These murals portrayed messages for children and women of La Carpio – that they deserve respect, and that they can succeed, etc. We arrived at the school and met the groups of abuelas. The women in this group were all grandmothers who live in La Carpio and they formed the group as an outlet. It was so inspiring and heartwarming to hear their stories and what the being a part of the group does for them. They plant gardens of food, harvest them, take part in various community projects, and just talk. It gives them something to do and something to feel good about. After hearing about their stories we split into two groups and got to walk around the town with our abuela and talk to people about recycling. Trash is also a major problem in La Carpio and these women we worked with were starting a campaign to advocate for recycling and just keep the litter off of the streets. We handed out brochures and talked to people about the importance of keeping La Carpio clean. Many of the people seemed to embrace the new movement with alacrity. After passing out the brochures, our abuela took us to her house. We walked in and there was a dirt floor, a small kitchen and a small living room with 3 chairs and many decorations. It was enlightening that even though she lived in very dirty and unsafe conditions, she did her best to keep it clean and make it homey. She even offered all of us some soda. The fact that she invited us in her home and gave all of us something to drink reaffirmed the fact that most people in this town are so giving, caring, and happy despite the struggles they face each and every day. Afterwards, our whole group got to see a special dance performance by some of the children of La Carpio. They were practicing a routine that showed the history of La Carpio. They did such a great job! They practiced in a dark room with cardboard as their dance floor in the bottom of a bar. This made me very happy and very sad at the same time. The children were so happy and excited to show us their dance routine which made me happy but the fact that they did not know any different than the conditions that they had to practice in made me very sad. This made me realize that you can hear all about poverty and the effects it has on people but it isn’t until you witness it or experience it that you truly become grateful for what you have. As I reflected on this further, I realized that in my future classrooms I may have students who are living in poverty and not ever know the extent of it. With that being said, I also need to give all students, whether they come from poverty or not, high expectations. The only way to break through the vicious cycle of poverty is to overcome the struggles and for most, that is getting an education. As a future educator it is my job to make sure that students feel like they have the ability to get an education and break through the lead a life better than the one they grew up in. I would love to help La Carpio improve even more than it already has and to see the progress it has already made a few years from now. Visiting La Carpio was definitely the most memorable experience I’ve had on this trip. It had the most effect on me and it is something I will never forget.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Las Escuelas in Heredia

This week we visited an elementary school in Heredia on Tuesday and Thursday. Overall, it was a wonderful experience. On Tuesday, we were told we would be teaching, or reviewing, parts of the body in English with the children. I worked with the sweetest little girl, Maripas. At first, she was very shy and I could tell she felt uncomfortable talking to me as she did not know English. I could relate this so much since I have been in the same situation with my host families. I tried to talk slow and clear and use hand gestures or draw pictures when she could not understand me. This is what my mama tica does for me and it always helps. Once we got started on the parts of the body, she was very excited to show us what she knew. She was beginning to warm up to us and was so eager to learn! By the end of the lesson I could tell that I had gained her trust a little bit; she was smiling, talking to me more, and even asking me questions. When it was time to leave, she gave us (Ashley and I) so many hugs and even gave us a frozen treat that they were selling at the school! It felt so great to know that she was so happy to have worked with us. On Thursday, we were given two topics to teach – descriptive words and hygiene. Since we had to come up with lessons in a very short period of time, we split into two groups and each group developed a lesson. When it was time to leave CPI and go to the school, I felt very uncomfortable and unconfident with the other lesson because I did not know it. I was very nervous about teaching it because I did not have much time to look over it. Ashley and I worked together again, this time with a second grade girl, Maria, who came to school early just so she could work with the English speaking students from our group! As we were doing the lessons, Maria was also very shy. She would barely speak and since she was a younger student, she was not as far along with her English as the students the lesson was intended for. We had to alter our lesson a little bit but it went fairly well. Like Maripas, Maria also grew comfortable and we had gained her trust by the end of the lesson. Maripas even came to see us again before we left to give us a picture she had tried for us and arroz con leche – it was one so heartwarming! From these experiences in the school, I learned many things. Firstly, gaining a students’ trust is so important when teaching them.  It was so much easier to teach both of the girls once they grew comfortable with me and could trust me. In addition to gaining the trust of a student, being flexible is also imperative. On the second day at the school, I not only had to teach a lesson that I was not completely confident with, but I also had to alter it in order to fit the needs of my student. I will have to be flexible and alter lesson plans almost every day as a teacher because not every student is the same and they do not learn the same. Having empathy is also something that I took away from this experience. One of the main reasons I came on this trip is to walk in the shoes of an English language learner. After just one week I can already empathize with students who find it difficult or uncomfortable to talk to someone who speaks a different language. Having been in this position myself, I think it will be easier for me to help these students succeed, to challenge them rather than just assuming they are not intelligent because they can’t speak English, and to gain their trust.