Western Reserve students travel Costa Rica, experience culture

by Sophie Kruse • Photos special to Hudson Monthly Published:

How many people can say that instead of just traveling to an exotic country, they lived there for a portion of their summer?

Eleven Western Reserve students can now add that statement to their list of accomplishments.

For a month, students traveled to Costa Rica.

There, they stayed with local families, went to classes at a school and did sightseeing on the weekends.

The students traveled through ELISA, a program that focuses on language immersion and cultural enrichment. It is a fully-funded program for qualified students who have completed two years of language study and have a large interest in learning more about a country's culture. The ELISA program has also traveled to France, Rome and Germany.

The trips main chaperone was Dr. Ralf Borrmann, chair of the modern and classic languages department. Alan Doe, interim chair of the fine and performing arts department, joined the group for the last two weeks of the trip. Doe was interested in traveling with the group because he already had extensive travel experience in Central America with his wife, Laurie Allen.

As a photography instructor, Doe was also interested in visiting a new place for the photos he would get.

"Walking through the rain forest is a sensation experience," Doe says. "You are filled with the scents and sounds -- waterfalls, birds, monkeys while you are on constant lookout for some unique flower or animal."

Students on the trip spent most of their time going to St. Jude's School, near San Jose. They took classes taught by two college professors and also participated in numerous activities with the students from St. Jude's.

Doe and Allen were even able to teach English to some of the younger students at the school for a few days.

The group spent their weekends going on small trips. Doe specifically remembers a trip to Jaco Beach, where the group was able to ride horses.

"The ride took us through the forest to mountain top vistas and back down to the beach," says Doe. "That image of horses on the black sand and the mountain outcropping was most memorable for me."

Doe also fondly remembers the rich nature found in Costa Rica.

"....Blue-jean tree frogs, two- and three-toed sloths, howler monkeys and my favorite, the basilisk lizards that run on water. Of course, the flowers were everywhere. There is something stunning about hiking through a forest and finding an unusual orchid or bromeliad in full bloom."

The group ended their trip with two days spent at an all-inclusive resort in Puntarenus.

According to Doe, traveling in Costa Rica is much easier than other exotic countries, since tourism is a large portion of their economy. United States dollars can be used and the water is drinkable.

"One of the most vital parts of the trip was seeing our students in a new context," Doe says. "In a school like WRA, you know your students pretty well. You see them in class, at meals, at sports and the dorm, but traveling with these 11 students really gave me a new insight and appreciation for their many talents."

Doe intends to use photographs taken on the trip in his classes in the fall, and hopes that students will use the things they learned in discussions both in and out of the classroom. v

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