Hello! My name is Lauren Chapman. I am a senior at Illinois State University studying public relations with a minor in Political Science. Over spring break, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica! This was an experiential learning program, which allowed me to study the topic of fair trade. For a week my class visited a number of coffee, banana, pineapple and sugar cane farms and plantations.

This was an experience of a life-time and I am so glad I participated! I want to share my experience with you all, so here you go.


Day 1:

3:15 a.m.: Rise and shine! I got to the airport early because I was worried the TSA line would be long, but I was wrong! I was two hours early, but I’d much rather be too early than late.

4:30 a.m.: Arrival at airport (you know how that goes) I was once again reminded that everything in an airport is overpriced. I paid $7.50 for a water bottle and trail mix…never again.

7:48 a.m.: Boarded plane…Costa Rica here I come!

Picture taken of the view from an airplane window.

1:00 p.m. Land in Costa Rica

2:20 p.m.: Heading to my host family’s home! I’m excited to meet them.

3:30 p.m.: Arrive at host family home. My momma tica’s (host mom’s) name is Myrna Vega. She does not have any children that live with her, but she does have an adorable dog! I told my momma tica I only want her to speak Spanish to me so that I can practice my Spanish as much as possible.

4:30 p.m.: I met up with my friend Jasmyn, who is an ISU student studying in Costa Rica for the semester. The program she is enrolled in is a general program, so she has the freedom to take whatever classes she wants to. She was excited to see me and took time out to show me around.

7:30 p.m.: I returned home and started to unpack. I was able to settle in and relax before the long day ahead.

Day 2:

6:30 a.m.: Time to wake up! Today is going to be a long day.

7:50 a.m.: I met up with my classmates and professors at Veritas University. We are headed to our destination, which is CoopeVictoria.

8:57 a.m.: Enjoying the view

View out of bus window of a small town. View of a grassy field. View of trees.

9:30 a.m.: We arrived at CoopeVictoria and were given a short presentation on the co-op. We even got treated with some fresh fruit! (Yum! My first time trying papaya.)

A fruit cup with watermelon, mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, melon, strawberries and papaya.

10:00 a.m.: We visited one of the farms that the co-op works with. This farm is owned by two brothers and has been passed down from generation to generation. We got to see coffee bean plants, even though they aren’t in season.  (I found one lone bean!) We also saw sugar canes as well!

Coffee bean growing from a plant.

1:15 p.m.: Coffee tasting time! (Very interesting experience) We got to smell different roasts of coffee. Each was unique in its own way. I bought two bags to take home!

A yellow bag of "El Campesino Café" and a bag of "Café de Costa Rica fair trade coffee.

4:00 p.m.: Q&A with co-op leaders. We got to ask questions about fair trade and programs the co-op is involved in. They also shared their take on fair trade.

4:30 p.m.: Headed home!

7:00 p.m.: I ate dinner with my host family! This meal was made with rice, potatos, beans, chicken and corn. This picture does not do it enough justice!

A dinner containing chicken, corn, rice, mashed potatoes and black beans

9:00 p.m.: Time to relax. My bed was calling my name, #Exhausted.

Day 3

6:15 a.m.: Rise and shine! I woke up to the smell of my momma tica making breakfast.

6:50 a.m.: Another great meal. This was made out of bread and bananas topped with brown sugar.

Breakfast consisting of toast and sliced banana's topped with brown sugar.

9:00 a.m.: We met with a biologist who helps run the organic farmers market in collaboration with Cokomal Farms.

We even got to see the organic orchard and try some cherry tomatoes and kale.

organic cherry tomato organic farm crops Organic kale

11:00 a.m.: After learning more about organic farming in Costa Rica, we got to eat lunch at the farmers market. This was my first time trying plantains and this won’t be my last time eating them.

Lunch containing a salad, rice, chicken and plantains.

12:00 p.m.: Instead of visiting a couple organic farms (the farmers were at the market) we were given a free afternoon to explore! I wonder what I’ll do…

2:30 p.m.: I took a trip to the mall! (my happy place) I wanted to see what it was like, so I had my friend Jasmyn show me around.

6:00 p.m. I had so much fun at the mall. Too much fun, actually. When I returned home I needed a nap.

7:30 p.m.: My host mom made homemade chicken soup!

(It was so good, I didn’t get any pics. Sorry!)

8:30 p.m.: Bed time! But first, Netflix.

Day 4

7:30 a.m.: Rise and shine!

8:00 a.m.: Today’s breakfast was left over chicken pasta on top of French bread.

¡Muy delicioso! I also got to drink some fair-trade café con leche (milk).

8:30 a.m.: Today we are learning about the history of Costa Rica and its capital, San Jose. We started off with a bus tour and then we took a walking tour.

Sculpture in downtown San Jose.Statue in downtown San Jose."SJO ¡VIVE!" statue

9:50 a.m.: Arrival at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. We got to see a lot of interesting artifacts and got a glimpse into the history of Costa Rica.

A display of colonial metal workers.A gold figure on display.A colonial village on display. A display of a healer speaking with a patient.

12:00 p.m.: Lunch at a local restaurant. I had freshly made mango juice!

A lunch containing a tortilla shell, rice, a plantain, beans, sliced chicken, a salad and potatoes.Fresh mango juice.

1:08 p.m.: Arrival at Finca Rosa Blanca. This was an organic coffee farm that is certified under the Rain Forrest Alignment. This farm was started by two individuals from California that now have two shops open in California selling organic coffee beans from all over the world. This farm was interesting because of the way they give their plants nutrition. All of it comes from the land because of the ecosystem they have.

Finca (farm) Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Inn welcome sign.Inside of a banana tree.

7:15 p.m.: Dinner time!

Dinner containing chicken, pasta, garlic bread and plantains topped with brown sugar.

8:00 p.m.: I took the rest of the night to relax and talk to some friends from back home, as well as my boyfriend. Even though I’ve only been gone for a few days, I miss them!

Day 5

8:00 a.m.: Time for breakfast!

Breakfast containing two tortillas, eggs, ham and cheese along with "Salsa Tipo Inglesa".

9:00 a.m.: Departure to Sarapiqui, Costa Rica. Our first stop was a pineapple farm. On our way there we drove through a rainforest! It’s amazing to see how beautiful the earth is.

View of a stream in a valley.

View from bus window of a blue sky and trees

12:00 p.m.: Arrival at PROBIO. This co-op is concentrated in the fair trade and organic farming of pineapples. This afternoon, we spent time visiting one of their farms.

6:00 p.m.: Arrival at home stay near Sarapiqui. I was so pooped from the day that I went straight to bed. (I slept great, by the way!)

Day 6:

5:50 a.m.: Time to wake up! Today we are starting a little earlier than we have before, but it’s going to be a relatively short day.

7:30 a.m.: Arrival at a CoopeSarapiqui partner. This partner was called, “Mi Cafecito”.

CoopeSarapiqui presenter in front of students

Coffee beans being roasted in a machine

View of a valley

View of a stream

This co-op happened to have plenty of amazing views!

1:00 p.m.: My phone died (unfortunately), but at this time we arrived at another CoopeSarapiqui partner. This was a cassava farm! We got to experience planting the crops which was interesting.

6:00 p.m.: Dinner time! We ate spaghetti and it was delicious.

9:30 p.m.: Bed time

Day 7

7:30 a.m.: Bye Sarapiqui ! We left this area of Costa Rica to visit a banana plantation closer to San Jose.

10:20 a.m.: Arrival at EARTH.

10:30 a.m.: We had the opportunity to discuss fair trade and organic farming with students and professors at EARTH University.

12:00 p.m.: Touring a banana plantation.

View of banana trees.

Students leading presentation on the practices at the banana farm.

Small banana's that fell from a banana tree.

12:45 p.m. Time for lunch!

Lunch consisting of beans, rice, potatoes and chicken.

1:30 p.m.: We had the opportunity to tour a banana production factory as they prepared the bananas to be exported. I couldn’t get pictures because there were no photos allowed.

2:00 p.m.: Back to San Jose!

6:00 p.m.: Dinner time with my host family in San Jose. This is my last full day in Costa Rica, so it was a little bittersweet. My host mom prepared another great meal!

Dinner consisting of chicken, potatoes, black beans, rice and corn.

Banana pudding

I also had some yummy banana pudding!

Day 8:

8:30 a.m.: A discussion on sustainable energy. This discussion focused on bringing fair trade and sustainability together. This presentation helped to sum up all we were able to learn while in Costa Rica. I personally walked away with a lot of information that I plan to implement into everyday life, such as being more cautious of where I shop.

11:30 a.m.: Tour of Veritas University. Even though we’ve been in Costa Rica for a week now we have not seen all of the campus! We got a tour on our last day from an employee at Veritas.

Students getting a tour of Veritas University.

Students getting a tour of Veritas University.

A mannequin wearing an outfit students designed.

If you are thinking about studying abroad, you should do it. Illinois State University has plenty of programs for you to choose from. I’m glad I found the program that was the right fit for me. My experience in Costa Rica provided me with lessons and memories that I will carry with me forever!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip. As they say in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida”!