#MyWheaton

My Vibrant and Cultural Wheaton in Costa Rica Experience

Posted August 8, 2017 by Kristen Garner '19

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These past two months I have had the incredible opportunity of living and studying in Costa Rica with the Wheaton in Costa Rica program. I was drawn to the program because it was a chance to live in a context completely different than any I had experienced before, and it was an opportunity to learn Spanish in a vibrant, cultural environment. 

After a week of orientation, we moved in with our host families in San Rafael, Heredia, located about 30 minutes north of the capital city San José. During the program we were enrolled in two classes: SPAN 338 Advanced Spanish and SPAN 489 Topics in Spanish Culture. Taught by Wheaton professor Dr. Nestor Quiroa, these classes included dynamic homework assignments—such as finding the strangest fruit possible and bringing it to class—and thought-provoking discussions that integrated faith and history in order to understand Costa Rican culture today. The classes also included in-depth studies of the three main Costa Rican industries (bananas, tourism, and coffee) and how each has shaped the country throughout its history. A large part of the course involved excursions to coffee plantations, the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as to Nicaragua in order to gain a fuller understanding of Costa Rica and relations with its neighbor. 

Apart from our classes and excursions, our host families largely shaped our everyday experience. From sharing meals to going on weekend trips to learning how to do water aerobics (in Spanish!), every day we had with our host families brought new lessons and deepened relationships that had impacts far beyond what I could have imagined. I was surprised at how much I was challenged to think beyond my cultural assumptions so that I could not only learn from my host family but also understand their lifestyle and reflect on my own. As Dr. Quiroa told us at the beginning of the trip, “Este viaje debe abrir sus ojos al hecho que el estilo de vida estadounidense es una opción” (This trip should open your eyes to the fact that the ‘American lifestyle’ is an option).

As someone that studies both international relations and Spanish, I was unaware of the immense impact that experiential and immersive learning would have on my understanding of who and what I am studying in the classroom. I am so thankful for the opportunity to study abroad this summer, and I highly encourage every Wheaton student to take their learning beyond the classroom—whether that’s in Costa Rica, the Holy Lands, the streets of Chicago, or in one’s own hometown.

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Kristen Garner ’19 is pursuing an international relations and Spanish double major and participated in Wheaton in Costa Rica this summer. Photo captions (from top): Wheaton in Costa Rica students at Volcán Arenal after hiking across the hanging bridges in the Volcán Arenal National Park; Wheaton in Costa Rica students standing on the roof of la Catedral de León, the largest cathedral in all of Central America. All photos by Bethany Doyle '19.

To learn more about the Wheaton in Costa Rica program, visit their website. To learn more about Wheaton, connect with Wheaton College Undergraduate Admissions. Set up a visit, or apply now.

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