University of Calgary

Living and learning in rural Costa Rica

UToday HomeMay 2, 2012

By Erin Kaipainen

A group of students that took part in Calgary Serves International program At Chira Island, Costa Rica last year. Photo courtesy Calgary Serves InternationalA group of students that took part in Calgary Serves International program At Chira Island, Costa Rica last year. Photo courtesy Calgary Serves InternationalThrough the Calgary Serves International program on campus, 24 students will spend the next two weeks on Chira Island, Costa Rica, learning about community-based rural tourism.

Now in its third year, the Calgary Serves International program is a non-credit service-learning program that provides students with the opportunity to live, learn and volunteer for two weeks in a rural setting. Students are immersed in the local language and culture and stay with a host family.

“I signed up for the program because I eventually want to work on development programs in Latin America and assist new immigrants in their transition to life in Canada,” says anthropology student, Holly Nichols. “This program gives me an opportunity to see what this kind of job will be like and will help me to understand another culture’s perspective.”

Students have volunteered with the Escuela Montero y Palito School to build a wheel-chair accessible sidewalk, paint classrooms and a basketball court for the school, the only basketball court on the island. This year, students will contribute to a host of projects at the school including, painting classrooms a mural and repairing the wheelchair accessible sidewalk.

Students will also be volunteering with the Escuela Montero y Palito and La Posada Rural La Amistad, an ecotourism cooperative. They’ll spend one night at La Amistad eco-lodge, where they will meet with the female operators and learn about the challenges of starting a cooperative, building eco-lodges and offering an alternative way of earning a living in a patriarchal society.

Students will also meet with women who run an artisan’s cooperative and other people who run a fishing cooperative. Through their visits and volunteer work, students will learn about the benefits and challenges of community-based rural tourism as an alternative to large-scale tourism.

The program offers incredible opportunities for students, and among its many benefits, it helps prepare them for independent travel, volunteer work or employment in the developing world.

“When I finish my nursing degree, I definitely see myself travelling and nursing somewhere other than home. I think this is a great way to start out,” says nursing student, Sara Watson.

This year, the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning and the Students’ Union partnered to increase the size of the Calgary Serves International program. The program has more than doubled in size for 2012.

Meet the team and follow their experiences at www.calgaryserves.wordpress.com.