Drexel Students and OIP Staff's First International Alternative Spring Break Trip

Article by: Ken Caccavale, LeBow College of Business, Nicholas Sukiennik, College of Engineering, and Adam Zahn, Program Coordinator, Office of International Programs

We did not know what to expect as we turned off Route 2 onto what seemed like a steep hill that our 8-passenger van could not possibly handle. Thankfully it did, and we soon arrived to La Gran Vista,welcomed by Ign. Donald Villalobos and two returning volunteers from the United States. As a group -seven students and one staff member from Drexel University in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania- we were relieved to have finally arrived at what would be the start of a great experience on our alternative spring break trip.

Alternative Spring break

"La Gran Vista"—The Great View of San Isidro, Pérez Zeledón

We woke up the next morning, still tired from our previous full day of travelling, and looked off the ledge of our living area, which we gladly nicknamed our "tree house," and we instantly understood the meaning behind the name, La Gran Vista. Situated atop of a hill, our view of San Isidro and the mountains is unable to be put into words without understating the picturesque landscape that we were witnessing in awe.

La Grant Vista was founded in 2001 by Donald Villalobos. His commitment and passion for the environment in Costa Rica challenged him to construct his own model farm to help educate farmers, students, community members, and researchers on sustainable farming techniques. La Gran Vista spans twelve acres, and boasts a variety of crops, medicinal herbs, livestock, fruit trees, and other vegetation. On our first day,we toured the entirety of the farm, as Donald demonstrated the variety of techniques he uses to benefit the environment. For example, the skins of the papaya and pineapple from the fruit trees are used to feed the chickens, rabbits, and pigs in the coop and stable. La Gran Vista also grows a variety of medicinal herbs such as salvia and aloe. Back through the rainforest, we learned how water is pumped throughout the farm. It would be our responsibility to ensure that the water was still flowing every morning and evening.

Alternative Spring break

Trip participants: (L) Hill Coulson, Ken Caccavale, Haven Ogbaselase, Adam Zahn (Program Coordinator), Patra Konugres, Benjamin Banks, Kristen Nagy, and Nicholas Sukiennik.

Alternative Spring break

Drexel students gather soil from the rainforest to be used for composting.

Our trip was not without its physical demands. The farm is housed on several hills that can tire even the most athletic runners.However, our group took pride in the fact that we were able to help contribute to the sustainability project that would be used to help educate other farmers in the San Isidro area. Our daily activities ranged from watering plants and planting tomato crops to building compost by gathering fertilizer from the rain forest. Everyday presented a new challenge, and Donald´s commitment to not only showing but teaching made our group feel even more a part of the purpose behind La Gran Vista.

Donald´s message is clear: education as a vehicle for environmental change. Our group discussed at length how important it would be to take this message home to the United States and practice it in our routine.

In addition to the farm, there are plenty of leisure activities to do in the area. Our group swam in a nearby waterfall, shopped in the bustling streets of downtown San Isidro, and walked through the village to meet La Gran Vista´s neighbors. Wherever we went, we were greeted by friendly faces looking to help us improve on our limited Spanish.

Alternative Spring break

Ign. Donald Villalobos teaches Drexel student, Kristen Nagy,about planting tomato crops and greenhouse maintenance.

This trip could not have happened without the support of the Office of International Programs, Student Life, and Study Abroad. We are very grateful for the financial and administrative support that we were given in order to help make this trip a reality---and a huge success.

For a week, we experienced the Tico lifestyle, but we know what we learned on this trip will remain with us.