Instead of going home or catching up on sleep over spring break, I decided to do something very different, go to Costa Rica! This was my first time out of the country and my last chance to study abroad. I participated in the UC Irvine & Costa Rica Sustainability & Cultural Immersion Program. We were a group of 15 students and two professional staff from UCI Housing that visited Costa Rica for 10 days. Prior to our trip, we fund-raised through a bake sale and decided on different research topics. While there, we went on many hikes, visited waterfalls, saw a variety of animals including sloths, toucans, monkeys, helped prepare a greenhouse for the local school, and learned about open air buildings and farming.
Hiking to a waterfall!
Acuponics (sustainable food production system), our research!
There are many things I enjoyed and learned about… So I will make a list to make it easier to understand!
1. Toilets in other countries can be very different. We used something called a compost toilet, which consisted of a small wooden seat for you to “do your business”. After you are done, you must add half a scoop of sawdust into the hole and close the cap. The sawdust and human waste are mixed with other natural ingredients to create a compost used to plant trees (don’t worry this type of fertilizer is used for non-edible trees). I enjoyed using an outdoor restroom with the view of the forest and stars in front of me. I also realized how much water I saved by using this process.
The compost toilet!
2. Less is more. While in Costa Rica, we visited a 250 people town called Mastatal and had the opportunity to complete a two-day homestay at one of the local houses. I noticed that in tropical weather, the homes were much more similar to shacks with openings and cracks compared to a secure building in urban areas. Even though they do not have the concrete, insulation and other solid materials we have, they are still satisfied. I noticed that the house we stayed in had only the essentials for day-to-day living such as an oven, rice cooker, television and outdoor table. They did not have any extraneous items like a wine cooler, blender or a bread maker. But they were still very happy, maybe even happier than the people in the U.S. who have all of those things.
3. Take your time at mealtime. While in Costa Rica, we cooked, ate and cleaned up together at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each meal, we had face to face conversations and bonded. Back in the United States, I was used to rushing through my meal or eating on the go.
Our kitchen for the trip!
4. Learn where your food comes from. We visited four different farms in Costa Rica, including a chocolate farm! Previously, I never thought about how our fruits, vegetables and meat get to our table. I learned about different practices including an acuponics system, which uses waste from fish to fertilize a row of plants. What a creative way to clean the fish tank! They also planted deep-rooted plants near hills to prevent them from sliding during the rainy season. I also learned how easy it is to implement easy practices such as composting and proper recycling in your home.
On the farm!
5. Pura Vida! This is a common phrase used in Costa Rica, when greeting and saying bye to each other. The direct translation would be “pure life”. After visiting Costa Rica, I think Pura Vida represents simplistic living, being happy with what you have and being confident that everything will work itself out.
Thank you for reading about my journey! If you would like to learn more about our research projects and experiences please join us for the Costa Rica Symposium at the Student Center in Pacific Ballroom on Tuesday, May 14 4-8PM! Free admission and snacks will be provided.