Learning outside the classroom, outside the U.S., is an invaluable experience for FHSU students

costa rica

08/20/18
By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. – While preparing for his first trip abroad this summer, Jacob Long wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, he had only visited two other states while growing up in rural north central Kansas.

It turned out to be even more of a learning experience than anticipated for Long, who joined 17 fellow Fort Hays State University students on a study abroad trip to Costa Rica.

Now, Long enters his junior year at FHSU with a newfound energy after spending three weeks learning in a much different way than in a classroom. And he would recommend taking such a trip to every student.

“I had been to New Mexico once for a mission trip and to New York for spring break, but that’s about it,” said Long, who grew up on a farm in Smith County. “I love traveling, and it’s been a dream of mine to go outside the country, so this was the perfect opportunity to do that.”

“And, I learned so much,” he added, with an emphasis on the word “so.”

The trip, sponsored by the Department of Teacher Education – believed to be a first-time venture for that department – was open to all FHSU students, regardless of their majors. Participants had the option to enroll in a teacher education course that supported the study abroad experience by journaling, and a few of them enrolled in a course to earn Spanish credit.

Long said he had a hard time deciding on the one- or three-week option, but he is thankful he chose the latter.

“The three-week thing was a last-minute decision for me,” he said. “I decided if I was going to go, one week seemed kind of short.”

Long attended Spanish classes four days a week and visited sites on the weekends with a student from Sweden who was staying with the same host family as Long.

During his stay, Long soaked up the culture. He was introduced to public transportation by bus, hiking and visiting popular tourist attractions such as the Monteverde Biological Reserve. Monteverde is a cloud forest high up in the mountains where clouds hover around the upper canopy and drop mist on the trees and plants below.

“The clouds go right through it, and it was amazing,” he said. “You would be walking through the forest and see mist coming down.”

One of Long's first culture shocks, he said, "was how disorganized the traffic was. They don’t have any traffic signs and not many stop lights.”

Long visited a coffee bean farm, much different than the farm where grew up and where his family grows milo, wheat, corn and soy beans.

The FHSU students lived with host families during their stay. But Long –  a music education major who is minoring in Spanish – said despite his knowledge of their native language, the learning curve was still steep.

“That’s one thing you can’t get in the classroom is the dialect, so that was difficult sometimes,” Long said. “But the more I was forced to speak Spanish, the more I realized I actually knew. I would doubt myself what to say, and that’s when I struggled the most. You don’t realize what you’re capable of until you’re in a position you can’t do anything else.”

That’s exactly what Dr. Chris Jochum had in mind when he began helping organize the trip to Costa Rica.

Jochum, chair of the Department of Teacher Education, had sponsored study abroad trips of this kind at other institutions. Last fall, in his second year at FHSU, he decided to give Fort Hays State students the same opportunity, which is for some a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“Studying abroad is an invaluable life experience for college students as it provides them with a unique perspective, understanding and appreciation of individuals with different backgrounds, world views and native languages, which enhances their cultural awareness and global competency,” he said.

Jochum co-sponsored the trip with Dr. Elodie Jones and Dr. Betsy Crawford, assistant professors in the Department of Advanced Education Programs, and Dr. Chris Mohn, chair of the Department of Modern Languages. They said they plan to offer the same trip in June 2019.

“Trying to teach diversity in class is like trying to teach someone to swim by giving them an instruction manual,” Jochum said. “Fort Hays State does a wonderful job of exposing students to different worlds. What better way to embody that mission than to offer our students the opportunity to take a trip abroad.”

Anyone interested in participating in next summer’s trip should contact Jochum at cjjochum@fhsu.edu.

“By and large, the kids on our campus represent this surrounding area,” Jochum said. “For the most part, if you grew up around those who look, talk and act like you, then you need to go somewhere where you are the minority.”

Jones agreed.

“After my recent experience in Costa Rica with teacher candidates who focused on both language acquisition, efficacy and cultural competency, it solidified my belief that all FHSU students desperately need these types of programs,” she said.

“For future educators who are going to impact PK-12 students, they need to know what it feels like to be the minority and to not understand the language, in order to relate to future students in their classroom,” Jones continued. “This program helped teacher candidates to build language skills, develop cultural understanding and compassion for others. Moreover, it helped them to pinpoint their own biases and areas for development in their current classes and future classrooms.”

Carridy Storer was one of the FHSU students who took a crash course in Spanish, at the Costa Rica Language Academy.

“That is a fast-paced way to learn Spanish and learn about the culture,” she said. “It was good because I hadn't realized what I was getting myself into. Luckily, my host mom spoke a little bit of English because her daughters had married American men.”

The FHSU contingent toured an outdoor elementary school that was built around an area preserved for natural growth.

“It was different than what our kids think an elementary school should look like,” Jochum said. “They got to see that how we teach things varies by culture. This classroom was part of the rain forest.”

Storer said she came home with “a whole different perspective on education. I was thinking of ESL students the whole time and was thinking, ‘How can I better myself as a teacher?’ ”

“We always talk strategy about how to teach those kids,” she added. “It’s easy to talk about it, but doing it is a different thing. Going to Costa Rica really made me consider those kids and think about strategies and make my classroom applicable to them.”

Long agreed.

“Participating in something like this teaches you to have empathy with students who are out of their element,” he said. “It teaches you to understand where someone might be coming from if their culture isn’t the same as yours instead of the mentality, ‘This is how we do things; this is how it needs to be done.’ ”

Storer is doing her student teaching in Houston this fall semester. She said the Costa Rica experience was invaluable for the next step in her education.

“I’m going into a different culture in Houston, where I will be a minority,” Storer said. “I thought going on the Costa Rica trip would give me a little bit of a feel for Houston. I am so glad I went.”

One of the biggest lessons she learned, Storer said, is how valuable it is to learn a foreign language.

Jochum agreed.

“A big addition to whatever you study on campus, to prepare yourself for global education, is through foreign language study,” Jochum said. “Being bilingual is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

Students who participated in the trip are listed with their classifications and their majors. Those without a classification are full-time students seeking a second degree.

ARAPAHOE, Neb. (68922): Rhiley Fiene, freshman, nursing.

BELOIT (67420): Alyssa Houghman, sophomore, elementary education.

CAWKER CITY (67430): Carridy Storer, senior, elementary education.

CONCORDIA (66901): Kirstyn Dvorak, political science.

DIGHTON (67839): Tristan Wilson, senior, education (English).

GARDEN CITY (67846): Brooklen Skipton, junior, modern languages.

GLADE (67639): Erika Norris, senior, elementary education.

HAYS (67601): Liliana Garcia, sophomore, secondary education.
Imelda Koenke, art education.

LEBANON (66952): Jacob Long, junior, music education.

LEWIS (67552): Kaitelyn Blevins, junior, elementary education.

LOVELAND, Colo. (80537): Samantha Villarreal, elementary education.

MEADE (67864): Lexus Luetters, junior, elementary education.

MERIDEN (66512): Alexandria Cozadd, sophomore, communication science and disorders.

PARADISE (67658): Gracyn Miller, junior, psychology.

PARKER, Colo. (80134): Briauna Hysaw, sophomore, exercise science.

WICHITA (67201): Cassidy Locke, senior, education (English).
WICHITA (67212): Bria Tucker, sophomore, education (English).

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