City High students and teachers after doing a landscaping project in Costa Rica. (Courtesy of Nina Lavezzo-Stecopoulos)
City High students and teachers after doing a landscaping project in Costa Rica.

Courtesy of Nina Lavezzo-Stecopoulos

Off to Costa Rica and Spain

May 8, 2019

Off to Costa Rica

For the first time in City High history twenty-three students packed their bags and spent 36 hours traveling 3,459.6 miles by bus and plane before touching down in Costa Rica. With 45 students and six teachers from City High, West High and Liberty High, the spring break Costa Rica trip allowed students to practice using their Spanish while participating in touristy activities and community service projects.

“Overall I think it [the trip] was a success,” Dolores Silva, a City High teacher who chaperoned the trip said. “Primarily because I think the students gained a lot from the trip, and to me that’s always a plus.”  

Students experienced cultural immersion while living in host families with two to three students in each family. The six teachers stayed at a hotel and met the students during the day.

“It was definitely a new experience. Because you’re in a residential setting, but it’s just different,” Francesca Brown ‘21 said. “You eat different food, you have to communicate differently. There are new people you’re meeting and you have to adapt.”

Most of the students were able to communicate well with their host families in Spanish. Some host families could speak some English, but stayed in Spanish for the most part.

“I mean, the families, they’re pretty good about, like, understanding your Spanish abilities,” Ryan Carter ‘20 said. “They’re still speaking pretty complex Spanish, but they’ll speak a little more, more basic when they’re talking to you.”  

While most students felt like they were able to get by with the Spanish that they had learned, Brilie Miller ‘20 didn’t think that her Spanish education had prepared her for the trip.

“I feel like the Spanish teachers thought we knew more Spanish going into it and then it was extremely difficult,” Miller said.

Students stayed with their host families at night, enjoyed the homemade Costa Rican food in the mornings and then met up with the rest of the students and drove a couple of hours to their destination for the day.

“San Jose is in the center of Costa Rica,” Carter said. “So to get to the coasts takes like, I mean it’s not quite a drive to Chicago but a bit under, because it’s such a small country you’re just kind of used to the travel.”

Through the Interact Program, a community service project was set up at a local elementary school. Students helped the landscape, lay rocks, organize trash and plant plants at the school.

“Basically we laid rock so that they wouldn’t have any more mud build ups because it rains a lot during the rainy season,” Silva said.  

Ziplining, swimming at the beach, going to hot springs and waterfalls, shopping, whitewater rafting and visiting a butterfly garden were a few of the more touristy things that the students got to enjoy.

“My favorite part was probably the day we went whitewater rafting and zip lining,” Brown said. “It was really fun. We had a really great guide for our whitewater rafting, he was just really fun.”

Twenty-three of the students on the trip were from City High and all forty-five students (from West and Liberty) spent the days together. Not knowing the other students and teachers on the trip was one of the more challenging parts of the trip.

“When I don’t know students that I’m in charge of it’s kind of difficult because it’s not like we had a lot of time to do get to know you activities during the trip and it’s hard to do before the trip because they’re in separate schools,” Silva said.

Both teachers and students felt like the large number of students also proved to be difficult.

“Big numbers are a lot of times a challenge,” Jordan Garrett said, the other City High teacher on the trip. “If you don’t have enough chaperones, and also keeping everyone’s attention when you have a very big group [is difficult].”

While mostly positive things were said about the trip, some students felt like things could definitely be improved for future years.

“We didn’t have much communication about when we were leaving San Jose going through, like our layover,” Brown said. “There were some problems. I know some people like forgot their bags at the baggage claim because they didn’t realize [the airline] doesn’t pick them up and stuff like that. And we were told that like once, but just maybe a little more communication about functional stuff.”

However, most students enjoyed their spring break and would recommend it to other students for future years.

“I would definitely recommend it,” Brown said. “I think it’s a great experience, you’ll get to learn a lot as well as have a lot of fun. And if you’re nervous about using your Spanish, just go for it, you’ll be okay.”

The teachers and many of the students thought that the best thing about the Costa Rica trip is the way it impacts the learning of the language. Between speaking, listening and communicating in real life situation, there is a lot to learn from visiting a Spanish speaking country.

“I think that it really gives kids confidence, and it puts everything into perspective of how much you actually know and how much you’ve gained,” Silva said.

Living with a host family lets students emerge themselves in a different culture by eating new food like plantation and experiencing the small differences between cultures and countries.

“This is the perfect experience for students to get to use their Spanish, especially a host family experience, you have the opportunity to share your culture and learn about another culture,” Garrett said. “So it’s basically putting everything you learned in class into practice.”

Using Spanish in a practical setting outside of the classroom is a valuable experience for students. Students got to use Spanish in ways that they don’t get to at school while learning new phrases and words specific to Costa Rica.

“When you’re just learning it in class, you’re just thinking, ‘Oh, it’s just Spanish,’ but there’s so much more to Spanish,” Carter said. “Kind of like in English if you listen to somebody that’s talking from England versus somebody that’s talking from Georgia, the way they talk and the different inflections and the different word choices they use are really different.”

Garrett loved getting to see the the students form great relationships with their host families and use their Spanish is the homestay setting.

“My favorite part of the trip was getting to see the students that were really trying to use their Spanish have success being able to practice and getting to know new culture,” Garrett said.

Silva was really happy and proud of the experience due to the hard work students put into the trip.

“[The students] acceptance and the openness of the other language and culture was awesome,” Silva said.  “I’m really proud of our students that went.”

Students Go on Annual Spain Trip


Millie Garcia

Students on the Spain trip at Alcazar de Segovia

It was early in the morning on March 16th when a group composed of 19 students and two chaperones flew out from the Eastern Iowa Airport to Madrid, Spain. This trip was offered earlier in the school year and was available to students in Spanish three or above. The flight took eight hours and as soon as they landed, the students started on their activities.

“We got off of the plane and went on a train to Segovia and spent the day there. It was the first time I had ever flown overseas so I was really excited to see what Spain had to offer,” Valerie Gonzalez ‘20 said.

Previously, the trip was for 15 days, but this year it was shortened to ten.

“We wanted to make the price of the trip more accessible. It was over 4,000 dollars for the 15 day trip and the ten day trip was 3,500 dollars,” Danielle Eivins, a Spanish teacher at City that chaperoned the trip said.

After sightseeing monuments and spending a few days together as a class, the students met their host families.

“[The students] stayed in a town near Seville called Dos Hermanas, they were all excited to meet the families they were going to stay with,” Eivins said.

Students met with their families at the train station in Dos Hermanas, recognizing them from the pictures they had sent in their emails before they had left for the trip. The students stayed with their host families for five days. In those days, students got to experience the daily lives of  families in Spain.

“I would say that staying with our host families was my favorite part of the whole trip,” Gonzalez said. “They made me feel welcome and I learned so much about the culture in Spain from them. I had a really good time.”

After those five days, students met back with the chaperones and stayed in Madrid for one more day before flying back to the United States.

“My favorite day was ironically enough the last day of the trip, but not because I was happy we were leaving but because I got to walk around Madrid with my friends and enjoy the night,” Ashley Barrera ‘20 said.

This experienced not only allowed for students to meet new people using Spanish, but it also allowed them to create great memories.

“I really enjoyed when we walked to ‘El Escorial’. We had a really energetic and funny tour guide and learned a lot about its history. That was one of the most memorable parts [of the trip],” Barrera said.

Students enjoyed the trip and would recommend it to other students in future years.

“I decided to go on this trip because I like learning about other worldly perspectives and cultures. Stepping out of your comfort zone is definitely worth the experience,” said Barrera. “The family stay really helps you open your eyes and see a different way of life.”

By going on the trip to Spain, students were able to put their Spanish to the test and learn more from first hand experiences.

“It’s wonderful when students see that the language they’ve been studying in the classroom for several years– that it works. That it’s understood. They can use those structures and those words to express themselves, to ask for things and to communicate with new people,”  Eivins said.

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