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  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development
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An international internship brought Mary Beth Dale ’21 to study sustainability, tropical ecology and eco-tourism in Costa Rica. There in the country's lush central region she explored diverse ecosystems and gained perspective on how people balance business and the environment. Although her spring 2020 trip and internship at the School for Field Studies was cut short due to COVID-19, she called it a wonderful experience and one she’d recommend for anyone who enjoys exploring the outdoors.

What did you focus on during this program?

As a member of the School for Field Studies program, I spent my days hiking through the various jungles that Costa Rica had to offer, such as the cloud forest, dry forest, and rain forest while learning about the incredible organisms that occupy them. The program focused heavily on connecting U.S. students with locals who operate sustainable businesses so that students  can learn from them. This quickly became my favorite part of the program: I was able to tour several sustainable coffee farms and gain a better understanding of changes farmers made to be environmentally conscious.

How did this program expand on your IARD background?

Due to the close connections we had with Ticos (Costa Rican natives), I was really able to understand the importance of having a relationship with the community before trying to make change. This is especially important in the world of IARD where we try to influence positive transitions in communities but rarely have a relationship with them before doing so.

This program really illuminated the correlation between implementing successful changes in the community and having connections with locals. 

In what ways did living in a different part of the world force you to grown?

One of the highlights of my trip was definitely during a camping trip I took to the Santa Rosa national park. As a person that is extremely afraid of all bugs and snakes, I was not exactly excited for this trip. The park has a large population of various snakes, spiders, and scorpions. Beyond the giant spiders on the walls of buildings (larger than my hand--no exaggeration), I was most shocked to find what was in the shower rafters: a boa constrictor. Since that was the only shower, we had to establish a boa watcher for each person showering so that we could ensure it was not going to constrict anyone. Shockingly, I made it out alive, and find myself to be a lot more confident of a person. I mean, if you shower with a boa, what can’t you do? 

Even though you just got back, have your experiences in Costa Rica influenced your life in the U.S.?

While my experience with the SFS was shorter than expected, one of the most lasting impacts was my newfound ability to be a more sustainable individual. At the center, we worked hard to mitigate our footprint on the world. Air-drying clothes, composting food, and reducing plastic use were just some sustainable ways we lived. The experience helped me realize all that I can do in my everyday life to reduce my footprint, including using reusable products, minimizing my food waste, and more.         

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