Five Texas Tech University students and two staff members traveled to Costa Rica, where they served with Verdiazul’s Sea Turtle Conservation Project.
Being from Turkey, Texas, and attending a university in Lubbock didn't prepare Kennadee Buchanan for 10 days of the Costa Rican climate.
“The humidity is unbelievable, and I will never get used to it,” said Buchanan, a sophomore agricultural communications major. “Right now, it is winter or the rainy season, which means it is beautiful in the mornings and rainy in the afternoon.”
Thankfully, she said, it didn't rain every afternoon.
Buchanan was a part of the first international Service Break trip led by Texas Tech University's Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement (CALUE). Five students and two CALUE staff members traveled to Junquillal Beach, on the northwest coast of Costa Rica, where they worked with Verdiazul, a nonprofit organization committed to sea turtle conservation, nest protection and beach cleanup.
“Junquillal's community is awesome,” Buchanan wrote on the group's travel blog. “They have really come together to help with sea turtle conservation. The atmosphere is so refreshing and really makes it easier to work in such a hard environment.”
The trip started with a flight to San José, the capital and largest city of Costa Rica, where the group met with volunteer coordinators and their tour guide and driver. Their second day was filled with information and orientation meetings where the group learned Costa Rican history, discussed American and Costa Rican stereotypes and shared their expectations for the trip.
“Overall, Costa Rica is a beautiful country beaming with life in every corner and, even though it's only the first full day, it has been incredibly rewarding and life changing,” said Taylor Keeler, a sophomore human sciences major from Dallas.
They ended the day with dinner and a dance class.
“We learned salsa, merengue and a Costa Rican choreographed dance,” said Ahalee Cathey, a kinesiology graduate student from Cypress, Texas. “We are already looking forward to finding a salsa night in Lubbock.”
The next day, the group traveled six hours to the volunteer site, Asociación Vida Verdiazul Turtle Conservation Center, to begin serving.
“I was able to see more of the beautifully lush scenery of the San José area,” said Jerylme Robins, CALUE undergraduate research unit coordinator. “I even had my first – yes, first-ever – glimpse at the ocean through the still lush, but slightly more spread out foliage of the areas closer to the coast.”
After a brief orientation at the Guacamaya Lodge, they learned what their first task would be: a night patrol to find nesting turtles on the beach. The patrols would continue throughout the duration of their service, with some being more successful than others.
“Our day started off at midnight for the night patrol,” Jesus Gonzalez, a senior electronic media and communications major from Anton, blogged on the fifth day of the trip. “About 15 minutes into our walk, we see tracks leading to a possible nest.”
Those tracks didn't lead to eggs, but later that night other tracks did, Gonzalez said.
“Removing a small layer of sand revealed the treasure we were looking for – 79 turtle eggs,” Gonzalez said. “We finally reached the hatchery and made a new home for the eggs until they hatch. Finding those eggs made the waking up early, staying up late, working and walking on unstable sand in the heat and humidity worth it.”
Alyssa Weaver, a senior education major from Jasper, Georgia, also had the chance to help collect eggs during a night patrol.
“I was a little wary about waking up at 3 a.m., but the night patrol was quickly filled with excitement as we found a Lora, also known as an Olive Ridley, sea turtle nest,” Weaver said. “I was able to pull out 100 of the 152 eggs. It was quite interesting because unlike chicken eggs, sea turtle eggs are very squishy and quite flexible. I was afraid I was going to squish them too hard while pulling them out of the nest!”
Other work included patching holes in the hatchery baskets and helping with beach cleanup.
“We were divided into groups and we picked up recyclables and trash we found on the beach. I started feeling defeated while picking up plastic because the amount that we were able to pick up seemed minuscule compared to all of it that was out there,” Weaver said. “At one point I thought it would have just been easier to shovel up patches of the sand because of the number of small pieces of plastic. It put in to perspective just how much plastic, glass and trash washes up on to the shores and the need to reduce our use of these products.”
When they weren't working, the students and staff members had opportunities to interact with local Costa Ricans.
“After breakfast, children from the local school of Junquillal came to Verdiazul to spend the morning with us,” Gonzalez wrote. “We went to the beach to play soccer and let me just say, they have some fancy footwork. Apparently, I had so many red cards thrown at me, I was ejected from the game and put in jail. At the end, I didn't even know who won. We were all covered in sand and exhausted. Overall, it was a fun workout while getting to spend time with some of the local children.”
The group also had a chance to meet with Texas Tech University-Costa Rica (TTU-CR) staff and prospective students. The university's international campus in San José is scheduled to open spring 2018.
On their last evening in Costa Rica, 40 prospective TTU-CR students joined the CALUE group to discuss everything from majors, student life, Texas, Texas Tech traditions, job opportunities and the group's amazing experience in their home country.
“The opportunity to interact with high school students from a different country and have them excited to become Red Raiders was amazing,” said Jacy Proctor, CALUE Service Breaks unit coordinator. “I heard our current students talk about how great it is to be a Red Raider and how the traditions and opportunities offered by the university were just some of the reasons they and many others picked Texas Tech.”
Other conversations focused on what the Costa Rican students' interests were, like business, engineering, architecture and biology.
“The phrase, ‘I Am a Red Raider' truly showed in our Texas Tech students,” Proctor said. “They were excited to see and hear how they would have a connection with fellow Red Raiders in another country.”
Proctor said members of the CALUE Service Breaks Program hope they will be able to continue service each summer in Costa Rica and that this new Texas Tech campus will foster a lasting relationship for students to travel, serve and learn.
“It's exciting to see the development in Texas Tech's service-learning programs over the past few years,” said Erin Justyna, director of CALUE. “Each semester, more faculty are employing service-learning pedagogy in their courses, and interest in the CALUE Service Breaks program, which is only three years old, has grown significantly. I am excited to see what the future holds for service at Texas Tech.”
Proctor said the program's first international summer service break was a great success.
“Not only did students and staff complete more than 80 hours of service work, we also learned about all things Costa Rica, everything from culture and history, and business and economics, to its biodiversity and environment,” Proctor said. “Working with the Sea Turtle Conservation Project was a great experience that allowed our students to have hands-on experiences with protecting our environment and the full circle of conservation.”