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Costa Rica

William Freeman

Organization: Profesionales para la Ciudadania
Dates: 3/1/2019 to 4/30/2019
Web site:

In William's own words

How did you contribute: I spoke with several working members of the San Jose community as well as political figures, community leaders, and other interest groups (like artists and tech entrepreneurs).  I also worked on translating materials to English, helping to organize possible future internships, and several administrative tasks.  Many of my tasks were attending meetings with Nia (my supervisor/the founder of the organization) to create a network of connections at the University of Costa Rica and other institutions that shared the goals of anti-corruption and community engagement.

What did you feel most challenged by? I was at times challenged by long days and the fact that I didn't have any contemporaries in country, but I felt that this was a growing experience for me as someone who wants to go into foreign service at some point in my career.  Most of my trepidation about this I overcame when I realized that I was more comfortable than I thought I might be living alone.  However, unexpected challenges do arise and you have to be prepared to deal with them.  In my case, I was rear ended in traffic and had to deal with insurance and a rental car company in a foreign language in addition to the shock of the accident, which I may have been overwhelmed by if it weren't for my supervisor coming to help me.

What did you enjoy most?  I enjoyed the excitement of living in a foreign city and the ability to really immerse myself in a very different political system from what I am used to in the United States.  In addition to the physical beauty of Costa Rica and the many natural phenomena one can witness there as a tourist, I felt that I had a very unique opportunity to learn about several communities in San Jose and the issues they face.

Would you recommend this experience to other students?  I would recommend this experience to other students, however only if they are more interested in policy aspects of development.  Also, it is extremely important to have some level of proficiency in Spanish, as most tasks involve some level of communication or translation in Spanish.  This is definitely a very positive experience for students who are ambitious and want to be very immersed in Costa Rican political affairs, and Nia made it possible to tailor the internship to my interests and skills in ways that made it more enjoyable for me.

Reflection Paper:

Kirsten Breau

Organization: Forjando Alas Kids' Club
Dates: 6/13/2015 - 8/15/2015

In Kirsten's own words

How did you contribute:  At Forjando Alas I arrived with a clear and concise, though vague, mission to plan and begin the implementation of a garden at the new property recently purchased by the center.  I kicked this off with an activity, walking the kids up to the new lot and asking them to draw what they envisioned in their garden.  In my head I was picturing mango trees, lettuce, herbs, etc.  Instead I got a lot of pictures of skateparks and swimming pools and mini trampolines.  So, I took a step back.  I started teaching the kids about agriculture on Tuesdays.  With a translator we learned about how seeds grew into plants, we learned how we could help our environment, we even learned about the green revolution.  We planted seeds in the garden patch out back and watched our lettuce plants and cilantro pop up.  On Thursday's I taught them English and read them a story from the library we put into the old play room.  I tagged along on field trips, played soccer for hours, and helped prepare snacks.

What did you feel most challenged by?  I was most challenged by the lack of physical resources for the garden.  I was building a compost bin out of scrap wood, a drywall saw, and hammer that the head kept popping off of.  I made a retaining wall on the far end of the property and then found out we could afford the dirt to fill it in so I had to move it 7 feet to the base of the bank.  I spent a third of my time applying for grants and attending meetings or dinners with people I hoped would donate, most of whom didn't.  It was frustrating, but I realize early on that the rest of the staff wasn't frustrated.  They were tired and determined and resourceful as hell, but they weren't angry about it.  So, I learned to be more determined and more resourceful and less frustrated.

What did you enjoy most?  I could not have asked for a better host family.  I could barely understand Spanish when I arrived and spoke even less, my host mom talked and talked at me day one and I wanted to cry.  I woke up early every morning and sat outside reading my Spanish book and practicing lessons in my journal.  I remember the first time Mari saw me she helped with the pronunciations then brought me a cup of coffee and cookie.  She was so patient with me and by the end of the trip we were discussing my family and my farm and her childhood and marriage.  I became a part of that family, Mari became my mom, Julio my dad.  Felipe was the wild old brother that would split a bottle of cacique with me.  Delia was my older sister and we'd have donace parties while cooking dinner and I'd pick her kids up from school.

Would you recommend this experience to other students?  I was in a unique position since my family friends work in Uvita, Costa Rica and were able to introduce me to the center and kickstart this program around my interests with the help of some larger organizations.  However, I'm in love with the youth center and all the people at it and I think others would fall in love too.

Martin Murillo

Organization: Aquiares Coffee Estate
Dates: 1/3/2015 to 1/23/2015  and 7/14/2015 to 7/28/2015

In Martin's own Words

How did you contribute:
I was able to contribute to the goals of Aquiares Coffee Estate by providing the organization with a medium for them to spread their message of sustainable coffee production. By producing a promotional documentary for Aquiares I was able to really understand the goals, and really be able to portray them in a way that can be understood in both Spanish and English.

What did you feel most challenged by?
I felt most challenged by the idea of intruding on a community as an outsider. Because my job consisted of taking quite a lot of video, I was always filming. It was a mental barrier for me to let loose and really get involved with my shooting. As time went on I became better known around the community, I was able to get past this barrier and enjoy my experience to the fullest.

What did you enjoy most?
I enjoyed being placed in a unfamiliar situation and learning to adapt. I believe adaptation is a skill that everyone should have. This experience allowed to me realize that I too could adapt to new surroundings. It was an extremely enjoyable thing to be able to fully submerse myself in another culture.

Would you recommend this experience to other students?
I would recommend this program to students interested in learning about the difference that social sustainability can make on a community, as well as those interested in the production of coffee. I recommend it because it was such a wonderful place to be and learn about coffee. Everyone was very willing to teach you everything they could. The locals really were accepting, and in the end you are at a place that is known as a world leader in socially sustainable coffee production.

Natalie Rathbun

Organization: Aquiares Coffee Estate
Dates: 7-Sep-2014 to 2-Dec-2014

How did you contribute:
I was involved in a community garden which is continuing after my departure. I worked six days a week to prepare land, plant, weed, and harvest. We planted fast-growing vegetables and I was able to be there for about a month of harvests. The vegetables are sold in the community to not only increase the income of the three women who work in the garden, but also cycle money within the community, and provide fresh, healthy, organic produce to members of the community.

What did you feel most challenged by?
I was most challenged by initially feeling self-conscious about speaking another language, but this quickly fell away out of necessity.

What did you enjoy most?
I made a number of new friends and got to experience their different perspectives on the world and life in general. It was inspiring to know that there are different ways of thinking, through actually engaging with people who do think differently about some things.

Would you recommend this experience to other students?
Yes, because the community is welcoming to foreigners, with genuinely nice and caring people. The area is beautiful and the lifestyle is easy to adapt to while still different.

Alexander Isby

Organization: School for Field Studies
Dates: 4-Jun-13 - 5-Aug-13

In Alexander's own words

How I contributed: When studying at the School for Field Studies there were many experiments, which we assisted with. For the past 7 years the center had been doing surveys at Poas, Arenal, and Monteverde national parks. These surveys were intended to find out if the parks were being run efficiently and if visitors, both local and international, knew anything about the parks. At each of these parks were interviewed the visitors in both Spanish and English to receive the necessary information. This information was then sent to the parks so they could figure out where to strengthen their program. This research is ongoing and the data we collected will be included in the Center's database. /

What I felt most challenged by: At times I had difficulties with culture shock. I was used to doing things as I had done them at home, but because the center was so focused on protecting the environment and using sustainable practices, I needed to adapt. I found this difficult at first, but by the end of nine-weeks, it was second nature and I have found that I even continue to do so after having returned to Cornell. Another challenge was the food. The program revolved heavily around vegetarian and vegan diets. Being a carnivore, this was a struggle at first. However, I came to appreciate rice and beans in a way I never could have imagined. For three meals a day for nine weeks, I ate rice and beans and drank several glasses of water. By keeping an open mind, I came to enjoy a vegetarian/vegan diet and even now con

What I enjoyed most: Personally, I enjoyed everything. The environment, culture, and overall experience were just mind blowing. However, I must share that visiting the coffee farms around the country was my favorite part. It was interesting to me to see the wide variety of agricultural techniques being used in coffee farms across the nation. Some farms would be using agroforestry while other farms would use more synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Would I recommend this experience: I would definitely recommend this experience to other students. Not only did I experience a new culture, but I also had the opportunity to see the natural beauty of Costa Rica first hand. It was amazing to wake up to the sight of monkeys playing in the orange trees and to then learn more about them later in the afternoon. Additionally, I was able to observe first hand Costa Rican agricultural practices and compare them to American practices. I am inspired by the Costa Rican farmer's implementation of and success using sustainable practices. The amount of biodiversity not only added to the experience but was shocking. The locals were also extremely generous and welcoming. I would recommend this experience to anyone who loves going to new places and experiencing new cultures.

Alex Schmall

Organization: Cafetalera Aquiares
Dates: 25-Dec-13 - 23-Jan-14

In Alex 's own words

How I contributed: I conducted a community census, home interviews, and 13 focus group specific interviews of a variety of residents in the Aquaires community. The farm was interested in learning more about the desires of the community so they could improve the livelihood of the people, but also ensure the sustainability of the pool of coffee workers for Cafetalera Aquiares.

What I felt most challenged by: It was difficult to conduct a study on my own for the first time. I had slight guidance before leaving, but once in Costa Rica, I was completely on my own. The study went well, but I was nervous to conduct it all on my own, with no prior experience. It was a great learning experience for me though, I am now more confident in myself!

What I enjoyed most: I really enjoyed the freedom of conducting my own study. It allowed me to be creative, while also collecting the information the company was interested in. I also really enjoyed the relationships I built with my host family and the friends I made through them.

Would I recommend this experience: I would definitely recommend other students to visit Cafetalera Aquiares. The Robelo family is extremely hospitable and willing to work with students and their specific interests. It is a wonderful farm and a beautiful area of Costa Rica. There are many opportunities for research, such as: soil science, sociology, public health, business management, and environmental conservation among others. Perhaps most notable are the people, they are extremely welcoming and friendly!

Catherine May

Organization: School for Field Studies
Dates: 7-Feb-13 - 9-May-13

In Catherine's own words

How I contributed: Every week, our program would have an outreach activity. We would go into Atenas and do a project or meet with different groups of people in order to feel more like a part of the community. My favorite was meeting with students who were learning English and "switching languages." We also did clean-up projects, played Bingo at a retirement home and painted schools. / / I contributed to SFS's mission by assisting in research. It's structured as a class, but the professors each have a five-year plan of research and the students help. My specific research area was functional diversity within natural resource management.

What I felt most challenged by: I was living in field station, and at first, it was difficult living 35 other individuals in such tight quarters.

What I enjoyed most: All of the people, despite majors or specific fields of study, were all passionate about sustainability within development. Better yet, Costa Ricans are some of the most genuinely kind and interesting and welcoming people I've ever met.

Would I recommend this experience: Absolutely. This program is set up to let you travel across the country and you feel like a true Tica (or Tico). The town is small enough to feel comfortable and get to know people, but large enough to do things. It may be dramatic, but my three months in Costa Rica are truly the happiest three months of my life.