Fifty new program leaders rolled into the La Fortuna base camp in three minibuses to begin a week-long training - we were about to spend ten weeks leading high school students around the country, teaching them about travel, community service, and environmental consciousness.
Two large bungalows with thatched roofs, hammocks, and bright blue walls stood in the open space. Lush, vibrant trees lined an open grassy field (that would become the battlefield during intense soccer matches) and the trickle of a quiet river sounded in the background. Each seasonal staff member disembarked the bus, grabbed their massive backpacking packs, and were greeted by full-time staff members: “hola,” “hi,” “bienvenidos,” “welcome.” Greetings were exchanged and each leader walked into the Fortuna humidity with eager smiles, but tired faces from days of traveling. Ricardo, the Costa Rica country director, welcomed us with his wide toothy smile, his jokes, and a brief presentation on Costa Rican culture and history.
Throughout the week full-time staff presented, performed skits, and answered our endless questions. We were enthusiastic, eager, and nervous to begin our new, but exciting positions as program leaders. We learned about tico (Costa Rican) culture, the country's biodiversity, how to facilitate activities, how to communicate with locals, how to deal with worried parents, the importance of volunteering abroad, how to facilitate meaningful discussions, how to dance, and so much more. During coffee and meal breaks seventy full-time and seasonal staff ate, swam, played soccer, danced in the rain, sang in the talent show, and played pranks on each other. In six days strangers became friends and part of a Costa Rican family.
Everyone spoke Spanish and English at varying levels and I marveled at how seventy very different people came together through our experiences and our languages. Katie, a photographer from North Carolina, learned Spanish in Argentina. Jen, a recent college graduate, embraced her Chilean and Ecuadorian heritage. Serena, studied Spanish literature and spent a gap year in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Cristian, Joel, and Jason, energetic and proud ticos (Costa Ricans), were spending their third summer as program leaders. Kristen and Brian, Californian teachers and two incredible surfers, were back for their fourth summer to teach students how to surf. Cristina, Becca, Mariló, and Irati, four Spaniards traveled across seas to share their language and learn about the local culture. Josue and Joanna, two ticos, were ready to share their love for fútbol (soccer) and dance with students from around the world. The conversations I had with my peers amazed me. I learned about so many different parts of the world, so many cultures. For the first time (I think ever) I was surrounded by tens of people who also loved to travel, to teach, and to speak Spanish. It was amazing to be around such people and to share our travel stories and nightmares, and our love for Spanish. We were so different, but still so very much the same. Our diverse experiences with Spanish and travel became the foundation of our friendships.
Beneath a fierce midnight sky, seven of us bathed in the local free hot springs beneath a bridge. The night air and shallow breezes gently fell on our bodies as the searing sulfuric water made our faces drip with sweat. We sat sipping Pilsens and exchanging jokes, cultures, and our favorite travel stories. Erin talked about her years in Thailand, Nacho detailed his exchange year in Barcelona, Stan described his ten-month world tour, Pame shared moments from her time in the Netherlands, Emily shared how she fell in love with traveling after spending six weeks at summer camp, and Wainer explained how living abroad and studying English created so many possibilities for him. I nostalgically recounted my childhood years in Chile and how it led me to study Spanish. We were so different, and yet very similar. In that moment our unique experiences and beer bound us together. Entranced by each "cuento" (story), I listened and absorbed the moment which I knew would transform into a cherished memory.
This quarter’s theme will delve into our vast world from the places we visit, to the people we meet, to the students we teach. I encourage you to embrace your personal diverse experiences and to welcome the experiences that will let you learn about other’s diversity. For in our diversity, while we are so unique and different, we will find that we are still very much the same.
Kalindi Naslund is a multi-local Spanish teacher, traveler, home chef, reader, and freelance writer. She currently lives in Catalonia, Spain where she teaches students English and takes Catalan classes. While she’s not busy in the classroom teaching or learning, she explores the Catalonian region, makes frequent visits to Barcelona, and travels around Europe.