UCF School of Teacher Education students have the opportunity to work with English-learning students in Costa Rica while experiencing the challenges they face in their own way.
When 14 UCF students land in Atenas, Costa Rica this summer as part of their coursework, they’ll gain a whole new understanding of the term “full immersion.”
While required for world languages education students, associate professor Michele Regalla and associate professor Nicole Damico’s Teaching World Languages in K-12 Schools course is open to all School of Teacher Education students as an elective course. The goal is to give teacher candidates hands-on experience working with students who are learning English as a second language while also immersing them in a second-language experience of their own. However, no language proficiency is required. In fact, Regalla says this is something that only adds to the value of their experience.
“Believe it or not, that actually represents a majority of the students we bring,” Regalla says. “Most of them come with knowledge of high-school Spanish or even less than that.”
Once in Atenas, the students spend nearly two weeks working at the Green Valley School. The fully bilingual school integrates English-speaking curriculum at every grade level, allowing native Spanish-speaking students to become fluent and fully bilingual English speakers by the time they graduate. Students work in the classroom during the day, gaining experience comparable to working with English as a second language (ESOL) students in American classrooms. The cohort also receives Spanish lessons during the day.
“That’s when the fun really begins and the learning really hits home,” Regalla says.
As part of the trip, students are paired with a host family in Atenas who, like the students, are not required to be bilingual.
“Many of these families do not speak English in the home,” Regalla says. “We drop our students off for the night, and it’s up to them from there.”
She says it’s during this part of the trip when the coursework really sinks in. After spending the day working with students who are trying to understand them, they must then walk a mile in those students’ shoes by experiencing what it’s like to be in a foreign country with limited language skills.
“It was overwhelming at times when I could not communicate or understand something in a conversation,” says Raquel Luciano, a senior secondary education major on the English language arts track. “Moving forward as an educator, I now know firsthand what it is like to be a second-language learner in a new country. My love of language deepened because of this trip, and I developed a newfound respect for people who speak more than one language.”
“One of my favorite things about this trip is that it’s open to all of our teacher education students,” Regalla says. “This is really an experience that anyone who plans to work in a classroom — especially here in Florida — can benefit from.”
The Teaching World Languages in K-12 Schools course trip to Costa Rica occurs each summer semester. Applications for the Summer 2024 cohort will open later this year via UCF Abroad.