Wednesday, August 28, 2013

EARTH to ALLI. Alli to EARTH.

So what did I do this summer? Well there were many small things involved, but the big picture event was a semester of study abroad at EARTH University in Costa Rica. I just got home on Saturday from 4 months of being out of the country and am still processing all of the outstanding opportunities I was blessed with!

EARTH's cultural diversity was one of my favorite things.
This is from the Multicultural Fair that was held at the beginning of the summer... dances from all over, and amazing food!
The first time to ever use a machete... to cut down a whole plot of plantain plants!
EARTH University is an international private agricultural university, whereas the acronym EARTH stands for (translated from Spanish): agricultural education in the region of the humid tropics. This beautiful university, located on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica, is home to 400 students (over 4 years) who come from over 30 countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.  I was studying alongside students for one of their three trimesters and just got a snapshot of what it was like to be a student at this incredible institution. Students take every kind of agriculture class imaginable and also must complete a full-year business project, semester-long international internship, and graduation research project (similar to a thesis). They also have 2 days of work experience each week, in addition to their 4 days of classes with lab and field experience. It is definitely a “learning by doing” institution!!

Not a common PSU sight - sheep grazing on the lawn by the soccer field! 
So what did I do there? Well, firstly, I took the following courses to be used for PSU credit: tropical animal production, food security and world economy, community development work experience, mechanical skills (aka shop class), ecological basis for natural resource management, and an oral communication class. Within the first week of class, we were each assigned to maintain a 36 square meter plot of forages in my animal production class, got started on a semester-long project for my natural resources class, and were doing community diagnostics to prepare for working with rural, low income farmers (in my work experience).


Me and my 36 m2 forage plot for an animal production class!

Talking with our agricultural family after lunch one day in the community!

While I was able to gain a lot of new practical experiences (i.e. using a machete for the first time), I would say that the most beneficial component of my international experience was definitely the PEOPLE! God was faithful in providing a beautiful community for me at EARTH and I now have friends from all over the world – from Nigeria to Costa Rica, Mexico to Brazil, and several countries in between. I personally love cultural diversity, so I would often get excited when I realized that a group of X number of friends hanging out would represent X number of countries. Realizing the language diversity of EARTH is also so interesting to me! But let’s not forget to mention that my Spanish speaking skills greatly improved (even causing slight English speaking deterioration at times), as all of my classes were in Spanish!
My EARTH family - friends representing 8 different countries!!
So academic, cultural, and language development were up there on the beneficial experience list. But let’s not forget the travel opportunities! I had a few free weekends to travel around the gorgeous country of Costa Rica during my study abroad, only after a full week of vacations along the pacific coast with my parents (before the semester started). Traveling in Costa Rica included: carpooling, buses, taxis, rental cars, and walking... walking only because it was the means of crossing the Panama border when I needed to renew my passport visa! I was able to see gorgeous beaches in Guanacaste, go white water rafting with my natural resources class (best field trip ever), and spend a few weekends with my Turrialba families (from an immersion experience in Costa Rica last summer).

Favorite travel pic - gorgeous sunset in the Pacific

Thiago (Brazil) and Timothy (Nigeria) took me to some cool national parks!
While this experience was probably the best of my life, I won’t deny there weren’t some struggles. About half way through the summer, I was getting a bit homesick, but I think that was mainly exacerbated by the plethora of tropical bugs (like cockroaches in my dorm room – not a fan), humidity (some mold on my clothes) and class work stress. Spanish speaking language barriers were not too big of a problem for me, thanks to the previous Spanish speaking experience I had when living in Costa Rica last summer (and many years of high school Spanish). But in the end, the benefits and blessings of my time there were what will always remain – and without struggles, how will we grow?

So how can I conclude this incredible, life-changing experience? Well I don’t think I can ever conclude the friendships made, but I will leave you with some interesting numbers to ponder:
  • 17 weeks away from home
  • 29 hours a week of classes and work experience
  • 36 square meters of forages to plant and maintain
  • 14 cockroaches killed in my dorm room
  • 10 hand blisters
  • 1 parrot bite, 1 unknown rash, 1 bamboo splinter rash, 1 case of cold/bronchitis
  • 3 weekend trips to my Turrialba home
  • 2 weekend trips to the other side of the country (Guanacaste)
  • 1 semi-complicated trip to the Panama border
  • 2 overnight camping trips
  • Over 900 photos on my phone
  • Over 3,700 photos on my camera...
  • 10 visits to our rural agricultural community (El Triunfo)
  • Countless mosquito bites
  • Numerous unforgettable friendships
  • A lifetime of memories
If you want to learn more about my incredible experience and maybe see a bit more of EARTH university and its people, check out my blog from the summer!

To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at teachag@psu.edu. Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog!


Allison Hoover
Guest Student Blogger
2014 Wellsboro HS Student Teacher
Twitter: @allihoov

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