By Sam Mahtani
When Becca Hernandez ’20 and Hannah Martinez ’20 went to Costa Rica with the Women’s Soccer program on a missions trip in fall 2019, they had no idea that God would lead them right back to Costa Rica only six months later.
Hernandez, from La Habra, CA and Martinez, from Yuma, AZ, are both studying education at Providence and will graduate in May after spending their final student teaching assignment in San Jose, Costa Rica, at Tepeyac Christian School. Tepeyac is a school supported by the Latin American Fellowship of Reformed Churches, where United Reformed Missionaries Bill and Aletha Green have served for over 15 years.
The school was a stop along the way for the women’s soccer team in fall 2019, where the team played soccer games and visited with the local students. While there, Hernandez and Martinez fell in love with the children and the first seeds of a student teaching opportunity were planted.
After returning from Costa Rica in the fall, the idea of returning was a faraway concept for these seniors until Providence’s Preceptor in Education, Jan Van Spronsen, and Women’s Soccer Coach, Sam Mahtani, brought up the possibility and encouraged them to dream big.
“I felt like I didn’t really didn’t fit in anymore as I was finishing up my Senior year. I felt restless and like I wanted more, but going back to Costa Rica seemed pretty unlikely. Then God moved, and these potential hurdles to go back were removed. Providence worked to make the academic credits and finances feasible and all of a sudden it was an obvious choice,” said Hernandez.
For Martinez, the mission’s trip had introduced her to a whole new world. “At the end of the fall semester I felt like this was a test for me – If you want to be a teacher this is the ultimate challenge; teach in a new culture with people who speak a different language!”
On Jan 17, Martinez and Hernandez flew to Costa Rica once again, this time packed with two bags full of supplies for the school, all of which was donated from friends, family, and Providence faculty.
When they arrived, their host, Eida, and her family immediately embraced the ladies. “They made us feel like family. Eida had a servant’s heart, caring for us and also teaching third grade at Tepeyac,” said Hernandez and Martinez. Both immediately fell in love with the kids at Tepeyac, teaching 1st-6th grade English.
“I loved that the students were so fascinated with me that I could garner their full attention. They had a desire to learn and ask questions, both about the subject matter and about me. I felt so accepted and fulfilled as a teacher, said Martinez. “The kids were amazing,” said Hernandez. While it was sometimes hard to communicate, remembering that God’s love can be shown without words allowed me to connect with them in different ways. I remember playing peek-a-boo and seeing the joy on their faces. Getting to play soccer with them was also an amazing way to have fun with the kids while gaining respect in their eyes as a professor who also played soccer!”
Of course, going to a new culture for three months isn’t always a vacation. Both Hernandez and Martinez missed a number of things back home, including a good ol’ fashioned cheeseburger.
“I had to work through some things from a cultural standpoint,” said Hernandez. “It was draining and tiring to communicate and interact when you’re not fluent in the language, all while trying to be high energy for students! Additionally, teaching style and culture in Costa Rica is very different from America, so it took time for me to step into a place of learning and adjusting to how the culture works in the classroom and to be present for the kids instead of thinking about what I would do differently in U.S. culture.”
For Martinez, language was also a pretty big barrier. “Culturally, people expected me to speak Spanish because I am a proud Mexican but I couldn’t communicate like I wanted to. It really took some time and practice with language learning app, Duolingo, to get more comfortable! Our host family lived on a farm, and that was also pretty different for me. I was not used to living with 100 chickens, five or six dogs, and morning roosters to wake me up at 5:45 AM.”
But all of this was part of the experience, and one they will not soon forget. The absence of a car and a local Target, taking a bus for 25 minutes to get into town, and cafecito time, which is a mid-day coffee and hang out time, are part of the experience in a different culture.
As these two prepare to finish their coursework and step off into a world after college, both of them are looking forward to what’s next. Hernandez plans to pursue a master’s in education and begin teaching at an elementary school, while Martinez is moving back to Yuma, AZ to finish her state teaching certification and find a position at an elementary school.
Reflecting on their time here at Providence, Martinez realizes that she has learned so much about perseverance. “Leaving home I interacted with people of different opinions and personalities, and dealt with the highs and lows of sports, injuries, homework, and travel. I survived these various aspects of life and changed your mentality that I can push through and persevere. In the end I’ve realized it’s a path of growth and learning that I have experienced through it all.”
For Hernandez, it was a reminder of something she’s been taught but maybe never truly felt. “I was brought up as a Christian so I know God is in control, but in reflection I feel like before I came to Providence I didn’t realize that God is truly in everything. Being in classes here I realized that God is really in control, so I’ve learned to persevere knowing that everything is part of God’s plan. I know this sounds cheesy but, Providence affirms that providence exists.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sam Mahtani joined the Providence community in December 2014 to start the men’s and women’s soccer program and transitioned to only the women’s program in 2018. He holds a M.A. in Coaching & Athletic Administration from Concordia University Irvine, and a B.A. in Business Management from Trinity Christian College. In addition to his work at Providence, he is also the head boys soccer coach at Maranatha High School, is involved with various camps and FCA, and a photographer. Sam is a member of Grace Pasadena Church in Pasadena, CA.