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Culture and Connection in Costa Rica and France

Culture and Connection in Costa Rica and France

Over spring break, two separate Global Learning Programs took off from campus — one group headed south, to Costa Rica, and one struck out across the Atlantic, landing in France. Below, a peek at just a few of the many highlights.

Women and Sea Monsters: Art and Ethics on the Move in Paris, Nantes, and Saint Malo  

Who: 12 students in Grades 8–12, accompanied by Carey Gates, Chair of the Visual Arts Department, and Dr. Katharine MacCornack, Co-Chair of the World Language Department

Why we went: Exposure to French culture was important, says Mr. Gates, but the bigger goal was encouraging students to contemplate how the cultural and artistic expression of a nation is informed by its history and changes over time. In Nantes, for example, once a bustling maritime port, students visited an iconic museum, Les Machines de L’île — located in a former shipyard — where a towering mechanized elephant roams outside the entrance. Comparing modern attractions to historical sites that have come to epitomize France’s national identity gave students much to consider, says Mr. Gates. 

What we saw: While they partnered with Explorica Tours, Mr. Gates and Dr. MacCornack designed the trip themselves, packing numerous highlights into their eight-day tour, including:

  • Savoring the Louvre and the Latin Quarter in Paris, as well as Versailles
  • Examining the prehistoric Carnac stones, the “Stonehenge of France,” in Brittany
  • Wandering the ramparts of Saint-Malo
  • Crossing the tidal flats to Mont Saint-Michel 
  • Glimpsing an enormous aluminum sculpture — serpent d’océan — installed in an intertidal zone west of Nantes (high tide all but obscured it during their visit) 

What we learned: Basking in France’s rich art and architectural styles, Brooke Dambrot ’26 is eager to apply ideas to her Studio Art class at KPS. More practically, street-wise skills were another takeaway. “I learned to always be careful with my belongings. Running into pickpockets on the Métro was really scary but definitely a lesson learned,” she says. “I also learned to be patient and to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.” 

What we won’t soon forget: Gazing out at the ocean from the ancient ramparts of Saint-Malo was memorable, recalls Brooke, but equally so were the friendships she made. “Being able to go to France with friends from school and having more independence was an amazing experience. I have so many great memories and I know we will all remember our trip to France, even after leaving Kent Place.”

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Spanish Language and Biodiversity in Las Selvas de Costa Rica  

Who: 12 Upper Schoolers, in Grades 10–12, accompanied by Upper School Spanish teachers Dr. Sandra Medina and Dr. Elena Neacsu

Why we went: When Dr. Medina and Dr. Neacsu envisioned the trip, their primary objective was language immersion. “It’s one thing to have a Spanish lesson in a classroom, but to experience a country first-hand — its language, customs, and food — is completely different,” explains Dr. Medina. That meant a hard and fast rule for students: Speak only Spanish for the full eight days of the trip. Appreciating Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity and widening students’ lens of cultural awareness were also priorities.  

What we saw: Collaborating with ACIS Educational Tours, which provided the group with a guide and driver, they made stops in San José (the capital), San Carlos, and the Guanacaste Coast. Sites included:

  • Touring a public school outside of San Carlos, to which they donated a host of useful school supplies. “It was eye-opening for students to see a school that didn’t have the same resources as Kent Place,” says Dr. Medina. “They were very aware of the opportunity they have in the U.S., and how much of an impact they can have.”
  • Visiting an animal rehabilitation sanctuary, where they rubbed elbows, quite literally, with large scarlet macaws while cleaning their cages.
  • Hiking and ziplining near the 5,357-foot-high Arenal Volcano. 

What we learned: As Supriya Kamilla ’26, who also attended last year’s Global Trip to Spain, reported, “I learned to be open to corrections and tips from locals. Our bus driver, Miguel, always gave me great tips regarding my grammar and local Costa Rican phrases I could add to my vocabulary.” She also understood the benefit of 100 percent immersion in a new environment. “Being willing to try new things, eat new foods, and learn new skills made a big difference. While the unknown may be uncomfortable at first you will be surprised what happens when you have an open mind.”

What we won’t soon forget: For Supriya, spending nearly an entire school day with local students was the most treasured experience. “It was really special watching them proudly showing off their culture and inviting us to learn dances and play games with them. At the end, it was so sad to leave because in just a couple of hours we had built such a connection.”

Up Next: Middle Schoolers travel to the Galápagos Islands in June . . .