Eight University of Arkansas - Fort Smith students just completed a semester of culture immersion in Costa Rica, which instructor Mary Sobhani of Fort Smith said benefited them in numerous ways.


Sobhani said the students improved their knowledge of the Spanish language and Latin American culture during their study.


“Key to the focus that UAFS places on globalization and cultural awareness, students dedicated weekdays to intense language learning and practice in classes that were made up of no more than five students,” said Sobhani.


Participating students were Jennifer Verkamp, Charleston; Matthew Lee, Andrea Lucas, Randy McRoberts, Manuel Ordonez and Emma Shockley, all of Fort Smith; and Sarah Beth McCollough and Hannah Richmond, Van Buren.


Weekend excursions included cultural visits to area museums as well as to the bio-diverse locations that Sobhani said attract visitors from all over the world.


“These include the Monteverde cloud forest, where the students went zip lining through the tropical canopy, as well as to coffee plantations, butterfly farms and visits to the white- and dark-sand beaches of Costa Rica,” she said.


Randy McRoberts, a non-traditional student, said he would tell other students with a real passion for Spanish to study abroad.


“It opens your eyes to a whole different world,” McRoberts said. “Because of this trip, I would go abroad for at least a year somewhere and study if I were younger. My experience changed me. I would tell students who were thinking of going that the money spent on a trip to Costa Rica is well worth the time. You get more than what you pay for, and the memories will last you a lifetime.”


Andrea Lucas was appreciative of one of the host families for a first-day adventure.


“My best memory of Costa Rica was definitely the first day,” Lucas said, “when the relatives of my classmate Manuel’s host family took us to Los Chorros, the most majestic place I have ever been to. These giant waterfalls were pristine, felt utterly untouched by humanity and were amazingly awesome in size and power.”


Lucas also said she would recommend the program for both learning the language but also experiencing the culture.


“The people in Costa Rica truly embody the popular expression used there, ‘Pura Vida,’ or pure life,” she said. “It taught me personally a lot about how to slow down and enjoy the present. You start the trip thinking you are going to learn Spanish, but leave having learned infinitely more than just language.”


Hannah Richmond also appreciated Los Chorros.


“It was like finding a hidden treasure,” Richmond said. “I had no idea what to expect, and I was completely blown away. There is just something about that place. Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. Utterly majestic. Magical.”


She said they all waded in the waterfalls.


“We had to link arms and grab each other’s hands so we wouldn’t be sucked in too far,” she said. “It was a great bonding time. Sharing an experience like that is unforgettable.”


Richmond said a trip like this would be good even for those who are non-Spanish majors.


“It’s probably one of the best experiences I have had,” she said. “I would recommend that students go after several Spanish classes, however, although there is placement for all levels.”


She added that cultural immersion is important to the future of all students.


“It’s so important for us to have a world view that is well rounded and to have a deeper understanding of cultures other than our own,” she said.


Jennifer Verkamp said she couldn’t name any one favorite memory.


“I would have to say that I really love the small simple things, like forming a relationship with my Costa Rican family and being totally immersed in their culture,” she said. “I just love sitting in the afternoon enjoying Costa Rican coffee and having a conversation with my Tico family, my neighbor, or the elderly at the center for the elderly.


Verkamp said she would recommend any student take the Costa Rican study abroad trip.


“It’s hard to explain unless you have experienced it,” said Verkamp. “Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen, but the relationships that I formed with the people I met are the reason why I returned to Costa Rica after having gone on the trip last year, and I plan to return whenever I have the opportunity again.”


Sobhani said study abroad opportunities enhance academic learning, create global awareness and develop leadership skills in students.


“As Kofi Annan, former U.S. secretary-general of the United Nations, has said of the importance of global awareness,” Sobhani said, “‘None of us is born intolerant of those who differ from us. Intolerance is taught and can be untaught … but in this area, as in others, prevention is far preferable to cure.’ Trips like this help with that.”


Sobhani said that Annan further said such programs are “more important than ever.”


“He said that ‘Clearly, we need to use education to advance tolerance and understanding,’” said Sobhani. “He went on to say, ‘Perhaps more than ever, international understanding is esstential to world peace -- understanding between faiths, between nations, between cultures.’”


The UAFS immersion study was done in conjunction with the Costa Rican Culture and language Institute (ICLC). The ICLC was founded in 1992 and is a Spanish Language Institute specializing in teaching Spanish to foreigners. The ecological campus is located in Carrillos, in the province of Alajuela.


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Date Posted: 
Friday, August 17, 2012
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Eight University of Arkansas - Fort Smith students just completed a semester of culture immersion in Costa Rica, which instructor Mary Sobhani of Fort Smith said benefited them in numerous ways.