Bearden senior immerses herself in Costa Rican culture

Jack C. Evans

By her junior year, Marti Bell was in AP Spanish V. Having started on the language path at her previous school, she had reached the top level of its high school education within three years and, thanks to her hard work, was as fluent as she could be. But with whom could she speak it? Where in East Tennessee would she ever need Spanish? And how could she take it further? She flew to Costa Rica. In pursuit of immersion and the real experience, the Bearden senior began looking for study abroad programs last year and went to her guidance counselor, Mrs. Beverly Anderson, for help. Together they located a series of nine-day trips to a variety of Spanish-speaking areas. There was just one problem. “Looking through the brochure for the program, there were some incredible places,” Mrs. Anderson said. “But all very pricey.” For the exotic reality Bell wanted, she’d need some funding. Mrs. Anderson recognized her as a perfect candidate for the Awesome Adam Adventures scholarship. The family of Adam Wise established the program after Wise, a former Bearden student, passed away in a car accident the summer before his senior year. Bell is the second student that has been chosen after Kat Moore (Class of 2012) spent time in China in August of 2011 . “The family wanted to acknowledge his joy of living,” Mrs. Anderson said. “So it’s a little bit different. Instead of giving money towards college or school, it’s money to use for something during the summer, and they’re pretty broad on that.” Bell applied and was granted the $1,000 offered. Half the fee was covered, her destination was chosen, and within months, she was in San José, Costa Rica’s inland capital, travelling by bus to her host family’s residence. Trundling east on mountainous roads and packed highways, Bell and her small group of American student companions passed above and below coffee plantations, through villages, past jungle, to Turrialba, their home for nine days. There she stayed with a Costa Rican family, and the only link to her native language was the family’s teenage daughter. “(The daughter) would go to school in the day to learn English,” Bell said. “So whenever we would have a problem communicating with the parents—who only spoke Spanish—we could sort of help each other out.” Bell, on the other hand, went to a separate school to learn Spanish. After four hours of tutored instruction each morning, she would go with the small group she arrived with to see the sights of rural Costa Rica. “The first day we went to the local orphanage and played with the kids,” she said. “They were really interested in the cameras and phones and stuff. “We also went to a snake farm, and toured a coffee plantation that actually exports to McDonald’s and Starbucks here in the States.” Between snake farms and coffee fields, there were beans and rice and smoothies and yucca plants to be enjoyed, but eventually it was time to return home. Boarding the plane to Tennessee after nine days in Central America, she would finally have someone to speak English with. According to Bell’s three-time Spanish teacher at Bearden, Ms. Telece Marbrey, that lingual displacement provided a perfect opportunity to learn more. “It is an excellent idea for anyone trying to learn a language,” Ms. Marbrey said. “Because you’re surrounded by it at all time, you can’t fall back on your English; you have to put forth that effort to try and communicate. Either you speak and get your point across, or you’re not going to be able to get what you need.” And her Spanish is much better, with a wider vocabulary and sharper conversational skills. “By the time I was leaving, I was a lot more confident,” Bell said. Now, back in the States in her senior year, Bell is taking Spanish classes at Pellissippi, and plans on pursuing Spanish studies even further. “She really wanted to learn the language, so was really inspired to not only do what she was supposed to do in class, but go beyond that and take other opportunities—like studying abroad,” Ms. Marbrey said. “It’s something that she likes, she’s good at it; she can go as far as she wants to.” Farther, even, than Costa Rica. Jack C. Evans is the Editor of The Bark Online. Follow The Bark on Twitter @BeardenBARK, and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook .