I am delighted to share that FBRA has just wrapped up its eighth successful year, but not many realize this is the tenth anniversary of the very first Costa Rica trip led back in 2007. Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to share how one of the most unique and powerful elements of the FBRA experience came to be, as well as how it has evolved.
Thanks to my parents, I had a unique middle school experience that had a direct impact on what FBRA is today. It also proved to be one of the most transformative moments of my adolescent life. Our family moved to Porto, Portugal for my father’s work during the middle of my fifth-grade year. During the two and a half years that I lived there, we traveled throughout the country, as well as a variety of other countries throughout Europe.
The experience of seeing a completely different part of the world completely changed my perception of everything I knew up until that point. I was able to connect with and become part of the local community and culture. I had friends from Portugal, as well as all over the world, because of the international student body at my school. I still keep up with former classmates from Zimbabwe, Holland, and Scotland. The lens through which I viewed others changed forever, and I became a firm believer that middle school is the best time to travel and live outside the United States. While many people study abroad during the college years and occasionally during high school, I believe that the identity-forming years of middle school are the most important years to step out of our American “bubble” and be immersed in another country and culture.
Therefore, during my second year of teaching Spanish at Asheville Middle School, I set a goal to create an opportunity for my advanced eighth-grade Spanish students to be able to apply the Spanish language they had acquired in my class in a Spanish-speaking country, as well as be immersed in the culture of a foreign country. Costa Rica was chosen after I discovered that Lynn O’Hare, one of my student’s parents who had led multiple trips as a professor at Warren Wilson College, volunteered to co-lead the trip.
he focus of the trip was, and still is today, centered on the triad of service, learning, and adventure. I wanted students to see and experience the amazing beauty of Costa Rica, but more importantly, I wanted them to connect with a local community and stay in the homes of local Costa Rican families. Toward that end, we partnered with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica and set up homestays for each student in a rural area away from the larger cities and tourist areas. Although stressful and challenging, the trip was a success. While the students enjoyed zip-lining and seeing volcanoes, the highlight for all of them was the homestay experience and getting to know the members of their host families. This trip created much of the momentum and interest that led to the “push” for the eventual creation of the French Broad River Academy.
As I reflect on my most recent trip to Mollejones with the 8th graders from the class of 2017, I have come to realize that the trip has evolved from much more than an opportunity to practice Spanish in an authentic setting. More than mangrove restoration efforts or trail-building with a local elementary school, the trip creates the capacity for FBRA students to make a human connection with people from another place and to understand the universal qualities that connect us all. As we continue to return to some of the same communities in rural Costa Rica, we are seeing our presence as one of a distant family member or friend versus an outside school group that simply wants to participate in an international trip.
I used to believe that the service-learning aspect of the trip was the most important take-away for our students. However, I now believe that the community-building feature of the international field experience is the most important piece. Whether it is through our Induction program during the first week of school at Camps Mondamin and Green Cove, or through closing assembly on a Friday afternoon with staff and students, we are building a community that transcends borders, age, gender, among other things. The intentionality of our efforts to build community are evidenced in almost everything we do.
I hope you can witness our community-building efforts … please come experience our FBRA community in action this fall!
Sincerely, Will Yeiser