The following post is written by Giovanni Gravino, a student in MU’s MA in Global Development and Justice (MAGDJ) program.
Pura Vida! Over spring break from March 22 to April 3, students from the undergraduate Global Studies program and the graduate MAGDJ program set out on a short-term study abroad opportunity to Costa Rica. Our team was led by Dr. Greg Burch, director of Global Studies Department, who had previously lived and worked in Costa Rica for numerous years. His experience and relationships provided us with extensive insight into the Latin American society.
This trip, which is part of a course for both undergraduates and graduates, focused on youth and children in the Latin American context, as well as engaging in some of the cultural and recreational activities Costa Rica has to offer. We were exposed to effective ministry models, and it was a joy to learn from professionals who have a deep understanding of the context in which they are working. It was valuable to see these positive examples of what is working well with these organizations.
Costa Rica is a respected and beautiful country, as well as being considered one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world. It is known as an environmentally sustainable country as well as a tourist destination that offers numerous activities and sights to see. The collectivist and polychronic culture was refreshing to be a part of. It was a good reminder of the importance of relationships. Being submersed into the language and culture was fun for us all.
Our cross-cultural experience began in Costa Rica’s capital city, San José, and each day consisted of lectures, site visits, and/or cultural and recreational activities. All of the lectures better equipped us in understanding the Latin American context within regard to youth and children, culture, religion, human rights and economic systems, and government policies. Along with lectures, we partook in site visits of a few Christian non-profits and learned from their models. Finally, being exposed to cultural and recreational activities provided us with great insight into the culture as well as memories that will be with us for a long time. These activities included visiting the Basilica de los Angeles, Volcán Irazu, Doka coffee plantation, Orosí valley, and even some Latin dance lessons, just to state a few.
Two non-profit organizations we visited that stood out to us were Roblealto Child Care Association and Casa Viva. Casa Viva is one of the only Latin American organizations that centers on a healthy foster care program. MAGDJ student Amy Brownell highlighted that she was significantly impacted by these two organizations.
“Roblealto and Casa Viva are two organizations which have transitioned into a more just model of ministry with children at risk,” she said. “Instead of building orphanages and perpetuating the cycle of abandonment, these organizations assist families in working through their challenges and provide foster families for children who need to temporarily live apart from their families while they do the necessary work to become healthy and whole families once again. The holistic model these organizations provide help families and children in their physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.”
The local church also plays a pivotal role in this process. It was great to hear about so many cases leading to family reunification. “It was exciting to visit these organizations and learn about their work keeping families intact,” Brownell concluded. There is great importance in children living in a family unit. These models provided such great insight and enhanced our education regarding at-risk children as we learned from those working in this context.
Other organizations and speakers included ICADS (Institute for Central American Development Studies), La Montaña Christian Camp, World Vision Latin America, evangelical theologian Don Juan Stam, ESEPA Bible College and Seminary, and PANI (Costa Rica’s Child Protective Services). We gained knowledge from each of these various organizations and speakers, leaving us with much to reflect on.
This educational trip also included eco-tourism, which plays a huge role in sustaining Costa Rica. We had the opportunity to explore the cloud forest in Monteverde and were able to tour butterfly gardens, hike, and zip-line through the vibrant and lush forest. One of our MAGDJ students, Jessica Resendiz, reflected, “In the cloud forest, I experienced the creativity and perfection of the Lord. His fingerprints were everywhere. It drew my heart to worship Him and refreshed my soul.” I believe all of us felt a divine connection with God at some point during this trip.
Our trip concluded with a debriefing time at the warm and sunny beach on the Pacific coast, before coming back to a rainy Portland, Oregon. Global Studies student, Tessa Shackelford explained that the end of the trip was incredibly relaxing. “It enabled me to simply pray and also reflect on what I learned over the past two weeks…I had a profound experience at the sheer magnitude and greatness of God”, as she spoke on the vastness of the ocean she stood in.
Costa Rica is truly a beautiful country. We had the opportunity to soak in all the flora and fauna, mountains, volcanoes, the beach, the people and the culture. God is the greatest artist and we were graciously astounded by the masterpiece of His creation. This experience was truly captivating as well as a joy to learn about and be engaged in the wonderful culture of Costa Rica.
The Global Studies Department offers a Global Immersion course (IS310) for undergrads and Topics in Global Development and Justice (IS660) for graduates. These courses include a guided trip to Costa Rica or Israel, with future study abroad trips being planned. Next spring, the course will be heading to Israel. For more information, please contact Dr. Karen Fancher directly at email@example.com.