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Community Engagement

Your month-long rural community practicum is the highlight of the ACM Costa Rica program in the fall. Halfway through the semester, you and your classmates will switch gears from your regular classes to pursue a community engagement project somewhere throughout Costa Rica.

Your new location will depend on your research topic, so you could be placed anywhere from a coastal village to a sloth conservatory in the middle of the forest! Your community practicum placement will be an extension of your elective course about the environment, education, or public health. Past students have also branched out to related areas like sustainable agriculture or microbusinesses.

Recent community engagement projects have placed students in elementary schools to observe and assist teachers and students in the classroom. Students with a passion for public health have observed the practices of small health clinics or studied issues related to health care as volunteers at a community center or cooperative.

If you were drawn to Costa Rica because of the country’s strong focus on environmental sustainability, the community engagement practicum offers an amazing opportunity to engage with conservation issues, water management, eco-tourism, organic farming, and animal rescue.

Over the course of your month-long practicum, you’ll get a chance to improve your Spanish language skills, gain cross-cultural work experience, and connect knowledge from your classes with firsthand observation. Many students grow very close with their rural communities, and even go back and visit on the weekends after they return to San José.

We've compiled some descriptions and photos from recent students talking about their community practicum experience.

Education

Carli Alvarado

Carli Alvarado, Monmouth College

Major: Primary Education

Practicum project: Worked with small groups of students in an elementary school

“My four weeks in Quebrada Ganado were filled with adventures, challenges, love, new ideas, and opportunities that made my time in Costa Rica amazing.”

Abbey Daniel

Abbey Daniel, College of Wooster

Majors: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Minor: Spanish

Practicum project: Assisted teachers in an elementary school

“Llano Bonito, and my family and friends there, will always have a little piece of my heart and soul.”

Luis Hernandez, Grinnell College

Major: Latin American Studies

Practicum project: Helped teachers and taught Latin American dance at an elementary school on an indigenous reservation

“I am glad I had the opportunity to work in an indigenous community, and I experienced a different perspective of how indigenous people truly live instead of our perceptions of them.”

Brian Ingram, Amherst College

Major: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought

Practicum project: Assisted an English teacher with instruction in an elementary school

“A highlight from my time there was when my host father and I went fishing. I have fishing experience and even taught a class on fishing, but this was something completely different from my experience.”

Ashley Mudd, Lake Forest College

Major: Finance

Practicum project: Taught Mathematics, English, and cultural lessons in a one-room schoolhouse to students ranging from pre-K through sixth grade

"I built incredible relationships with my family and students that will last a lifetime. They opened their community and hearts to me in an unbelievable way while sharing with me their culture, their language, and their stories."

Reilly Quirk, St. Olaf College

Major: Spanish Education

Practicum project: Assisted the teacher/director of a one-room elementary school, mostly by working with one grade at a time in subjects such as math, Spanish, social studies, and science

“It was amazing to work with children who excited to learn purely for the joy of new knowledge. And, what is more, I was able to do it all in Spanish. I have learned more about myself in this month of the rural stay than I can describe.”

Jillian Sarazen, Oberlin College

Major: Hispanic Studies

Practicum project: Assisted with projects in Environmental Studies classes in a seventh grade classroom and learned about sustainable practices at an organic farm

"These experiences helped me realize my interests in environmental sciences and see firsthand the importance of environmental education."

Zach Steedman, Colorado College

Major: Math; Minor: Religion

Practicum project: Tutored, led review sessions, and occasionally was a substitute teacher in math at a small high school

"My month in Tárcoles was easily my favorite part of my semester in Costa Rica.”

Madeson Walgenbach, Ripon College

Major: Spanish & Education

Practicum project: Taught English to students in a small town on the Pacific Coast

"I learned a lot about teaching that I would not have learned working with anotherteacher as an assistant... I learned patience, flexibility, and how to use what little was available to help the students succeed and enjoy learning."

Environment

Ilana Mishkin, Carleton College

Major: Undeclared; Spanish certificate of advanced study

Practicum project: Worked on a biological research project to learn about the behavior of sloths and develop a plan for their conservation

“My experience in Pueblo Nuevo gave me valuable insight into what it's like to be a field biologist, but more importantly, it gave me the chance to fall in love with sloths and become truly passionate about their conservation.”

Matt Nadel, Colorado College

Major: Economics

Minor: Engaged Leadership

Practicum project: Worked with two Costa Rican groups engaged in aqueduct and aquifer management and water cleanliness in rural areas, as well as on a hydrophonics project at an organic farm

“The experiences that I had with my family and academic projects in Pejivalle have changed my outlook on what I want to study and what I want with my future.”

Katie Richards, Carleton College

Major: Biology

Practicum project: Collected data on sloth behavior for a biological research project and taught conversational English to a group of women in a chocolate co-op to help them learn about interacting with English-speaking tourists

“The community is very small and the majority of the people there are somehow related. My host family owned a plantation and farm. We had pigs, piglets, chickens, roosters, dogs, a cat, a parrot, cows, etc.”

Jillian Sarazen, Oberlin College

Major: Hispanic Studies

Practicum project: Assisted with projects in Environmental Studies classes in a seventh grade classroom and learned about sustainable practices at an organic farm

"These experiences helped me realize my interests in environmental sciences and see firsthand the importance of environmental education."

Public Health

Brenna Banwarth-Kuhn, Emory University

Major: Biology

Practicum project: Worked in a small health clinic

“As a student who is interested in studying public health and later continuing on to medical school, this month was an invaluable experience.”

Elizabeth Burke, Lawrence University

Major: Economics & Spanish

Practicum project: Worked at a coffee cooperative, conducting research on the occupational health care of area coffee workers

"I developed a greater sense of what it means to be a small coffee farmer in Costa Rica and the struggles that these people face... (It) provided me with a new perspective on fair trade products and I gained valuable real-world economics experience."

Matt Nadel, Colorado College

Major: Economics

Minor: Engaged Leadership

Practicum project: Worked with two Costa Rican groups engaged in aqueduct and aquifer management and water cleanliness in rural areas, as well as on a hydrophonics project at an organic farm

“The experiences that I had with my family and academic projects in Pejivalle have changed my outlook on what I want to study and what I want with my future.”

Julia Weston, St. Olaf College

Major: Biology & Spanish

Practicum project: Worked as a volunteer at a rural health clinic and a community center providing workshops about health

"I had a very interesting mix in between direct medical attention and also the prevention of sickness. I was able to see what Costa Rica offers communities on a local level and the relationship between community members and these services."