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Costa Rica – Third Time's the Charm: Allison Hoover, Agricultural and Extension Education

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Posted: October 17, 2014

While my third experience in Costa Rica didn’t offer nearly the same community as my previous trips, I was able to overcome adversity and challenges to develop personal skills and an overall beneficial experience.
Teaching fifth grade students about agriculture

Teaching fifth grade students about agriculture

This past spring semester, I was completing my required student teaching internship in order to graduate in May with a degree in Agricultural and Extension Education (AEE). For the first portion of my student teaching, I spent 7 weeks in northern PA at Wellsboro High School and Agriscience program. The second half of my student teaching internship was something completely different – I went to Costa Rica. 


As the first AEE major to “student teach” abroad, I knew that, in planning this experience, it was definitely going to be unique and potentially challenging. We didn’t really know what to expect since the program we worked with never had agricultural educators in Costa Rica as student teachers. However, with 2 previous agricultural education experiences in Costa Rica (one an immersion trip where I conducted research on agricultural education and the other a semester study abroad at EARTH University), I thought I knew enough about the country, its education system, and agriculture to adapt to whatever was thrown my way.
So I boarded the plane on March 9 to fly to the warm tropics (while my students in Wellsboro froze in the chilly winter air). I was happy to again be in Costa Rica, but this time I was on the other side of the country from where I studied and several hours from where I lived 2 years prior – so I was diving into a new place all over again. 


My student teaching placement was a local agricultural university, where it was intended that I focus on the agricultural courses and maybe serve as a teaching assistant to the professors. However, I quickly learned that the university’s semester was soon coming to an end and found that it would not be as beneficial to attempt to teach with only 5 classes left for each of these college courses. So my student teaching experience altered its focus to extension programs with the university. 


I worked closely with the extension programs that took place on the campus and helped coordinate some high school student groups who visited. I achieved several goals of teaching large student groups in Spanish (about agriculture) and soon was seeking more opportunities to take advantage of during my time. 


After a few weeks, I was able to connect with a local, very rural elementary school that was located within walking distance to the university campus. With another goal of programming and implementing a community event, I asked for permission to develop a special event for the youth and community on Earth Day (April 22 – just 3 days before I left the country). Permission was granted, and as I continued to help with extension programs and volunteer time in the elementary school’s 5th grade classroom, I began to plan for a community-focused event. 


Planning for Earth Day became a primary profession for the last several weeks of my experience – mainly because it took so much time to make contact, follow up with individuals, and finalize plans. In the end, Earth Day was a wonderful success! I had worked with stakeholders and volunteers and reached my 100 participant goal (with about 60 participants being students) for the event! We had interactive educational displays, environmental crafts, and guest speakers from the university to engage the community (students, teachers, and parents) in a discussion about local environmental problems and natural resource management. The school’s Parent association even was able to hold a food fundraiser for the small, low-resource school. 


While my third time in Costa Rica didn’t offer as much of a community/support system as my previous trips, I was still thankful for the challenges and opportunities that arose. I definitely gained self-motivation skills, as I had no official supervisor while in the country who was checking on me. I also developed my communication skills – especially in Spanish – as I was constantly communicating with all stakeholders using various means. Leadership and management skills were also strengthened by planning and executing a multi-stakeholder event. Because of all of the challenges and experiences I had while in Costa Rica this past spring, I would definitely explain this experience (perhaps to a potential employer) as one that presented many programmatic challenges which I was able to overcome through my professional skills, self-management, and cultural competency.