Volunteering in Costa Rica on Alternative Spring Break were (front, left) Nicole Lim, Dylan Langerman-Aten and UIU Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Leadership and Adventure Daryl Grove; (back, left) Shay Enriquez, Marie Arai, Alicia Neff, Kate Weston, Daphne Barness, Deepa Wai May Sukumaran, Alexandra Surdu, Ashley Hilleshiem and UIU Assistant Director of International Programs Kara Hanson.
FAYETTE, Iowa (March 26, 2013) – From living among the working class of Costa Rica to working with an indigenous tribe and, later, experiencing coastal life, a dozen Upper Iowa University students and staff had the opportunity to see many facets of a culture during the international Alternative Spring Break trip recently.
In his 10th year as leader of the Alternative Spring Break program, Daryl Grove, UIU's assistant dean of students and director of student leadership and adventure, said Costa Rica was selected as this year's destination because of the range of impact Upper Iowa students could have in the Central American country. The trip was a collaboration between the Upper Iowa University Office of Student Development and International Programs, with UIU Assistant Director of International Programs Kara Hanson co-leading the trip.
"This was my first time leading an Alternative Spring Break trip to Costa Rica, and when we chose this destination we knew that the students would get to experience the many different cultures that thrive within one nation," said Grove.
After driving to Chicago, to catch a flight to Houston, Texas, the group touched down in Alajuela, 12 miles from the Costa Rican capital city of San Jose. They traveled two hours by bus to San Miguel. Once they arrived at their first destination of the week-long service project, the students and two leaders were placed with host families.
"There were four host families that lived right next to each other, and they were all related," said Shay Enriquez, UIU junior in exercise and sports science from St. Charles, Ill. "Living there for two days was definitely something new. Their doors were always open during the day; the houses were not fully enclosed."
During their stay with the host families, the UIU group experienced white water rafting Costa Rica style, which everyone enjoyed, according to Hanson. "It was such a good experience. We saw a lot of the wildlife along the river and the country's vast biodiversity," she said.
While in San Miguel, the Upper Iowa students visiting a local elementary school and handed out supplies that the UIU students had collected this winter.
The UIU group also volunteered at a local coffee plantation called Mi Cafecito. The students reconstructed a foot bridge that had been damaged. Art majors Daphne Barness of Ossian, Iowa, and Dylan Langerman-Aten of Fayette, Iowa, painted the plantation's logo on the corrugated steel side of the main building. In addition, some students sanded, stained and varnished boards that were going to be used in the plantation's buildings. Being close to the rainforest, the area offered another great chance to see the animals, insects and plant life that are native to Costa Rica.
Eating at the restaurant was a treat for the Upper Iowa group, Hanson said, since it provided a break in the rice-and-beans fare that they enjoyed while living with the host families. The owner of the coffee plantation said the Upper Iowa group was the hardest working he'd ever hosted.
Leaving the plantation, the UIU group traveled on a long and bumpy bus ride to reach the Bribri, an indigenous tribe that lives along the coastal areas of Costa Rica and Panama. The Bribri, who have the lowest income per capita of the country, strive to keep their original culture and native language.
While with the Bribri, the students enjoyed a simpler way of life. "The Bribri take on life is, 'If it doesn't get done today, there is always tomorrow,'" said Hanson. "It is such a contrast to our deadline-driven society, and at first it was an adjustment for us. We were set to go there and get things done for them, but we had to slow down and work at their pace."
Conservation of the environment is a huge component of Bribri life. Since the tribe lives off the land and is very much connected to it, being stewards of their resources is a must. "They are well educated and informed on the importance of recycling," said Deepa Wai May Sukumaran, UIU senior in marketing and psychology from Malaysia. "They do not have stoves to cook with; they use firewood and try to be as environmentally cautious as they can."
Langerman-Aten and Barness again used their artistic talents to paint wooden signs that were posted by other UIU students along the tribe's medicinal plant walk. A local guide provided an education on the healing properties of plants and trees in the area. Students also enjoyed local fresh fruit and heart of palm.
The Bribri shared their tribe's history through a theatrical depiction of the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. During the colonization, many native people were murdered, and women and children taken. The performance focused on the past, while also highlighting struggles of the tribe today. At the conclusion, the Upper Iowa group participated in a traditional tribal dance to celebrate their stay with the Bribri.
To cap off the trip, the students spent half a day near the tourist areas of Puerto Viejo to shop and enjoy the beach.
"I cannot speak for everyone that went on this trip," said Enriquez, "but this was a great experience for me. Not only did I fly for the first time, but this was a trip of a lifetime! From the housing, the food, the towns, and experiencing their way of living, everything was so different. I have learned to appreciate everything I have and to not take it for granted."
Others participating in the trip were Kate Weston of Newton, Iowa; Alicia Neff of Hanover Park, Ill.; Ashley Hilleshiem of Fayette, Iowa; Alexandra Surdu of Chisinau, Moldova; Marie Arai of Takaasaki-shi, Japan; and Nicole Lim of Selangor, Malaysia.
To view a complete album of the trip, log on to http://www.flickr.com/photos/upperiowauniversity/.
Upper Iowa University's Alternative Spring Break is committed to encouraging volunteerism by students. The program places teams of college students in communities to engage in positive social action and education. The goals can range from increasing cultural awareness, to bringing academic learning to life, or to creating a life-long service ethic.
About Upper Iowa University Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs and leadership development opportunities to some 6,200 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and independent study. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.