June 3, 2015

Costa Rica study abroad studentsAt five years old, NMC’s Costa Rica study abroad program has many age-appropriate traits: it’s thriving, energetic, and ready to explore.

It’s also something most five-year-olds are not: The Central American nation from which a dozen NMC students returned this week is the most mature of NMC’s study abroad experiences.

Started in 2011 by Constanza Hazelwood of NMC’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, the heart of the experience is a partnership with EARTH University, an internationally renowned agronomy school near the Costa Rican port of Limón. This year, students in Freshwater Studies, Aviation and Plant Science all took part in the two-week sojourn on the tropical isthmus connecting North and South America.

The multi-disciplinary nature of the 2015 trip is one of the key signs of maturity. Another is reciprocity. Last fall, the GLWSI hosted EARTH researcher and faculty member Alex Pacheco as a guest lecturer. Pacheco then invited another colleague to propose a project for this year’s trip that combined the skills and experience of NMC students in both Watershed Science and Unmanned Aerial Systems: an examination of the spread of Sigatoka negra, a fungus that threatens banana production around the world.

NMC study abroad students working at a banana plantaion in Costa Rica“I have been to Costa Rica before, but this time I am not just a tourist, I am there to make a contribution. We are helping maintain a healthy watershed surrounding a banana plantation,” said Water Studies student Eoghan O’Connor.

To that end, students wielded both machetes and eBee, a professional mapping unmanned aerial system (UAS), on a banana plantation. Under Hazelwood’s guidance, they evaluated the effects of a buffer zone along the shorelines of the river running across the plantation.

“Our partnership with EARTH has grown into a solid network of professionals working together to solve relevant environmental problems impacting the globe’s water resources,” Hazelwood said.

They also practiced their Spanish in a home stay experience and soaked up as much culture and local lifestyle as possible.

“Beautifully overwhelming”

Costa Rica study abroad student Taylor West wields a machete“This whole experience has been beyond incredible. All of us students have described it as sensory overload. Touch, smell, sight, taste has all been so beautifully overwhelming,” Water Studies student Taylor West wrote on her blog.

Now back home, trip participants are preparing to debrief and discuss how their internship in Costa Rica can serve as a template as NMC’s Office of International Services and Service Learning seeks to offer more study abroad experiences in service of the college’s strategic goal to ensure that NMC learners are prepared for success in a global society and economy.

“Successful foundations like those with EARTH University allow us to think creatively when building future opportunities for multi-disciplinary study abroad,” said director Jim Bensley.