Costa Rica study abroad gives Nebraska students new perspective on education

Costa Rica study abroad gives Nebraska students new perspective on education

13 Nov 2017    By Kelcey Buck

When Kelsi Anderson decided to go on a study abroad trip to Costa Rica last May, she expected to work hard every day, to be a little out of her comfort zone in staying with a host family for the two-week trip, and to be in awe of the beauty of Monteverde. What she wasn’t expecting was just how different the special education system is in Costa Rica compared with what’s in place in the United States. 

Anderson was among the six students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders who participated in the third annual study abroad trip to Monteverde, Costa Rica, with associate professor of practice Sue Kemp and professor John Maag.

One of Kemp’s goals for last year’s trip was for students to understand those differences in the educational systems that Anderson noticed. 

“I couldn’t believe that they had separate schools for the kids with special needs,” Anderson, a senior majoring in speech-language pathology with minors in education studies and gerontology, said. “It was just so much different from how things are here.” 

Kemp said she started the Costa Rica study abroad trip to give students insight into different educational systems in hopes of broadening their perspectives as they begin their careers as teachers. 

“My motivation to take students abroad was for them to see that education looks different in every country and community,” Kemp said. “I hope that through those experiences they can contribute to the international educational system, and also bring some of those ideas back to implement in their own careers.” 

In the first three years of the trip’s existence, Kemp and Maag have been joined by a total of 29 students. Now, the two faculty members are preparing for a fourth visit to Costa Rica May 12-26, 2018. As in years past, the group from Nebraska will spend the majority of those two weeks in Monteverde, a mountain town about 100 miles northwest of San José. 

The group works through the Monteverde Institute to spend time in both public and private schools, helping students practice their English, giving assessments for English acquisition, and instructing teachers how to administer those assessments in order to monitor the students’ progress. In addition, the Nebraska students get immersed in Costa Rican culture by staying with host families, while also learning about sustainability and ecotourism at the Monteverde Institute.

Anderson said her expectations for the trip were all met and even exceeded. She singled out the time spent with her host family as one of the most memorable aspects of the trip. 

“I did not expect to build a very strong relationship with my family in such a short amount of time, but I did. In addition, I also really enjoyed administering the assessments at the schools. I didn’t really expect to enjoy it and was kind of nervous, but the kids were amazing to work with. We left feeling so appreciated.”

Fellow senior speech-language pathology major Elizabeth Hoffman, who also has minors in education studies and mathematics, agreed with Anderson that the experience of living with a host family stood out, and encouraged other students to take advantage of this study abroad opportunity in the future. 

“It is a good opportunity to learn about another culture and gain experience working with multicultural students,” Hoffman said.

Applications for the 2018 trip are being accepted until Feb. 1, 2018. All students are encouraged to apply, with preference given to special education and speech-language pathology majors, followed by other education majors. To learn more about the trip to Costa Rica and to complete an application, click here

Special Education and Communication Disorders