Long gone are the days when traditional classroom teaching ruled. With the interconnectedness of the world and the tools at the disposal of today’s teens the planet has never felt smaller. With that comes great opportunity to bring culture into classrooms from all over the world.
While the pandemic brought its own stresses and disruptions for students and teachers, it lead to the creation of the virtual exchange. At first, it was to be an escape from the pandemic, but has since integrated itself into its own activity as well as a complement to hosting and travel exchanges. The virtual exchange promotes the act of sharing and not only builds solidarity, but provides for reflection and the strengthening of friendships that will give us a fresh outlook and preparedness for the post-pandemic world.
This is a guide that discusses the various aspects of the virtual high exchange and what to expect. The guide is written for teachers, counselors and principals, but is a great resource for anyone looking for virtual exchange program information.
About Costa Rica Frika and the exchange schools
Costa Rica Frika (CRF) was formed as a result of an unforgettable Costa Rican volunteer experience by its founder in 2006. After 6 months living with a host family and experiencing the culture, his life long goals and plans were forever altered. The only thing he regrets about that experience was waiting till he was 20 to do it.
The Costa Rica exchange schools are both public and private high schools with students between the ages of 13 and 18. They come from middle class families and have a thirst to participate in exchange programs.
Despite a strong middle class, families are not able to travel internationally very often. That combined with the coronavirus pandemic, travel restrictions and resulting loss of tourism revenue (largest industry in Costa Rica) has made it difficult for many to do a travel exchange.
About Costa Rica
Located on the land bridge between North and South America, Costa Rica sandwiches itself just to the south of Nicaragua and to the north of Panama. A country about the size of West Virginia with a population of 5 million (about half the population of Chicago) you can’t wander far without hearing their coined phrases pura vida, mae, or tuanis.
Costa Rica’s claim to fame is their rainforests and tropical beaches which comprise 5% of the world’s biodiversity and are the main visitor attractions. An avid soccer nation, Costa Rican footballers are most proud of their country’s advance to the round of eight in the World Cup in Brazil.
The majority of the exchange schools are located in the western region of the central valley of Costa Rica, about an hour northwest of the capital city San José. This region is primarily agricultural, known for coffee, sugar cane, corn, and beef cattle production. It also has one of the best climates on earth, with average temperature in the upper 70’s and plenty of sun year round.
Goals of the Exchange
The exchange has these main components:
Culture infiltrates all aspects of the exchange, however, as an exchange goal it relates to the sharing that happens via the exchange activities. Discussions may be light or heavy and the resulting conversations and points of view shows the uniqueness of the cultures. Activities such as preparing food, gaming or dancing allow for sharing and reflecting.
The educational goals are achieved through activities that give students insights into the educational system or provide educational value. Students will have the opportunity to learn about their partner school and educational system. They may be able to take building tours of the school and other local landmarks to share with their exchange partners. Students might show how a local food is prepared.
The virtual exchange is open to all students, however students gain the most from the experience if they have the following profile:
- Have at least one year of Spanish.
To keep the exchange affordable and accessible to all students, there will be no cost to students to participate in the virtual exchange.
Pairing/Bubble communication: Students will communicate and share about weekly topic with individual students from Costa Rica. This could be in the form of texts, audios, videos, and calls.
Group Takeovers: Students will be assigned days where they are required to share in the group chat. Student should make 1-3 posts sharing about their family and daily life. Can share photos, audios, texts and videos.
How the process works:
- Schools share opportunity with students and a link to a sign up form. CRF will provide schools with promotional material and will be available to talk with interested classes, teachers and/or parents about the opportunity.
- Once all the forms have been completed, students will be invited to the exchange spreadsheet where they will have to agree to terms and join the Whatsapp group in order to be matched with Costa Rican students. The chat will be managed by a CRF coordinator, however teachers from both schools will be invited as well.
- CRF coordinator will monitor posts and assign takeovers. CRF will also host a weekly virtual meet up to converse about the theme of the week.
Continuity of the exchange:
While students will be paired for individual communication, the exchange is meant for a sense of community to develop in the group. Every student should be able to get to know the other students. The pairs/bubbles will be switched up throughout the exchange to give students more opportunities to get to know other students.
Why Participate in the Virtual Exchange?
- CRF manages the exchange. Teachers and staff are invited from participating schools to the chat to observe and monitor, however they are under no obligation to prepare or run any activities.
The benefits are numerous, but besides forming a friendship that spans countries, the biggest impact are the students putting themselves out of their comfort zones in a controlled environment. Everyone’s experience will be different as there is no telling what might trigger a deep personal reflection, or an enlightening moment that may inspire or alter someone’s life goals.
Thanks for reading the guide. We hope it has been a useful resource to learn more about the virtual exchange!