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Costa Rica Program Combines Study Abroad and Service

This summer, Instructor of Foreign Languages and Literatures Callie DeBellis led a group of ten students on a month-long study abroad program in Costa Rica. The program, which focused on language and culture, also provided an opportunity for service.

“It was an especially meaningful program for me as I was able to bring students, for the first time, to the area where I volunteered as an English teacher with WorldTeach after finishing my undergraduate studies,” DeBellis said. “They fell in love with the area, thoroughly enjoyed the service project, and have an even better understanding for my passion for the country having experienced a rural community very different from the program’s base.”

DeBellis said a key to successful travel and service abroad is flexibility, which the group needed when their original plans had to change.

“[Flexibility] came in handy when my students and I spent a weekend in Pejivalle, Costa Rica, a small town far off the beaten tourist path. We traveled to the town with the intent of learning about local sustainability projects while staying on a family-run farm and participating in a project with children from the local elementary school.”

Before the group left for this visit, they learned that the projects planned with the children would not be able to happen that weekend. They were instead invited to paint a mural on one of the school’s walls. The group arrived with their painting supplies and discovered the wall needed to be prepared before the artistic work could begin.

“We were all a little disappointed that we had to scrape old paint off and prime the wall first, which was  not as glamorous as painting a mural, but everyone maintained a positive attitude as we spent two hours scraping with rebar and rocks,” DeBellis said. “We were able to find someone to do the priming for us since the rainy season does not always cooperate with plans, so luckily it was ready when we returned to paint.”

The mural’s central image is a sea horse, which was inspired by the International Day of the Ocean. Costa Rica celebrated this day on a national level for the first time in June.  Students designed the surrounding images.

The mural features the following quotes from inspiring women.

“La paz comienza con una sonrisa.”
“Peace starts with a smile.”
—Mother Teresa

"Cuando plantamos árboles, plantamos las semillas de la paz y de la esperanza.”
“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.”
—Wangari Maathai

Students designed the surrounding images and selected the quotes in collaboration with the chair of the school PTA. DeBellis notes that the quote from Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai has special meaning to the Meredith campus, after Maathai visited the College in 2009.

Learn more about study abroad at Meredith

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