LIVE OAK — Sheree Mitchell is a Suwannee County success story.
That’s what her ninth grade Spanish teacher at Suwannee High School Mabel Peters said 20 years after Mitchell graduated and moved to Miami to start her own business.
“I’ve known her since she was a little girl, and she was always so responsible,” Peters said. “Sheree has had as many obstacles as anyone else and maybe even more, yet she said, ‘I’m going to get ahead.’ And she did.”
Mitchell, 38, was born and raised in Live Oak and is now the founder and president of Immersa Global, an experiential travel company that offers cultural immersion programs for adults in Costa Rica and Portugal.
Mitchell and Peters became as close as family while Mitchell was in high school, and Mitchell not only fell in love with her Spanish teacher, she also fell in love with the language and culture.
“She became like a godmother to me,” Mitchell said. “I would spend time with her and her family on the weekends, and she encouraged my parents to send me to her home country, Costa Rica.”
Peters said the only way for a person to completely learn a new language is to be immersed in the culture. So Peters sent her to live with her family in Costa Rica.
“I wasn’t just going to send her anywhere. She was like a child to me,” Peters said. “But I knew she had to get out of Suwannee County to learn the language and experience a foreign country.”
Mitchell visited Costa Rica throughout her high school years and lived like a local there. After she graduated and started college at Florida State University, she used her experience traveling and living in Costa Rica to create her own study abroad program, Mitchell said.
It was one of the biggest challenges of her life, she said, putting together a program. She was a 21-year-old college student, directing her own study abroad program in another country and she loved it.
“I loved it so much that I decided I wanted to do stuff like this with education,” Mitchell said.
After FSU, she was hired by Palmer Trinity School, a private school in Palmetto Bay. Her first year there she created another study abroad program. It was so successful with the students and parents that her colleagues asked for her to put a program together for them, she said.
The school approved the program and she started working to provide adults with an immersive traveling experience. In 2016, Mitchell started her own company, Immersa Global.
She is currently offering two programs, one in Costa Rica and another in Portugal. The programs are 10 days long and include language and culture immersion. Participants will be able to stay with prescreened families and have an authentic, local experience.
“There will be a lot of fun things like craft beer tours, visiting volcanoes, spending the day at the thermal hot water springs, hikes, coffee tours and local networking groups with expats,” Mitchell said.
She is following the Anthony Bourdain model of traveling. She said that if her clients want to go to a country and see the usual sites, they don’t need her. They pay her to find the hidden gems and to give them a complete cultural experience.
“Nobody needs help finding something that has a lot of marketing dollars behind it,” she said. “Using the Bourdain model, these are all contacts that I have spent a lot of time cultivating. It’s a unique experience from anything else.”
Mitchell is currently working on broadening that experience to more places, she said. She is working on a program to take people to Israel and more countries, too.
She is also offering programs to businesses that are interested in sending their employees to foreign countries for diversity training. So the company can be more inclusive with other races and cultures. She said there is a real market for that right now.
In the end, Mitchell continues to follow the model set up for her in Suwannee County by her high school Spanish teacher, proving that it doesn’t matter where you begin, but where you end up.