Exterior view of Co-op Wellness Commons with MHC crest

News & Events

Study abroad experience inspires future educators

Costa Rica collage of a sign, a wooden turtle in front of a river, an open room with beds, and shower stations.

After living off the grid with the Bri Bri peoples in Central America, Shawna Thomas, a fourth year education student at Medicine Hat College (MHC), looks forward to sharing her learning with future students.

Thomas, along with seven of her classmates, experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity over their recent study break, travelling to Costa Rica and living in a remote Indigenous community. The students spent a few days in San Jose where they visited a museum, participated in Indigenous crafts and took a local cooking class, then travelled four hours from the city to the rainforest and immersed themselves in the Bri Bri way of life. 

Tours of a local school, organic farm and traditional conical home were all part of the experience, but for Thomas, the highlight of the trip was learning about the different Indigenous clans and their determination to preserve their heritage. 

“As a preservice teacher, the school tour was closest to my heart. Watching the children play and learn was a testament that they need to be together to build a sense of community and belonging first, before the learning can happen. The Bri Bri school is immersed in their culture and in order to preserve it, they only hire teachers from their clans. Culture first, learning second.”

Thomas was also impressed by the Bri Bri’s holistic approach and use of natural resources, noting how they utilized every bit of the land with nothing wasted. 

For Ashley Thakurdeen, this trip was her first opportunity to travel internationally and it did not disappoint.

“I had such a great time and was with a great group. We got to do so many different activities and really engage in the culture there,” she recalls.

Thakurdeen appreciated all aspects of the trip, including the food, biodiversity, culture - even sleeping under a mosquito net in a treehouse - but it was the opportunity to experience the Bri Bri community that made a lasting impact. During her time in their camp, she was able to see the similarities and differences between Indigenous peoples in Costa Rica and Canada and, like Thomas, is excited to bring that learning to her own classroom. 

Once back on home soil, Thakurdeen and Thomas shared their experiences with their education cohort at MHC, then with students in their respective final practicum placements. 

“Now I can incorporate this study abroad experience into my grade four classroom through the social studies and science curriculum,” explains Thomas, who was able to speak to her students about rainforest biodiversity, colonization and conservation based on her lived experience.

She recommends that all students take the opportunity to study abroad in some capacity. 

“Like Ben Franklin said, ‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’  I feel there is no greater learning than an experience, and I am very grateful to have had this opportunity.”

This experience was funded by Global Skills Opportunities (GSO).