|Becoming bilingual and bicultural|
Guardian Lifestyles Reporter
Published: Aug 08, 2012
When the bell tolls for students to head back to school in a matter of weeks, and the comparisons as to how students spent their summer vacations are told, Janika Bellozier will have a doozy of a tale to tell. And it will be outside the norm of the usual theme park and mall-hopping stories. Bellozier will be able to speak to seeing another country and language come to life for her.
The 13-year-old was one of 13 students participating in a two-week language immersion trip to Costa Rica with Language Study Abroad Program (LSAP) — a dynamic language enhancement program designed to promote the study of languages among students between the ages of 12 and 17. The centerpiece of the program was a two-week study abroad in Latin America where students learn, live and love Spanish. The long range goal of the language initiative is to generate a talent pool of bilingual young professional.
LSAP recruits students regardless of ability, but rather seeks to empower students to improve all aspects of their understanding of Spanish — verbal, written, reading and comprehension.
Seeing a language come to life was something 13-year-old Janika Bellozier always dreamt about experiencing. When she heard about the immersion trip to Costa Rica, the H.O. Nash Junior School student jumped at the opportunity. And she overcame her fears and doubts about traveling so far away without her family to make the trip.
“I cannot even explain how life changing this trip was for me,” said Bellozier. “I had never been away from home like that before and it was scary, but it was so amazing all the things I learned. From Spanish to how life is in Costa Rica to the fun things you can do. I got the best of both worlds, being a tourist and being a student. I couldn’t spend my summer any better.”
A typical day
A typical day for the teenager and her peers had them participating in four hours of Spanish language classes (8 a.m. - 12 noon), five days a week. In the afternoons, they participated in exciting, extracurricular activities such as dance and cooking classes, jewelry and chocolate making classes, music and art classes.
They also engaged in volunteer work at a children’s shelter where they helped take care of the children that live temporarily away from their parents because of problems in their home. And at a home for old people, the students assisted in food preparation, played games and accompanied the wheelchair bound.
Outside of the work experience, they participated in horseback riding, river rafting, zip-lining and waterfall rappelling. They also participated in tours that included a tour of the city of San Jose. Students also overnighted in Panama, where they were able to shop, take a tour of the Panama Canala and Panama City.
Bellozier is eager to return to school to tell her friends about her amazing summer vacation, and practice her much-improved Spanish speaking skills in the classroom.
“I am confident I will do even better in school due to having gone on this trip. This really boosted my Spanish-speaking skills and made everything just make sense in a way I never thought possible,” said Bellozier. “I would love to do this again with more time to study and explore the country. I’m sure if I do it another two times I will be right up there with the best of Spanish speakers. It is so amazing.”
Bellozier hopes her experience will give her the extra boost she will need to take her 3.55 grade point average to a 4.0. She can’t wait to see how her experience will translate into her academic life.
“I think all young people should have an experience like this if only once in their life. I think it is good to be exposed to different cultures and see the world through different eyes. I don’t think we ever really appreciate a language until we’ve heard it spoken, and seen the culture it comes from with our own ears and eyes. So now that I have had a taste of another country I am looking forward to seeing more places like Mexico and Spain.”
Despite the discipline needed to be a part of the program, the youngest participant on the Costa Rican voyage, Malik Hepburn, 12, said the trip was worth it. This year was his second adventure in his effort to learn Spanish in an interactive way. He said it was also a great way to spend his summer vacation.
“I was really excited to be back in Costa Rica this year,” said the Queen’s College student. “I had so much fun last year that I definitely wanted to do it again this year. Last year’s program took me to another school in Costa Rica where everything was more advanced and technology driven. It was great, but this year’s experience was more free-spirited and lessons were outside, so it was really cool.”
After his first year in the program, Hepburn said he saw an expansion in his Spanish vocabulary and noticed that he had been doing better in school. He hoped this year’s trip would give him another boost in his classes.
Ana-Phelice Greene, a 16-year-old at the Lyford Cay International School said while she loved the daily lessons in Spanish and the adventures the group went on daily, the most rewarding part was being able to reach out those in need. She and her group mates were able to touch the lives of children living in hostels and visit the elderly in a group home. This experience alone made her aware of how fortunate she was, and made her a lot more grateful for her parents and the people who care about her.
“I loved being able to help and read to the children and talk to the old people. It really pushed me to do better in all I do,” said Greene. “The children didn’t know English well — if at all — so I was able to put all I had learned in my lessons in play in order to interact with them. The older people were nice too. I got to play games with them and since many of them knew English, they were able to help me advance my Spanish speaking skills. Even this was really helpful in getting me to the level of Spanish speaking I would like to be at.”
Eureka McKinney, the LSAP program coordinator said the trip is about getting students to be more proficient in Spanish. A Spanish proficiency test is given before they travel, with another test administered after the program to determine the student’s progress. Students who do not show improvement do not receive a completion of program certificate.
Although learning another language is fun and can help students academically, it is becoming increasingly more important to have a program like LSAP in place, according to McKinney. She said it not only gives students a fun and educational alternative when it comes to how they want to spend their summer, but that the reality is that perfecting a second language is no longer a luxury as The Bahamas becomes even more globalized.
“Yes, we want kids to have fun, but having a program is more than about that. We are seeing it everyday where the only way to have an edge professionally [means] young people have to now have another language under their belt,” she said. “There are even some colleges nowadays that are requiring that students be more globally exposed by knowing another language if they wish to be accepted. Additionally, encouraging the youth to embrace another language can only help to further promote tourism — the country’s top industry,” said McKinney, who attended university in Mexico where she majored in accounting, and became proficient in Spanish.
“This year’s trip also heavily focused on social work, and getting the young people to reach out to the less fortune which was why many of the special trips after classes were to a children’s hostel and an old folks home.”
It was McKinney’s hope that doing work around the homes and spending time with the young and the elderly would give the participants a deeper appreciation for what they have at home, and be more willing to share their good fortunes with those they meet in daily life.
McKinney, a Spanish specialist in the Ministry of Tourism’s foreign language department, said the trip was really packed with a lot of the elements, and that she wanted the participants to get the most out of it educationally, culturally and civically.
“This program was designed to really give them an unforgettable experience that would rock their world in more ways than one,” said McKinney. “And now that they are preparing to return to school I hope they keep up with their Spanish via a recommended online program called ‘Live Mocha’, and the civic-mindedness and adventurous spirit they had in Costa Rica will still be alive now that they are home.”