Things were very different at the Costa Rican public school the Kokomo students attended one day.
When they walked in, every kid there stopped to stare at them.
No one spoke English, and kids were charging their cell phones and putting on makeup in class.
Sargent said some of the students told him they felt out of place — like they didn’t belong. They couldn’t understand why others were staring.
It was a good lesson for them, he said.
“We thought it would be good to give them a very different experience,” Sargent said. “The public school isn’t used to the diversity. [Our students] learn to fight through the feeling of being uncomfortable.”
Most of Costa Rica was warm and welcoming, though, student Cole Hanson said.
He learned from his host parents that family comes first in their culture. And they treated him like one of their own.
The Kokomo kids stayed with different families in different communities in and around San Jose.
Some lived in rural villages. Others lived in apartments in the city. A few stayed in communities that were very American.
One student stayed with a couple originally from Switzerland. One lived with a family from the state of Washington. Many stayed with traditional Costa Rican families who spoke no English at all.
Novinger spoke with her host family primarily through Google translator on their cellphones.
“If we said something they didn’t understand, they’d thrust the phone in our hands, and we’d type away,” she said.
Erin Moody said her host family spoke no English and taught her Spanish using catchy songs.
It was the kind of immersion learning that some of them wanted.
A couple of the students came back nearly fluent in Spanish, said Dave Barnes, director of communications for the school district.