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Pura Vida! - ERM 499A - Costa Rica Study Tour: Andrew Clark, ERM Major

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Posted: April 23, 2013

Living the Pure Life!

The highlight of my final year at Penn State is undisputedly my trip to Costa Rica. The Costa Rica Study Tour for ERM 499A was an environmentally focused trip in which waste management, natural resources, ecotourism, and wildlife protection were studied at EARTH University. EARTH University is located in the beautiful rainforests of northern Costa Rica. It is a university that gives opportunities to students in developing countries to learn about agricultural development. My specific task was to make a group video presentation based on waste management practices used at EARTH University.

After departing State College at midnight, we arrived at Newark Airport and boarded our plane. We arrived the next morning at the San Jose airport and were greeted by our tour guides Omar and Jose. Even though I am no stranger to traveling abroad, I still felt a little bit of culture shock. It took me a while to realize I wasn’t in the United State and I couldn’t speak English to people and expect them to understand me. Eventually my Spanish studies kicked in and I was able to communicate a little bit better with the locals.

ClarkCR2.pngWhen we arrived at EARTH University we checked into our rooms and were given a tour of the beautiful campus. All the walkways and buildings on campus were connected by a network of roofs. This is because it rains almost every minute of every day EARTH’s campus. Our meals were in the student cafeteria and were some of the best times to interact with the students. Every meal consisted of some form of rice and beans. This seems like this would get old, but eventually we all looked forward to the rice and beans at the end of a long day. During our 5 days at EARTH, we visited a variety of places including the rainforest, a fully operational banana farm and packaging facility, a botanical garden, a pig and cow farm, and a recycling facility. We were also treated to a variety of cultural presentations and dances to learn more about the student’s cultural background.

After seeing all the sights at EARTH, our next destination was the active volcano Poas. We took our little van up a steep and windy road to the top of the mountain. From the viewing area we could see the crater, the lava dome, and gases that were being released. Afterward, we went to visit La Paz waterfall gardens and nature reserve. Here we saw an amazing waterfall as well as a variety of native animals that can be found the jungles of Costa Rica. Continuing on our journey, we finally made it to our last stop in Jaco. Here we had the chance to go zip-lining on a breath taking treetop tour. Afterwards we checked into or hotel located mere seconds from the Pacific Ocean. While many students took advantage of the various tours and excursions the hotel had to offer, I decided to take advantage of my time at the beach by renting a ClarkCR3.pngsurf board. After two days of surfing, beach volleyball, and swimming, it was time to say our goodbyes to Omar and Jose before we headed back to Penn State.

This trip has been a huge lesson on communication. My ability to speak Spanish is still below average, but I was still willing to make an effort to communicate with people despite this barrier. Additionally, communication with my fellow Penn State students was vital for the production of our video project. Our group needed to communicate and work as a team in order to capture the appropriate video. I feel the communication experience from this trip could easily transfer to a job in a professional setting because many employers look for employees who have good teamwork and communication skills.
Though this trip was only a week long, I was surprised much I miss Costa Rica already. The locals in Costa Rica would use the phrase Pura Vida, literally meaning “The Pure Life” in Spanish. This phrase is the basis of a Costa Rican lifestyle; to have no worries, greet everyone with kindness and generosity, and find enjoyment in everything. How was my trip to Costa Rica you ask? Pura Vida!