On a recent trip to Latin America, several professors from Tusculum College embarked on an expedition to gain insight into the biodiversity, diverse geography, stable democracy and diversified economy of a developing country.
The trip, initially planned to include both Costa Rica and Nicaragua, was an opportunity for each of the three professors to incorporate an international perspective into their classroom experiences back in Greeneville. Due to restrictions on border crossings because of the swine flu, the eventual trip focused solely on Costa Rica.
The professors, which included Dr. Ian VanLare, associate professor of biology; Dr. John Paulling, professor of mathematics and Amy Brooks, assistant professor of athletic training, participated in order to pave the way for future student trips and to bring back real-world experience and examples to students through their adapted curriculum at Tusculum College.
“During this trip we looked at diversity both biological and culturally in a variety of places within Costa Rica,” said VanLare.
The participants visited both ends of the Central Valley, traveled through lowland Caribbean habitats, stayed at a cloud forest while visiting several nature reserves and visited two active, but different types of volcanoes.
“We stayed at both ends of the Central Valley,” said VanLare, “And, we visited the northern town of La Fortuna where they have an active volcano and then went on to Monte Verde, which interestingly was settled by American Quakers.”
Also on the group’s travel agenda were two hydroelectric plants which they visited. These plants provide much of Costa Rica’s and neighboring Nicaragua’s electricity, said VanLare.
In addition, the group traveled to Jaco, a town located on the Pacific Ocean, where they observed how the Tico (a term for the native inhabitants of Costa Rica) society struggles with the effects of ecotourism.
“The strength of the trip revolved around its participants,” said VanLare. And while each of the three faculty members represented different academic disciplines, VanLare said each was enthusiastically engaged in all the planned activities and participated in activities individually.
Brooks, in her job as athletic trainer, works with a number of Tusculum’s international students, many of whom are natives of Central and South America.
“I see the adjustments these students have to make in coming to an American school and adjusting to the American lifestyle,” said Brooks. “I wanted to see where they come from and be able to help those athletes get over the culture shock.”
Having made the trip to Costa Rica, Brooks says she can certainly understand the difficulty in adjusting that those students often have.
“It’s completely different,” she said. “We visited the cities, the mountains and the beaches, and I certainly feel that I understand the culture better.” She added that she feels she will be able to make better connections as a care-giver with those students who are from the Central and South American regions.
VanLare, who has traveled before to Costa Rica with students, would consider doing so again, as he feels it allows students to experience ecosystems that do not exist in East Tennessee, as well as exposes them to another culture.
“I can see the international experience incorporating language, science, service and history, and my long-term goal would be to take students not for a trip, but for a semester of study,” said VanLare.
The faculty trip to Costa Rica was part of Tusculum College’s efforts to increase the number of students who have an international experience during their college career. As part of this campus wide goal, the College formed the Center for Global Studies in spring 2008, with a mission to “enhance the capacity of individuals and organizations to address local and global challenges through building relationships with communities, institutions of higher learning and organizations globally.”
For more information the Tusculum College Global Studies program, contact Dr. Geir Bergvin, director of the Center for Global Studies, at 423-636-7300.