This year, Texas Tech University’s students were able to complete two summer programs in Costa Rica. The first of these groups, associated with the College of Arts and Sciences, attended a Faculty-Led Program in which they explored renewable energy outside of the United States. The small, but abundant, Central American country is the perfect place to do this: it has geothermal, wind, and hydroelectric power plants. The other group of engineering majors attended a Summer Abroad Program in which they were able to complete coursework while staying several weeks in Costa Rica. By visiting our tropical satellite campus, the Red Raiders were able to work towards their degree while simultaneously experiencing pura vida, the country’s motto that translates to simple and positive living.
The experience did not come without its challenges. Amidst the surge of the third wave of COVID-19 cases in the country, a lot of the activities they partook in were attended virtually. This didn’t discourage the students, however—they were excited to learn on-campus and take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. The Renewable Energy Faculty-led Program ended on May 29th, and the Engineering Summer Abroad Program is ongoing!
The Renewable Energy students arrived in Costa Rica on May 16th. Their program was led by Mr. Arquimedes Ruiz Columbie, an Instructor of Wind Energy. After a good night’s sleep, they ate a quintessential Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto (a traditional dish made of rice and beans), eggs, tortillas, sour cream, and fried plantain. They were ready for their first activity of the day: a lecture by Manfred Kopper, the Senior Manager for Climate Change and Sustainability for the firm Ernst & Young. This was an introduction for the students to understand why sustainable development is now a must-have for businesses. As future entrepreneurs, this speech was key for the students to understand how important sustainability is for companies. The Red Raiders also attended a virtual workshop led by Elizabeth Venegas, the Environmental Director of the Business Alliance for Development. She talked about Costa Rica’s decarbonization plan, as the country is one of the leading nations in carbon neutrality. The day ended with dinner in SIKWA, a restaurant in Barrio Escalante, one of San Jose’s hippest neighborhoods. They were able to taste a modern-twist on Costa Rican indigenous ancestral food.
Finally, the Red Raiders ventured out to go sightseeing. They first visited the COOPELESCA Hydroelectric Power Plant, which provides electricity for everything in Sarapiquí, a canton located in the province of Heredia. They also hiked the nearby forest, which helps the power plant work towards carbon neutrality. The next day, they received two lectures. The first, by the consultant Marco Jaubert, who explained to them the flip side of sustainable development and clean energy. They learned about the environmental impact of different types of power plants and debated if clean energy can actually be considered clean. With such knowledge, they made a virtual tour of Reventazón Dam, whose primary purpose is the production of hydroelectric power. It is the largest power station in the country and it is expected to provide power for 525,000 homes. The project is a model for other hydroelectric power plants because of its environmental features, like migration corridors for different species of animals. The second lecture of the day was by Ethel Maldonado, the Responsible Business Coordinator of the Business Alliance for Development. She taught students which moves companies are making, in terms of power production, to achieve their sustainable development goals.
After dinner at Tiquicia restaurant, a traditional restaurant which offers an amazing view of the Central Valley of Costa Rica, the students were ready for their next stop: Guanacaste province. Guanacaste was especially important for them; the Tilaran canton produces all wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric energy! After arriving, they received a Green Energy Solar Panels Lecture, where they learned about legal problems between solar energy panels company and ICE, the government-run energy provider. They were also explained how solar energy panels work. The next day, they visited El Viejo sugar-mill. During the summer, when Guanacaste is dryer, the El Viejo sells electricity to ICE by making biomass out of sugar cane. The students learned how biomass is produced and toured the facilities.
After days of intense learning, the students had a much deserved break in Tamarindo Beach. Known for its excellent waves, they crossed the estuary to Playa Grande, where they received surf lessons from the Frijoles Locos team. The exciting part was only getting started--they were able to experience the thrill of the first wave in a safe instruction environment. The next day, after enjoying a free morning at the beach and lunch at famed seaside spot El Chiringuito, they sailed into the sunset in a catamaran sunset tour. The more adventurous Red Raiders had snorkeling and kayak equipment provided.
After relaxing for a few days, the students visited a Wind Park located in Tilaran. This was especially important, as the students specialize in wind energy. They understood how the turbines worked and then, after a lake tour, headed to La Fortuna, near Arenal Volcano. By this point, the students have visited four of Costa Rica’s seven provinces! They had a few days of exploring the area and toured Lake Arenal in a boat. Lake Arenal is an important component of Costa Rica’s green energy policy.
The trip was coming to an end. After coming back to San Jose, they received a lecture by Sergio Guillen, a university professor who is an expert in renewable energy. They learned about the history of renewable energy in Costa Rica, and afterwards, the students made a virtual tour of the Pailas Geothermal Power Plant. The next day, they ventured into San José and witnessed firsthand one of the reasons why the country hasn’t achieved carbon-neutrality: mobility. Public and private transportation in San José is extremely inefficient.
The trip ended with a visit to Poas Volcano. There, they made the DOKA estate Costa Rica Coffee Tour, where they were able to taste one of Costa Rica’s most important exports. A trip to the volcano and the La Paz Waterfalls left them tired, as they played in the sun and were able to experience one of Costa Rica’s most magical bodies of water. The Costa Rican experience was hectic, but it left them with a thorough understanding of renewable energy and all that Costa Rica has to offer, from its city, to its natural habitats.
The other group, composed of 19 Summer Abroad Engineering Program students, arrived in Costa Rica on May 28th and continue to stay here! They’ve had the opportunity to pursue their ambitious goals while traveling throughout the country. After arriving, they had a prompt dinner at Hamburguesía, a tasty, make-on-your-burger type place in Escazú. Then they departed to Poas, Alajuela. A visit to the Poas Volcano (a powerful symbol of geothermal forces that formed Costa Rica!) was followed by a stroll through the tropical rainforest habitat. Afterwards, they experienced a Costa Rica Coffee Tour in the DOKA estate, and were able to learn about the process related to coffee seedling, planting, and roasting. The hectic day also included some fun in La Paz Waterfall, renowned for its light blue colors.
The group also experienced a bicycle tour of downtown San José before heading the next day to one of the most anticipated locations: Tamarindo Beach! The beach experience was very similar to the one enjoyed by the renewable energy students. They made the estuary boat crossing to Playa Grande and received surf lessons by the Frijoles Locos team. The sky was clear and waves were running high. In the afternoon, the students also visited the famed El Chiringuito seaside spot, and then sailed into the sunset in a catamaran where they had access to different equipment.
Back in San José, the Red Raiders mingled together with other Costa Rican students in a BBQ, before departing to La Fortuna, Alajuela. The town has developed around the Arenal Volcano and there, you can visit waterfalls, relax in the hot springs, and even zip line. Now, after a few free days of rest, the students headed to Monteverde, Puntarenas. Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s major ecotourism destinations, home to a Cloud Forest Reserve which is 90% virgin forest. It has a high diversity of over 2,500 plant species, 100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, and thousands of insects.
Next, the group will continue their trip with a visit to Manuel Antonio and Bajos del Toro. Manuel Antonio is a small National Park with many white-sand beaches, located in the southern tip of Costa Rica. By venturing to Bajos del Toro, they will be able to see a bursting waterfall fed by an extinct volcano. The captivating atmosphere will put students in touch with nature and make them appreciate the country’s natural, majestic beauty.
The engineering students will end their adventures with a visit to Limón, a province located in Costa Rica’s caribbean coast. Puerto Viejo is a coastal town known for its surfing community, spectacular beaches, and Jaguar Rescue Center. Lately, boutique hotels and vegan eateries have developed in the area, and students are 25 minutes away from Cahuita National Park, which houses the largest system of coral reefs in Costa Rica. The trip continues, as students expect to continue traveling and learning in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
Last week, a third group of students, this time from the College of Communications, came to study Global Public Relations in Costa Rica. Their itinerary lasted just a week, but they were able to fit in a lot of fun activities. They visited Jacó, Puntarenas, a beach town southwest of San José renowned for its waves and proximity to several national parks. Then, they went to Manuel Antonio National Park, where they were able to experience the park’s impressive landscapes, white sand beaches, and wildlife. They also traveled to Dominical, a beach-front town very popular among surfers worldwide.
The group of Global PR students also went to San Gerardo de Dota, a small town with abundant flora and fauna. Moreover, they visited a province the other student groups did not: Cartago. Orosí, which is the community they visited in Cartago, is a serene place renowned for its rich scenery and abundance of birds. Afterwards, the students drove back to San José, where they were able to choose which museums to visit. They were also encouraged to spend their last sunset and dinner at Azotea Calle 7, the rooftop bar of Hotel Presidente, which offers a nice view of Costa Rica’s capital. Some students continue to stay in Costa Rica, while others headed back to Lubbock on June 27th.