Posted: September 15, 2020

“A society grows great when men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” -EARTH University Student

Costa Rica, the Rich Coast, a fitting name for such an abundantly diverse country both environmentally and culturally. From the start of the trip we jumped right in working hands on with a local farmer and talking to students from EARTH University; this trip was truly one of a lifetime. It was a pleasure getting to travel with such a passionate group of students for ERM 499 in March of 2019.

I visited Costa Rica briefly once before in high school for a couple of days, but this trip was much more involved with learning about the culture and how they practice sustainability. A little bit of history that I found interesting to learn about while in Costa Rica is that they have no army, have had a female president, and even have a song about their favorite dish; rice and beans. A big part of industry in Costa Rica is surrounded by exporting goods such as bananas, coffee, and cocoa beans. Interestingly enough one of their top exports is also tourism. I found this fascinating because how do you export tourism? Eco-tourism is a growing industry in the country and the knowledge that people take away from visiting is part of the exportation of the tourism. It was interesting to learn more about eco-tourism and to realize a lot of Costa Rica's resources are exploited for foreign tourism. Despite the large amount of tourism the local people were always friendly and inviting which made me realize how different the United States is in that case.

This trip has helped me build on skills such as teamwork, communication, and adaptability. All of these skills worked hand in hand on this trip. On the second day of the trip we were challenged with building a biodigester barely knowing each other and under the guidance of a professor of EARTH University who spoke little English. Right away we were working together and when someone needed help moving rocks, filling bags with dirt, or laying out the bag for the biodigester we all had to work as a team to get it done efficiently. I think the respect and positive attitude right from the beginning of the trip helped us work as a team and finish with time to spare.

Another skill is adaptability which is a valuable skill I was learning the entire trip. Unlike the United States, Costa Rica runs on “tico time" which is much more laid back and relaxed. This was a bit of a challenge to overcome as a person who enjoys schedules and a solid plan. I learned however to enjoy the different pace as well as changing to the cultural norms such as learning to like rice and beans, even though I never eat beans when I'm at home. Learning how to be more adaptable in situations and going along with changes with an open mind is a skill I try to work on everyday following the trip.

The last important skill I learned would be communication, and let me just say this was huge. Costa Rica is a predominantly Spanish speaking country. I took Spanish back in grade school but did not remember much. Our guide was great at translating for us, but this sometimes made presentations go much longer than expected. I realized the barrier of communication would have been less if I would have focused on learning or Spanish or had a translating app in the country. I would say even with my limited knowledge on the language I was able to learn some phrases as time went on. One instance I had with a Costa Rican was while doing an optional ziplining activity and he helped me realize we are all learning. He asked me how I was liking ziplining in Spanish and I had a moment where I blanked. I had no idea what he was saying which made me feel embarrassed and rude but he replied in English, “It's okay, I am working on my English, we can learn together." I wasn't the only one learning on this trip. The people were learning from us, so even with a barrier in language we could still work to communicate which I think is very important.

When looking towards possible employment in the future and talking about the trip there are a few takeaways I would tell my employer. Costa Rica taught me that starting small with projects can lead to large changes. They protect their natural resources and create a sustainable environment for future generations to enjoy. Looking back on my time there I gained a great deal of respect for small scale farmers, embracing change and its challenges, and can see their sustainable practices in agriculture being adapted to fit the U.S. climate. I have gained many skills, a deeper desire to promote conservation, and the drive to help bring sustainability into any work environment that I enter. Also, that “tico time" may not be a bad implementation from time to time to take a second reflect on where we are going, how we will get there, and when we will arrive.

In the future I want to work in environmental consulting and this trip has helped me to expand my view on the world and how we handle our natural resources. It is important to think sustainably because without it we continue to deplete our resources quicker than we intend. I hope to bring some of the small scale thinking to the agricultural industry in the U.S. in hopes to create a big differences. Lastly, I'd like to end on a quote that a student at EARTH University said during a climate discussion, “A society grows great when men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." That is a powerful was to describe the purpose of sustainability, leaving behind something for the future. I hope one day we can all leave behind “trees" for the next generation. Thank you Costa Rica for an amazing experience and Pura Vida.

International Programs

Address

106 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802

International Programs

Address

106 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802