It's been a long time coming... a year, actually. But we are gearing up to reopen Casa Bridge at the end of June 2021. The pandemic has certainly created an obstacle that has tested our patience and our ability to walk the talk of navigating whatever life throws our way. That said, we are grateful to be announcing that the Bridge house will be opening in a few short weeks.
What will change? What will stay the same?
We've been meeting with our team for weeks to determine just how much we can immerse ourselves in this pandemic world. Certainly being vaccinated helps, but Costa Rica is slower than most at accomplishing these world-wide goals of vaccination and immunity. We feel good about the options we have to offer, especially for those young men who need to complete a couple of high school credits (and can do so at NSA) and want to experience a gap semester or year abroad to get themselves ready for college or the work world.
HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS: If you are a senior or just need a few credits to graduate high school, you could finish up your diploma at New Summit Academy in the mornings while participating in Spanish immersion, internships, &/or college classes at Universidad Veritas in the afternoons.
COLLEGE CLASSES: Although enrolling in college classes takes a couple to a few weeks to facilitate, it's definitely an option for our Bridge young adults.
INTERNSHIPS: If participants are vaccinated, then the world opens up to them. There are a variety of internships that are open and welcoming vaccinated students as long as they follow protocols for hygiene and mask-wearing with clients. So if working at a vet clinic, wildlife refuge, woodworking shop, coffee farm, automechanics shop, physical therapy office, or IT / computer shop sounds interesting, then you may be in business! Other options like teaching English at an elementary school, working at a hotel, etc. will be opening up shortly.
BRIDGE LIVING: The daily life of a Bridge participant hasn't changed much.
So what are you waiting for? If this sounds like an opportunity to you, we're here. Email us today.
by Dr. Danny Recio, PhD
The Bridge ~ Costa Rica will begin a hibernation period as our last student returns to the USA on July 17, 2020. For how long? We are not sure yet; it could be a few weeks, but it could end up being longer than that. The progression of the pandemic will dictate our actions.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we decided to remain committed to guiding our enrolled students to appropriate closure of their process with us. And we have. We exercised tons of creative power to provide them with the best experience given the circumstances. And now, as Costa Rica’s borders are staying closed, and strict guidelines of social distancing continue, we feel it is best not to take any new students for the time being.
It felt important to our integrity to stay on with the students we had, and it feels important to our integrity now to only take students until we can fulfill our mission in the way we have designed it; or until we design something else. The Bridge has been designed to have the world be the main therapist and teacher: the ride in the public bus into the city, the journey and immersion in a rural community, the local friendships, the perfect internship with a caring mentor, going to college in a foreign country. Those are all attenuated or dormant under our current conditions.
So, we have decided to take a nap…and do what people do when they sleep: reenergize, dream, assimilate information and learn from experiences lived!
As I begin to reflect on these experiences lived, tons of images flash through my head and I experience immense satisfaction at feeling like we have fulfilled our mission:
“to support societal and global wellbeing through providing small scale experiences that will guide young adults to become more responsible, fulfilled and compassionate members of society on a larger scale”
Thus, just like the world has been our main therapist and teacher, it is for the world that we have worked hard for the past 8 years. Yes, for the young men of course! But not so they become more self-centered and focused on their own pleasure seeking, but so they become empowered agents of change, so they realize that the world needs their own unique talents, even if they felt most of their life they had no talents or direction, and had to come all the way to a foreign land to find them.
I am convinced this is a good mission, and we have data from our participants, publications, and research to support it. I am sure this mission will prevail because it helps its primary clients, it helps the world, it is resilient and it is adaptive. We are immensely thankful to all of you who have participated of our community. Rest assured that we will improve this mission and continue it, like the life that magically springs in a forest after a devastating fire.
And yet, I wonder if when the day arrives, I will feel like we are taking a nap or we are waking up from an 8 year dream. If that is so, I am sure I will regard it as one the most amazing dreams I have ever had…
Thank you all for your continued support of The Bridge - Costa Rica. We do believe that now, more than ever, the cross-cultural experiences that we provide are crucial to awakening empathy, equality, equity and life long learning and connection.
Listen as Danny tries to tell us about the Bridge in under 13 - yes, 13!- minutes!
So we can't go on Aventura and immerse in Costa Rican communities, as we usually do. .
But do you think that means we are going to just sit home and watch TV? Absolutely not!! Here are our young men, giving back to our community by preparing food baskets for those in need. But that's not all... watch them rolling up their sleeves to create a beautiful trails and gardens on our reserve... as well also connecting with peers all over the world who are doing the same!
Supportive Immersion: The Use of Transformative Cross-Cultural Experiential Learning to Address Social Trends in the 21st Century
Abstract: In an era of globalization and rapidly evolving cultural changes, traditional support structures are struggling to equip our youth with the necessary competencies for a successful transition into adulthood. A thematic analysis was performed on interviews of participants of a therapeutic gap program providing what is known as “Supportive Immersion,” an approach to experiential transformative learning where facilitators and learners co-create experiences of learning.
Findings show two main points:
1) participants’ articulation of their perceived personal growth and skill development supported the positive impact of their cross-cultural supportive gap experience, and
2) the five themes identified (PROPS) described characteristics and skill sets of an “integrative learner,” which directly relate to preparing young adults for recent changes in societal trends.
This study demonstrated the outcomes and effectiveness of guided, supported crosscultural immersion experiences. Keywords: Cross-Cultural, Emerging Adults, Supportive Immersion, GapYear, Transitions
Cite this article: Youngberg, K., Recio, D., & Tracy, H. (2020). Supportive Immersion: The Use of Transformative Cross-Cultural Experiential Learning to Address Social Trends in the 21st Century. Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, XII, 117–138. doi: 10.19157/JTSP.issue.12.01.07
This talk uses elements of situated learning, embodied cognition, systems theory and constructivism to suggest practical ways to integrate the social and environmental spaces into education. The main goal of the talk is to empower those who may appear to be in the periphery of education, and encourage them to participate in a bottom-up process of education. It is suggested this is done mainly by becoming aware of and guiding learning that is already happening naturally, outside of the classroom and the lesson plan.
While this is very difficult to do in traditional learning settings, and requires massive efforts at various levels of society, The Bridge is designed to attend to and highlight such learning. As such, The Bridge can be considered as a prime example of a living ecosystem of learning. The Bridge focuses the learning experience on those who are typically on the periphery, starting with the students themselves, who in traditional settings are often only recipients of information, and not producers of transformation for themselves and others.
Involving many communities and making The Bridge house's walls permeable, as Danny says in the talk, is another essential element that makes the program unique and a great example of this type of learning. But above all, The Bridge staff are attuned to pick up on and co-create real-time experiential moments for learning, which focus on process, empowerment, empathy and learning that propels further learning.
Some studies say that youth from 30 or 50 years ago are no different than youth today, in terms of their preferences and struggles. Others speak of drastic increases in mental health issues in this age group and severe difficulties transitioning to adult life. From talking to people in different corners of the world about youth growing up nowadays, there seems to be a generalized concern about the effects of the virtual world (i.e. screens connected to the internet) in young people’s psyche. Overall, most of these people seem to believe that the virtual world functions like kryptonite in youth when it comes to having the fortitude to deal with the non-virtual world (or real world).
I recently heard a similar argument in the show “Hidden Brain” from NPR. I strongly recommend you give the episode I’m linking a listen, but if you don’t have the time, just listen to the first 3 minutes. Here’s the link:
Heather Tracy, our executive director, and I had presented at a conference on this issue. We had proposed that when it comes to the virtual world, there’s a “rich get richer, and poor get poorer” dynamic. This means that those with the built-in skills to learn independently, socialize effectively and manage time efficiently, tend to use the virtual world to enhance their ability to accomplish their goals. Conversely, those who lack the above-mentioned skills, are sucked into or “used” by the virtual world as helpless consumers. Those in this category won’t build on and grow from the virtual world, but instead will increase their insecurity, avoidance, and anxiety.
What’s the antidote? The world itself. I imagine this works like real nutrition and supplements. If you have good nutrition, taking supplements can be a good thing, but if you don’t eat well, taking just supplements can make one’s health even worse.
In a world where the virtual is rapidly overpowering the real, we cannot stress strongly enough how important it is for youth to equip themselves with skills to confront, enjoy and learn from the real. Through the Supportive Immersion approach we use at The Bridge, we design supported experiences that allow young people to remain in a zone of optimal learning while they acquire crucial skills to function and succeed in the hectic globalized society we live in. Each person has a unique way to approach the world and problem-solve; we help each of our students find that style, master it and take it with them where they go. Thus, we work on our students going from “outsourcing (their) lives to virtual alter egos” as they say on this episode of Hidden Brain, to reclaiming their agency and embracing and transforming the world.
We touched base with our program graduates from the first semester of 2018 to find out how they feel they are doing.
We wanted to know about their current main goal or goals, and how successful they feel at accomplishing those. For us, success is defined by people’s ability to integrate life lessons, so they are increasingly more effective at problem-solving and meeting their goals. This is why we don’t define success by their grades in college (or even if they are in college at all) or how low their score is on a measure of depression. Those are all important, but we can see better how they are practicing integrative learning when they are improving their capacity to reach their own goals.
The above numbers are in response to the question: to what degree do you feel you were accomplishing your goals before coming to The Bridge, and how do you feel about that now, after The Bridge. Their averages show, as you can see, a perceived 53% improvement in their ability to accomplish their goals.
Since it is their goals that we are talking about, and not an external measure of success, it makes sense to wonder if these are goals that seem overall positive.
Perhaps you’re eager to hear a bit more about these wonderful people? Here are few quotes that stood out to me from speaking with them:
“I was relying on other people to do the learning for me. Unless I was pushed, I would just sit there, stuck; I wasn’t applying myself. It’s drastically different now, worlds apart.”
“Before The Bridge, a lot of the time I’d sit in a ditch when things got hard, because it was comfortable. Now I see that as a waste, I don’t feel comfortable, and soon as I become aware I’m headed toward the ditch, I bounce back. I’d get this fear that I wouldn’t accomplish anything and then get in that cycle, but now I use the fear to motivate me.”
“Work ethic has definitely improved! Also, general life’s knowledge; understanding how life works. I deal with parts of life that I don’t like. I’m better at taking life as it is.”
“I’ve been sober for 19 months, and don’t see myself doing that anytime soon. Things may not go well sometimes but they would not be solved by doing drugs.”
(when things get difficult) “It helps me to do tangible things: doing homework, ride my bike, work out, meditation, yoga. I’ve gotten better at just getting up and doing something. The Bridge taught me that. It might not make you feel good right away, but at least you can say you tried to do something about it.”
What stands out to me from these comments is that life hasn’t necessarily become easier, but that they feel better equipped to deal with it. Through their experience at The Bridge, these young men learned their own unique way of problem-solving and that has drastically impacted their life positively.
What stands out too you?
Have you stopped to think how much of what you appreciate and desire depends on your perspective?
Last year, during The Bridge’s 2-week project in South Africa, we were hiking in the beautiful mountains around Cape Town. Arnold, the program director of a friend organization, Usiko, and I were walking together. They work with at-risk youth from underprivileged suburban areas of Cape Town.
I stopped for a moment to take in the view, and asked him if he brought his students often to this area. He said yes, and I told him how important it is to expose people to beauty. He agreed, but proceeded to tell me something that has stuck with me. He said that many of his students could not perceive the beauty; they could see it, but couldn’t really appreciate it. This made me think that appreciation requires education, or else it is not exercised. Every single day, almost all the time, we presence marvelous events. Wonderful feats of human creativity, such as buildings and cars. Incredible skies and natural beauty. People with unique perspectives to delve into and connect with. But it seems like unless we create a container to take it in and appreciate it, it flows right past us like water in a stream.
Educating ourselves and others in the valuable practice of appreciation is not complicated. It just needs practice. You don’t need college degrees, money or higher levels of consciousness. By taking a moment and asking ourselves: what is unique in what I’m experiencing? What would this experience be if the sky was just gray as opposed to blue? What would life be if there was no diversity in perspectives and cultures? What am I taking for granted now that I would miss if it wasn’t here?
And just like appreciation requires education, what we desire is a product of such education, and often goes unnoticed as well. Of course we have basic needs, like food, shelter and belonging; and meeting those needs are part of our desires. However, a simple hut and a mansion are both shelter, just like we can find belonging by being part of a sports team or by posting lots of pictures on social media. Being thoughtful of what we desire is essential, as many people around us want us to desire something they have, like their products, substances, or their acceptance. If we are not intentional and mindful of what we desire we can end spending a lot of energy and time (in some cases a lifetime) pursuing a desire that doesn’t fulfill us or maybe isn’t our desire to begin with. Huts, mansions, sports teams and social media are all fine if they are truly satisfying our deeper needs; otherwise they may become a distraction or an obstacle, and ultimately lead to frustration and disappointment.
A few simple skills really help educate our appreciation and desire:
1. Awareness: keeping our senses awake to subtleties we might not typically realize. Is there beauty around me I have been taking in? What need am I trying to fulfill by binge-watching Netflix?
2. Flexibility: we shift our perspective, acknowledge the needs we are trying to fulfill, and find alternative ways to meet them. This way, we disentangle our expectations from what the situation actually offers. Instead of waiting for my friends to call, could I just sit back and hang out with my siblings for the night?
3. Ordinariness: more often than not, reality is plenty fine, and contains enough to appreciate and to meet our needs.
It’s important to reclaim our own ability to shift the way we perceive what we need and appreciate. It’s not easy, it requires a lot practice, education and more often than not, re-education. But it’s completely possible! And what’s more, we can influence, and therefore educate other people as well, just by sharing our perspectives on what we appreciate and realize we truly need.
In a world where most education for youth is abstract and detached from applicable experiences, many learners find it difficult to truly assimilate and own what they learn. How many times have we heard people say something like “he just doesn’t get it” or “she’s just doesn’t care!”
At The Bridge, we believe that the issue might be resolved by approaching the learning task from a different angle. We rely on the Supportive Immersion methodology, which through an empathic, empowering and process-based approach, encourages matching students to life situations where learning is most likely to happen. Often times, it is through engaging in their passions that people discover or uncover previously dormant avenues to learning. This was the case for Asa, one of our Bridge students who found a way back to his creativity by working at a café.
One would have thought that the path to connect again with his creativity would have been to expose him to art in the traditional sense, but that wasn’t his path. He tried it, but it felt forced and perhaps even intimidating. He needed to come at it from his own angle, and through that journey with the art of coffee he even found himself appreciating things he thought he disliked, like science and math. Slowly but surely Asa has reunited with his creativity, and recently painted a beautiful mural at a daycare and started his own poetry blog; and that seems like only the beginning results from this reunion with his creative side.
Read below Asa’s account of his experience at Café La Mancha.
Internship Highlight: Café La Mancha
My name is Asa Miles Kaplan, I’m 18 years old and currently enrolled in the bridge program. I have an internship at Cafe La Mancha, a small specialty coffee shop in San Jose, Costa Rica. I have been working there as a barista for just over 2 months now. It has been an incredible experience so far that I have been able to learn quite a lot from. My interest in coffee began when I was 3 years old. I had my first cup of black coffee at a ski resort called Suicide Six. I loved the bitterness and the way the flavor covered my whole tongue. Since then I have been drinking coffee almost every single day. Growing up, I always loved the comforting, warm atmosphere of cafes, especially those that were family owned. A lot of love and care was always put into to the coffee and people just enjoyed being there. Cafes have always been a place for me to relax and forget about whatever may be worrying me. They help me focus and not just because of the caffeine, but also because I feel safe. To me, cafes are where creatives like myself congregate and share ideas and inspiration. Ever since I was a small kid, I wanted to open my own coffee shop. I want to be able to provide that space that meant so much to me to other people.
When working with coffee, there are many aspects that must be considered when reaching for the goal of the aptly named “golden cup”. The golden cup standard takes into account coffee-to-water ratio (55 g/L ± 10%), water temperature (90℃ ± 3°), the time of coffee-to-water contact (1-4 minutes - Fine, 4-6 minutes - Drip, 6-8 minutes - Coarse), Turbulence, and Filter media (least affect to brew flavor, body, time of contact, and sediment less than 75 milligrams per 100 milliliters). This all leads to the universal standard of “a brew strength, measured in Total Dissolved Solids, of 11.5 to 13.5 grams per liter, corresponding to 1.15 to 1.35 “percent” on the SCAA Brewing Control Chart, resulting from a solubles extraction yield of 18 to 22 percent”. As a high school student I was never much interested in the sciences or maths. The applied aspects of it never truly interested me; however, when Alberto, my mentor at the cafe, started describing the chemistry and weights and measures behind coffee and the brewing of pour-overs and espressos, my mind was immediately enraptured by this. When working with coffee, the weights are very specific as seen above, every little thing must be considered when brewing. Even before brewing, coffee plants are carefully monitored. The altitude, type of soil, and time of picking all contributes to a coffee beans flavor and richness. The roasting process also alters the overall chemistry of the bean itself.
My time working at Cafe La Mancha has truly been incredible and educational. I have been able to learn so much about the coffee world and how much time, effort, concentration, and passion is put into every cup of coffee that is made. I will be continuing my internship at the Cafe for my stay at The Bridge and I am sure that my already huge passion for coffee will blossom into something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
From the effects of the internet in humans to whether it’s truly possible to be yourself, Bridge students tackle all kinds of complex questions in their weekly podcast: the Seedpod.
The podcast grew out of a space we used to call “the brain jumpstart”, where we would ask ourselves interesting questions to start our Friday morning’s focused work sessions. We constantly have peer groups full of brilliant people, who are highly insightful and can discuss a wide variety of issues. Thus, our discussions during the brain jumpstart were deep, rich and entertaining, so we thought, why not share our opinions with the world?
We have now recorded more than 20 amazing episodes of the Seedpod!
Here are a couple of recent episodes:
Episode #20: how has the internet changed and will change what it means to be human?
Episode #21: what does it mean to be yourself? Can you actually be yourself?
Wouldn’t it be nice to change without changing, without effort and uncertainty? It’d be nice, but development usually derives from struggle; it does not come without effort, without having to deal with the unknown. Stories and fables have been created for millennia to teach us many important life lessons, like how to grow from struggle. Joseph Campbell (1972) put together many of those teachings into a comprehensive story line, he called the monomyth. This is the famous and, perhaps trite, Hero’s Journey. But many of us keep on coming back to the monomyth, because there’s so much to learn from it. The hero, whichever story we choose, is our role model. It is our encouragement to take a leap, to do something different, to exert change despite adversity.
I want to focus on the particular moment of the hero’s journey called “the belly of the whale”. The Belly of the Whale represents the moment where the hero, in his journey to a “region of supernatural wonder” (Campbell, 1972, p.30) must “instead of passing outward… goes inward, to be born again” (Campbell, 1972, p.91). In the stories Campbell talks about, the hero has left the comforts of home, and then there’s a crucial moment when he or she is swallowed by something larger than him or her: an elephant, a monster, a wolf, a whale. This period of time inside the “belly of the whale” represents the critical period of incubation of inner change, where the old dies and the new is born. Luke Skywalker goes to meet Yoda in a dark mysterious planet and becomes a Jedi. Gandalf falls into the depths of middle earth and turns from grey to white. These pop culture examples that follow the monomyth, also represent the metamorphosis that goes on in the belly of the whale.
The incubation of inner change is scary. It entails letting go of certainty and embracing uncertainty. It is effortful; it requires resilience, insight and resolve. Kazimierz Dabrowski (2015) called this process “positive disintegrations”. Positive disintegrations are the moments in life where we fall apart, but which allow us to put ourselves together in new and better ways.
Those of us who are facilitating growth for others, whether as a parent, teacher, guide or therapist, are whales or elephants or wolves. We become containers for people to incubate inner change. We provide certain conditions that evoke the struggle of letting go of the old and the development of the new. As such, we must accept the duality of our role, both as vessels that nurture and hold a space, as well as instigators of discomfort, uncertainty and struggle. Accepting ourselves as big or small bellies of a whale and all that the role entails is crucial for the development of those we care about.
Without a hero venturing out into the unknown, and without a belly of the whale, transformation is unlikely, and for that we have numerous myths and about every person’s life journey to prove it.
Campbell, J. (1972). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Dabrowski, K. (2015). Personality-shaping through positive disintegration. California: Red Pill Press.
Welcome to The Seed Pod: The Bridge Gap Community Podcast. The symbol of The Bridge program is a tree to represent the students as they grow; the seeds are the gifts that they give back to the world as they progress. This podcast is a small representation of that. Every week at The Bridge we have conversations about interesting topics and through The Seed Pod we want to share those with you and make you a part of the conversations. What you will hear are the students perspectives on fascinating and controversial issues related on personal growth as they relate to their own lives.
Episode #18 Ending Well: The question we asked this time is: What does it take to end something well? Some students addressed the skills and attitudes it takes to complete goals, while others focused on ending relationships and transitioning well from one moment of life to another.