For Miranda Rossignol, a Pinkerton Academy sophomore from Chester, it happened when she came home from language school and ate dinner with her host family. For Austin Smith, a junior from Hampstead, it was a “how was your day” conversation with his host mother. And for Eden Richardson, a sophomore from Chester, it all came together when she woke up one morning and found herself thinking in Spanish, before she even left the bedroom.
The students were part of a group of 22 who recently returned from a two-week “immersion program” in Costa Rica. Each remembers the moment their second language became their first, at least temporarily, and each can’t wait to go back – or go somewhere else.
Thomas Williams, a senior from Derry, is used to traveling – he’s a native of England. He’s studied Spanish for four years and said this was his first immersion program. “I was terrified,” Williams said. “I didn’t know how comfortable I’d be using only Spanish. After a couple of days, I was communicating really well.”
He fell into the habit, he said, answering his own parents with “Gracias” when he got back.
Richardson found herself apologizing to strangers in the airport going home, when she bumped up against them, and she said she still uses Spanish “offhandedly.”
Richardson said she was surprised by the plumbing, or lack of it. She did find her Spanish challenged by a few local terms and catchphrases, but “did pretty well” overall, she said. “I don’t have to ‘grapple’ with it any more, I understand it when I hear it,” she said.
Katie Theriault, a senior from Hampstead, at first thought she didn’t have the time to go. Her twin sister, Noelle, signed up. When there was a last-minute opening Theriault grabbed it, and is glad she did.
She grocery-shopped with her host mom and was surprised at the market, which wasn’t exactly super. “It was weird, kind of warehouse-y, and not at all modern,” she said. “And there was only one cash register, so we had to wait a long time.”
Though she’s studied Spanish for four years, there were aspects about the trip that surprised Theriault. She didn’t expect to “stick out” as much as the American kids did. “People look at you differently,” she said. But in Costa Rica that was a good thing, Theriault added, saying, “Everyone’s pretty nice, and they all want to talk to you.”
The American teens bonded over the trip, Williams and Smith agreed. Smith remembered one night while they were staying in a hotel in the tropical rainforest. “There were 10 or 12 of us who stayed up late, singing,” he said.
Richardson also grew closer to her classmates, and remembered one moment when they were sea kayaking. “It was an out-of-this world experience,” she said. “Here I am in this beautiful place, and I thought, ‘I am hooking a blowfish – in the Costa Rican ocean!’”
The Costa Ricans have a saying, “Pura Vida,” which means “Pure Life,” Richardson said. For her, the moment at the ocean was “a Pura Vida moment.”
Teacher Amy Farley said the Costa Rica immersion program is one of several trips and programs offered to Pinkerton’s Spanish-language students. There’s also a one-week trip to Mexico, and every other year, a two-week exchange program with Spain, in which Spanish students come to Derry and Pinkerton students go to Spain.