'Pura Vida' in Costa Rica
Eight students gain experiences from ASB voyage
Published: Friday, March 18, 2011
Updated: Monday, March 21, 2011 11:03
"Pura Vida" is a Costa Rican expression used to convey satisfaction about life.
And for a group of eight students on an Alternative Spring Break trip to Costa Rica, it really was the most fulfilling trip of their lives.
From the food, to the air and the scenery, everything seemed to just be a little bit better in Costa Rica. Pura Vida.
Dr. Andrew Miller, professor of political science, said that this trip was better than a vacation because the students who embarked on the 2,000 mile excursion got something more than just rest and relaxation. In fact, those students will never forget the experiences they had during that week.
"A vacation to Costa Rica is fun," Miller said. "But think about the things you couldnever do except on a trip like this, like eat dinner in (a coffee farmer's kitchen), or have coffee with a coffee farmer's mother. All of these things actually make this trip better than a vacation."
The reason it was such a fulfilling trip and much better than any vacation is two-fold: the work prior to the trip and the service work the students did while in Costa Rica. All eight students are taking or took Miller's PS 298: The Politics of Coffee.
They have been studying about coffee and how Costa Rica in particular has been affected by the coffee business. In addition, the students were involved in multiple ASB fundraisers including the spaghetti dinner, Jail-N-Bail and Stick-Em-Up, as well as attending weekly meetings.
"Each (ASB) trip has its own unique qualities," said Megan Boone, community service coordinator, who has been on other ASB trips before. She said the Costa Rica trip is different because of the coursework prior to the trip and the focus on one particular niche of international business: coffee.
The preparation made the eight students on the trip excited, but also somewhat anxious. They didn't know what to expect from the group because they didn't really know each other prior to going. But, with time, the strangers became friends.
Miller said the group dynamic is something that just comes by chance, but it creates a special bond when the right group of people is combined.
"I just didn't expect everyone to get along as well as they did," said Chelsea Uselding, a junior psychology and international studies major.
Senior communication studies major Allison Roth agreed but added that bonding experiences helped to build the group dynamic.
"It definitely helped that we had a lot of bonding experiences, from soccer to karaoke to just being in such close quarters with each other 24/7," Roth said.
"And going out every day and doing fun stuff, too," Miller added.
The students were active every day with interesting and different activities, from 6 a.m. until after dinner.
"The entire time we were doing something interesting," Uselding said. "There was never a second of boredom."
And there was no typical day.
The first day, they went exploring through the town of San Marcos, practiced their Spanish and got to know each other a little bit better.
Later in the day, they had dinner at a coffee farmer's mother's house. Felix Monge used to be a coffee farmer, but now works with the coffee co-op, CoopeTarrazú. Monge invited everyone to his mother's house for a traditional Costa Rican meal, which was one of the most memorable things for the students.
Day two was full of coffee bean picking and cleaning the coffee plants to get them ready for the next harvest. The students also toured CoopeTarrazú, the largest coffee cooperative in Costa Rica. Here the students learned about the coffee process and how coffee gets from the plant to the cup. CoopeTarrazú accepts coffee from farms all over the region and then the cooperative processes it so the farms don't have to spend money on expensive coffee milling machinery.
The coffee beans are grown on plants, which produce coffee cherries. This cherry is a red shell that encapsulates two coffee beans.
Coffee picking is no easy task. First, during the prime-picking season, only red coffee cherries can be picked; so pickers have to scour the plants to select only the red cherries. Next, many coffee plants are on an extremely steep incline because higher-grade coffee grows at a higher altitude.
Each student barely filled one basket while the best pickers can fill between 20-35 per day.
"I really enjoyed (picking coffee beans)," said sophomore political science Christine Shaneberger. "But it really gave me an appreciation for people who do jobs like that, especially in the developing world. It became very real to me how little money they make … but how time consuming it was."
Coffee is not just a job for many Costa Ricans in this area; it is a lifestyle.
"Every aspect of the town, society … everything is linked to coffee," Miller said.
The students went to an elementary school to paint its fence and do some other work, but when they arrived, they were greeted with a ceremony on International Women's Day, which was Tuesday, March 8. The women in the group were given a poem about privileges of being a woman. Afterward, the students were invited into the elementary school classrooms to talk with the children and even teach a short English lesson.