Students Reflect on Time Abroad During Short-Term Global Experiences
Students Reflect on Time Abroad During Short-Term Global Experiences

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

Meandering through the tiny back roads of a Costa Rican town made Emily Nash ’15 see the world in a new light.

“Even though we were on a dirt road, it was a community just like the ones we grew up in,” she said. “It was peaceful in a far off land that most people see as a place of poverty. Realizing this was the best part because it showed me that no matter where you go, community is what truly matters.”

Students in Costa Rica prepare to go ziplining.

Nash was one of 20 students taking part in a Short-Term Global Experience, a 10-day excursion organized by the First-Year Success Center. During winter break, one group traveled to London and Paris, and the other went to Costa Rica.

The Short-Term Global Experience program encourages students to learn a bit about a new culture, which helps to prepare them to become part of a more globally focused workforce and world, said Felecia Edwards, director of the First-Year Success Center. Edwards accompanied students to Costa Rica, and Tiffany Green, a counselor in the First-Year Success Center, took a group of students to London and Paris.

On the trip to Costa Rica, students visited Rincon de la Vieja, a volcanic national park with nine contiguous craters, toured a banana plantation, explored a tropical rainforest, took a Spanish dancing class, tried out their Spanish in conversations with their tour guides and local residents, trekked up 500 steps to get to a towering waterfall and ate dishes cooked by local chefs who used a variety of spices most said they’d never tasted before.

“They were exposed to new people, foods, cultures and languages,” said Edwards. “It was an incredible learning experience. The students got out of their comfort zones and enjoyed these new and thrilling opportunities.”

For Steavi Swinson ’15 white water rafting was “an adrenaline rush that I've never had before,” she said. They started out in bright sunshine but soon they were paddling in a fierce downpour in an extremely fast current, narrowly missing outcroppings of rocks.

They also had the chance to just enjoy traveling down the river. “We got to jump out and go swimming, and halfway through the journey we stopped on a small shore and cut up some watermelon that the guides brought for us,” she said.

“We all had to work as a team, and it was very tiring, but we did not stop laughing the entire time,” added Monica McGinnis '16. “The tour guides made the experience even better because they were so funny and nice.”

Brian Diddio '15 said he won’t quickly forget the stunning natural beauty of Costa Rica. “From the balcony in La Fortuna there was a gorgeous view of a tropical valley, and from the front of the hotel we could see an active volcano,” he said. “Everything was so green and bright. There is a lot of green in America, too, but it’s hard to compare it to the rain forest.”

The trip also led to quiet moments of reflection. Swinson said she was surprised by the level of poverty in parts of Costa Rica. But after having the chance to talk with people who lived there, she said they didn’t see their lives framed in that way, nor did they seem discouraged by their economic circumstances.

“They were very upbeat,” Swinson said. “Knowing this does change my view on the world because I realize that in America we are always wanting for more and better, and then we will be happier.”

The experiential nature of the learning process made quite an impact, Swinson said. “I feel like everything I learned was better because I learned it in person,” she said.

McGinnis said she made similar discoveries. “Seeing how people live in Costa Rica but also seeing them being so happy makes me realize I should not be selfish or unappreciative,” she said. “I think traveling makes you realize who you really are as a person and you learn to appreciate what you have back home.”

Sara Donahue '14 was grateful for another discovery. She’d signed up spontaneously and didn’t know any other students going. She returned with a group of new friends. “Throughout the trip, we all became a little family,” she said. “We created such an awesome bond.”

The students can’t wait to pack their bags and get traveling again. “All that matters is that I go somewhere new – and let no opportunity go unexplored,” Nash said.

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