In 2006, Greensboro Montessori School eighth graders first traveled to Costa Rica for a cultural immersion experience. We were eager to connect with another Montessori school abroad with a similar adolescent program. Our research led us to The Summit School in Coronado, Costa Rica which is very close to the capital city of San José. On our first expedition to Costa Rica, we incorporated a formal school visit to The Summit School and it was the highlight of our trip. The parents made a special lunch for us, and our students assisted the younger Costa Rican children with a school project. When we returned the following year, students from The Summit School accompanied our students in our daily travels and service learning adventures. At that point, Greensboro Montessori School and The Summit School became sister schools.
Since then, the eighth grade trip to Costa Rica has morphed into an authentic immersion experience. Our students stay with the Costa Rican families of The Summit School students, and together, our students and the Ticos (a colloquial term for natives of Costa Rica) go everywhere together. We visit volcanoes, complete high ropes courses and sail through the rainforest canopy on zip lines. We travel to the Caribbean Coast where we walk the beach at night looking for turtle eggs to bury in a nearby protected hatchery. We travel to the Pacific side to snorkel and explore rain forests and animal sanctuaries. We spend a day in downtown San José learning about Costa Rican history, art and government. Our weekends are spent with the host families doing what they usually do. The students also do things you would expect them to usually do on the weekends: they get together and go to the mall or a movie or a party at someone’s home.
Every year, when asked what our students’ favorite part of the trip is, they always say their homestay with the Tico families. Our students make friendships that last for years, and some even return to Costa Rica on their own to visit their “families.”
Eight years ago the Ticos ventured to Greensboro Montessori School to stay with our students and learn more about North Carolina. Even though we don’t have erupting volcanoes or zip lines through the rain forest, we still have a great time sharing the landmarks and natural wonders of our state with them. In the past our visits have included such destinations as the Duke Lemur Center, the North Carolina Museum of History and Hanging Rock State Park. This year, our itinerary includes kayaking on the Dan River, exploring Grandfather Mountain and a tour of the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort. Our homestay hosts always arrange social gatherings for the students on the weekends. The Ticos typically experience some classroom time with us as well as a trip to our Land campus in Oak Ridge.
Our students benefit tremendously from the life-changing experiences resulting from our relationship with The Summit School. With every visit to Costa Rica, our students return with their eyes a little wider and their lives a little richer as they have their first experience actually living in another culture. They begin to see the world in a different light and develop a new appreciation for the abundance in their lives.