Discover Your Island

Counseling Students and Faculty Study Abroad in Costa Rica; Professors Recognized

July 12, 2017

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Six Islander graduate students traveled to San Isidro de Peñas Blancas, Costa Rica for nine days of culture, education and field-based learning as part of the Graduate Certificate in Counseling Spanish-Speaking Clients Program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Islander counseling professors Dr. Yvonne Castillo and Dr. Mary Alice Fernandez supervised the students, who worked to provide counseling resources to Spanish-speaking children and adults during their June 2017 trip.

During their travels, students held a Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills training for students and community volunteers. According to students, the training is a vital activity in a country which does not yet have the concept or educational structure for the field of counseling.

“Counseling resources in Costa Rica are very limited and almost nonexistent. Resources and mental health professionals are critically in need, especially in the school setting,” said Marisol Rodriguez, School Counselor and former Graduate Counseling Student of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “This experience gives you an opportunity to practice Spanish face-to-face, and become familiar with words and scenarios that are tailored to our profession. Overall, it was a phenomenal and rewarding experience to work in another country.”

 While staying in Costa Rica, students also indulged in their surroundings by hiking through the rainforest and eating homegrown cuisines from the all-natural organic garden in the San Isidro local village. They visited and conducted interviews at an adult day care center and participated in community events. They also visited an elementary school which focuses on self-sustainability and conservation, and while there, they helped plant trees.

“This experience is an amazing opportunity to not only be immersed in the Spanish language and culture of Costa Rica but also to be touched by the beauty of the local people and village,” said Martha Lopez, School Counselor and Graduate Counseling Student at A&M-Corpus Christi. “This experience was transformational! The people of Costa Rica use the phrase ‘pura vida’ which means ‘pure life’ and no worries. Although I already knew the Spanish language, it was a great opportunity to learn the local dialect and variant terminology.”

In relation to this trip and a similar one in June 2016, Fernandez and Castillo were awarded the Kenneth L. Clinton Award. The award is given to faculty in recognition of their participation and support in facilitating study abroad programs with the primary mission of research, teaching and service across cultures.

“The graduate certificate program was designed to address the shortage of trained professional counselors serving the mental health needs of a rapidly growing Hispanic/Latino population,” said Fernandez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, and founder of the certificate program. “The creation and approval process for the program took several years, but seeing and hearing students’ enthusiasm to learn and serve is incredibly rewarding!”

Fernandez credits Castillo with playing a key role in relation to students’ drive to succeed.

“Immersion into a new culture takes great concentration and thought process,” said Castillo, Professional Assistant Professor and Director of the Counseling and Training Clinic at the Island University. “There is excitement in watching a student’s confidence as they use the Spanish language to present to community members. To share learning in such a way is beyond measure, and I’m thankful.”

Other students on the trip included Andreea Felea, Sanjuanita Gonzales, Rachelle Morales, and Gina Trevino-Kukal.

“Dr. Castillo and Dr. Fernandez did an awesome job making sure we were exposed to experiences that would trigger our desires to learn,” said Trevino-Kukal, School Counselor and Graduate Counseling Student at A&M-Corpus Christi.

To find out more about the Graduate Certificate in Counseling Spanish-Speaking Clients Program, an offering within the College of Education and Human Development, click here