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Learning about Local Rural Development in Pacayitas, Costa Rica by Kelsey Cantor, Nutritional Sciences Major, INTAG Minor

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Posted: June 6, 2016

I felt welcomed into people’s lives and homes and learned the value of kindness, hospitality, and community engagement.
Finca ViaLig Butterfly Farm

Finca ViaLig Butterfly Farm

Learning from the community of Pacayitas in Costa Rica was both a pleasure and a privilege. This experience far exceeded any expectation I could have had about the amount I would learn and the amount one community can impact an individual in such a short period of time. The class was designed in a way to allow you to experience the daily lives of the people in Pacayitas. For housing, we stayed with host families, two students per family. Each day was a new adventure of meeting with organizations, school groups, businesses, farms, or public service agencies to ask questions and learn about what they provide to the community the obstacles and victories they have experienced in their work. Through meetings, activities, and tours we were able to connect with a variety of people and learn from them about local rural development.

My time in Pacayitas was filled with many highlights. One of these highlights was the day we visited a coffee plantation owned and managed by a woman who was a key leader in a women’s business co-op in Pacayitas. She showed us how she grows the coffee, processes it, and packages it for sale. I greatly appreciated seeing her hard work and creativity, combined with the ways she preserves and upholds the integrity of traditional and culturally significant practices and ways of knowing. I love coffee and it was very meaningful for me to connect and gain a greater appreciation for something I consume so often.

Other highlights included meeting with school/community member collaborations. We met with a parent-teacher board and a nutrition board. I learned about what they do to enrich their children’s health and education, how they have engaged in the community to support their efforts, obstacles they have encountered, and how they have navigated the centralized governmental system to meet their community’s needs. The greatest highlight for me was developing real and authentic relationships with our program hosts, house families, community members, and student and teacher members of my class. I felt welcomed into people’s lives and homes and learned the value of kindness, hospitality, and community engagement.

Many new skills were forged through this experience. Communication skills were important because I had to step outside of my comfort zone to speak Spanish with my host family and other community members. I was able to increase my Spanish speaking skills and also increase my ability to communicate without words. I was also able to practice the skill of working in a team through collaborating with my fellow students and our professors to create a school lesson program we presented one day. Adaptability skills were enhanced because each day we had a different group we were learning from and interacting with. I also often times did not know the details of what we were doing that day and had to be flexible and adapt to whatever activity or new environment we were in.

I would describe this experience to a potential employer as clarifying. This class and travel experience gave me direction for my future career by showing the importance of entrepreneurship and community engagement. Travelling to Pacayitas and discussing with local leaders allowed me to see the importance of nutrition in overall health and quality of life. I also learned about things outside of my typical academic training and developed more versatile skills. Having my eyes opened to a different way of living, I have become more thoughtful about how I spend my time and invest my resources. I have been inspired and have begun to develop the skills to be a leader in my own community.