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Nursing students Study Abroad in Costa Rica

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Photo courtesy of Hankondo Sibalwa
Nursing students and faculty during their time in Costa Rica.

By Carla Villasana-Acosta

Thirteen Grand Rapids Community College students traveled to Costa  Rica this summer semester to study nursing, expanding their medical knowledge while living among a new culture.

The trip was led by faculty members Sherry Knoppers and Dawn Zuidegeest-Craft. It started as an idea to offer GRCC nursing students “a trip that would use the nursing skills” instead of making it an elective course.

The travel experience then became a new option for the Associate Degree Nursing 248 course, which is usually focused on helping patients around the Grand Rapids area. The purpose of this change was “having an opportunity to become community servers and explore cultures,” Zuidegeest-Craft said.

Students have to complete two semesters of the nursing program to be eligible to go on the trip. That way they prepare and develop required skills to accomplish class duties.

During the 10 day trip, students worked hand-in-hand with Costa Rican doctors and served 105 patients who lived in poor areas.

The group also had the chance to take in the sights and learn more about the Costa Rican culture. They visited natural landscapes and practiced activities such as zip-lining and horseback riding.

The trip was arranged through the Department of Experiential Learning and the organization International Service Learning and cost $3,000 per student. The price included the air fare, meals, interpreters, and the doctors’ stipend. Nursing trips can be paid using financial aid and fundraising. A $500 Nursing Travel scholarship has been founded specifically for this course.

Hankondo Sibalwa, one of the students that went on the trip, affirmed that the class made him value the education he obtains at GRCC and to admire foreign cultures.

Sibalwa described the course as “a lifelong experience that can never be taken away from you… I could do it again every year.”

As a final tip, Knoppers recommends nursing students planning on participating in the Study Away program to “get excited about it, plan ahead, and save up.”