Saturday, September 13

Introductory Post & Orientation in Costa Rica

Hello everyone!

I should have posted an introductory post before I left, but between packing and that strenuous life-guarding job, I never got the chance, so let me say a little bit about the program.

I graduated from Winsor in June, and I’ll be going to Columbia in the fall of 2009, and in the mean time, I’m taking a gap year with a program called Thinking Beyond Borders. I actually never planned to take a year off, but in April, my college counselor mentioned that there would be a gap year fair at Nobles, and so I decided to stop by one weekend. While I was there, I discovered and fell in love with TBB.

This is the first year that they’re running the program, but it seems to be incredibly well run so far. There are sixteen students and three leaders: Sandy & Robin (who are married) and Nina. We’ll be spending the next eight months together, traveling the world and studying global development issues.

The basic structure of the program focuses on five main countries, and in each one we focus on a different issue: Ecuador (clean water), China (public education), Vietnam (the environment), India (sustainable agriculture), and South Africa (public health). In each main country, we do an individual homestay and work directly with a local NGO (non-governmental organization) that specializes in our focus. In between each of the main countries, we have an enrichment week, essentially a vacation week to decompress and process and come back together as a group, so those trips will include hiking Machu Pichu in Peru, going to Angkor Wat, scuba-diving in Thailand, seeing the Taj Mahal in India, and going to a National Park in South Africa. After all that, we come and spend six more weeks together in the United States, drawing connections between everything we’ve seen. We’ll be meeting with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and small NGOs in New York City and Washington DC.

I’ll explain more about the program as I go, but that’s good for now.

The trip began on September 4th, when the group met in Houston and flew to San Jose, Costa Rica, for a ten-day orientation. We spent the time in a small costal town called Playa Uvita, which is on the Pacific, south side of the country. We lived at a small co-op owned hostel type place, on an unpaved road with few local shops. We were a half hour walk from the beach, so many of the mornings some of us would wake up early to catch the high tide and surf, which I’ve never done before, but began to get the hang of.

Early morning surfing -- catching the high tide at 5:00 AM (Zach & Noah)

We spent the week having group discussions (rules, safety, curriculum) and doing outdoor activities. Highlights included kayaking in a mangrove grove, hiking to a waterfall, taking a boat trip to an island, going on a nighttime beach hunt to help preserve turtle eggs from poachers, and seeing a local soccer tournament.

We discussed our summer reading – Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, and The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. The group opinions differed about each book, but I would recommend them both. Ishmael, or its sequel My Ishmael, is a quick read with a heavy message about the nature of human society. The End of Poverty is a very well written, easily accessible book written by an economist who pioneered the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

We’re back in San Jose now for the night before our flight to Quito, Ecuador. From there, we’ll drive about four hours to our site.

The group is great so far; everyone is really getting along and seems to be having a great time. I’m really excited to start our first main country and hopefully remember my Spanish!

No comments: