Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cultural and Environmental Sustainability of Costa Rica - Emily Richardson

Why I Chose This Cross Cultural Experience
I am an Animal Behavior major here at Carroll University. I have always had an interest in animals and the ecosystems they belong to, so when I saw a CCE that focused on ecological conservation, I knew it was the experience for me. I knew before signing up for a CCE that I needed an experience that I was genuinely interested in, otherwise I would not have been so proactive in my learning experience.
Focus of Cross Cultural Experience
The focus of this particular CCE was to learn about the efforts made by local Costa Ricans to preserve their natural resources. Costa Rica is a beautiful and lush country with wildlife and nature in every corner and crevice; this is why so many tourists from around the globe come to visit. One would think that locals would be worried about the negative effect such a large tourism industry would have on the preservation of the environment; however, after my visit to the country, I learned that this giant tourism industry actually helps preserve the natural world. Costa Rica thrives on the tourism industry both economically and in environmentally.
The locals are very passionate about teaching visitors about their beautiful backyard and how they continue to keep it around for future generations. Almost everyone works in the tourism industry, not only because there are so many tourists that come to the country, but because the Costa Ricans are proud of their wildlife and history. There are turtle watch tour guides, river boat tours, and numerous wildlife volunteering opportunities to participate in because it is an active effort to preserve the environment. Costa Rica is thought to be one of the most eco-friendly counties in the world: tourists are asked to live in eco-friendly lodges or hotels, use less motorized transportation to lower COemissions, install low pressure toilets, compost waste, and so many other actions.
I truly believe that while I was participating in the learning experience, I was specifically focused on how another culture can teach me how to better look at my own. I have always thought of myself as an advocate for wildlife; however, there are little things I overlook daily that impact the world I live in. I could walk or ride a bike to a close location instead of using a vehicle that is harmful to the air quality, I can recycle and compost to reduce the need for landfills, I can install low pressure plumbing in my home so that I utilize less water, and finally, I can educate others about how they can help as well.
            I never knew that I would find myself loving a new culture and community that I would be so anxious to return to. If I am offered the chance to ever return to the communities I visited, I would take it in a heartbeat (well, maybe after learning a little more Spanish first). I love the local’s passion for wildlife, conservation, and education about the natural world. A whole country seems to share a similar passion with me, and it is something I will never forget.

What Did I Gain From My Experience?
            As a person who has never traveled farther than the other side of the United States, I found a new appreciation for world travel and culture after completing this experience. There is a lot of things I did not know before leaving for this trip:
  • I did not know much about Costa Rica or it’s culture
  • I did not know anyone I was traveling with, they were all complete strangers aside from the fact that we saw each other a few times at meetings before our departure
  • I knew nothing about traveling outside the country or traveling on an international plane
  • I had no clue how to say anything in Spanish other than “Hola” and “Gracias”
  • I did not know that I was in for an adventure of a lifetime where I would learn more than I ever could have just sitting in a classroom or reading a textbook.
What I did know, was that I was going to get out what I put into this experience, so I buckled up with my positive attitude and my willingness to try anything (within reason of course…). I knew that I had to immerse myself into the culture in order to fully understand and appreciate all that it had to offer me.
Thoughts on My Experience
            During my time in Costa Rica, I learned more than I could have ever thought of. I was able to learn about another culture while talking with locals, while simultaneously sharing my own. I’ve never had to actually reflect on my own culture before because I am constantly surrounded by people who lead very similar lives as myself. This opportunity offered me the learning experience to reflect about my own life and expose myself to a whole other culture. Without Carroll requiring students to partake on a CCE, I would have never been able to experience all that I had. I definitely would not have had the same experience traveling to Costa Rica on my own without the help of the CCE office or my professor.
Advice for Future CCE Students
            Because I decided to participate in a CCE early on in my time at Carroll, there are several things I wish I would have known before getting on the plane to Costa Rica. Although the meetings with my professor and presentations given by the CCE Office offered many answers to some of my questions, I feel like there are some things one just would not know until participating themselves. Here are a few tips and suggestions I can provide:
  • Bring essentials… but do not over-pack
o   Essential things seemed to be the most forgotten things: sunscreen, personal hygiene products, Band-Aids, extra socks, etc.
o   You really don’t need five pairs of shoes, makeup, seven swimsuits, or the kitchen sink (okay, I kid here a little… but seriously). You will be required to carry everything you bring with you on your trip.
  • If you are going to a different country where English is not the primary language, you should attempt to learn the basics of the country’s language
o   Although many people around the world DO speak English, it is amazing how many people truly appreciate your attempts to talk in their language – even if it broken or not very good
  •  Pick a CCE you are actually interested in doing
o   There are students who do their CCE based on how expensive it is, when it is occurring, or how long the trip is, but in all reality, if the experience is not something you are interested in doing, then you are not talking full advantage of an amazing opportunity that Carroll is providing you with. So, if you do not like critters, hiking, humidity, or any kind of outdoor activity… Costa Rica is just not for you.
  • You get out what you put in
o   Do not just float through your experience; participate in it. Ask question, talk to the locals, get involved in activities, do everything you are comfortable with because then you have created memories and learned all you can from the experience. HAVE FUN WITH IT!

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