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Learning a Language on Location




There is no better way to master a foreign language than immersing yourself in an authentic setting, speaking the language, and experiencing the culture and lifestyle. Twenty-four students did just that in June when they traded two weeks of their summer vacation to attend a school-sponsored trip to Costa Rica.

Students and educators on Spanish Immersion trip to Costa Rica in 2019.

Gibbons offered the immersion program for the first time this summer. It is designed to help students improve Spanish skills, gain cultural understanding, experience the beauty and adventure of Costa Rica, and, in true Gibbons fashion, engage in community service, explained Gibbons Spanish Educator Kelly Damare, who organized the trip. She and fellow educators Amy Bradshaw and Luke Durney served as chaperones.

“It was really important to me that this trip be an extension of Gibbons…  Service is a huge part of our mission, and I wanted to carry that with us as we traveled to Costa Rica," said Gibbons Spanish Educator Kelly Damare.

“We can only teach so much language in a classroom - real useful acquisition occurs when you immerse yourself among the people and language,” Damare added…  “It is challenging, but the growth from a personal and language perspective can be incredible.  It was a huge blessing to be an eyewitness to my students’ experiences.”

Students in Costa Rica for Spanish Immersion Program 2019.

From the first day students arrived, they were immersed in Spanish, lived with host families, and attended language classes. They also explored the National Park Manuel Antonio and surrounding beaches, as well as the La Fortuna and Arenal areas of Costa Rica.

Underscoring Gibbons core tenet of service, Damare said the student-travelers planned, prepared, and delivered an anti-drug workshop to fourth - sixth-grade-students attending Escuela San Vicente. That is the same school where Damare worked for two weeks in 2017 as part of her immersion program.

Explaining the service component of the trip Damare said: “It was really important to me that this trip be an extension of Gibbons…  Service is a huge part of our mission, and I wanted to carry that with us as we traveled to Costa Rica...  While the topic was important and needed in this environment, it was the connections that our students made with the students in Costa Rica that will have a lasting impact at this school.”

For students, living abroad, traveling, and honing their Spanish-speaking skills all at the same time is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that enabled them to gain a worldly perspective on life. It is, to be sure, an adventure they will share with the rest of the Gibbons community

Looking to the new school year, Damare said she always tries to incorporate her own experiences with language and culture in the classroom…   “This year I will have the added benefit of having students who shared the experience with me, and who could help spread the enthusiasm for language to their peers,” she said. “Students are really good teachers, too.”

The hope, Damare continued, is that the trip will become an annual tradition just like the other international, school-sponsored trips to Italy and Western Europe. “There will be minor tweaks to the program,” she explained, “but overall the goals and mission will stay the same.”

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