By James Harris
Students from PSC went international this summer as they took learning out of the classroom.
For ten days, Costa Rica offered the experience of a lifetime and revealed the true meaning of pura vida.
Pura vida, which translates to “pure life,” is the most common expression used in the rain forested Central American country. The phrase is more than just a saying however–it is an emotion, an attitude, a belief, a way of life.
The cultural meaning behind this phrase reflects why Costa Rica has been named one of the happiest countries in the world.
The Robinson Honors Program at Pensacola State College (PSC) was created for “academically gifted students seeking to make the most of their college experience.” The program offers an out-of-the-classroom learning experience which is intended to sharpen critical thinking skills, “encourage civic and community engagement, and develop a synthesis of knowledge across disciplines.”
A generous endowment from Grover Robinson IV and the Robinson family” gives these students unique opportunities for field trips, such as regional museums, cultural sites, and summer travel.
The service learning trip in Costa Rica was centered around three primary goals: students would first learn about biodiversity, sustainability, and ecosystems; apply that through a service project benefiting a local elementary school; then allow them to experience pura vida.
The trip began by travelling to Punta Mona, an off-the-grid, sustainable village that could only be reached by boat. Coconut trees greeted scholars with its breathtaking private beach.
Allie, a certified permaculture designer, nutritional therapist, and instructor, led the group on walking tours through the gardens.
Paths through the jungle provided ample flora and fauna that textbooks can never capture, it can only be witnessed first-hand in Costa Rica.
Allie also facilitated discussions on permaculture, the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient, while showing ways it can be implemented in urban environments.
From there the group travelled to Cahuita. Applying the knowledge gained on permaculture, students began a service project aimed at helping the local elementary school, Escuela Excelencia Cahuita.
Cleaning out a spaced reserved for the project, students moved brush, cut down overgrowth and added mulch to establish a dedicated composting area.
After preparing the space, students planted sixteen various fruit trees in the new orchard. The area was beautified with eco-friendly borders made from rocks and coral.
Our guide Ludrick explained that many children in Cahuita lack an understanding of how fruit is grown, maintained, and harvested. Faculty at the school will use these areas as part of an ongoing educational nutrition and environmental science series.
As a bonus, the school children will enjoy the delicious fruits produced year-round.
Valencia College and Dallas County Community College also plan trips to Costa Rica along with service projects to further the efforts established by PSC.
Amber Carey, Associate Professor and Robinson Honors Program Coordinator, “I loved watching the growth that our students experienced on this trip—in knowledge, leadership, life experience, and in service to others.”
Students had ample time to enjoy the pura vida that Costa Rica offers as well.
Ludrick excited taste buds with Caribbean cooking lessons while the other guide Tito led Caribbean dancing and surf lesson. At every opportunity, their talented eyes spotted wildlife in the trees that visitors routinely miss.
They combined activities with their extensive knowledge of Costa Rica. In return, they were taught English tongue twisters and cultural phrases such as “good morning ya’ll.”
Trent Honer, an exercise science major at PSC remembers the trip fondly, “The best part of the trip was experiencing a different way of life other than the hustle and bustle of America. I loved how everyone seemed genuinely happy to not only teach us about their culture, but to learn about ours.”
The indigenous Bribri tribe showed how they live off the land and utilize natural resources. Hiking through the trails of Cahuita National Park and Arenal Volcano was an adventure.
The Jaguar Rescue Center showcased how animals injured by human activity are rehabilitated and reintroduced to the wild.
Students relaxed in the Baldi Hot Springs at the base of Arenal Volcano. Water infused with minerals and heated by geothermal processes rejuvenated everyone with its healing properties and endless fun.
Thirteen platforms and nine cables provided an adrenaline rush. Reaching top speeds of 60 mph, students ziplined through jungle canopies. That experience was capped by repelling down the side of a mountain.
PSC service learning trips, while fun, are specifically designed to help students reach educational goals. Carey explained, “A student has already been able to utilize this trip while applying for a scholarship that asked specifically for service learning experience.”
Carey adds, “Having a high GPA is good, but when applying in a competitive environment, you need something that makes you stand out. The Honors Program service learning trips offer that edge.”
Enrolled students were also given the opportunity to receive college credit (HUM 2700) which satisfies Humanities electives.
The Robinson Honors Program is planning another service learning trip next summer. Until then, pura vida!