One of the main reasons I love study abroad programs is for the cultural immersion and language learning potential. This semester, I have made it my priority to do all that I can to encourage our students to connect with the community and practice speaking Spanish. I was thrilled to learn that their Spanish class was going to include a week of field trips leading up to their local family visit day, and knew immediately that we had to hype up that week into Super Spanish Week. I was also delighted when our Center Director asked me to investigate beginning a regular event with our neighborhood, to offer a space for our students to give back to and interact with our neighbors.

During the first week of the semester, the other intern, Emily, and I attended the monthly neighborhood council meeting to suggest a collaboration between our students and the community. We proposed events such as craft or game night, and asked what kinds of activities would interest our neighbors. They did not hesitate to answer: exercise. Zumba.

So I set about to find a Zumba teacher (unfortunately none of the students could teach it), asked our Center Director and SAM what plan would be plausible, and coordinated the logistics of using the community center. Staff members who live in our neighborhood advertised by word of mouth, I hung a poster at the corner store, and the neighborhood council contributed a “megafoneo:” a truck with a huge speaker blaring an advertisement for the event up and down our street. The night came; nearly all of our students participated, either to dance or offer childcare, and about 50 community members came! We were sweating, dancing, and laughing together in no time.

The community loved it so much they were asking me afterward what the plan was for next week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t commit to planning it weekly, because we have a busy schedule here at SFS, but the neighborhood council took it on and booked their own Zumba instructor every Tuesday and Thursday! Some of our students have continued to walk up the road to dance to Latin beats and exercise with the community twice a week.

Students also participated in many other Super Semana de Español events last week. A Spanish-speaking instructor gave a yoga class, and a local women’s soccer team came and beat us at fútbol, and subsequently invited our students to play at a field in town with them every Wednesday. We shared Spanish songs and poems every morning at RAP, and the students filled two Spanish-speaking tables at meals. With la clase de español, the students conversed with locals in the central park and market, played games with students at the local technical college, welcomed college students learning English to our campus for an afternoon, and watched a Costa Rican movie to wrap up on Friday. All this effort prepared students for their local family visits on Saturday, and everyone had a phenomenal time peeking into normal Tico life! We can’t wait to plan more outreach events and keep facilitating our students’ interaction with our community!

Students from SFS and the National Technical University form a live photograph scene on a Spanish class field trip.