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Spring Break Trip to Costa Rica Provides SUNY Plattsburgh Students Lessons on Political Ecology, Conservation

This spring break found one SUNY Plattsburgh class still in session – in Costa Rica.

Members of a global field study class traveled to that country to gain a better understanding of global connections and the challenges of conservation and sustainability.

Pura Vida (the Pure Life)

“The class focused on a crucial component in the college mission – responsible citizenship in a sustainable global community,” said Dr. Bryan Higgins, the director of international education and a professor of geography. “As such, class members met with government officials, international groups, non-governmental agencies and community-based organizations to search for the meaning of Pura Vida (the pure life) in Costa Rica.”

Site visits highlighted ecological efforts and challenges in a country that has become a global icon for green development.

The Positive Economic Impacts of Ecology

Through the experience, students, like ecology major Cody Carpenter, formed a greater appreciation of the impacts political ecology has on a society.

“Costa Rica is not full of a bunch of very poor, starving people,” Carpenter said. “With a large middle class and an unemployment rate less than that of the United States, it is often their environment, with ecotourism and tropical agriculture, that makes them quite well off.

“It should also be recognized that an ‘environment vs. people significance debate’ is irrelevant, since people can't exist without the planet. This is why any understanding of the environment and how we impact it has immeasurable importance to every person ... whether wealthy, hungry, intelligent or foolish ... because without it we cannot survive.”

Changing World Views

Higgins said that student response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Math education major Veronica Reyes, for instance, found that the trip changed the way she viewed her life – and her world.

“This experience was life altering for me. I came back from Costa Rica loving life and having this desire to live an even greater adventure. I want to take advantage of everything around me, and explore not just foreign countries but my own environment as well.”

“Students say that this is the coolest thing they’ve done – and not just the neatest college class,” Higgins said. “They fell in love with the experience. It was magical.

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