I could not imagine my college experience without SFS! Getting to learn and live abroad helped me to become more confident, self-sufficient, and aware of my role as a global citizen of this planet.
SFS PROGRAM: Sustainable Development Studies | Costa Rica | Spring 2015
HOME SCHOOL WHILE AT SFS: University of Wisconsin – Madison
CURRENT POSITION: Assistant Planner, Urban Assets
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OR MOST STRIKING SFS MEMORY?
We visited some incredible locations on our many class trips and excursions, but one of my most memorable days was spent getting to know the small town of Atenas where the Center is located. On host family day, two local students our age gave my upper-bunk mate and I an amazing tour of their homes and haunts in the agricultural areas outside of town. We all put our second language skills to the test getting to know each other as we stopped for delicious snacks, views of the valleys, and hikes up streets too steep to drive on. We ended the day at a relative’s farm where we we watched oxen turn a generations old mill and we drank the deep green and intensely sweet juice from crushed sugar cane. All the students returned to the Center that evening buzzing with stories of their respective adventures and new friends in town.
LOOKING BACK, WHAT DID YOU GAIN FROM YOUR TIME AT SFS? DID SFS CONTRIBUTE TO WHERE YOU ENDED UP?
I selected this program to learn about promoting sustainably built environments and was so excited to do so in a country where vibrant communities constantly innovate ways to improve their relationship to the diverse natural environment around them. During my semester in Costa Rica, I learned a lot about how to scientifically measure the health of natural environments, how they can be affected by human action, and how to share this information in ways that promote positive change. But for me (more often interested in the human side of environmental issues) the greatest takeaway from this program was how crucial it is to hear from all perspectives when making choices about how people interact with their built or natural environment. From case studies in class and on field trips, we learned about how important it is that the experience and knowledge of local community members is central to decision-making processes. This idea really stuck with me and I use it a lot in my role as an assistant urban planner. My firm creates community engagement initiatives to ensure that new projects and plans reflect the priorities of the community members and stakeholders that they will affect. SFS helped me to see that bringing a variety of perspectives together around urban and environmental issues takes time, but usually results in the most inclusive and innovation solutions.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A PROSPECTIVE SFS STUDENT?
Go for it! I was admittedly nervous about what I would miss during a semester away from my home university, but now I could not imagine my college experience without SFS! Getting to learn and live abroad helped me to become more confident, self-sufficient, and aware of my role as a global citizen of this planet.
RECOMMEND A GREAT BOOK OR FILM THAT HAD AN INFLUENCE ON HOW YOU VIEW THE ENVIRONMENT.
I took an environmental history course with Professor William Cronon who wrote Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. The book helped me to understand that even completely urban spaces are not separate from nature, but are built into environments that shape and are shaped by human actions.
IF YOU WERE AN ANIMAL OR PLANT, WHAT KIND WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?
I had a chance to see some incredible tropical species during my SFS semester, but I think I might be more of an urban creature. Life as a bird or squirrel in a big park, with lots of chances for snacks and people watching sounds pretty good to me.