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The chance of a lifetime to make a difference

Margaret Sheridan | Interrobang | News | April 7th, 2008

Students travel to Costa Rica to work with less fortunate children

Ten Fanshawe students got the opportunity of a lifetime recently when they were chosen to take part in a pilot project in Costa Rica.

“The early childhood education and child youth programs were involved,” said Carol Tracy, one of the ECE coordinators. “These were students in their final semester and this was their final field placement. We put together this proposal last spring and presented it to our chair and dean and they felt that it was something that was a worthwhile project.

“We called it Crossing International and Interdisciplinary Borders because it was a unique opportunity.”

The students spent either four or nine weeks in Liberia, Costa Rica working together with children at the La Victoria school.

“The opportunity to work in a diverse culture was amazing,” said Colleen Caton, one of the four second-year ECE students who took part in the project. “And to have it count as our fourth semester placement was awesome. To go and see the different quality of standards in ECE in Costa Rica.”

Before departure the students took part in some additional training, which included language and culture studies to help prepare them not just for the new culture, but for some of the things they were likely to see in Costa Rica.

“You learn a lot about living simply, without very much, because they do live that way,” explained Tracy. “They don't have very much down there and it really makes you think about how we live here in Canada with all the resources that we have.

“I think the poverty was a little shocking for some of us in some of the cases.”

“Coming back I learned to appreciate our country a lot more,” said Erin James, another ECE student who participated in the program. “Things I took for granted before I don't so much now- I second guess myself. Even having lights on in the house, they barely had lights on there, so even leaving lights on now I say “No, lights go off.'”

“I think really we had more of a culture shock coming back to our society really,” continued Caton. “Things are way cheaper there, so coming back here and paying $5 for a Starbucks coffee was crazy.”

The students, besides helping out at the school, were able to raise over $1,400 for supplies to take with them to the developing country. And on top of the obviously positive experience the students had they're stressing that it's this sort of program that really helps students not only understand the outside world but also in their future careers.

“Canada is really a melting pot of cultures,” James stressed. “There are so many different cultures here from all over the world, and so understanding culture is important. And with Costa Rica, it's a Spanish culture, I learned more there in a month that I ever have in a Spanish class.

“So to travel to any country and live in the culture for a little bit you'll learn to respect that culture a lot more, and that's really important no matter what career you're going into.”

Though it was a pilot program, Tracy is hoping that the obvious impact it has had, on both the students who participated and the school they helped, will help to make it a yearly part of the curriculum and maybe open doors to more similar programs.

“We're trying to find a way of embedding this permanently in our program,” Tracy said. “We are hoping we can do it again, we're just working on that, because it was a tremendous learning experience for our students.”
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