Dental students make friends and memories in Costa Rica

For 11 Durham College (DC) Dental Hygiene students, a Faculty-led Classroom Abroad (FLCA) trip to Costa Rica was a rewarding way to spend Reading Week in October.

FLCA trips are just one of the many experiential learning opportunities that are available to DC students. By immersing themselves in their chosen field, as well as a new country and culture, they can hone the skills they’ve learned in the classroom, gain real-world work experience and make lasting memories.

Students were joined by dental professor Lisa Frisch and program coordinator Jennifer Kellett for the trip, a partnership with Costa Rica Global Learning Programs. They travelled to multiple locations throughout the country, from urban centres to the countryside, an Indigenous community and the Caribbean seaside.

“The students had a really incredible opportunity to go into a very culturally diverse population where we didn’t speak the language,” said Kellett. “It was a whole different experience for them.”

Despite the language barrier, the DC group received a warm welcome everywhere they went.

“The people that we met there were just so incredible, so giving and warm and hospitable,” she said.

Though not able to practice dentistry outside of Canada, the students and faculty provided oral hygiene instruction and education and brought lots of supplies to share with the communities they visited. Their stops included a homeless shelter, a teenage rehab center, a daycare centre, a private practice and a community health clinic.

“It’s a strong community and they value oral health, but just like here in Canada there are many gaps in the system and there are many people who are unable to access care, education and knowledge,” explained Frisch.

Inspired by stories of other FLCAs at DC, the professor had envisioned an inspiring and invaluable learning opportunity for her students, and the trip exceeded her expectations.

“It really gave the students a wide range of experiences,” she said. “We got to experience so much of the culture of Costa Rica. We were eating so many of the foods, we learned so much from our guides about their people.”  

The students were unanimous in their praise of the trip, raving about everything from their lodgings and transportation to the hosts who welcomed them along the way.

“I would describe my experience as exciting and nerve wracking, because you don’t know what you’re getting into. But that’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it exciting,” said one student, Samantha Barnes.

Her classmate Riley Faith McDowell-Anderson returned from the trip with a new perspective.

“My takeaway from my time in Costa Rica that I’ll bring back to my field of study would be to not judge people so quickly, and to think of the different walks of life that they experience.”

The trip was funded by Global Skills Opportunity (GSO), the Government of Canada’s Outbound Student Mobility Pilot Program. DC students should be on the lookout for their own opportunity to study abroad, according to another student, Diamond Tia Wong-Shaw.

“I would recommend it to any student or any person who doesn’t know much about other cultures, because it was very interesting to experience different cultural values,” she said.