8th Grade Trip to Costa Rica

CostaRicaTrip-2015-282-X2Every year, Synergy 8th graders take a week-long trip as a capstone to their final year. For the last few years, students have gone to Costa Rica with Global Works, to do community service work, practice their Spanish, and get a taste of another country and culture. This year, teachers Dominic, Mahala, and Uschi accompanied the students. Eighth graders Lucia, Sophia, and Danika collaborated on this article.

Everyone gathered in the SFO airport: moms, dads, students, cousins, aunts, pets—you get it.  They were all there to see us off on our long journey to Costa Rica.  We were scheduled for a quick flight to LA and then a red eye to San Jose, Costa Rica. After several delays we finally got on the plane to Costa Rica at midnight. This was an overnight flight so everyone tried to get some sleep.

Our Global Works guides, Esteban and Krisley, greeted us at the San Jose airport with open arms. Then we piled onto the bus that was to be our main means of transportation during the trip. For the first few days we stayed at a hotel that was surrounded by tons of vegetation and flowers. We learned how to salsa dance and went to a delicious restaurant. We toured San Jose and saw a sun clock, an elementary school, a museum with local art, a fountain with a crazy guy, and ended the tour at a little cafe covered in cacti and giant plants. They had the sweetest drinks, the ripest fruits and lots of other really good food.

Then we took a loooong bus ride to the town of Palmichal, which is southwest of San Jose. Palmichal is small and everyone in town seems to know each other. The dirt roads are lined with large trees, flowers, and often a dog or two. Our rooms at the hostel in Palmichal were cozy and comfortable. The hostel itself is a large house with a peaked roof, surrounded by beautiful plants and trees. There was a hammock and some bleachers to rest in when we had free time. After we settled in, we went down to the common area and had a delicious meal of fruit, rice, and beans—the first of many.

After lunch we began our community service work: some of us went to the elementary school, others hiked to a nearby farm. The farm group flattened land and the other group cleared out a room at the school. Later we met the local youth group and went to the community center where we had a chance to practice our salsa dancing. We danced with the youth group students and embarrassed ourselves in a dance circle.

The next day some of us went to the high school to help build a bench, some went to the elementary school to finish clearing the storage room, and others went to the farm to build a stable for goats. The kids who went to the farm got to see baby animals. After we ate lunch to replenish our strength, we worked together to create a lesson plan to teach English to the kids at the elementary school. We played games outside with the kids, then headed inside to present the lessons, which the kids seemed to enjoy.

Next, we walked to the high school, where we met some kids our own age. We tried to use our respective Spanish and English to introduce each other to our classmates. We told the kids about the United States. In return, they gave us a tour of the high school. The high school was really nice. You could tell from the shaded walkways and large windows that the building was designed to make hot days more bearable. The walkways also keep out the rain.

That night we went to a local restaurant, where we caught fish in a small man-made pond with hand-made fishing sticks. Everyone caught a fish and gave it to the chef. While we waited for our food we played soccer, Costa Ricans versus Americans. To our surprise, we won! Tired and victorious, we sat down to large servings of fried fish, French fries, beans, rice, and tortilla chips. I think everyone would agree that the meal was one of the best of the trip.

The next day at the elementary school, we learned how to mix and pour cement. Then we hiked to the farm in the pouring rain. The rain was so sudden that most of us got drenched in the first few minutes and were slipping and sliding all the way up the hill. Back at the hostel, we got to make tortillas that were REALLY good and some of the high school students came to eat with us.

The next morning we visited Finca Dona Rosa, a nearby coffee plantation. The owner and his family explained the coffee-making process, then took us on a tour of the farm. We got to hold baby animals, admire those too shy to come close, and taste some of the strange plants that grew around the farm. We got to taste sour lemons, sweet limes, and walked through a tunnel of flowers. Then the teachers passed out sugar candy. Our guide showed us a strange contraption, and explained that it was used to make the sugar we were eating. We took turns grinding sugar cane and got to taste sugar water. When it was mixed with orange juice it was absolutely delicious. After a wonderful lunch, we got to make coffee. We were each given samples of both the beans and the ground coffee, and bought bags of coffee to take home.

On our last night, we cooked pizza for the high schoolers to give them a taste of what we eat at home, and to thank the adults who cooked for us all week. We talked to each other in a mix of Spanish and English. (We tried our best to communicate in Spanish; they were almost fluent in English.) The kids were all so nice and welcoming, we all felt that we had made new friends. They accepted us into their community and reminded us how important it is to always be caring to people you meet. We talked about many of the same things we talk about back in San Francisco, because the students there have the same interests and sense of humor we do.  After getting to know them, we realized that teenagers from different countries are not so different.

After dinner we went to the community center one last time. We put on a talent show full of singing, music, and skits. We learned about judo, and there was a demonstration by some of the best judoists in all of Central America. Then we gathered around a bonfire, singing, talking, and toasting marshmallows. We would have liked to stay up longer, but because we were leaving early the next morning we had to say our goodbyes.

On our final morning in Costa Rica, we woke up at 3:30 AM and got on the bus for the trip to the airport. We all bid Costa Rica a reluctant farewell.  Although we were sad to leave, the trip was unforgettable. I think every one of us will keep this experience close as we grow up. We’ll always remember the community service we did, the friendships we made, the food we ate, and the memories we made.

— By Lucia Dardis, Sophia Brutschy, and Danika Claiborne; photos by Dominic Altieri 

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