Study-abroad group travels to Costa Rica
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012
Updated: Sunday, July 15, 2012 16:07
When Brittany Honor arrived back at UCF from Costa Rica, it was hard not to speak Spanish to everyone she met.
Honor was among 18 other students who departed for Costa Rica from Orlando on June 21 as part of UCF College of Health and Public Affairs interdisciplinary study-abroad program.
The health services administration senior was overwhelmed and nervous because it was her first time traveling without her family, but “it surpassed all the things I imagined it would be when we got there,” she said.
When the group arrived at the hotel in San José, Honor took a walk to the store with some of her classmates. The store, the hotel owner told them, was right around the corner.
After walking for what felt like forever, Honor realized the mountainous country’s definition of “around the corner” was wildly different from her own. It wasn’t listed on the trip syllabus, but it was one of the group’s many lessons.
Bernardo Ramirez, chair of the international committee of COHPA, designed the program with a committee of faculty members to uniquely serve the needs of students within the college.
“Right now, UCF has probably 150 alliances, contracts or agreements with universities around the world, but many of them are unidirectional,” Ramirez said. “That’s where the idea came up — that we should try to develop some strategic partner.”
It is not UCF’s first study-abroad program to Costa Rica, Ramirez said, but it’s the first to be offered to every undergraduate, master’s or doctoral student within COHPA. The program is also open to any alumni regardless of major.
The school partnered with the University of Costa Rica because it is similar in student population as well as the courses and degrees offered. Safety, location and cost were also factors in choosing Costa Rica for the program, Ramirez said.
Ramirez, who joined the students on the trip, fondly recalled their wide-eyed wonder upon first seeing the beauty and terrain of San José, which sits within a volcanic mountain belt.
“Some of them were staring at the windows with their mouths open, almost like in the movie of Jurassic Park, they are looking at the dinosaurs,” Ramirez said with a laugh. “I told one of them, ‘What are you looking at?’ He said, ‘I have never seen mountains like this; they’re huge!’ I said, ‘You haven’t seen it — these are just the mountains around the airport.’”
Ramirez wanted to give the students a good exposure to the culture and society of San José, which included trips to museums, markets, different neighborhoods, hospitals and sessions at the University of Costa Rica.
Ashley Maminski, a senior pre-clinical health sciences major, was one of these students. She had never been on a plane before, much less out of the country, and despite her nervousness about flying, decided she wanted to study and experience a culture different from her own. When she saw COHPA had a study-abroad program in her major, she took a leap of faith.
“I can get the best of both worlds,” Maminski said. “Learn about health in another community and country.”
The 18 students were divided into four groups, each studying a different social aspect of Costa Rican society: the care of its aging and elderly, environment protection, juvenile delinquency and drugs and alcoholism.
Speaking Spanish was crucial, so Ramirez made sure to include a fluent or nearly fluent student in each group. One of these students was Sasha Perez-Loor, a master’s student in health services administration, whose family is from Cuba and Ecuador.
“The students we were with, they would really try [to speak],” Perez-Loor said. “I had the privilege of translating most of the time. A lot of the students who barely spoke Spanish, you saw they were trying harder. The community members would try to hold conversations with them. It was really nice to see.”
Honor studied juvenile delinquency in Costa Rica. She attended a town hall meeting where members of the community discussed the issues facing their youth.
“It was really touching how passionate they were. A lot of them were elders,” Honor said.
One of the problems Costa Rican youth face is dropping out of high school to support their families, especially in rural areas.
Malinski and Perez-Loor studied environmental protection, specifically water and waste management.
“We went around their communities and looked at how they have groups that are filtering water and giving clean water to everyone,” Malinski said. “It was really shocking to me how different things can be. I was almost oblivious to the fact that things were different.”
Perez-Loor echoes the sentiment.
“It definitely opened my eyes to appreciate the policies and laws we have in the U.S. There are a lot of illnesses that could be prevented through the treatment of water,” Perez-Loor said.