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Abroad in Costa Rica - Active Learning is Fun. Really.

What student doesn’t die a little bit inside every time a teacher mentions some new active learning experiment? In the mind of an American student, active learning is just an excuse for a teacher to be extra demanding and impose all sorts of annoying requirements. As a result, United States education has become an extremely dull endeavor. School is boring, studying is solitary, and learning is difficult, therefore we resist education in favor of training or memorization. American students are all about the bare minimum. We want good grades, but we want to expend the absolute least effort possible in order to obtain them.

I used to think there was absolutely nothing wrong with this status quo. But, as has happened in many other contexts, Costa Rica has given me a new perspective.

I have a teacher here named Eddie. Among many other things, he teaches international marketing. He has helped opened my eyes to the differences between education versus training. The United States trains students to be able to perform specific functions or processes over and over again. We learn things, do them over and over again, and then we are able to do them well. It’s the whole concept about practice making perfect. After we do something a certain amount of times, it becomes second nature, which eventually will help us. Let’s just hope we learn the proper processes to begin with.

Conversely, education teaches critical thinking, independent learning, and instills curiosity. Education teaches students to think for themselves, want to pursue their own scholastic endeavors, and when they are released into the real world, they can solve problems on their own using innovative judgments and thought processes.

Luckily for us foreign students, literally everything we do in Costa Rica is an opportunity for active learning. From the more boring, quotidian aspects of life to those in the classroom, to those extravagant, independent weekend trips that we enjoy. The grocery store can teach us what foods are common here, whether they’re imported or domestic. Taking the bus can teach us typical interaction patterns, geography, and not to mention has provided me with some of the most breathtaking views of my life. Visiting the typical touristy spots that we love on the weekends can show us the intriguing differences in interaction between locals and foreigners, we can meet other travelers just like us, we can learn more about ourselves as we think of ways to pass the time. Just exploring by wandering can teach us a lot about our own psychology, logical thinking, and communication skills. I know this because literally every time I go on a walk, I end up lost. Then I get to go through the interesting psychological roller coaster of freaking out because I’ve lost myself, having to ask somebody for directions, realizing that I have the worst sense of direction ever, walking around more, re-realizing how lost I am, and then eventually finding myself.

And these are just the active learning possibilities outside of the classroom! Add in interactive presentations, classes centered entirely around discussion and reflection, and the various mixers for various languages and classes that happen, and the possibilities are seriously infinite.

It’s safe to say that my perception of active learning has changed. It used to be an utterly deplorable topic. In the States, I thought teachers employed active learning strategies when they were bored and wanted to make things more difficult for everyone. Here in Costa Rica, I have learned that active learning facilitates interest in topics, because one is actually encouraged to pursue the things that interest them, creating a cycle that feeds into itself: if one is intrigued by a topic they’ll want to learn more…but also the more one learns the more one is intrigued.

Active learning is a privilege. Via activity, I have learned that all these things can only be achieved by complete physical and mental immersion.

Macey Hallstedt, Spring 2013 CEA MOJO, bringing you the Pura Vida from San José, Costa Rica
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