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Cross-Cultural Connections in Costa Rica

One week. I was in Costa Rica for one week, but gained knowledge and connections that will last a lifetime. During this one week, I led a group of 11 fellow students, with the help of an advisor. We started our service-learning trip in the province of Limón, and stayed at a community center in the local Iroquois community. It’s important to know that many participants spoke little or no Spanish; only a few, including myself, knew some. We also had a few people who were completely fluent. This language barrier for most, although difficult, didn’t stop participants from trying to communicate with the local people. Hand motions and other “non-verbal” cues helped when language couldn’t. By the end of the week, there were even some participants who remembered what they learned in the Spanish classes they took long ago. It was such an awesome thing for me to watch my participants grow in this way.

The theme of our trip was micro-entrepreneurship and sustainability. When we stayed with the Iroquois community, we got to hear from a local who had recently started his own business, with the support of his family. We traveled to his house and learned the process of him printing t-shirts – from the design phase all the way to the printing phase. It was incredibly cool to see and we were able to support his business by purchasing t-shirts. We also got to work with a local woman who used pop tabs and ribbon to create intricate and beautiful jewelry pieces. Everybody was able to try out the craft, and although some were more successful than others, I think it’s safe to say that everyone had a great time.

Before traveling to the Cartago province for the second half of our trip, we spent half a day at EARTH University. EARTH is a small, private university that offers degree programs solely focused on sustainability and agriculture. While at EARTH, we went on a biodiversity walk of the on-campus forest. We learned not only about the history of the land, but of the importance of crops – particularly the banana crop – to EARTH University itself. In fact, selling the bananas is one of the ways that the university makes an income. One of our tour guides even shared his story with participants and how it’s his goal to go back to his own country, with the knowledge he gained at EARTH, to teach farmers how to take care of the land and produce crops in a way that is more sustainable and more fruitful.

During the last half of our trip, we stayed in a Costa Rican style house in the beautiful Orosi Valley. During each day, we would travel to a local, unfinished community center and work to make and pour the concrete floor. We also had some participants go to local houses and peel bean pods or make an outdoor oven. Our guide was a local Costa Rican, or “Tico,” who had connections with many of the local families. In fact, one of the best parts of each day was being able to visit these families and share a typical Costa Rican meal with them, both for lunch and dinner. Talking with these families and learning their stories was something that I know I won’t forget!