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Faculty member co-leads Spanish immersion experience in Costa Rica

Faculty Sep 6, 2023
A group of people pose for a picture
A group of people pose for a picture

KOKOMO, Ind. — Indiana University Kokomo students will have the opportunity to be immersed in the language and culture of Costa Rica on a trip planned in summer 2025.

Christine Taff, senior lecturer in Spanish, spent a month in the Central American country this summer co-leading a trip with Tammy Fong-Morgan, associate professor of Spanish at IU South Bend.

“This is a great experience,” she said, adding that students stay in local homes. “Our host families were just marvelous and welcoming to the students. It gave them a chance to see what it’s like to live in Costa Rica, and not just be a tourist.”

The students and faculty stayed in the city of Nicoya, in the Guanacaste province on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica. The area is known as a Blue Zone, one of five areas known for the healthiest and longest living populations in the world.

The language immersion trip, open to students from all IU campuses, includes Spanish classes at a local language academy. Students also may participate in cultural activities and excursions such as ziplining, surfing, kayaking, local festivals and celebrations, cooking classes, national park trips, and seeing sea turtles and other local wildlife. They also take care of their own day-to-day needs, like grocery shopping, banking, and going to restaurants. Students earn IU credit for participating.

“The balance is just right between classroom study, downtime, cultural events, and excursions,” she said. “There was something for everybody to like.”

One special occasion was meeting Stephan Brunner, Costa Rica’s first vice president and IU alumnus, during the Annexation Day celebration in Nicoya. The group presented him with a gift on behalf of the university.

“It was a great experience,” Taff said. “It was good for the students to see that our graduates live and work all over the world, and to see that IU graduates are serving as leaders.”

The home stays give them a chance to use their developing language skills in real life.

“Their host families don’t speak English, so they have to use their Spanish,” Taff said. “There is no other choice. It’s great for them. They learn more in a month than they can learn in the classroom in a year, because they have constant practice.”

Meeting people is the best part of the experience, she said, noting that most tourists arriving in Costa Rica only know the name of their resort, not the town they will be in, and only meet other tourists.

“Do they really get to know Costa Rica, and Costa Ricans? Probably not,” she said. “Our students had to know where they were, had to be present in the town, and learned the history of the region. They met students from the local university for conversation practice, and met people through their host families. They had real, authentic interactions with the people and the culture.”

The country is a good destination for language immersion because it’s safe and politically stable. It also has a lot of natural beauty, many things to do and see, and gives an example of embracing sustainability, Taff said.

“They are all about nature, preserving natural resources, and sustainability,” she said. “It’s part of the national consciousness. It’s an interesting perspective we can learn from.”

Taff said the language immersion trips are planned every two years, so the next two are in 2025 and 2027. Students interested in participating should contact her at to begin working on language skills.

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