PHS students in Costa Rica on a sustainability tour. (L-R in back) Spanish teacher, Rowan Beraza, local tour director, Edgar Cortes, Noah Sullivan, McKay Jones, Gillian Wittstock, Sarah Larson, Lora O’Brocta, Holli Davis, (L-R in front) Sarah Larson, Joelys Lopez. (Photo courtesy of Rowan Beraza)

Seven Petersburg High School students and their Spanish teacher returned from an eight-day trip to Costa Rica this month. It’s been about 25 years since PHS students went on an international trip. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

Originally the students were going to go to Puerto Rico but after the hurricane there plans changed. The trip was organized through an educational program, EF, which stands for “Education First”.

“I think it went amazingly well,” said Rowan Beraza, the trip’s chaperone and PHS’s Spanish teacher. “It just seemed very well planned and well organized. It was zero stress. The students themselves were super well organized, they were always on time, they were super respectful. It made my life super easy as a leader.”

The Petersburg group traveled with 46 other students and chaperones from California, Nebraska, and Colorado. Their itinerary was a mix of urban and rural, science and culture. They visited the ocean, a volcano, hot springs, cities, and the jungle, went zip lining, cooked, and danced.

PHS students traveled Costa Rica with 46 other students and chaperones from California, Nebraska, and Colorado. Here they are on a zip lining tour. (Photo courtesy of Rowan Beraza)

Sophomore Noah Sullivan had been overseas a few times before going to Costa Rica but says this trip was a unique.

“The trip was really cool,” Sullivan said. “It was a lot of traveling. We drove around in a bus a lot of the time with our tour director, going around and seeing different cities and landmarks and people and learning different things about the country.”

Sullivan says his favorite part was meeting other students.

“There was just a lot of cool people that we met there, from Costa Rica and other states that we traveled with,” Sullivan said. “I really enjoyed that part and being able to share that whole experience with them.”

PHS Spanish students visited a school in Costa Rica. (Left to Right): Noah Sullivan, Lora O’Brocta, Gillian Wittstock, Joelyz Lopez, (girl at the school), Holli Davis, Sarah Larson, Rowan Beraza, McKay Jones (Photo courtesy of Rowan Beraza)

Sarah Larson was also a sophomore. She says her favorite part of the trip was snorkeling in the ocean, which she had never done before. It was her first time overseas and she says the experience was very eye opening.

“Before I went, everything you see on TV about those countries down there… it looks very poor,” Larson said. “And I always thought that that was just a generalization but it’s actually how they live down there.”

How could she tell that?

“Compared to the houses here, they weren’t very structured that well,” she said.

Larson also felt a deep sympathy for Nicaraguans in Costa Rica who had fled the violence in their home country.

PHS Spanish students buy smoothies at a market in San Jose, Costa Rica. (From L-R) (Photo courtesy of Rowan Beraza) Holli Davis, McKay Jones, Gililan Wittstock, Joelys Lopez, Lora O’Brocta, Noah Sullivan. (Photo courtesy of Rowan Beraza)

McKay Jones was a junior on the trip. It was his first time traveling to a different country. He says the rainy weather was familiar but it was a lot warmer than back home in Petersburg. He especially enjoyed visiting the jungle.

“There were some sloths and monkeys, a couple snakes and quite a few lizards,” Jones said.

What were the sloths like?

“Adorable. . .just adorable,” he said.

Jones also liked learning about the efforts Costa Rica is taking to preserve their rainforests.

“There was a point back in the 80s I think where they had only 23 percent of their entire tiny country was forest and jungles, which was the lowest it had ever gotten,” Jones said. “From there they started to put laws into place and do what they could to improve that and grow back as much as they could and keep it protected.”

PHS Spanish students gather at the airport for their trip to Costa Rica. (L-R in front) Gillian Wittstock, Lora O’Brocta, Holli Davis, Rowan Beraza (Left-R in back) Noah Sullivan, Joelys Lopez, McKay Jones. (Photo courtesy of Rowan Beraza)

The Costa Rica trip really gave Jones the travel bug. He says he wants to return to that country someday as well as see all seven continents in his lifetime.

And that makes his teacher very happy.

“That’s my dream right there. . .is just to plant that seed in each student of this desire to explore the world,” Beraza said.

Beraza herself will be traveling again soon. She’s going back to Costa Rica for two years to teach teachers there through the Peace Corps.

The EF Costa Rica trip cost each students $3,200. All the transportation, lodging, and food were included. The students fund raised for about a year with car washes, concessions, and bake sales.