GVSU introduces new study abroad program in Costa Rica

By Megan Webster | 10/18/17 10:10pm

GVSU Study Abroad Fair (3 of 20)
GVL / Dylan McIntyre. Wednesday, October 11th, 2017. Quinn Gardener talking to some of the students and faculty at Grand Valley's Study Abroad Fair.

Grand Valley State University offers a plethora of options when it comes to study abroad programs, and faculty at GVSU are constantly looking for new and interesting ways to further students’ learning both in and out of the classroom. 

With that in mind, a new study abroad program has been introduced, and it’s targeted toward hospitality and tourism management (HTM) majors and minors. Students in the program will have the opportunity to study in the geotourism and adventure tourism capital of Central America, Costa Rica. 

The Costa Rica trip will take place during the spring 2018 semester, from May 14 to June 15. The program was designed to be packed with activities and learning experiences pertaining to tourism. Students who attend this trip will be visiting 14 out of the top 20 sites listed by Lonely Planet in their Costa Rica travel guide. Students will go hiking in the rainforest, whitewater rafting, zip lining, and exploring national parks and areas around the coast of the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. 

John Lipford, affiliate professor in the HTM department at GVSU and one of the program directors, said this study abroad trip to Costa Rica offers new opportunities to interact with diverse people while also learning about the environmental impacts on wildlife. 

“This particular program has Costa Rica as sort of a case study on sustainable traveling and as a sustainable traveling destination,” Lipford said. “There’s nothing here at Grand Valley that focuses either on that dynamic, looking at how diverse populations of people interact with biodiverse populations, wildlife, and ultimately avoiding the negative impacts that can occur to the wildlife and to the physical environment of a country.” 

This study abroad program was formed by the HTM department and is also through the College of Community and Public Service (CCPS), which houses HTM. During this trip, students will enroll for a total of six credits: HTM 268, "Adventure Tourism," and either HTM 368, "Geotourism," or HTM 399, "Independent Study." The students will stay in various accommodations while traveling the country and participating in volunteer projects that involve sea turtle conservation and mangrove forest restoration. 

Lipford said all of the excursions, activities and volunteer work the students will complete during their time in Costa Rica will allow them to question what they already know by immersing themselves in an unfamiliar culture.

“It’s unique because it allows students to kind of challenge their own ignorance, which is good for everyone, to challenge their own ignorance towards a specific area of the world and to immerse themselves in that culture for purposes of growth and for informative learning, coming out on the other hand having a full understanding of their place in this world and how they can have an impact,” Lipford said.  

This trip will not only be a learning experience for these students and their hospitality discipline, but it will also allow students to look at democracy in a whole new light, serving as a catalyst for reflection on the way things are done here in the U.S., Lipford said.

“Exposing them to different forms of democracy other than that of the United States, so seeing how Costa Rica has similar governmental structures to ours but how they do things differently when it comes to public education, when it comes to wildlife, when it comes to taking provisions to combat climate change and when it comes to things like health care,” Lipford said. “All those things that are hot-button issues in our country right now and to expose the students to how it’s done elsewhere.” 

Mark Gleason, an assistant professor in the HTM department and a director for this program, said this trip allows the students to explore a different country and culture closer than where most decide to travel.

“Many of us have not visited countries that are our neighbors but instead travel to other locations such as Europe,” he said. “Costa Rica is very near, yet few of us visit this unique, wonderful and friendly country.”

Gleason’s hope for students on this trip is that they gain a greater understanding of the people of Costa Rica as they travel by bus from destination to destination, interacting with the locals they encounter and even joining them for some experiences. 

“I hope our students will gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Costa Rican people, along with the country,” Gleason said. “We will meet and travel with many different Costa Ricans, and a few will join us as we travel around the country. Costa Ricans truly embrace tourism as a nation. They love sharing their country.”

Students interested in this study abroad opportunity are encouraged to attend an informational meeting Thursday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. in the DeVos Center, Room 107D, on the Pew Campus. Students can also find more information at www.gvsu.edu/studyabroad/. 

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