BCHS student earns coveted cultural exchange scholarship

student standing in front of red flag

Bethlehem Central High School junior Gabriel Martin will study language and culture in Costa Rica this summer thanks to a highly competitive travel scholarship he earned with high marks on last year’s National Spanish Exam and a standout application.

Only 12 high school students from across the country were awarded the travel scholarship.

The high school junior will fly to Costa Rica in July and will spend time in the  Monteverde region of the country, where he will be performing volunteer work with the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. During the weeklong stay, Martin  will stay with a host family and will also visit the Arenal Volcano. 

“In my life, I have not been able to truly experience any culture other than my own,” said Martin, who is a member of the high school’s Spanish honor society known as Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica. “I am looking forward to throwing myself into a completely new culture. I am extremely excited to coexist amongst the incredibly unique biodiversity of the region.”

Martin said he was encouraged to enter the scholarship competition by BCHS World Language teacher Evelyn Ledezma. The contest is sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) with support from United Planet, a non-profit organization that connects volunteers internationally. It is open to students who score above the 75th percentile on the National Spanish Exam. Martin had earned a silver medal on the exam in grade 10. The silver medal is for students scoring in the 85th to 94th percentile.  The exam is administered every year at the high school.

Martin said he “celebrated with a flurry of high fives” at school when he found out last week that he had won.

The scholarship was not the only good news Martin received this month based on his Spanish language proficiency. He was also notified that a poem he had written would be published in the March 2023 edition of Albricias.

Albricias is a national magazine which recognizes the high achievement of Spanish language students from across the country. Martin’s poem, Extranjero en Mi Propia Ciudad, highlights the prioritization of tourism by many Latin American countries rather than providing support for the native citizens. 

Congratulations to Gabriel Martin! You can read the poem (and translation) below:

Extranjero en Mi Propia Ciudad

Clamo para que mi gobierno sea sensato.

Ellos que construyeron hoteles

En lugar de viviendas. En vez de

Agua limpia, albercas lujosas.


Dame una respuesta:

¿Por qué dejaron que un crucero

Trajera invasores a nuestra tierra

Que en nuestro mar tiran basura?


Estos intrusos glorificados

Arruinan nuestra economía acuícola.

Mi pueblo es Taganga, soy nativo colombiano.

Mi sustento como pescador está fallando.


Clamo para que mi gobierno sea justo.

Ellos que desplazaron a mi familia

Y destruyeron mi residencia, 

Con un centro turístico para reemplazarla.


Dame una respuesta:

¿Por qué los líderes nos ignoran

Para priorizar a los turistas

Y despojarnos de nuestras culturas?


Devuélveme mi identidad.

Yo soy un extranjero en mi propia ciudad.


Foreigner in My Own City (translated to English)

I cry out for my government to be sensible.

They who constructed hotels

In place of housing. Instead of

Clean water, luxurious pools.


Give me an answer:

Why did they let a cruise ship

Bring invaders to our land

That dump garbage in our sea?


These glorified intruders

Ruin our aquaculture economy.

My town is Taganga, I am a native Colombian.

My livelihood as a fisherman is failing.


I cry out for my government to be just.

They who displaced my family

And destroyed my home,

With a tourist resort to replace it.


Give me an answer:

Why do the leaders ignore us

To prioritize tourists

And strip us of our cultures?


Return to me my identity.

I am a foreigner in my own city.