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Education Focus

During the month-long rural community practicum, education is one of the three major academic areas of focus. Students interested in education have a variety of ways to incorporate it into their rural practicum experience, typically by working in schools. Here are some descriptions and photos from recent students about their education-related practicum experiences in rural Costa Rica.

Fall 2013 Costa Rica Program group

The fall 2013 Costa Rica Program group on a field trip.

Student Testimonials


Carli Alvarado

Carli Alvarado

Monmouth College

For my rural stay, I lived in the small town of Quebrada Ganado. I was placed in the elementary school of Quebrada Ganado for four weeks. I worked in the school Monday through Thursday 1-4:30 and Fridays1-3. I had the opportunity to be in charge of five different small groups creating and working with English activities.

Instead of working alongside a teacher, I was able to get creative and truly utilize what I have learned in my educational endeavors. It was a truly unique experience because I spent my mornings planning activities, gathering materials, and brainstorming; in the afternoons I worked with my small groups of students between first and fifth grade. In the first two weeks I brought in more material focused on grammar, and in the last two weeks we played interactive games and I tried to engage the students in more creative activities.

I consider the experiences I had in this school a gift not because I was warmly accepted or extremely appreciated, but for the fact that they are opportunities I would not have received in my educational program at Monmouth College. There was something exceptionally authentic, beautiful, and profound about bonding with such small groups of children while listening to their thoughts and trying to help them get past their hesitations and doubts. Also, the fact that I got to actually work in a school in another country has enabled me to understand some of the more systemic problems with educational systems in a global sense. The fact that all of this was in Spanish really helped me improve my fluency as well.

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

I spent my month in Llano Bonito de León Cortés. I lived in a family with four siblings, Karina (Kari), Jenny, Leo, and Viviana (Vivi). Kari lived in the house with me and Vivi comes back home only for the weekends because she goes to school in Cartago.

During my month there, I worked at the local elementary school in Llano Bonito. I helped Doña Gladys in her 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grade classes as well as occasionally working with Señor Franklin, the English teacher. With Gladys, I gave lessons about animals, the relationships they have with other animals like symbiosis, parasitism, competition, etc. as well as the different environments where different animals live, like the jungle or the dessert. Then, after these lessons, we made animals in their coordinating interactions or environments out of recycled materials, to go along with the Bandera Azul program in the school. I also spent time in the school garden with the students where we prepared the soil for planting and added necessary additional nutrition.

I was blessed to live in such a warm, loving, caring home with such incredible people that I can proudly call my Costa Rican family. And then I was doubly blessed to spend one precious month in a community so very close, supportive, and dynamic. My month in Llano Bonito was one of the most incredible experiences in my life; I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Llano Bonito, and my family and friends there, will always have a little piece of my heart and soul.


Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez

Grinnell College

I worked in an elementary school, Doris Stone, in Boruca, Buenos Aires, Puntarenas; it is an indigenous reservation. I had a teacher counterpart named Nuri, who is a special education teacher and organizes dances for cultural events. I also helped two other teachers, Oscar and Edith. Oscar teaches the indigenous native language, which is Brunka. Edith teaches indigenous culture, such as tejidos.

I taught popular Latin American dances to the students, such as bachata, cumbia, merengue, and salsa. I also observed the three classroom settings that I’ve mentioned, and was able to learn about their culture, the language, and the difference between their special education systems from our perceptions of special education.

I learned a lot in a short amount of time. 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

Brian Ingram

Amherst College

I lived in a small beach town across the Gulf of Nicoya called Paquera. It’s a close-knit community of about 900 people. I worked in the local elementary school named Julio Acosta assisting an English teacher with instruction for a month.

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. First I didn’t know that we had to ride in a boat to reach an island where the fishing would be done. We boarded a very small boat called a panga, which is made to hold about 8 people, but ours had 16 people in it; which made for an interesting 40 minute boat ride that I couldn’t have predicted because the island we went to appeared very close, as it could be seen from the shores from which we departed.

When we arrived to this uninhabited island there were about 100 people standing on the shore fishing. This isn’t your typical cast the rod and wait to catch bite fishing. You have a hook attached to some string that you throw into the water and pull back as hard as you can, hoping that a fish is on the end of it.

We were fishing for needlefish, which have extremely pointy and dangerous mouths; that added to the hazardous hooks made for a truly unforgettable experience that lasted about 2 hours longer than I expected. But I know it’s an experience that many people will never have, and I’m glad I had the chance to see what life is really like for people who live so differently.


Ashley Mudd

Lake Forest College

During my rural practicum, I spent four weeks in El Silencio, a town with a population less than 125 people in the northern province of Guanacaste. Aside from learning from and experiencing the campesino lifestyle, I had the opportunity to volunteer at La Escuela Yolanda Peraza-Escuela El Silencio, the one-room-schoolhouse in the community, with a total of 15 students and one teacher, for pre-K through 6th grade. While there, I taught both Mathematics and English on a rotating schedule for each grade and assisted in other subjects when needed. The teacher also gave me the freedom to plan cultural lessons for both the students and the community, such as presentations about my hometown, my university, and activities including “customary recipe” exchanges and lessons about “common sayings” and “popular recess games”.

Although I went to El Silencio to teach and build myself professionally, I believe my students and the community were the real teachers. They opened their community and hearts to me in an unbelievable way while sharing with me their culture, their language, and their stories. I was able to live the “real Costa Rica” from an extremely unique and beautiful perspective with some of the most magnificent people I have ever met.  I built incredible relationships with my family and students that will last a lifetime. I can easily say that my rural stay was the most incredible and unforgettable experience of many in Costa Rica and, without a doubt, changed my life. It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience that words cannot do justice.


Reilly Quirk

Reilly Quirk

St. Olaf College

I worked in a school called la Escuela Yolanda Peraza in the small pueblo of El Silencio. This little town set in the mountain pastures near Lake Arenal and Volcano Arenal has a population of less than 150. In the entire town there is a small Catholic church, a pulpería (which is like a small, one-room convenient store), a soccer field, the one-room elementary school, a few cow ranches for milk production, and homes.

I lived in a quaint but comfortable one floor home with my mom, Nidia, and my two younger sisters, Andrea (17) and Graciela (14). We were also lucky enough to have an outdoor cat and two miniature Doberman pinschers!

I worked Monday through Friday at the elementary school in town. In total there were 18 students between first and sixth grade — all in a one-room school with one teacher/school director to share between every age. My primary project included working with one grade at a time in the main subjects, such as math, Spanish, social studies, and science. In addition I aided the English teacher, one grade at a time, in her exam preparations, daily participation, and teaching the students specific grammar skills.

Apart from my daily work with small groups, I gave a few presentations about Minnesota and my own home, I attended a parent teacher conference meeting, I attended a curriculum planning session for all teachers in the area, and I helped lead morning exercises. All in all, I saw practically every aspect of the work of a one-room teacher in a rural atmosphere.

I never thought I could go to a small town for one month, to a new house where I didn’t know a single person or understand the specifics of the work I would be doing in the elementary school, and leave four weeks later with such a special connection to a group of people I could call my own family. El Silencio transformed over my one month there from a school project to a home. It was amazing to work with children who were 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. This experience has not only given me a new perspective as an upcoming teacher, but it has shown me the value of living for the good of my family and for God. My rural experience in El Silencio has made such an impact on me personally that I have rethought how I want to live out my life.


Jillian Sarazen

Oberlin College

I spent my month-long rural stay in Pejivalle, Jimenez, Cartago. My project was at the Environmental High School in the town, where I helped out in the environmental studies classes with various environmental projects. I spent most of my time with 7th grade classes and the main projects I accomplished included making a recycling bin out of recycled plastic bottles, planting trees by a river, filling a motorcycle tire with cement, and designing a ceramic tile landscape design in the center, and my final day I gave a presentation about the biodiversity in my home state. These projects allowed me to have close, personal interactions with the students I worked with as I was able to talk and learn from them. The projects are also part of the school's Bandera Azul Ecológica (Ecological Blue Flag) program. The program rewards stars to the schools in country that incorporate environmentally friendly practices and education into the curriculum and the high school in Pejivalle has recently been rewarded all five possible stars. These experiences helped me realize my interests in environmental sciences and see first hand the importance of environmental education.

When I was not at the high school, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend time my family's organic farm. I learned about their sustainable practices and helped out with various activities such as planting in the garden. My time spent with my family was what made my experience in Pejivalle so wonderful. As soon as I arrived, I was completely welcomed into their family. I formed lasting relationships with them as I learned about the life they live in this beautiful town in the mountains; all while only speaking Spanish. My time in Pejivalle was filled with new experiences, new family and friends, teaching, learning, lots of Spanish and exploring.


Zach Steedman

Zach Steedman

Colorado College

My month in Tárcoles was easily my favorite part of my semester in Costa Rica. The small fishermen's town of about 800 people is located on the Central Pacific Coast of the country, and their two main sources of income are fishing and the world famous crocodile tour.

I had the chance to work in the local high school of about 80 students helping out with all of the math classes, which consisted of tutoring one-on-one, leading review sessions, and on a few occasions, acting as a substitute teacher. Without a doubt, I will never forget the four weeks I spent in this humble, yet beautiful place.


Madeson Walgenbach

Ripon College

For my rural practicum, I worked at the school of Quebrada Ganado, a small town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. There I taught English to two small groups of students twice a day during the school week. I came up with my own material and planned lessons for 4 weeks of classes. We spent a lot of time learning vocabulary, playing games, and even had the chance to take a field-trip to the local super-market to review a lesson learned on food. I also took part in several “civic” activities and helped with an English spelling bee.

In all, the experience was very unique something that I would not have been able to experience in the United States. I had the chance to shadow a few English classes, but after that I was on my own. Because of this, I learned a lot about teaching that I would not have learned working with another teacher as an assistant. Not only did I learn how to handle a classroom on my own, I also learned patience, flexibility and how to use what little was available to help the students succeed and enjoy learning.