International Educator - May/June 2012 - 47
Costa Rica is a popular destination for programs with a sustainability focus because environmental consciousness is embedded in the country’s culture— pura vida, pure life, is the national motto.
Snyder received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create service-learning projects promoting sustainability. She built relationships at EARTH University in Costa Rica and still plans all the details of each program she leads to Costa Rica, right down to hotels, buses, homestays, and timetables. Every year Snyder takes a group of students to farm in Costa Rica, where they learn that “to be sustainable you have to be creative with the resources you have. In the U.S. you might grow bananas and toss the bad ones. In Costa Rica, every part of a plant would be used for some aspect of animal care. Rotten plantains can be given to pigs. Pig water is a natural fertilizer…We also showed Costa Rican families how to make planters for urban gardening out of jeans and now they have tomatoes growing out of the pockets.” One group of students went to a pineapple plantation whose owner wanted to develop agritourism. Students helped to write a guidebook with explanations of rainforests and sustainability as well as photos of local plants. There were ten students in the group, majoring in plant science, agronomy, agricultural economics, and construction management. What did the students bring back? “A sense of fulfillment because they interacted so closely with the communities,” said Snyder. Twenty-seven of 33 students in one course expressed an interest in working in international agriculture. “We have it so amazingly good in America,” wrote one student. “Maybe I won’t be able to do change much internationally, but I would like to give it a shot.”
madison area technical colleGe. upper photo: livinG routes
Costa Rica is a popular destination for programs with a sustainability focus because environmental consciousness is embedded in the country’s culture—pura vida, pure life, is the national motto. The University of Georgia Costa Rica earned the country’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism at its 155-acre campus in San Luis de Monteverde, where it operates the Ecolodge San Luis as a resort for eco-tourists and an academic center for 60 faculty representing 28 academic disciplines. “It’s a little bit of living a more sustainable lifestyle in practice,” says Quint Newcomer, director of UGA Costa Rica. “I hope it rubs off for students and tourists. It’s about people who are conscious of their actions toward other people and the environment.”
Student travel itself is carbon neutral. “We’ve planted 10,000 trees in the last three years and have another 25,000 seedlings ready to be planted in the coming year,” says Newcomer. The seedlings are purchased with funds from a voluntary $20 student fee ($20 is the international rate for a ton of carbon). UGA Costa Rica endorses the multinational Earth Charter Initiative and its Ethics-based Assessment Tool, called an “Open-Source Tool for Evaluating the Sustainability of Organizations, Projects, Initiatives, and Individuals.” The tool measures levels of action on such criteria as “Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well being and ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.” Newcomer teaches one course at the UGA campus in Athens, Georgia, in which students search for ways the charter is being implemented at home. One student wrote about a competition among dormitories to reduce energy and water use; another found campus gardens being used to provide food for low-income grandparents caring for their grandchildren. UGA Costa Rica has also created a toolkit on how to add service learning to education abroad programs—“a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs.” For example, students in a language and literacy education service-learning course in Costa Rica helped plan and implement science lessons in English for local school children during their school break in July.
Madison college renewable energy for the developing World participant checks the installation of a small PV panel that will provide lights for a family on the Zapatón Indigenous reserve in rural costa rica.
M AY + J U N E . 12 InternatIonal educator
Small Schools, big Impact
It is not only large institutions having an impact on sustainability in international education. The Renewable Energy for International Development program at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin sends students to rural Costa Rica to install solar panels, build solar ovens, and construct