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Ashley Kissick

Students of Northeastern University
Students of Northeastern University building a playground for a local elementary school. La Alegria de Siquirres, Limon, Costa Rica.

This summer I had the fantastic opportunity to work in Costa Rica for EARTH University as the summer course assistant. EARTH University is a unique undergraduate institution that recruits young individuals from rural communities from around the world and educates them not only how to establish and run small-scale sustainable agricultural systems, but also teaches them how to be entrepreneurs of their products. By seeking out students that have the potential of becoming educated leaders in their home communities, EARTH works towards improving the quality of life of people living in rural areas through sustainable development.

Plots of Neotropical hardwood tree
Plots of Neotropical hardwood tree seedlings. EARTH University, Guacimo, Limon, Costa Rica.

Being the summer course assistant at EARTH University for three months was amazing. Because as a professional I want to have a focus in the Neotropics, this job was able to give me a unique addition to the other opportunities that I have had in Central America. Through the job, I was able to be a tour guide for university student groups that came to EARTH on Maymester trips. In the typical day, I acted as not only a tour guide but an interpreter during activities, and I assisted in logistics for the groups. Activities were very diverse and depended on the goal of the group in which I helped to host. Typically, groups wanted to learn more about sustainable agriculture, but they also wished to have interactions with local people and to participate in social work. And of course, there were ecotourism activities such as whitewater rafting, zip-lining and repelling, visits to volcanoes and hot springs, and of course---the beach!

Texas Tech University
Texas Tech University. Arenal Volcano. La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Definitely the most worthwhile activities that groups sought were those that the typical tourist does not see on their trip to Costa Rica. Places seen and things done include family home stays, visiting completely sustainable communities and seeing how they farmed, viewing 100% organic pineapple fields and hearing from the developers about this technology, a trip to Chiquita banana plantation and packing plant, speaking with Dr. Alan Pounds, a renowned biologist studying climate change at Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, visiting geothermic plants, and meeting Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, a retired Costa Rican astronaut who is helping to develop the plasma rocket at a research plant of AD Astra Rocket Company.

Baldi Hot Springs
Baldi Hot Springs. La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Overall, even though I did not participate in research activities, this job was a great precursor to my doctoral studies in the ESE program. Most of my previous experiences in Costa Rica have been focused in the Central Valley, and the activities presented to me as the summer course assistant gave me a broader personal exposure to the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the country. Also, I was able to learn about the breadth of research projects taking place in Costa Rica, and I met innovative professionals in many different fields. More than anything, the job reinforced my desire to pursue a career that will take me back to Central America to work towards limiting the impact of the human footprint on natural systems.

Pineapple packing plant
Pineapple packing plant. Near La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Monteverde, Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
Turrialba Volcano
View of the Turrialba Volcano from the Guacimo EARTH University campus. Guacimo, Limon, Costa Rica.

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