Mount Pulaski students and families have a blast hosting the Costa Rican students
Part 1: The Ticos return to town

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[February 07, 2018] 

It was January 5, 2018 when a group of seven Costa Rican students ~ the Ticos ~ landed in Illinois. The Ticos were here to begin their 10-day stay with students from Mount Pulaski High School.

MPHS students and the Costa Ricans had been involved in this exchange before but this time it was a new group of students getting a taste of each other’s culture. Rachel Grunder, the Spanish instructor at Mount Pulaski High School, offered her thoughts on the return visit that impacted several of her students and their families.

"It was such a pleasure to once again welcome Ticos to Mount Pulaski,” said Grunder excitedly. "One would think that after having hosted a group of students and teachers from Costa Rica before, that the experiences would somehow not be as exciting or valuable. Not true.”

The Ticos arrived in Mount Pulaski on a Friday night and by the weekend they were out playing in the snow with their new friends. "Mother Nature and her bitterness prevented us from keeping our schedule in tact,” said Grunder. "However, that didn't stop any of us from giving our guests the best opportunities and cultural experiences that we could.”

"The Ticos arrived just in time to catch the last quarter of a very good MPHS boys' basketball game,” said Grunder. "We took them to Buffalo Wild Wings and a Peoria Rivermen game the next day. On Sunday, we threw together a really fun sledding luncheon. JC Coogan and family hosted us, and we really enjoyed being pulled behind a 4-wheeler in the snow. JC gave the Tico teachers the very best surprise of their lives: a ride in his 1965 Pontiac GTO.

'We enjoyed snowball fights and building snowmen at home on our day off from school. And, as tradition would hold, we headed to Springfield to once again enjoy the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, Fulgenzi's pizza, SkyZone, and ice skating.

"School days started with a Welcome Assembly, where the band played and the cheerleaders (with the help of some students) cheered. We wrapped up our time together with a spontaneous evening in Lincoln, where we enjoyed bowling, some Railer basketball, and a pizza and dance party at my house.

"Sunday was family and shopping time...always a nice way to end the time together.

"Our Ticos made their way to Chicago on Monday, Martin Luther King Day, very slowly, but they made it. And, they enjoyed seeing the beautiful cityscape, shopping, and food. A very early flight on Tuesday got our Ticos home safe and sound.”

Grunder noted the advantages of having a small group of Ticos in the exchange this year.

"This was a particularly small group of students this year. The size of the group (seven students and two teachers) allowed for them all to get to know one another better,” she said.

"The Toppers even commented that they very unexpectedly found themselves becoming friends with students here with whom they had not spent time with prior to the exchange. The students were also able to plan more activities together, because there were fewer of them."

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Many of the Ticos also saw snow for the first time and while maybe a bit unprepared for the cold upon landing, an emergency stop at Walmart in Lincoln the first evening aided that situation. Although it made an excited Grunder, who was eagerly awaiting their arrival in the gym that first night, a bit nervous. Things turned out quite well though. No long lines on a Friday night at Walmart had the Ticos arriving in the Hilltop town in plenty of time. Grunder particularly enjoyed the snow and sharing it with the Ticos.

"Experiencing someone else experience the bitter cold and snow for the first time is something very special,” said Grunder. "For me personally, it is one of the highlights of this exchange. One night, before the snow was going to melt, I took our student, Andrés, on a quiet walk. In doing so, he got to experience all of the sounds that snow makes: the crunching and creaking. He also appreciated noticing how it lands on certain things differently: how it sticks or doesn't stick to things. One conversation between my husband, Eric, and Donald, one of the teachers, was also interesting. They discussed why the wood of our fence was much colder than the wood of the tree in our yard. I have grown up here in Illinois, and I never once noticed the difference."

"Aside from the snow and cold, our buildings are always intriguing to Ticos. Their landscape back in Costa Rica doesn't allow for tall or very large buildings. So, for them, our homes, our schools, our buildings---they're all marvelous,” she noted.

Speaking of school, yes, the Ticos attended school while here, despite a snow day, a holiday, a field day and weekends thrown in the mix, the Ticos did go to school with the MPHS students.

MPHS Principal Terry Morgan saw the benefits of the exchange again and he weighed in. “Anything you can learn about other cultures is a bonus,” said Morgan. "They (Ticos) were in classes teaching our kids Spanish. Their teachers were teaching our kids. Donald and his wife were actually teaching Spanish classes. So our kids were getting Spanish instruction from Costan Rica teachers. I just think anything you can do around other cultures is a bonus.” A bonus indeed.

And then Principal Morgan summed it up perfectly in terms of today’s world. "In today’s society the more you can learn about other people, the better off we are as a world. So often we are sheltered with our own little world and we don’t see what’s going on outside our little bubble sometimes. To see what other cultures go through - how they eat, how they act, the games they play and just the whole different world that they live in - it’s a bonus.”

[Teena Lowery]

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