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Western Students Discover Costa Rica Through New Study Trip Program

Global Connect Program by Western International will see more immersive visits to the Central American country.

Shreya Menon found an opportunity to take a fresh look at her consumption choices, and to expand her language skills, while travelling in Costa Rica. 

The fourth-year political science student was in a group of 15 undergraduates who recently spent six days immersed in Costa Rican culture and sustainability as part of Western International’s new Global Connect Program. 

From learning to carve local jicara fruit into traditional crafts and taking a meat-optional, zero-waste cooking class, to guided tours of an organic pineapple plantation and an environmental park, the experiences were designed to provide opportunities for hands-on learning in an international context.  

The inaugural trip focused on the theme of sustainability and offered participants the chance to spend a week in August collaborating with local community partners in sustainable initiatives, learning about world-renowned tropical biodiversity and engaging with local community members. It is one of four in a series of short-term study tours being offered in Costa Rica over the next few years. 

“This experience gives you the opportunity to truly experience another culture. Travelling as a tourist will not give you the same skills, networking and cultural awareness,” said Menon.  

It has also made me more conscious of my consumption and inspired me to expand my foreign language skills. It has made me a better global citizen.” 

Developing global leaders 

Prior to departure, participating students were required to complete a robust readiness program that included 10 hours of virtual cohort-based Spanish language classes, as well as online modules related to critical and ethical engagement and safety abroad. They were also encouraged to do research on Costa Rica.  

“I was so happy to see everyone’s openness to new practices, concepts, lifestyles, and worldviews, and how everyone left our week together with new ways of thinking about sustainability, their studies, Canada and Costa Rica, and beyond,” said Mackenzie Bishop, International Learning program coordinator, and one of two staff leaders on the study tour.

“On our first morning together, we were asked to capture our feelings in one word. Mine was ‘excited’. I was especially excited to watch how everyone would learn and grow throughout the study tour. I was looking forward to seeing how our multidisciplinary student group, with each person’s individual backgrounds and unique perspectives, would share knowledge and engage with novel concepts from local Costa Rican experts,” she said.

Now that they’ve returned, the trip participants are completing the program by reflecting on their personal journey and the group’s experiences through an e-portfolio, which will be featured at a future in-person showcase on campus. 

“My Global Connect experience has made me more aware of my everyday actions. This trip was focused on learning about sustainability, and now I am more conscious in how my actions affect the environment and people,” said Mackenzie Widdup, a third-year student in Ivey Business School’s HBA program. 

“Additionally, after spending a week with a group of people who I may not have known otherwise, I learned so much about everyone’s culture. After just the short period of time, I feel so much more aware of global issues and connected to others,” she said.  

“It was an invaluable experience, and I cannot find the words to describe how much I enjoyed it. There is so much learning to be done outside of the classroom, and I firmly believe that this experience provides life lessons that cannot be found in a textbook.”   

Offering flexibility for global learning 

The new program is funded by the Global Skills Opportunity Program (GSO), part of the Government of Canada’s outbound student mobility pilot program and administered by Universities Canada. To encourage participation and increase access to the program, each Global Connect study tour participant receives financial support from the GSO. In addition, students can apply for other financial support through Western International-administered scholarships and bursaries.  

“The hope is that financial challenges will not be a barrier for any undergraduate student interested in pursuing opportunities like these,” said Eunjung Riauka, director of international learning. 

Developing the program also allowed Western International to address the need for short-term experiential international opportunities for students who may not be able to incorporate a longer exchange or internship program into their degree.

Organizers from Western worked with partners in Costa Rica to develop the itinerary and activities. in-country planning and on-site support was provided by Costa Rica Global Learning Programs. A small woman-owned business, it is Western International’s partner for the Global Connect – Costa Rica study tours, as well as for in-country and virtual internships. 

“It’s vital that we equip students to be global citizens and capable of succeeding in an ever-increasing internationalized world. Both Western’s Strategic Plan and Global Engagement Plan focus heavily on the goal to ensure all undergraduate students are able to include experiential and international learning experiences into their program,” said Riauka.  

With the success of the first tour, plans are already underway for the next two, which will be offered during reading week in February 2024 and will be biodiversity and Indigenous program focused.