January Term (J-term) offers R-MC students the opportunity to explore the world,
a career, or a single subject in depth.
Spanish Professor Patricia Reagan: "The trip provided
an experience that went beyond
the opportunities available to tourists."
Randolph-Macon College Spanish Professor Patricia
Reagan traveled with her Central American Culture and Civilization students and
alumnus Thomas Cantwell ’61 to San José, Costa Rica during
J-term 2012. Students spent two weeks on campus preparing for the service-learning
“They learned about the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America and topics
such as indigenous issues, the Panama Canal, the Central American Free Trade Agreement,
poverty, gangs, Catholicism/Liberation Theology and, of course, el futbol
(soccer),” says Reagan.
R-MC in Costa Rica for a slideshow of photos from the trip.
Because a major objective of the course is to provide an immersion experience, Reagan
placed each student with a local family for the duration of the two-week trip and
structured her in-country instruction for community service. All of the students
were either Spanish majors or minors.
“The purpose of the service component is to bring alive the Central American culture,”
says Reagan. “The trip provided an experience that went beyond the opportunities
available to tourists, and it helped build language skills.”
Students worked at the Escuela Ana Frank (the Ana Frank School) near San
José, teaching English and computer programming to children, conducting sociological
family studies, teaching parents how to budget their money, and conducting medical
“Escuela Ana Frank is funded by the German YMCA,” says Reagan. “Most of the ‘employees’
are German volunteers, and the school services about 50 children. In addition to
day care and after-school care, the school provides support for families through
classes and outreach programs.” Reagan explained the circumstances under which many
of the children live.
“Most are children of illegal Nicaraguan immigrants whose parents work several jobs
with very low pay. Five to eight people live in one-bedroom houses, and in some
of the surrounding neighborhoods neither taxis nor police will enter because of
crime. All of the area schools receive funding so that the children can receive
one hot meal a day. Most of the kids we saw wore the same clothes and the same worn-out
shoes every day.”
JoAnne Longo ’12, a Spanish major and member of the
Pre-med program, enjoyed working with the children. Longo served as team
leader for the medical examinations.
“It felt great to be able to do something positive during the trip,” says Longo.
“I know that the children truly benefited from our time with them. It was also fun
to just hang out and play soccer with them when we had some free time.”
International Studies major
Megan Harris ’12 sent blog entries
to R-MC during the trip. Her observations reflect both the challenges and rewards
of life as a traveler in Costa Rica.
“Yesterday my group gave the children medical checkups, and I had to learn phrases
such as Take off your shoes or Stand up straight,” she wrote.
“My host mother doesn’t speak any English…at times it is very hard for me.” In another
blog entry, she wrote:
“We have visited an extremely poor neighborhood, seen indigenous ruins and the La
Paz Waterfalls, taken Latin dance and cooking classes, and gone ziplining,” she
wrote. “In Costa Rica the poor form a community and create beautiful items to sell.
Even though the neighborhood is very dangerous, they built a community center for
the children to go to when they aren’t in school. It is truly an inspiration.” Harris
presented her findings on the health of the children to the director of the San
“I gave him an overall picture using the Body Mass Index (BMI),” she wrote. “I was
nervous about presenting because I had to speak in Spanish. I thought they might
laugh at me…but they were nice and helped me. The director was really appreciative
and told us that we were the first volunteers to make such a difference.”
Sociology Professor Reber Dunkel, coordinator
of Students Engaged in Responsible Volunteer Experiences (SERVE),
says, "Our students’ zest for immersing themselves in a poor Costa Rican community
underscores the mutually beneficial outcomes of experiential education overseas.
Professor Reagan demonstrated the success of her students improving their Spanish
skills by having them live with local families and learning to navigate their way
around the Spanish-speaking world as they worked with children at the Ana Frank
School. Hearing about their enthusiasm and accomplishments renews my faith in our
In planning the trip, Reagan says she wanted to provide students with as many opportunities
“I knew the students would have an opportunity to serve, but I also wanted them
to experience the beautiful country that is Costa Rica: volcanoes, biodiversity,
mountains, beaches, wildlife. The students learned about and lived the history of
Costa Rica and meshed with the people of Central America in a way that would not
have been possible if we had stayed on campus. They had a great time and not only
learned a lot about the culture, but also about themselves.”
About the SERVE Program
Randolph-Macon College has a longstanding tradition of community service. The Students Engaged in Responsible Volunteer Experiences
(SERVE) program, in the Office of Student
Life, is an integral part of Randolph-Macon’s Leadership Development
and Service Initiative.
In 2010-11, R-MC students collectively amassed almost 8,000 volunteer hours. Nearly
50 students spent an alternative Spring Break in Florida for a combined 950 hours
with Habitat for Humanity and 130 hours for a Haiti Relief project. Students in
R-MC’s Greek organizations
contributed more than 4,500 hours of collective service to the community, collected
550 pounds of canned food, donated 60 inches of hair to Locks of Love, 21 toys to
Toys for Tots and generous funds to various organizations. In addition, money was
raised on campus and donated to the Red Cross & Partners in Health for the Haiti