Costa Rican Students Visit for English Lessons and Service Opportunities

Costa Rican students on the steps of Curtis Hall

News Story: July 28, 2014

A group of 16 students and two professors from the Institute of Technology (TEC) in Costa Rica recently completed a three-week visit to Sacred Heart University where they took advanced English classes through SHU’s English Language Institute (ELI) and volunteered at a variety of locations in Bridgeport.

The trip was part of a mutual agreement of collaboration between SHU and TEC that was signed in December 2012 and kicked off with a service learning trip to Costa Rica by SHU students during their spring break in March  2014, said Matthew Kaye, director of Volunteer Programs and Service Learning.

The students, who are studying everything from business administration, tourism and mechatronics to computer science, electronics and production engineering arrived with intermediate English language skills and improved their English proficiency through their classes at the ELI, according to their professors, Roxana Jiménez Rodríguez and Nuria Vindas Fernández.

They were able to practice their new language skills as they went out into the Bridgeport community to perform service missions and learn about American culture. Among the organizations where they volunteered were the Norma F. Pfriem Urban Center, the Thomas Merton soup kitchen and the Lighthouse program in Bridgeport. They also spent time at the Jewish Home for the Elderly where they visited with the residents and practiced conversation in English. In addition, they did some mentoring, and they visited the Pez plant in Orange for a taste of an American business.

“The student feedback has been very positive. They have enjoyed the ESL instruction and the interaction with staff as well as the chance to get out into the community,” Jiménez said.

“They say when they go to volunteer, they are getting a new vision of North American culture. Social problems in Costa Rica are often handled by institutions rather than volunteers. It expanded their understanding of how volunteerism takes place in the U.S.,” Vindas added. “In Costa Rica, they are more likely to see volunteers helping the environment. It’s a technological university, so their orientation is to do service work in environmental fields.”

A highlight of the trip for some of the students was a chance to visit the homes of the SHU students they were paired up with during SHU’s service mission trip in March. Those who did not have that opportunity spent some time sightseeing in Boston and New York.

“The students are getting a more holistic vision of what the U.S. is all about and are pondering the ways that we can help one another as this collaboration moves forward,” said SHU Education Professor María Lizano DiMare. “We want the students to continue to network and build global relationships and perspectives moving forward.”

Adds Jiménez, “Some of the Costa Rican students did not know each other before making this trip, so they have made friends and built relationships with their own classmates as well as with the SHU community.”

Future plans call for pairing up students for the 2015 spring service trip and next summer’s visit by TEC students to SHU and the ELI. In addition, Lizano, Kaye, Dean Jim Carl of the Farrington College of Education and Carrie Wojenski, director of the Office of Global Affairs, are preparing a program where three courses will be taught at TEC’s Cartago campus in Costa Rica beginning in late spring. A TEC professor will teach one of the courses as part of the ongoing collaboration.

“We are very thankful for the way Matthew, Jim, Maddie (Monaghan of the ELI), María and everyone at SHU have opened SHU’s doors to us. This cultural experience would not have been possible without them,” Vindas said.