“AEC develops a program in which students become part of the neighborhood, independent, curious, and cared for.”
As a nonnative Spanish speaker and now a high school Spanish teacher and leader in a developing and flourishing program, I often get asked “Where did you learn your Spanish?” The first response is AEC. At the age of 17 I hid the program from my parents thinking we couldn’t afford it, however my desire to explore through this grand opportunity became more than apparent. Before I knew it my program leader, Spanish teacher, and current colleague, David Brady, was whisking myself and another dozen students off to what would spark my attention, growth, and travel for a lifetime to come. I can’t teach in my classroom what my students will gain from this experience.
“We love returning to Turrialba, not only for the ease, and confidence in our students’ security, but also the community.”
Travel abroad at this age can be a multitude of things, often dismissed as too soon to be fully appreciated, but AEC develops a program in which students become part of the neighborhood, independent, curious, and cared for. This is pure development from every perspective. As a student with AEC not only did I learn to overcome language barriers, learning the “hard” way that a “descanso” is in fact a rest, and not a 3 hour “siesta”, that the “brisa” would soon become my favorite sensation, and that communication, using nothing more than the tools you have and going out on a limb with an educated guess is the absolute key to getting through tough situations. I also recall so much more; the first time I felt a baby kick inside their mother when I spent time connecting with my house sister, the magic of a religious ceremony echoing through the town church during Semana Santa, learning to have confidence in the unknown, that a different schedule and perspective was not wrong but rather different in the most wonderful ways. This was the first moment I started dreaming in Spanish, and to say the least those dreams took off as I chose to major in Spanish the following year, and begin plans for a move to Granada, Spain in search of that very magical sensation yet again.
“I can’t teach in my classroom what my students will gain from this experience.”
As a teacher, I know full well that I can offer many tools to my students in the classroom, but nothing will equate to these homely experiences that AEC offers. We love returning to Turrialba, not only for the ease, and confidence in our students’ security, but also the community. During my last trip to Costa Rica as a co-leader from my former high school I came to find the man who taught my classes as a student was now directing the school. Bumping into my former host family at the ballot box during a historical election I met that baby who had yet to be born, now 7 years old. There is such a beautiful connection with these families. For both students and hosts, a lingering hope and dream that we may meet again is verbalized and promised. I know that when I propose this experience to our families that I can confidently promise your student may change. Their trajectory, mindset, empathy, and skill set may all develop in ways they didn’t anticipate. From clearing customs and changing currency, to adapting to an unknown way of life beyond our norms, they will grow. We can’t guarantee that they won’t miss home, but I can nearly promise they’ll be yearning to return, not only to Costa Rica, but destinations and experiences around the world, traveling with that skill set, knowledge, curiosity, and empathy.
Written by a former AEC student Alex Kunesh
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