Costa Rica trip an eye-opening experience for TROY students, faculty and staff, and Russell County educators

The group posed for a group photo with the TROY flag at several stops during their trip.

The group posed for a group photo with the TROY flag at several stops during their trip.

On May 26, eight Troy University students from Alabama, Florida, and Virginia, along with seven educators from the Russell County School District, joined together with TROY faculty and staff to embark on an 8-day study abroad trip in San José, Costa Rica.

The group was hosted by TROY’s international partner GlobalEdu, the Association of Universities of Costa Rica for International Education, that seeks to promote Costa Rica as an educational destination and encourages student and faculty mobility based on our human, cultural, social, and environmental strengths. The goal of this study abroad trip was to immerse students and educators into the rich and diverse Costa Rican culture and to experience the country’s educational system.

On day one, the team took in the scenic beauty and panoramic views offered by the village of the Quitirrisi Indigenous Territory, home to the first indigenous Costa Rican tribe. While there, the team heard from the Shaman about some of the customs still preserved by the inhabitants of the Huetar Tribe. They joined the locals in making authentic corn tortillas, rolling turtles out of clay, and participating in a cultural blessing ceremony.

On day two, the team started the day by visiting the Universidad Santa Paula in San José. The mission of Universidad Santa Paula is to generate innovative knowledge and develop professionals capable of performing competitively in the field of health and human development. The team heard from some administrators and professors but were ultimately blown away when the son of the school’s founder gave them a tour of all the facilities. The passion he spoke with about the school and his mother’s life work filled everyone’s heart as they walked the grounds.

Later, the team made their way to downtown San José to tour the National Theatre of Costa Rica, a great source of pride among the citizens of Costa Rica. Built in the 19th century by an Italian architect, the theater is one of Costa Rica’s most beloved and beautiful structures. Walking through the large entry doors, students and educators were surrounded by large open ceilings and golden, velvet-colored curtains with statues and sculptures displayed throughout. Two highly trained and entertaining actors gave the team a guided tour, teaching them about the rich history of the painted ceilings and marble staircases, and how every four years they raise the floor to the theater to make it into a ballroom to celebrate the Presidential election.

Day three began with an impressive tour of the Children’s Neuropsychiatric School, established in 1954 through the Ministry of Education as an institution focused on Special Education. The team heard from the Director, a social worker, and a psychologist about the daily operations, the growth and development of their different programs, and heard from a mother who had multiple children attending the school. That was followed by a trip to the National Museum of Costa Rica, which was created in the late 1800s to provide the country with a public establishment to deposit, classify, and study natural and artistic products. From its earliest years, the museum was oriented towards scientific research, education, exhibition, and the defense of cultural and natural heritage. Finally, the day ended at the Hospital La Católica where the team heard from one of their top doctors about the history and current operation of the healthcare system in Costa Rica.

Day four may have been the busiest day for the team as they loaded the bus early and headed off to the Jardín de Niños y Niñas Margarita Esquivel, a local public school nestled in the center of a low-income area in San José. Students and educators enjoyed their time as they sang and danced in the classroom with kindergarteners, played “Red Light, Green Light” on the playground with 2nd graders, and even participated in a round of hopscotch. From there, the team was transported across town to St. John Baptist De La Salle Private School. Founded in 1719, De La Salle stands as one of the premier private schools in Central America. After lunch on the campus, the team made a quick trip to the Natural History Museum of Costa Rica. The only natural history museum in the country, it housed everything from dinosaur bones, to different unwater animals, to a huge butterfly and moth exhibit.

Following the museum, the team had the opportunity to meet with the Ministry of Public Education of Costa Rica (MEP). The MEP executes the development and consolidation of an educational system that allows the entire population access to quality education. The team had the privilege to meet with the MEP’s Director of Foreign Affairs while the Russell County Educators discussed the development of a potential partnership between the two systems. Some students also shared their thoughts and ideas on how current TROY students and graduates could benefit from the partnership as well before they go into full-time teaching. That evening, the team was taken to a mountaintop restaurant where they enjoyed the wonderful panoramic views of San José, authentic Costa Rican music and dance, and a wonderful meal.

On Friday, the team spent the morning visiting the village of La Carpio. La Carpio is a district of San José that lies to the west of Hospital Mexico. It is one of the poorest places in all of Costa Rica. Located between two polluted rivers and next to the city’s massive landfill, it became the home of thousands of refugees from the Nicaraguan civil war of the 1980s and ’90s. The team was hosted by Gail Nystrom of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation. Nystrom, originally from America, has spent almost three decades working in La Carpio. Nystrom showed every educator and student what a life fueled by the passion and desire to serve others looked like, and she will “continue to do so humbly for the rest of her life.”

After La Carpio, the team would split into two groups. TROY students were taken to the Museo De Arte Costarricense, a local art museum with more than 6,000 works in its collection including paintings, sculptures, photographs, and others by national and international artists, dating from the mid-19th century to the beginning of the 21st century. The art museum originated as the main airport in Costa Rica and had even been the preferred airport of President John F. Kennedy. TROY faculty, staff, and Russell County Educators had the distinct honor of visiting the U.S. Embassy of Costa Rica where they met with a panel of Foreign Service personnel.

Saturday, June 1, would be the team’s last day exploring Costa Rica. The day started with an hour-long drive up the mountain to the beautiful coffee plantation Hacienda Doka. The tour guide of the day was a loyal, nicknamed Bubba, who taught the group the entire process from planting and fertilizing to sorting and drying coffee beans. He explained how the Costa Rican altitude mixed with the volcanic ash with the proper heat and rain mixture made their country one of the premier places to grow and harvest coffee beans. Following the plantation, the team made their way up the mountain to explore the Poás Volcano National Park. Located in the mountainous forests of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range, it boasts a magnificent natural landscape. After an easy 10-minute hike, the team would see not only an active volcano but one that has one of the largest craters in the world.

The team then made their way to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, one of the last tracts of pristine Cloud Forest in Central America and a pioneer in progressive conservation and ecotourism model based on biodiversity research and education on the 10,193-acre preserve. It is estimated that about 50 percent of Costa Rica’s biodiversity may be found within this area, an impressive 2.5 percent of the total world’s biodiversity.

While there, the team had lunch overlooking a beautiful rainforest garden exhibit, home to more than 700 species of trees and 500 species of orchids. The group walked through the different exhibits that were home to animals such as sloths, monkeys, butterflies, parrots, toucans, cheetahs, frogs, and snakes, and made their way down the river trails through the Monkey Pass to witness the stunning views of the three different waterfalls the preserve had to offer.

The trip proved to be an unforgettable experience for our TROY students and the Russell County educators. The relationships and memories created are ones each person will carry with them.