Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Whitworth to expand study abroad opportunities with new Costa Rica Center

Classes for up to 30 students will begin this fall in an ideal location offering access to cloud forests, service learning, home stays

Less than an hour's bus ride from Costa Rica's bustling capital of San José, up a scenic mountain road to the edge of a large rain forest lies Whitworth University's newest classroom building and residence hall.

Whitworth's first international study center will begin offering classes in September for up to 30 students, advancing a long-term university goal to increase cross-cultural learning opportunities for students while also adding affordable capacity for anticipated enrollment growth.

"We've found a site that is ideal for providing students the life-changing, cross-cultural experience afforded by international study," says Michael Le Roy, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Whitworth. "Through our Costa Rica program, students will witness the tensions between economic development, conservation, and the global distribution of wealth in the Central American context. These connections are much clearer when students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a culture and to cultivate a broader understanding of what it means to love one's neighbor."

Building on Whitworth's more than 30 years of experience leading study programs in Central America, the Costa Rica Center initially will offer courses that meet general education requirements for students in any major. Courses will include intensive Spanish language at various levels; history, culture and civilization of Central America; ecology of Costa Rica; and Core 350 – the capstone course in Whitworth's worldview studies program.

The center also will offer a special Jan Term Latin American studies program for freshman students admitted with honors, intensive language training for participants in Whitworth's popular Central America Study Program, and other major-specific programs still in the planning stages. In addition, students will participate in service learning, family home-stays, internships, cultural activities, and will travel to cloud forests, volcanoes and other regional sites.

Whitworth Professor of Spanish Lindy Scott will serve as director of the center, and his wife, Assistant Professor of Spanish Dinorah Scott, will teach Spanish and coordinate service-learning and family home-stays for students. The Scotts bring 20 years of experience living in and leading university study programs throughout Latin America to their roles at the center. Lindy Scott also served in the 1990s as academic dean of the Comunidad Teologica, a consortium of seminaries in Mexico City. He says he's excited about the combination of curricular and co-curricular programs to be offered at Whitworth's Costa Rica Center.

"Our courses in Latin American history and Costa Rican ecology will join together great classroom teaching by expert professors with on-site explorations of the topics, whether it be fauna or democracy," Scott says. "I am especially excited about offering our Core 350 course, which will equip students to look at Christian values and public policy issues in a Latin context. All of this will be permeated with an emphasis on service-learning projects, internships, and family home-stays where students will experience cultural differences and similarities first hand."

Scott also notes that students who participate in Whitworth's Costa Rica program will significantly affect campus life when they return. "At any given moment," he says, "we will have more than 100 students on campus who will have experienced life from a Latin American perspective. This will enrich and give flavor to every academic department and class on campus."

Whitworth's Costa Rica site includes two buildings that are undergoing remodeling and are very well suited for the university's needs. The 27-acre property also features a spring-fed stream that spills into two small ponds, a second-generation rain forest, and broad lawns where one can easily imagine Whitworth students playing Ultimate Frisbee.

The main building, formerly a French restaurant frequented by Latin American heads of state, includes space for two or three classrooms, food service, a student lounge and study areas, and an attached apartment for the on-site director. A small adjacent hotel building can accommodate up to 30 students when they're not in home stays or traveling.

Just to the north of the property lies Costa Rica's renowned Braulio Carrillo National Park, which features a dense virgin cloud forest that is home to hundreds of plant, bird and mammal species as well as the 9,534-foot inactive Barva Volcano. A short bus ride to the southwest is the city of Heredia, which has a population of about 110,000 and hosts the main campus of Costa Rica's largest university.

Le Roy says that Whitworth's longer-term plans call for the possible establishment of international centers in Africa, East Asia and Europe as growth continues in faculty expertise, on-the-ground experience and student demand for study in those regions. International centers will allow Whitworth to expand enrollment without comparable expansion of facilities and population on its home campus. Le Roy and Scott also believe Whitworth is responding to a growing student interest in cross-cultural experience.

"Studies show that after September 11, 2001, there has been a growing desire in North American youth to know more about the larger world," Scott says. "Students want to live, work and serve side by side with our international neighbors. That means speaking their language, learning about their history and customs, playing their sports and appreciating the yearnings of their hearts. An overseas study opportunity is so valuable for learning about and loving our neighbors as we gradually overcome some of our ethnocentrism."

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,700 students, offers 55 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Contacts:

Lindy Scott, director of the Costa Rica Center and professor of Spanish, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4837 or lscott@whitworth.edu.

Greg Orwig, director of university communications, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.