U of M students get a taste of Costa Rican sustainability practices
By Greg Russell
For coffee lovers, this trip would have been a real coup.
While most students were enduring red lights, traffic snarls and rush hour traffic
to attend class this past summer, a group of University of Memphis students were traveling
by canoe and through jungles in the small Latin American country of Costa Rica to
study nutrition-based sustainability practices — even those of coffee plantations.
“It was an amazing opportunity to get a first-hand experience of the different foods
of other cultures, from beautiful exotic fruits to some of the best coffee in the
world,” said senior dietetic major Alyssa Dragutsky.
“I learned so much valuable information about organic farming, sustainable agriculture
and natural healing practices,” said Ashley Randall, also a senior dietetics major.
The U of M group was on a two-week study abroad trip to a country known for its sustainability
practices and eco-tourism. Robin Roach, an associate professor of nutrition in health
and sport sciences, led the 13 students, who received three hours of course credit
for the trip.
“It was textbook learning come to life,” she said. “The students have heard about
sustainable ways of living and eating, but when they actually go to an organic farm
and when they see how coffee is processed, they come home with a different perspective.”
Organic farming and preventive wellness practices have gained in popularity in the
past decade. Organic farming reduces toxicity in the air, water and soil. From a human
nutrition standpoint, organic crops can mean more antioxidants in food and lead to
an overall healthier diet.
The group traveled to fishing villages, hospitals and restaurants throughout Costa
Rica, including San Jose, the capital, to view various nutrition-based sustainability
and wellness practices. The students also visited pineapple, banana and sugar cane
plantations and took an ecological hike in Manuel Antonio National Park to identify
medicinal plants and to study a naturalist approach to wellness. Local health experts
provided insight into Costa Rica’s successful sustainability programs.
But the part of the trip that left the largest impression on the students was a visit
to the villages of the original inhabitants of Costa Rica, the Bribri tribe.
“We had to canoe and hike to get to their remote community in Talamanca,” said Dragutsky.
“We experienced their day-to-day lifestyle, while touring their land of exotic plants,
fruits, vegetables and roaming animals.”
Said Randall, “At the organic farms and coffee plantations, we saw how they produce
organic compost to fertilize the plants. Each farm had various methods of warding
off harmful insects without the use of pesticides.”
The Bribri live mostly without electricity or running water and subside off the rain
forest jungle. They are known for their knowledge of medicinal plants and sustainability.
Their language and culture has largely been untouched by Western civilization.
Senior Rosalyn Knox said traveling to another country opens new doors for U.S. nutritionists
and wellness experts.
“It was beneficial to experience a different culture in the way they do things because
perhaps their practices can be utilized in the United States,” she said.
“The emphasis in Costa Rica is eating locally grown foods, which is such a contrast
to the way Americans eat,” she said. “The trip allowed us to see how diet and culture
are so closely related.”
The study abroad trip also meant something more for Randall, as it often does for
U of M students traveling outside the United States.
“My experience at the village has solidified my appreciation for all that I have,”
she said. “Our life here in the U.S. can seem tough and stressful, yet it really doesn’t
compare to the commitment and involvement of life in the Bribri village.
“If there is one thing I learned in Costa Rica, it is that life is too precious and
enjoyable to waste your time being stressed and angry. A good diet, positive attitude
and knowledge of simple survival skills are all you need to fulfill a happy, healthy
and memorable life.”
The students also got to visit active volcanoes, hot springs and some of the world’s
most beautiful beaches.
The U of M’s study abroad program has expanded the past few years. It offers programs
in more than 40 countries around the world with a wealth of learning experiences.
Visit http://www.memphis.edu/abroad/ for more details on the study abroad program.
Contact Roach at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information on future dietetics/preventive wellness study abroad opportunities.