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Costa Rica Trip Truly a Classroom Without Walls  

The final day of a trip can be melancholy, especially when it involves saying goodbye to young children you have become attached to in just a few days. Such was the case when 11 Loomis Chaffee students and two faculty members left Costa Rica to come back to Connecticut after a weeklong journey during the March break. 

The school’s Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies organizes such trips as part of a broader mission to develop globally and environmentally engaged student leaders. A blog is kept, photos taken, memories made. 

“The kids at the school were my highlight of the [final] day,” wrote sophomore Daniel Jiang on the blog. “They treated us like old friends and kept asking us why we would no longer be here tomorrow. They gave us gifts as we left and participated enthusiastically in our group dancing. It was very sad saying goodbye to them.” 

Sad for senior Isabel Bedoya Rose, too. 

“My highlight was dancing with all the little kids and spending the day with them. Although it was a very hard goodbye, I wouldn’t have ended it any other way,” Isabel said. 

The Loomis students visited classrooms and played soccer and tag with the schoolchildren. They went on a scavenger hunt that connected them to some of the local environmental issues and the history of Santa Maria de Dota, a small mountain town in south-central Costa Rica.  

They worked on projects, including gardens that help supply healthier lunch options for the kids, painting the school, and helping construct the surface of a playground. They immersed themselves in the culture, from visiting the first carbon-neutral coffee collective in the world to learning a folk dance and making tortillas and potato empanadas from scratch. They even got in a little zip-lining and surfing and took a high-altitude hike. 

Ned Heckman, a science teacher and associate director of the Kravis Center, and Lena Sadowitz, the director of learning access and student achievement and a social science faculty member, accompanied the students on the trip. 

“When I travel with the students,” Ned said, “my biggest hope is that they form connections to one another, they are safe, and they have fun. All three were accomplished. I wanted them to deeply immerse themselves in the culture of Costa Rica — without their phones. They had fun through our community engagement, particularly working with the school kids.  

"We had a really good group and they jelled with each other, especially in the evenings when we gave them a chance to spend time with each other and just unwind from the day.” 

The 2020 trip to the Galapagos, Ned remembers, was cancelled at the last minute. So, this was the Alvord Center’s first international trip since 2019 because of COVID-19.  

“I hoped that the students would have the opportunity to learn in a way that was different from their classes, but to still apply their critical thinking skills, curiosity, and empathy,” Lena said. “This group absolutely did that — they leaned into activities and into opening themselves to the community of Santa Maria de Dota and to each other. I also hoped they could disconnect from their regular hustle and bustle, and they did.” 

Lena had a few favorite moments along the way, including how the Loomis students interacted with the schoolchildren (“It reminded me that they are kids, too, no matter their age and how intense their Loomis lives”) and how the Loomis students interacted with each other (“They had nicknames by Day 2 and laughed a lot … and would lift each other up.”).   

She also called the group “the clean plate club. Yes, they were hungry, but they were also truly respectful of the effort put into making food for us by the community.” 

These trips enrich the lives of students. The moments are many and memorable, a slideshow inside one’s mind. 

“So many favorites,” Ned said.  

Like Lena, one involved the schoolchildren. 

“I loved watching our students interact with the school children,” Ned said. “It was so sweet watching them unlock their inner teachers, and the Costa Rican children were so attached to our kids.”  


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