Overseas trip opens doors, eyes of Charles City students
In 2015, Charles City High School Spanish teacher Kristi Emerson had an idea to open doors for students to learn about the Hispanic American culture. Through two years of hard work and a desire to give back to those less fortunate, a journey to Costa Rica as part of an outreach program provided students the opportunity to make an impact on the lives less fortunate.
Emerson was among a local group of six who took a trip to Pura Vida, Costa Rica this past summer. The trip allowed students studying Spanish not only to hone their communication skills, but the opportunity to see the culture up close and personal.
“These students deserved the opportunity to at least go on this trip,” Emerson said as part of a Friday afternoon interview. “I love the students here at Charles City and I wanted them to have a competitive advantage just as large schools do.”
Emerson pitched the plan to the county’s school board, saying that nobody brought up the idea of doing an overseas trip before. After adhering the recommendation of school leaders to open it up to all students, she yielded three for the 2017 trip. Among those students is current high school senior Marcus Jones.
“We came to the school’s open house and I told my family I would really like to do that,” Jones said when he heard about the trip. “I spoke with my family and they told me that we would see what happens.”
What happened was Jones and recent Charles City High graduates Keanna Motley and Charity Jones traveling to Costa Rica on more than a two-week tour.
“It was my first flight and when I landed in Costa Rica, I was really there,” Jones said about his arrival in the country. “It was different than home because I knew it was a third world country and it made me feel happy about how I was living life.”
Emerson talked about how students had to do adult tasks such as having proper documentation and speaking in Spanish.
“They were going to have some real life experiences,” Emerson commented. “As we began to get accustomed to our surroundings, I spoke with them about commands that we studied and words to remember.”
Emerson said experiences included identifying a shoe store and money management skills. Other activities included rafting, hiking, zip lining, and enjoying wildlife in the natural habitat.
But Emerson said the greatest outing for the students was when they worked with kids in Costa Rican schools.
“The students were amazed how the kids with so little did so much,” she said on the outreach portion of the program. “The students were 110 percent grateful.”
As part of the outreach, more than 40 pounds of school supplies, shoes, and clothing were brought on the trip. Jones said that it was the most memorable thing that he experienced on the excursion.
“I noticed kids didn’t worry about what you wore,” the senior said. “They were lucky to have an education.
“It was good helping kids,” he said. “I got the opportunity to play soccer and spend time with them. The charity and giving to others was my favorite part.”
Emerson said the group also became hands-on in a lot of other activities that specifically revolved around the culture. Students were able to make arts and crafts, made their food from scratch, and get to feel the juices of sugar cane. But the Spanish teacher was proud of the way the students represented Charles City during the trip.
“It was a proud mama moment when someone tells you how respectful, polite, and well behaved they were,” she said. “When they went through the line for the buffet, they were complimented and praised for their manners.”
That positive feedback returned to Charles City. With another trip to Costa Rica planned for Summer 2018, interest has more than tripled in participants.
“We went from a group of six to 16 interested this year,” Emerson commented. “It was an amazing experience and I was proud and happy to see this.
“Charles City has wonderful young people and I want people in this county to know that,” the Spanish teacher added as she wrapped up the interview. “They gave back and they represented our school well.”
As for Jones, he plans to make the return trip in the summer.
“I definitely want to go again,” he said. “It’s an experience that you won’t ever forget.”