Program Guide to Costa Rica: A Student Perspective

Hi, I’m Hannah! I spent last summer with Sustainable Summer, both in Brooklyn, NY and Costa Rica. I chose these two programs for the incredibly different learning opportunities they offer. Here are my thoughts on Costa Rica!

What is special about the Costa Rica program?

Traveling to Costa Rica with Sustainable Summer was different than other trips I’ve taken. I knew that I wanted to explore Costa Rica, and that it was a beautiful place, but with Sustainable Summer I would get to experience it through the lens of sustainability- and Costa Rica as a country has a lot to offer in terms of large and small scale sustainability initiatives. Focusing on agriculture would provide a specific example of how change can happen within one industry. 

Applying & Getting Ready

The application involved a personal statement and an essay. I already had a lot of ideas and opinions, so I just wrote what I knew! My advice:

  • Don’t leave it to the last minute! I found out about the program in March, and I would have liked to start it earlier. Many programs might already be full by then, so it’s important to start early!
  • It may seem easy at first, because you’re passionate and know what you want to say, but waiting until it’s late and then trying to juggle the application with everything else was hard! Give yourself time to do it well. 
  • The interview was great, because it gave me the chance to ask all my questions. Spend some time looking over the information before, so you can be sure to take advantage of the time and get all your questions answered!

Getting ready for the program included completing some pre-work. It was some readings and videos to help prepare you for the program. It may seem like a lot at first, but spread it out, a little bit each week, and it’s totally manageable. The pre-course work Introduced me to a lot of articles that I didn’t know about, and provided so much context for what we would experience on the trip. It made me even more excited to go!

Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!

We all met at the airport in Miami and waited together for our flight. We played cards and games and got to talk with everyone. The group flight was a great way for us to start getting to know each other, before we even arrived in Costa Rica! 

Our first night in Costa Rica was hot and humid, a truly warm welcome! We stayed at a hostel and spent the first night getting to know each other and talking about our expectations and hopes for our time together. Things really got going the next morning, when we started our river rafting trip! White water rafting was super exciting and challenging. We got to be immersed in nature right from the beginning, and it was a really bonding adventure, especially for the first day!

We stayed in a lot of different places, but we always stayed with at least a couple roommates. On the river trip we slept in tents on raised platforms, later we stayed in the residences at EARTH University, and the lodge at Chilamate. But we also never stayed in our room for long, since we were usually outside doing activities.

Academics: Learning While Exploring 

Learning happened through a lot of discussions and debriefs. Our facilitators would guide us through questions, we  would discuss them openly and at length. We all got to learn from each other; from the staff and the rest of the student group. 

Something special for me was hearing Meghan’s story- she opened Chilamate Rainforest Lodge with her husband. It was informative and inspiring, and really interesting to hear about her experience working with the community in Sarapiqui.

Our time in Costa Rica was full of activities- from paddling, to working on the farm, to small group discussions, to hiking to a waterfall together. And everything we did was an opportunity to learn. It was a small group, so anything we were doing we did all together, and we got to know each other well and quickly. 


The Project

The last academic component of the program was our project. We had to create a plan about what we would do when we returned home, our Sustainability Action Plan. This could be something as straightforward as starting compost in your house, or as involved as a campaign at your school to ban single use plastic water bottles & install water fountains. This project was a solo project, but we discussed our ideas often, and instructors and peers were able to give individualized feedback. My Sustainability Action Plan was to start a garden at home! 

My advice for the project? Think about your own life and your own community. I live in California, so I thought that my project could focus on water conservation. It was important for us to remember  to focus on local problems. There are huge issues to tackle globally, but for us to be effective, we knew it was necessary to start with our own communities and the good we can do there. Ultimately, I was inspired by what we learned about food systems and agriculture, and wanted to apply that knowledge to my life at home. 

My final thoughts?

  • Hiking was so fun! I fell a lot; but it didn’t matter! My tip- bring good hiking shoes!
  • I didn’t bring a camera but others did; this allowed me to be present, enjoy every moment and be in nature
  • It’s a small group, so we had opportunities to step up and be a leader, especially to support one another 

I went to Costa Rica straight from the Sustainable Summer program in Brooklyn. I think both programs offer unique and different learning experiences. 

Brooklyn had more structured class time, and we learned from facilitators and experts around the city. We worked on a project that was centered on a specific challenge, and presented it with our group. Costa Rica was discussion based and very hands on. We created our projects individually, and presented a final project idea that was more of a story. On both programs, we visited multiple sites and projects, and learned directly from the people who are working in sustainability fields. Debriefing and reflecting on those site visits and learning opportunities was an important part of both Brooklyn and Costa Rica. 

I think the program in Brooklyn is for people who are excited about really getting to know the city, and want to experience what sustainability can look like in an urban environment. If you enjoy projects and something tangible to work towards; this program is for you. 

I think the program in Costa Rica is great for people who are reflective and have a lot of ideas. You are able to share your opinions in discussions and really share your voice, and your project can be as creative as you want it to be!

Thank you Hannah! Check out Hannah’s take on Brooklyn: Sustainable Cities, and our Program Guide to Dartmouth: Entrepreneurship and the Environment.