February 11, 2014 | By Jake Weber
Three graduate students from Costa Rica abandoned the tropics for Albion’s frosty first week of February. The language education students at the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA) spent the week exploring some of southern Michigan: sledding and building snowmen, visiting Albion College classes, observing at MarLee School near Albion, trying out different Midwest tastes, living with Albion host families and gaining insights into American life up north in the winter.
"We teach standard American English, and in order for us to give authentic examples to our students, we need to experience culture and not just read about language," said student Laura Murillo Quesad,"We live in a world that is constantly changing, and these experiences allow us to give students tools for interacting with other cultures."
The students' visit marks the next step in an institutional relationship begun by education professor Kyle Shanton, who traveled to Costa Rica with his family during a 2012 sabbatical. Impressed by faculty and programs at UNA, Shanton returned to Costa Rica in May 2013, accompanying three Albion students for an international practicum in collaboration with UNA colleagues and teachers at the school his children attended in 2012. Shanton has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Fellowship for 2013-14 that supports teaching and research he will do at UNA this summer. Additionally, two Shurmur Center and two Ford Institute students will travel to UNA this summer to complete international education practicums that are part of their Albion degrees.
Language skill development is an important goal of the exchange, but Shanton noted there are other, less obvious benefits for students. "Costa Rica has a national commitment to teach English starting with three-year-olds. Our students study globalization, and here's an example that's distinctive in the world today," he said.
"Also, it's important for our students to understand that the U.S., Canada and northwestern Europe are not the only places democracy is loved—and the practice is distinctively different in Costa Rica," he continued. "Albion's original charter wanted students to be educated to be able to anticipate what can be in the future. These exchanges between Albion and UNA will influence our students' understanding of education and democracy and to anticipate more critically and creatively what both can be. I believe that with my heart."
Alexa Santana Umaña, director of UNA's Spanish-as-a-second-language education program, noted that her institution and Albion have many potential opportunities for exchange and collaboration. Along with providing valuable cultural experiences for education students, both institutions have faculty with similar research interests in geology, public policy and sustainability studies, among others.
Shanton "has opened us to the possibilities to be in Albion," said Santana Umaña. "When we have an opportunity like this, of course we will catch it. Kyle is part of UNA, so now Albion is part of us, too."