F-R-I-E-N-D-S-H-I-P-S Form Across Costa Rica at 2016 National English Festival

By Jaclyn Stecker
Nov. 26, 2016

For three days in November 2016, the small and richly diverse country of Costa Rica became an even smaller place. 

Darrell Potter & Jaclyn Stecker at 2016 NEF
Darrell Potter and Jaclyn Stecker are Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) who were assigned to work with area English teachers in coordinating the second annual National English Festival in Coto.

I was part of the team of Volunteers who, working alongside Costa Rican teachers, helped create a national event completing to celebrate English. 

2016 Festival Winners
Winners from almost all the regions of Costa Rica's educational system converged in Coto for the Second Annual National English Festival. While the photo depicts the final winners of the Spelling Bee, Impromptu Speech and Impromptu Conversation competitions, all who attended celebrated their championship experience.

Golfito is a scenic port town that is usually only a stop-over for tourists and those traveling to the Osa peninsula by way of Puerto Jimenez. On this rainy Tuesday in November, about 200 students and their chaperones were bused in, some traveling upwards of eight hours to compete in a spelling bee, impromptu speech, and impromptu conversation competitions.  

Did I mention that this is all in English? Yes, these Spanish-speaking kids will be standing in front of full auditoriums and delivering speeches and spelling tough words IN ENGLISH. Something that many of us have a hard time doing even in our native tongue.

The competitions were close and fiercely won but the students never showed even a hint of misconduct. Instead, I saw kids who live in mountains, miles and worlds apart become fast friends, encouraging each other and chattering excitedly. Costa Rica may be a small country, but it is rare for natives to travel much outside of their own region. Travel is costly and takes a great deal of time because of the terrain. When I saw kids from Guanacaste (one of the drier parts of Costa Rica, known for its beaches and the “cowboy” lifestyle) marvel at the lush green jungle I have called home for almost two years, it reminded me that this competition is so much more than what happens at the microphone.

On the morning after the main event I went to breakfast to see kids from all over the country laughing and exchanging contact information. Teachers congratulated and embraced each other because they all understood the long journey it was to get here. I looked to my team of Volunteers and Peace Corps staff who were recounting stories of what had happened and my heart filled to the brim again. I thought of the countless hours that our local committee of teachers had invested alongside my fellow PCV and event planner Darrell Potter, as well as the leadership of  the Regional Advisor, Merlyn,  who had added the national event to her already full slate of activities. I know that my service was significantly improved by my participation with these dedicated educators. My world is indeed smaller and my heart bigger. 

PCVs at National English Festival 2016
While PCVs across the country helped students at the various levels of the competition, a few were also able to serve as Judges and support for the NEF 2016. Amanda, Carleen, Christine, Veronica, Alberto, Karen, Isabon, Alanna, Gabby, Jaclyn, Jeremy, James, and Tiffany announced, pronounced, checked the rubrics, and tallied scores and we are so grateful. Also a special thank you to Erik, Anne, Rachel, and Jose for coming and representing the office!

On the morning after the main event I went to breakfast to see kids from all over the country laughing and exchanging contact information. Teachers congratulated and embraced each other because they all understood the long journey it was to get here. I looked to my team of Volunteers and Peace Corps staff who were recounting stories of what had happened at the simultaneously presented competitions and my heart filled to the brim again. I thought of the countless hours that our local committee of teachers had invested alongside my fellow PCV and event planner Darrell Potter, as well as the leadership of the Regional Advisor Merlyn Jimenez Rodriguez who had added the national event to her already full slate of activities. I know that my service was significantly improved by my participation with these dedicated educators. 

My world is indeed smaller and my heart bigger. 

Jaclyn Stecker

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