by Dr. Danny Recio, PhD, Program Director of The Bridge
Cultural immersions have been historically perceived and studied as a negative, kind of shocking experience (aka “culture shock”), but research now tells us quite the opposite: that these experiences can help us grow beyond what we ever imagined! Intercultural encounters can help us shift and restructure our mental structures, allowing us to make significant growth and life changes.
In our brain, learning happens through the creation of mental structures called schemas. These structures are very useful because they allow us to be more efficient in processing and making meaning of the world around us, which in turn allows us to respond more efficiently to life’s challenges. On the other hand, schemas create blindspots. As we use existing schemas to assess new situations, our brains may ignore or overlook important incoming information and misjudge it, thus behaving in ways that ignore or overlook more beneficial alternatives.
We reinforce schemas through a process called “assimilation”, but can morph or add new schemas through a process called “accommodation”.Accommodative learning contributes more to personal development, as it allows us to change our cognitive structures to adapt to new life conditions and keep on growing. If you want to learn more about schemas, assimilation and accommodation, watch this short video by ByPass Publishing:
As people make more and more accommodative leaps, their schemas grow, and the connection between these structures does too, leading to the development of a highly useful cognitive skill called integrative complexity. Those who possess this skill can take in many perspectives on a situation, collect information from all those perspectives, and come up with efficient and effective solutions to life problems. Research has recently revealed that cross-cultural immersions can lead to the development of higher levels of integrative complexity, because when you interact with people with different schemas, traditions, lifestyles, and worldview, these challenge you to expand and adjust your own. Watch our students reflecting on their cultural immersions, and how they have changed their worldview:
With regards to psychological and emotional growth, the skill of integrative complexity can be very useful, as when people are struggling in these areas, they are often stuck repeating unhealthy patterns, are failing to see or act on other alternatives and thus their solutions to life problems end up being inefficient. However,when they are deliberately exposed to other cultures through a person-centered therapeutic experiential learning approach such as our supportive immersion model, they discover new ways of being that break through old schemas, and build new and more efficient ones.
Through our experience with our students in conjunction with the literature available, we have found four main benefits that come from cross-cultural supportive immersions:
Check out Danny's presentation (along with Andy Myers) at YATA conference (October 2016)!
Every week our group is given a fixed amount of money to manage and organize weekly events. The role of activity manager rotates between members in the community, giving everyone a chance to learn about the process of budgeting, time management, and organization.
After several months of planning and saving, our guys were able to take advantage of their activity surplus and spend the weekend surfing and relaxing in Cahuita.
The guys utilized public transportation and cooking their own meals so they'd be able to pay for their cabina and recreational time.
Our recent Aventura found us in San Jerónimo de San Pedro, a small coffee growing community nestled near the new entrance to Chirripó National Park.
The trip's focus was building and reinforcing two bridges along the newest trail to Cerro Chirripó (the tallest peak in Costa Rica). We worked side by side with the community carrying wood, clearing the ground, and hammering nails to complete the project.
This experience strengthened the bond both within our group and with those that we helped.
We aslo taught English classes, completed a hike with seven waterfalls, and made the summit to Cerro Ena, which boasts an altitude of 3126 meters.
by Dr. Danny Recio, PhD, Program Director of The Bridge
However, in hermit crabs and metaphorical shells, coming out is directly related to feeling safe; as long as there’s a sense of considerable threat out in the environment, there will be no coming out. Thus, coming out of the shell entails both feeling confident in one’s own skills to deal with the world, as well as trusting that the world is not just going to sweep us away.
The equivalent of the metaphorical shell in the nervous system is the vagus nerve, which plays a fundamental role in a process Steven Porges named neuroception. This process allows people to decipher signals from their environment, both from objects as well as detailed cues from people, to help determine whether a situation deserves a threat response (get in the shell) or is safe (come out of the shell and engage). Porges explains that this process can go “out of tune” so that people activate defense systems when it’s actually a safe situation, or exhibit engaging or risk-taking behavior in an unsafe environment.
So, how does one support someone’s desire to come out of the shell and continue to grow? Not by frantically tapping on the shell, which will only reinforce the sense of unsafety in the environment, and not by just feeding the hermit crab so he’s nourished without having to come out of the shell. Why? Because neither of these strategies will help the person fine-tune his neuroception of safety; he will continue to perceive erroneously his capacity to engage the world
At The Bridge and our high school program, New Summit Academy, we believe in a middle-way approach we call supportive immersion. Supportive Immersion is an approach to learning that focuses less on instruction and product, and more on experience and process. It is highly individualized in that it relies heavily on the lived subjective experience of the learner toward what he’s learning, and it keeps at its center the goal of learning how to learn. The facilitator (teacher, therapist, etc.) of this learning process is both hands-off and very involved at the same time; walking with the learner in the process, but not doing the walking for or just shouting instructions from the sidelines. Empathy is a key element, and it’s used to see the task from the worldview of the learner while also using the facilitator’s own knowledge to guide experiences and invite shifts in the learner’s worldview. It’s teaching how to fish, instead of being given a fish type of approach.
This process is very successful for people that are in the shell, because it provides the feeling (neuroception) of safety coming from the support, guidance and processing of the (often out-of-the-comfort-zone) experiences our students are going through and, at the same time, it allows the learner to walk his own path, and feel what it’s like to poke his head out of the shell, and find his own way to gradually make changes that allow the growth they are seeking.
"It was difficult but rewarding in Sepecue. This year the JumpStart program was led by former students, which led to opportunities for improvisation and learning for the new teachers."
"It's been nice to spend a week with the people I taught with. The week in Sepecue and the exchange with them here has allowed us to build a strong friendship."
Costa Rica is a relationship based culture, which strongly believes in apprenticeship. This has allowed us to connect our students with great mentors and have most of our graduates go on to follow the profession they first practiced at The Bridge. The dedication our students show once they are interning at the occupation of their dreams makes them highly regarded members of their internship’s teams, which allows them to create great resumes with strong letters of recommendation, and it opens up opportunities for other students to have the same internships other graduates have had. That’s why we keep on adding more and more to the list!
Watch this 45 second video of Christian at the welding shop, and see what we mean when we say our students feel at home in their occupation:
by Joey Steinberg
I took this photo before taking the class with Veritas while my parents and I were in Manuel Antonio at the national park. This was the first time I used my camera on its manual setting and had the photo come out viewable. This was the clearest photo of a monkey I was able to capture without having our guide put my camera to the telescope, a device he used for spotting and viewing different animals.
This was the fifth photo I took with my camera in Costa Rica that happened to be on my birthday in Guanacaste. I never paid attention to the photo, because it didn't look that good on the camera screen at first. When I was able to upload it to my computer, I was happy to see that I captured the boat as a silhouette with the sunset in the background. This is by far my favorite photo I’ve taken while in Costa Rica.
I took this photo one day while I wandered San Jose after class was canceled. I saw the kid on the far left showing the man sitting down in the plain white shirt a video. I wanted to capture the interaction without them knowing, but they looked up and saw me, so I asked to take their photo. I was not expecting the response I got from the three guys, which was surprisingly positive and enthusiastic. This type of photography is known as street photography.
Lastly, this photo was taken for class and is called drawing with light. To get this photo, I opened the shutter speed to 10 seconds while my friend, Will, was drawing with a ball of light. When the shutter speed is open, it captures everything moving in the photo. This technique is used for making photos of a river or waterfall look like a cloak.
Commuting every Monday and Wednesday to San Jose has become something I look forward to, because it forces me to speak Spanish and use public transportation. I also enjoy talking to the different cab drivers everyday and finding out which ones lived in the United States, and saying the same thing to them everyday, because they all ask the same questions. I’m looking forward to continuing the class and learning about different techniques
by Malcolm, written for the NSA student publication, The Milieu
As a great six months in a tropical paradise comes to a close, one phrase comes to mind: Pura Vida.
The time I have spent here in Costa Rica has been eye opening. I have had the marvelous opportunity to experience so many different things. The thing that I believe will stay with me the longest is the culture. This has come in many different varieties: getting on a public bus at six in the morning well knowing I was going to sit in traffic for at least an hour and a half, for example. This experience has been the cornerstone in my development into an international citizen.
I came here knowing barely any Spanish and now I can have an hour or more long informal conversation with a Tico. This did not come from a Spanish class it came from living in a culture that is different from my own.
Not only can you use transport or learn a language way faster. You can eat some ridiculously good food. Olla de Carne, casados, mamonchinos, Gallo Pinto, jacotes, and the big two; Chicharones and Ceviche. All of these are just a small example of the diverse food selection that any one can experience in one of Costa Rica's many sodas.
All of the things that I have learned have taught me about myself and who I want to be in my future. The importance of family and friends is something that I used to take advantage of and now it is something that I cherish.
If I could advise anyone in this world about anything it would be to never pass up an experience that lets you expand your own horizons. Take a gap year, move somewhere new, try a new food what ever it is.
You never know that experience could be the one you tell your grandkids about in 60 years. My grandkids will hear about my experiences in the great land of Costa Rica.
PURA VIDA, Malcolm
Graduation Tribute Video:
When asked about their experience in developing these projects in Costa Rica, this is what our students had to say:
Doing community service is very rewarding; you can actually see the difference in what you do, especially with the one at the preschool. People walk by it everyday, people see that kids can now play. It's a great way to interact with the locals, with a wide variety of people. It takes me to different places in Costa Rica that I wouldn't go to as well as gives me connections and friendships.
The people who receive the help are gracious for the help in ways that I have not seen before, they provide direction but they don’t feel the need to oversee; there is an inherent trust in the people. They all treat us as friends. I’ve gotten out of it a renewed desire to learn the language and a respect for the costa rican culture that runs deeper than I expected.
Our students engage in meaningful community service projects all over Costa Rica with local Ticos. This allows them to connect with different populations in need and learn to value their own contributions as well as the relationships that one can develop with any human being.
Bridge students will do at least 50 hours of community service, and easily reach 150 before they graduate.
A couple of students recently shared a morning with the center for special needs in our town, where they made breakfast, danced and taught them some English. The gratitude and bond was visible and reciprocal.