Reflection: CGI Spanish Immersion trips in Costa Rica

Reflection: The Summer High School Spanish Immersion trip

What did our participants think of learning to speak Spanish in Costa Rica?


“I’m going to Costa Rica!” is a statement that brings to mind sun-filled sandy honeymoons or zip-lining adventures with families. When it comes to Common Ground International and our summer immersion trips, sun, sand and zip-lining certainly come into play but learning to speak Spanish is the most important aspect.

We recently finished our High School Summer Spanish Immersion trip and our participants experienced the rollercoaster that is a Spanish immersion program.  High school Spanish can often focus on grammatical rules, basic reading and verb conjugation- all important elements of learning to speak Spanish, but during our Spanish immersion trips participants get the opportunity to practice, practice, practice; with the added bonus of learning about a different culture and people.

Overwhelmingly our participants tell us that living with and getting to know their Costa Rican host families is one of the highlights of our Spanish immersion trip. The time the students spend in class every weekday is a very important aspect of the program as it builds a structured Spanish foundation, but the host family experience is perhaps the most crucial part of the high school Spanish immersion trip because the participants are exposed to the inner workings of a typical “tica” (aka Costa Rican) family. With their host families our participants were given the opportunity to practice Spanish with native speakers every day, taste local cuisine and learn about cultural practices that may be different from those in the US. Many of our participants have told us that being exposed so fully to a different culture allowed them to expand their worldviews, granting them the opportunity to understand and respect the possible differences between cultures more effectively.

Another way in which our participants were immersed in Costa Rican culture was through our service-learning work. Following sustainable and ethical guidelines and working with local volunteer organizations, our participants were able to not only design their own activities for children at a local orphanage and elementary school; they also had the opportunity to collaborate with similar-aged Costa Rican students. This service-learning activity pushed our participants outside of their comfort zones, compelling them to in Spanish while planning and leading activities themselves.

One of our participants’ favorite features of the Spanish immersion trip is the adventure travel component. Costa Rica is touted as one of the world’s hotspots for ecotourism and therefore no trip to Costa Rica is complete without exploring some of the fun and adventurous activities that take place in the diverse natural settings this country has to offer. Some of the most thrilling moments for our participants included zip-lining across the beautiful rainforest to watching three types of monkey swing through the trees while swimming in Pacific Ocean. Our participants got to face their fears, literally plunging themselves off a bridge as a bungee cord swung them around a couple of seconds later, exhilaration and glee apparent on each of the red up-side down faces.

Every day of the high school Spanish immersion trip was filled with new and challenging experiences, more than can be written here but most importantly our participants got the opportunity to grow- both in their Spanish learning and in their personal characteristics and skills. They learned flexibility and patience (with themselves and others), they examined and became accustomed to different cultural norms and values, and they challenged themselves to be pushed outside of their comfort zones – whether that meant bungee jumping off a bridge or creating a play in a local school.

We believe Spanish is for everyone, and anyone can learn to speak Spanish!

If you are interested in learning more about our high school Spanish immersion trips and how they can help you (or your student) improve their Spanish speaking abilities, please contact Leslie Foster for more information.

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