Discover Your Island

Islander Graduate Counseling Students Study Abroad in Costa Rica

September 20, 2016

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A group of graduate counseling students and professors from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi travelled abroad to Costa Rica this summer to not only provide counseling training to a country with a developing framework of counseling professionals, but to also give Islander counseling students an opportunity to practice their professional Spanish-speaking skills. The team of five students and two faculty visited the Central American nation from July 30 to Aug. 13.

“Anytime students travel abroad, they benefit from exposure to a different culture, food, people and language,” said Dr. Yvonne Castillo, Director of the Counseling and Training Clinic at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “Immersion into a new culture takes great concentration and thought process, which helps the student develop their own mastery of the targeted language.”

During the trip, Castillo taught the Spanish-Speaking Internship II course, which is a part of the Graduate Certificate in Counseling Spanish-Speaking Clients program. The certificate program addresses the critical shortage of trained professional counselors who serve the mental health needs to the rapidly growing Hispanic and Latino populations. Instructors of the course train students in counseling terminology, strategies, interventions, cultural issues and practice with Spanish-speakers.

The purpose of the study abroad internship was to provide direct counseling and psychoeducational experiences in Spanish and give students many opportunities to use the Spanish language in professional settings. Students also had the opportunity to become culturally responsive while developing a therapeutic relationship with Spanish-speaking individuals. The course also introduced vocabulary and specific training to facilitate counseling sessions with Spanish-speakers.

“While this was a very busy end to my summer, it was worth every moment,” said Nora Maza, a Master of Science in Counseling student. “Not only has my Spanish improved, but so has my motivation to learn.”

Dr. Mary Fernandez, Assistant Professor of Education, did not attend the trip, but is the integral mind behind the planning and execution of the Graduate Certificate in Counseling Spanish-Speaking Clients program. She was able to communicate with students in Costa Rica using SupervisionAssist, an online interactive platform. She said the trip not only helped students gain confidence with Spanish language skills, but it also increases a students’ marketability.

“I was overwhelmed by these students’ desire, enthusiasm and diligence in learning,” said Fernandez. “It was incredibly exciting to hear how dedicated they were to learning the terminology in Spanish and helping the people of Costa Rica.”

Students also led a Mental Health Facilitators Training session for Costa Rican social workers, teachers and community volunteers.

“Teaching counseling techniques to the people of Costa Rica was such a privilege,” said Rachelle Morales, a Counselor Education doctoral student. “It’s a vital activity for a country which does not yet have the educational structures for the field of counseling. You could tell they really appreciated what we had to share with them.”

Islander students also had the opportunity to facilitate psychoeducational programs to Spanish-speaking elementary and secondary students, as well as Red Cross volunteers.

“The whole experience was amazing. I adored working with the younger kids,” said Lucinda Tijerina, an Islander alumna who is working towards acquiring a Graduate Certificate in Counseling Spanish-Speaking Clients at A&M-Corpus Christi. “I also enjoyed working with my classmates. We all had different skills and we meshed well together.”

Other students on the trip included Diana Davenport and Esmeralda Teran. Also in attendance for part of the trip was Dr. Richard Ricard, Professor of Counselor Education and Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs in the College of Education and Human Development.