PHOTO: Members of the EPHS Costa Rica trip enjoy some whitewater rafting. Ms. Kendal Ahlmann contributed this article and the accompanying photos.
Twenty students from Elmwood Park High School took on the experience of international travel this past summer.
Activities ranged from exploring the Caribbean town of Tortuguero to whitewater rafting and ziplining throughout the Arenal Region.
Travel as Education
The Costa Rica trip, which took place in June and lasted nine days, was one of the first international trips for Elmwood Park High School in quite some time.
The students spent over a year preparing and fundraising for the event, as all was included in their final cost: airfare, meals, bus transportation and living arrangements. The students ranged from freshmen to recently graduated seniors.
“Travel is one of the best educators out there,” said Ms. Ahlmann, the trip's lead chaperon. “It’s important to learn how to venture beyond insecurities in life, and travel is an immediate lesson in that. To be vulnerable and wonderstruck at the same time is a humbling feeling that is rarely ignited through any other experience.”
All About the Experience
The purpose of the trip was to introduce students to life outside of Elmwood Park, Illinois and the United States, creating awareness of the vast types of societies that often go unrecognized in a world of busy schedules and smartphones.
“It was my first time out of the country, and going to Costa Rica was definitely a perfect choice for my first [travel] experience," stated recent graduate Val Leisnig.
"You have to remember to keep an open mind because it’s all about the experience," Val continued. "Their culture and their ways of living take a little bit of getting used to and, in some ways, make you appreciate America a little more.”
From the Caribbean to the Pacific
The students stayed busy the entire nine days — often waking at 6:30 a.m. for an authentic Costa Rican breakfast of black beans, rice and fruit, then gathering on the bus for the array of activities planned for each day.
The trip started on the east coast of Costa Rica, bordered by the Caribbean Sea, and ended on the west coast, complete with a snorkeling excursion off the Pacific Ocean on the last day.
"We swam in pools and natural springs, we danced Hispanic dances and we ate Costa Rican specialties," said EPHS student Sebastian Corral. "And we had fun. Coming home from Costa Rica changed me — I am less afraid to travel the the world, less intimidated."