Stritch students kick off summer vacation with service

Monday, July 1, 2013 1:45:00 PM

Seven Stritch students spent their first days of summer vacation on a service immersion trip to Costa Rica. They spent the week volunteering at the Cloud Forest School in Monteverde and experiencing Costa Rican culture firsthand.

Costa Rica

Jennifer Alig, associate director of international education, accompanied the students on the trip.

She described the trip’s purpose as “service immersion,” explaining that the two components of service and culture are equally important. To experience the Costa Rican lifestyle, the students lived with host families, ate authentic food, and took the bus daily to the Cloud Forest School.

“I think that Stritch is unique in this way,” said Alig. “We want to provide our students with all of the cultural experiences of a trip abroad, but we’re able to incorporate a service component into that, as well.”

During their time at the Cloud Forest School, the students provided valuable aid by preparing the site for the rainy season, which began in late spring.

They helped the school’s small staff maintain the grounds by painting, digging ditches, clearing trails, and raking. If these tasks are neglected, the trails can flood and become overrun with debris, making the school trails inaccessible.

In addition to the Cloud Forest School staff and students’ gratitude, the group felt a sense of accomplishment knowing that they were helping their host families, as well as many others.

Costa Rica (1)

Other highlights included zip lining at Selvatura, touring a coffee farm, horseback riding, and relaxing in natural hot tubs made from stones and river water. Perhaps one of the most poignant moments, however, came on the group’s last night in Monteverde when the school hosted a goodbye party.

“This was a really great moment,” explained Alig. “The host families and our students thanked each other in their own languages, and then we shared dessert and had salsa lessons.”

Throughout the week, the students kept in touch with their families back home through a group blog.

For most of the students, the trip marked their first time outside of the United States, but it isn’t likely to be their last. In fact, Elisa Vogt couldn’t wait to go back. Immediately upon the students’ return, she started researching opportunities to spend the summer in Costa Rica and is back there now.

Alig said she saw firsthand how the trip changed these seven students. Their time at the school and coffee farm, in particular, sparked deep conversations about economics and environmental sustainability.

"It was an eye-opening experience," said Alig. 

She is confident that the students will continue to seek ways to improve their surroundings, wherever they may be.