An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Phillip M. ’22

The following is an excerpt from an assembly speech to Upper School students about Lakeside Summer School Programs' GSL Costa Rica trip. 

Upper School GSL Information Night for current students and parents and guardians is Wednesday, Nov. 6.

I knew from the moment I found out about GSL Costa Rica that I wanted to be a part of the group. After talking to my parents about the coming summer and asking all my friends to come with me, I filled out the application and let the anticipation build until I finally received the acceptance email. I was honestly ridiculously excited and couldn’t wait for the trip.

However, it wasn’t just a GSL trip: it was a whole year’s worth of Spanish condensed into a few weeks. Our teacher made it explicitly clear at the beginning of the course that every minute of our four-hour classes would be conducted in Spanish. On top of that, we would often receive an hour or more of grammar-intensive homework that served to both remind us of what we’d learned in Spanish II and to quickly introduce the new concepts of Spanish III. It was all Spanish, all the time. I enjoy Spanish, or so I kept telling myself. Really, though, I found that the work was doable so long as I asked friends for help and maintained my focus. Plus, as the departure date grew closer and closer, the work began to feel just a little bit easier.

Finally, the morning came. For me, it was the kind of morning when you set your alarm for 3 a.m. right before you go to sleep at 1 a.m. because you failed to pack until the last minute, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you. After a couple of flights, we were there!

Classes in Costa Rica were conducted pretty differently from the ones back in Seattle. On a regular day, we would spend two hours each morning in whatever makeshift classroom we could find, which for some stretch of time was a restaurant generously loaned to us by a host family. Additionally, because GSL rules required that we left all phones and computers at home, we didn’t have the same digital privileges as we did here at Lakeside. Our teacher found ways to print assignments, resourcefully adapted to blackboards instead of smartboards for grammar lessons, and devoted much of our time to studying the book “Antes de Ser Libres.”

But what made the classes in Costa Rica truly special were the opportunities we were given to take our learning out into our community. Smaller assignments included having conversations with our host families about the environmental impact of the small town and interviewing kids from the local school about an upcoming patriotic celebration. We set goals for the trip in pre- and post-class discussions and followed through on those goals by engaging with our families and the greater community in unique and impactful ways.

Our first real assignment was probably one of the biggest: walk in groups around the city where we were spending our first few nights and talk to the people you meet. There was a note taking component so that we could later write a bit about our experience, but aside from that and basic safety there were few restrictions. Following a tip from a local pottery salesperson about where I could meet the artist, I promptly got lost and had to have a kind man named Álvaro guide me to Diego’s studio. I met Diego’s father and pottery teacher, and had the privilege of watching an artisan at work. When we finally returned to our rooms for the night, I was relieved to get off my feet, but brimming with excitement for what the next morning would bring.

It was experiences like this that proved to me that GSL Costa Rica was the right choice. Living with a host family and speaking mostly Spanish for weeks on end improved my conversational abilities beyond what any regular class could have. On the other hand, working with the local kids improved my knowledge of words I probably won’t ever use in class, or even outside of Central America. Through playing soccer with guys from around town, I learned that if I want to try to be cool I should probably take off my sandals when everyone else on the field is barefoot. Card games with my host brother and other people’s host siblings showed me how something simple can fill an hour or an evening with laughter and light.