For my STEP Project, I participated in the May Study Abroad Session entitled “Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica”. In this program, we spent two weeks learning about what it means to be sustainable, methods by which Costa Rica develops their economy in an environmentally sustainable way, and the specific geologic processes that allowed Costa Rica to have such a unique environment rich in biodiversity and delicate ecosystems. After this, we traveled around the country of Costa Rica for 10 days, learning more about what gives Costa Rica such an important role in maintaining biodiversity and protecting the environment, all while contributing to the development of the country in a sustainable way.
At first, I didn’t really comprehend the concept of sustainable development. I thought that saving the environment meant reserving land that no one could use, so that we as humans didn’t negatively affect it. By traveling to Costa Rica, I learned that a nation can use national parks or protected lands as a way of developing their economy. The establishment of National parks provides jobs for thousands of people, and makes it possible to help reverse the effects of deforestation and pollution in the environment.
Also, before traveling to Costa Rica, I thought that renewable resources weren’t realistic as a form of powering an entire country. I learned that in Costa Rica, about 80 % of the nation’s energy comes from Hydroelectric plants, and as of the first three months of 2015, the nation derived all of it’s energy from renewable resources – this means that for energy production, they burned 0 fossil fuels. Learning this was shocking. It provided tangible proof that a developed nation could be free of fossil fuels, and can progress by having cleaner air and water.
While in Costa Rica, we participated in numerous tours, talks, and hands-on activities with people who were very passionate about what they do, and what the country of Costa Rica does. Being able to learn from the respectable businesses and the individuals dedicated to conservation, I really developed a new appreciation for hard work when it comes to environmental protection. Even others on the trip helped me to learn more about ways in which someone can help the environment, whether it is volunteering with a mangrove restoration project, or simply picking up litter as you walk down the street.
Relationships were very important to me on this trip. Spending so much time with my classmates, I was able develop relationships with people that have changed who I am today. Not only was I exposed to so many different people, but I was able to learn from their opinions and experiences, making me look at environmental protection in a different light. Specifically, the friends I made shared with me their passion for community service and the outdoors. With them, I now plan on hiking the many different trails in and around Ohio, as well as volunteering with national parks and conservation projects. I also have set new goals to be able to spend a summer in another country again, helping environmental organizations take powerful strides in restoration, conservation, and protection efforts.
Finally, being open to new experiences was definitely part of what let me learn so much through this program. I’ll have to admit at times I was stepping outside of my comfort zone with regards to being in another country that spoke Spanish as a first language. But day after day, I was able to practice communicating, while being immersed in a different culture. With the help of my friends on the trip, I was also able to make lasting memories that I can learn from, and use to motivate myself to try new things again.
This trip was so significant to me because it helped me narrow down what I plan to do with my remaining years at Ohio State. By developing a new passion for environmental sustainability and sustainable development, I realized exactly what I plan to major in and what steps I can do to help prepare for a career in the field. Through the program, I was able to get 3 credit hours that directly apply to my major, and I was also able to find a position doing undergraduate research dealing with the national parks system and the benefits associated with conservation. Finally, the program helped me pick other classes that relate to sustainability and conservation.