Students from Cascade High School visited Costa Rica as the second trip of Cougars Expanding Horizons, a group formed by Rebecca McDermott and Angie Manternach, to provide opportunities for students to travel, experience different cultures and see life outside of Eastern Iowa.

The first Expanding Horizons trip took place in 2018 and saw students visiting Italy and Spain. All trips are planned and signed up for two to three years in advance to allow students time to save and fundraise. The amount of students who can join is limited only by the size of a tour bus, with the Costa Rica trip comprising 38 students. The trip had originally been booked for April 2021, but was postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trip lasted eight days with the first and last dedicated to traveling and an itinerary designed to take the students across all three of Costa Rica’s climates, the rainforest-covered Sarapiqui region, the dryer temperate Arenal area, and the arid desert of Guanacaste. Activities included visiting coffee and pineapple plantations, ziplining over the jungle, whitewater rafting, tasting chocolate and hiking through national parks and biological preserves to see a volcano.

“I really liked the natural environment part of it,” said Rebecca Diller. “I ended up crying at the volcano part because I thought it was so beautiful that our world can look like this. You don’t really see rainforests and tons of trees in Cascade, just small areas of trees and fields. Out there it’s pure nature and it’s beautiful, they don’t mess with it too much.”

In addition to experiencing the natural world of Costa Rica, the students were exposed to the culture of the region by eating at family-owned local restaurants. They also took part in a scavenger hunt in a town, interacting with locals to learn the history of the region.

Laura Rollinger said, “I like that this trip didn’t really take us to big tourist places. We didn’t go to hotels with indoor swimming pools, stay in a beach house all day or do whatever you assume people would do when they go to Costa Rica. We didn’t do any of that. We mingled with the locals and got to put ourselves in a normal environment as travelers, not tourists.”

The students’ last day was spent on a boat tour in a mangrove forest and snorkeling in the ocean. According to Angie Manternach, the students developed bonds with peers they didn’t normally see out of school, facilitating new friendships. Many of the students were inspired by the trip to travel more and see what other regions the world has to offer outside their homes.

Rollinger said, “I’m definitely going to take this experience with me, probably forever. All the food, the people, the experiences I’ll probably never experience again.”

Cougars Expanding Horizons’ next trip will be to Ireland, set for summer 2024. Details will be announced in May.