Agronomy student experiences culture and agriculture during Costa Rica study abroad course 

By Sayde Uerkwitz 

As Taylor Sigman woke one morning to the sound of horses traveling along the side street outside her hotel room, she was reminded that she no longer was in Indiana, she was in Costa Rica during a study abroad course. One of the most memorable and eye opening experiences of her life.

This semester Sigman, an agronomy and agricultural communication major, took FNR 498, a two credit course with a one credit study abroad component. The class explored global sustainability issues in natural resources with an emphasis on forestry, wildlife, agroforestry, wood products manufacturing, energy, conservation, water management and their impact on Central America and the world.

Eva Haviarova, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources associate professor, was the instructor of the course.  She said the course is also taught on the interest of the students.

“When I teach the course I have a base plan, but things could change due to the interested of the students,” Haviarova said. “The benefit of having the study abroad portion of the course later in the semester, is allowing time for the students to get to know one another. They can learn about their classmate’s interests. I notice these interests and instruct the course based on the interests of the students.”

Sigman said she learned a lot about how others live outside of the United States. She and her fellow study abroad companions visited Costa Rica TEC, a university in Costa Rica that focuses on wildlife, natural resources and the environment.

“During our time at Cost Rica TEC we participated in several lectures,” Sigman said. “One of the lectures focused on water resources and usage. I learned that is some developing countries the average person will use just over a gallon of water a day. Here in the United States over a gallon and a half is used when the toilet is flushed. This simple fact opened my eyes to how different my world is compared to so many who live across the globe.”

The group was able to participate in hands-on activities as well. One of these activities was learning about sustainability and agrotourism.

“We toured a facility of an Eco-termales hot spring,” Sigman said. “The farmer who oversaw the hot spring resort also ran a restaurant and cattle herd. There was also a lagoon on the farm.  The farmer would take all of the waste water from the restaurant, showers and restrooms and put it in the lagoon to filter out all of the impurities and put it back out into the environment. During that process, methane was collected and used to cook in the kitchen of the restaurant. The owner also made fertilizer from food waste and cattle manure.”

Haviarova added that the student’s experiences at the Eco-termales hot spring was a perfect example of sustainable practices in a different country.

“In Costa Rica, everyone is findings ways to be more sustainable and energy efficient,” Haviarova said. “The students were able to tour a facility where this is happening first hand.  The owner is able to connect different types of agriculture and make the whole process sustainable.” 

Sigman also toured a greenhouse facility that grew teak trees.

“This was one of my favorite stops,” Sigman said. “The part I enjoyed here was the greenhouse. The guide spoke about agriculture and how it has priority over forestry, but I’d say the most interesting part about this stop was learning that pineapple production requires around 35 pesticide applications throughout its growing season. This number is much higher compared to teak trees, which extremely limited on the pesticide applications it can legally use.”

“Costa Rican agriculture is so much different than home in the flat lands of Indiana,” Sigman said. “I had so much fun and I am glad I took a course that opened my eyes to a new culture.”

Although the study abroad portion of the course began and ended in nine days, the experiences and memories will forge on.

Haviarova said it is a gratifying feeling to hear students say traveling to a new country was one of the best day of their lives.

“It is even more gratifying when they take their experiences and implement them into their daily lives in their home country. That is when I know I’ve done my job,” Haviarova added.​​