My STEP Project was a service learning study abroad to Costa Rica. The trip was over Spring Break and included home-stays, nature hikes, a service project in a rural town, and time at EARTH University where we learned about sustainable agriculture. The focus of this study abroad was sustainability, specifically in agriculture, which was taught through service.
The Sustainable Service Learning study abroad in Costa Rica gave me a better understanding of life in other cultures and helped me grow as an individual. During our time there, we got to experience life in a rural community which was very different than our rural communities in the United States. In Costa Rica they only farmed what their families needed to survive and they did so sustainably. In the US, we push more for profits than we do sustainability in agriculture. Even though some see Costa Rica as a third world country, they are ahead of the US in how they treat their environment, especially in agriculture. This has given me hope that the United States will someday become sustainable, not just in farming but in all aspects, because it is possible.
Seeing how these people lived changed my view of third world countries as well because it didn’t seem like my idea of third world, they were all happy with what they had and did not seem to be struggling by any means. They had most of the “creature comforts” we enjoy here at home, plus some things we don’t. Their lives focused more around family and harmony with their surroundings. Life wasn’t rushed there and this made it really feel like paradise.
The major interactions that led to this new world view were my home-stay, the service project, and getting to know my peers on the trip. My home-stay was only two days but I learned a lot about the people and the culture of Costa Rica in that short time. By living with native Costa Rican’s, I got to experience life as it is everyday for them. We did chores on the farm, had large family meals, and even attended church. The lifestyle was very laid back, Costa Rican’s like to practice being not doing which basically means being in the moment and living for the moment rather than needing to be busy and working constantly. My housemates and I tried to embody this practice which was surprisingly hard at first because we are so used to being on a tight schedule, but, as time went on we got the hang of it. It really made me stop and appreciate things more than I usually do and reflect on many things.
The service project was helping build benches for the waiting room of a local health clinic. There were a lot of students there trying to help all at once and it seemed we weren’t doing enough for these people. Since there weren’t enough tools or tasks to do, there was a lot of standing around and chatting between students and some of the locals as others were getting work done. At first, I felt like this was a very disorganized project and that we could have helped the people of the town out more if we would have had more tools or even a second site. However, later that day we all talked as a group about or time there and I realized that it wasn’t about how I felt about the experience, rather it was about what those people needed done. The important part is that we helped them and they really appreciated us being there.
The group of students that went on this study abroad was very diverse in our backgrounds and our majors. Many had some interest in sustainability or agriculture but there were some that didn’t. Some of us came from rural backgrounds and others from very urban ones. These differences were truly what made this experience so enlightening, I learned probably as much from my peers as I did our tour guide. Everyone was willing to listen to each other which made it easy to learn and teach others. I was very impressed with how well we all came together and made this trip great for every person.
Though this project was very fun and educational, the biggest transformation came when I realized that I didn’t want to pursue a career in the environment. I still care deeply about sustainability and believe it will one day be accomplished, but I don’t think this path is right for me. This was probably the most important thing I have taken from this trip because it has allowed me to look further into other pathways for my future and I’m happy to say I have narrowed it down to 2.
This study abroad has given me the opportunity to learn from so many people and touch so many lives. I am grateful to have had this experience and hope to continue going abroad and serving others. This project has instilled a sense of purpose within me to help make the world a better place even if it is only a little at a time.