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Students learn about fair trade in Costa Rica

A group of Illinois State University students spent one week in the village of San Miguel de Sarapiqui in Costa Rica with Politics and Government faculty Noha Shawki and Julian Westerhout.

Students, who are all studying fair trade and the fair trade movement this semester, visited fair trade cooperatives and fair trade coffee, cassava, and pineapple farms and had conversations with farmers and co-op leaders about the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of fair trade. In addition, students visited a pineapple processing facility. Students also had the opportunity to visit a local school on Culture Day, a holiday that celebrates the diversity of Costa Rica’s cultures, attend the Culture Day program, and speak to teachers.

photo of group

Professor Shawki with Aaron Nance, Andrew Jacobs, Caroline Kernan, Emma Shores, and Sara Sykes.

Students stayed with host families, which was a great opportunity to round out the immersive experience and experience family life in a rural community.

“Even though the literature was interesting and provided more than enough information, (fair trade) did not click for me until we spent time in Costa Rica experiencing it firsthand and seeing and hearing how it works from those directly involved,” said one student participant.

While another student, “To see how people lived, hearing the stories of fair trade practicing individuals, what fair trade practices look like, and how communities are affected by fair trade was interesting and more relatable.”

A third student said, “Having the personal connection to the farmers and the co-ops, along with the ability to ask the farmers questions and validate some of the benefits and challenges of the fair trade movement, was tremendously helpful. After completing the trip, I have a much stronger appreciation for the impact that trade policies and global markets have on the everyday lives of producers from countries like Costa Rica.”