There’s no place like home

Vashon and Maury Islands can be a model of how to welcome others.

When it comes to language learning, there’s no place like home — o en Español, el hogar.

Home/hogar is just what more than a dozen Costa Rican students got to experience when they visited Vashon this month, enduring our cold snap while practicing their English skills and learning about the culture of the U.S. while taking classes at Vashon High School (VHS).

Next month, a crew of Vashon students will return the favor and escape our cold, gray February for the tropical Central American country just west of Panama. (See page 1 story.)

Such experiences are much more than tourism. They’re a chance to swim around in another place’s culture and language, to see how people across the world live. While by no means inexpensive, exchange programs are one of the best ways to kick language learning into hyperdrive and develop love and respect for other people.

Some of the Costa Rican students told The Beachcomber they’d heard warnings that Americans could be rude — and they were pleasantly surprised to find the opposite in their visits. We’re sure that the lucky few on Vashon who visit Costa Rica will also find warm and welcoming hospitality.

There are many people to thank for the return of such a program at VHS, especially language teachers Sarah Powell and Lenka Becvar. Crucial to the program’s success, too, are the families who opened their doors to the visiting Costa Rica students and the other staff and volunteers who helped drive students around and facilitate their time here.

We applaud each of them for keeping Vashon a place where cultures intersect and young people can have life-changing, memory-building experiences. These trips let students truly see the world and feed their minds — helping them to become global citizens.

Exchanges like this foster cross-cultural friendships, enlighten our youth, and make the world a little bit more loving. They are an investment well worth making, and the success of this year’s program will serve as a blueprint for years of exchanges to come — hopefully including a bountiful scholarship fund to make these trips accessible to all.

We also hope that this recent exchange serves to boost interest in and support for foreign language programs in our school district, in general.

As of this year, Spanish is the only foreign language taught at Vashon High School, with no fourth-level option offered. A French program, launched in the fall of 2019, is being phased out.

For many years before that, the district had a thriving Japanese program that resulted in many students learning that language, traveling to Japan on exchange trips, and having a strong base for their future exploration of the language and culture of Japan.

Keeping language and exchange programs alive and well in our school district will take a commitment from the district and support from the community. We can help by contributing small — by buying a cookie from a language program bake sale. We can also contribute big — such as by opening our home to a student from another country.

Vashon and Maury may be islands geographically, but on the world stage, we can be a model of how to welcome others.

And to our new friends from Costa Rica — ¡hasta la proxima!