Not only did I achieve my childhood dream of observing howler monkeys, red-eyed tree frogs, three-toed sloths, and many more animals in their natural habitat, I also developed practical skills to prepare me for my future career in environmental science.
While studying abroad in Costa Rica, I was able to experience the importance of sustainability and economics to native culture during a visit to a family-owned coffee farm.
When we first arrived in Costa Rica, one of the first destinations that we travelled to was a biological station that was a two hour boat ride away from the nearest town and had no electricity. This meant no phones and no internet, so basically no communication of any kind with the outside world.
One of the best parts of this program was being able to see and explore all the biology our professor would lecture us about, one day she would teach us about bats, and the next day we would be catching them and observing them. It was so much easier to understand science.
I had the opportunity to live with a local family so I was always speaking Spanish and I know that my level of fluency has definitely accelerated. Currently, I am trying to find a balance between my culture in the U.S. and the culture I learned in Costa Rica so that I can incorporate and experience both into my everyday life because I do not intend to leave behind what I learned in Costa Rica.
During our one week in Costa Rica we had the opportunity to learn a lot about the mechanics of the Costa Rican health system. Or as the locals referred to it “La CAJA.”
I met great people and made long lasting friendships. I am thankful for the help and support from being awarded the Study Abroad Scholarship.
From the moment I stepped off the plane into the balmy 70 degree air of Costa Rica, I knew this spring break trip was going to be well-worth leaving the below zero temperatures of Michigan for a week. Although I certainly appreciated the change in weather, what I cherished more during the trip was being able to talk to Costa Rican citizens and physicians about the strengths and weakness of their socialized healthcare.
As I approach my future as a physician this was a great trip and experience for me to have; not only to experience Costa Rican culture and to see their health care system but also to see health care in general abroad.
The incomparable beauty and spirit of the country was everything I could’ve hoped for, and in turn left a lasting imprint on the way I now see the world.
While abroad, I was able to do everything from sitting in on community meetings and being asked important questions on my own perspective of the community and their plans for rural tourism development, working at a lecheria (or milk farm), and teaching English to high school students, all the way to zip lining, surfing, hiking, and even shopping!
I was able to live with two different host families during my time there, each for about a month, which ended up being my favorite part of my study abroad experience.
My own advances in practical skills are hard to fathom. I can use a machete for farm work, harvest forages by hand, build and paint farm structures, vaccinate farm animals, artificially breed bovine species, castrate calves and piglets, milk cattle, drive cart animals…and the list doesn’t end!
Because I actually got to be in these rain forests, rather than just read about them in a textbook, I was able to grasp why there are significant differences in the amount of carbon that is being sequestered by these different types of forests.
We did everything from snorkeling at a remote island, to zip lining through the cloud forest on top of the canopy, to watching the largest sea turtle in the world lay its eggs on the shore of La Torteguero.
I really became very close with my host family, just over the course of the week. They taught me a lot without even trying to, just by accepting me into their everyday lives.
In addition to attending lectures and discussions, we had the opportunity to visit public, private, and rural hospitals. We were able to converse with both physicians as well as patients, which in my opinion was an invaluable experience.
We visited Corbana, a banana farm, and toured their farm and research facilities. We were able to interact with employees, through translators, to discuss the methods of operations and how they limit their ecological impacts, along with the use of fermented biological ingredients to replace fertilizers.
One woman was ready to deliver by the time we had arrived and donned our sea foam green scrubs. The physician asked her if it was alright for us to observe her delivery and the patient gave us permission. This was the only time that we had seen a doctor actually asked permission of a patient and I appreciated and respected her for that.
Trash was only recycled, every facility was energy efficient, and food in the cafeteria was only grown through sustainable practices. The weeks I studied at Earth University helped me to adapt to a sustainable lifestyle and will be carried with me for the rest of my life.
This program to Costa Rica was a unique opportunity to experience what medical care abroad is actually like. I knew that the focus of this program was medically-related issues, but I grossly underestimated how much I would learn about the culture while I was there.
Despite my initial nerves, this ended up making my experience that much more worthwhile because of the unique experience I received from living with my host family.
I wondered what my host mother would think of me, whether or not I would like the food, and how in the world I would be able to communicate in my slow, inexperienced Spanish. It had been over a year since my last of three semesters of Spanish at Michigan State and I was anything but confident in my abilities with the language.
While I was able to improve my Spanish language abilities, I also increased my ability and knowledge of forestry measurements and sustainable agriculture systems. The courses were very cutting edge and relevant to current global issues involving poverty, development and climate change, which were of special interest to me, as I plan on a career based in developing tropical countries.