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Learning Spanish in the real world

Marquette students to participate in exchange program

Marquette Senior High School students are part of a Costa Rican exchange program. Front row from left are: Raquell Masker, Breanne Sandstrom, Julia King, Olivia Bohl, Alexis Adams and Melanie Gilliam. Middle row from left are Beau Belkowski, Natalie Tripp, Kaleah Puskala, Ruth Hummell, Olivia Moffitt, Triumph Ngafeeson, Madalyn Stern and Hannah Winn. Back row from left are Cody Farwell and Abi Schloegel. (Photo courtesy of Katelynn Jensen)

MARQUETTE — Marquette, meet Costa Rica. Costa Rica, meet Marquette.

The Upper Peninsula and a part of Central America should learn more about each other through a new Costa Rican exchange program for Spanish students at Marquette Senior High School.

Eighteen Costa Rican students and four teachers from Liceo Experimental Bilingue de Pococi will visit Marquette from Dec. 26 to Jan. 13, with MSHS traveling to that Central American country next summer.

Katelynn Jensen, MSHS Spanish teacher and Costa Rican exchange coordinator, said the program is “huge” for the students since they will be able to use the Spanish they’re learning in the classroom with real people their own age and getting to put that skill in practice.

“They’re going to learn much more quickly with that experience of learning it from their host sibling or seeing it in context in that experiential learning process,” Jensen said.

Even the students who aren’t traveling or hosting will meet the Costa Rican students who come to Marquette.

“It really is a benefit for our entire Spanish program of about 400 students who are studying Spanish here at MSHS,” Jensen said.

She believes the program is something MSHS wants to happen every other year with the goal of having an ongoing relationship with another school.

MSHS’s Spanish program is starting the exchange program with the bilingual high school in Guapiles, Costa Rica, whose students ages 14-16 and teachers will spend nearly three weeks with families of MSHS Spanish students.

“They’re really excited to come here and practice their English,” Jensen said. “They want to learn how we speak here and how our food is different and how the climate is different, what families are like.”

The MSHS students who travel to Costa Rica will have the same opportunity.

“That’s what I’m most excited about,” Jensen said.

During their stay, the Costa Rican students will tour the Marquette and attend classes at MSHS for several days with their hosts.

To complete the exchange, a delegation of MSHS students will visit Guapiles for two weeks next summer to tour that country as well as attend a week of high school classes. MSHS students for the most part will stay with the same Costa Rican students they hosted earlier in the year.

The MSHS Spanish Club began raising money for the exchange in the fall of 2018 with sales of Costa Rican coffee. So far, the club has raised more than $4,000 of the $8,000 needed through coffee sales. It also has received support from community organizations such as the Marquette Lions Club, the Marquette West Rotary Club and local businesses such as UP Rehab Services, Aubree’s and Super One Foods.

This fall the club again is selling Costa Rican coffee and chocolate-covered coffee beans.

Students are raising funds to host their visitors — not to fund their own travel. While the Costa Rican group will pay its own airfare, participating hosts are responsible for all costs once the group lands in the United States. This comes with costs that include airport transport by bus to and from Green Bay, Wisconsin, as well as all group outings and activities in Marquette.

MSHS students already are excited about the program.

Cody Farwell, for example, anticipates making the trip because he will see a new part of the world and how its culture is different.

Abi Schloegel will serve as a host.

“I just think it’s going to be a really great experience,” said Schloegel, who is in her second year of studying Spanish.

Natalie Tripp will be a host, and might make the trip to Costa Rica too.

“I want to travel a lot,” Tripp said, “and I like experiencing different cultures, and especially I think this will help me build my Spanish career.”

Just being immersed in the culture and seeing other people will help as well, she said, which means she can pick up Spanish more efficiently.

“We have slang up here in our language, so seeing how they do certain things will help me, Tripp said.

Some learning can be best achieved outside the classroom.

“As their teachers, we’re very competent and very good Spanish teachers, but our accents are kind of from all over, a little bit of a mix,” Jensen said.

The Costa Rica students, she said, will use the slang and different pronunciations common to where they’re from, so getting that exposure to native speakers will give MSHS students the advantage in things such as the Spanish Advanced Placement exam in which the students listen to recordings such as a radio show or podcast.

“Getting used to understanding the speech of native speakers is a big leap,” Jensen said. “You can do best after you’ve spent some time speaking with native speakers or living and spending some time in a Spanish-speaking country.”

The community may support the group with donations to the MSHS Spanish Club or MSHS, or through donations of Econo Foods receipts through Nov. 15. Coffee will be sold through Dec. 2. Businesses wanting to support the program should contact Jensen at kjensen@mapsnet.org.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.