by Josie Schave
“So, in the United States, is it common for people to leave the lights on all the time?”
I blushed as I realized that I had left my room light on, and rose from the couch to go correct the situation.
“No, no, it’s fine—“
“No, no, I—“ My sentence was cut off as I tripped over one of Kevin’s toys. Blushing furiously now, I went to my room and shut off the stupid light. My host dad, Mauricio Cordero, was still sitting in the armchair, laughing at my goofiness. Oh yeah; I guess I should mention that all of this took place in Spanish.
From May 17th through June 14th, I had the immense pleasure of taking part in the AU in Costa Rica program in order to have an authentic immersion experience and obtain credits toward my Spanish major. During this time I stayed with Mauricio Cordero and Laura Calvo Alfaro, and their children Allison (age eight) and Kevin (age four). During my all-too-brief stay in Costa Rica, I realized that Costa Ricans have a true passion for protecting the environment— a passion that I could use some work on. Since the school I was attending was clearly a friend of the environment (one of their logos reads, “Conversa, Conserva”, or “converse, conserve), I decided it would be a logical place to start.
I decided to interview Sergio Álvarez, one of my teachers from Conversa, on the subject of conservation. I had noticed his passion for the environment during my second week at Conversa when he showed all of the students around campus and taught them all about the different trees and plants. The following interview was conducted primarily in Spanish (and secondarily in my third language: Spanglish).
My first question related to the history of conservation in Costa Rica: “Has Costa Rica always been friendly to the environment?” According to Sergio, it hasn’t. Between the 1940s and 1970s, Costa Rica had experienced 70% deforestation. In response to this, reforestation efforts started in the mid-1970s. Since then, 50% of the deforestation has been recovered, and 25% of Costa Rica is part of the system of National Parks and Reserves. Sergio remarked that part of the reforestation efforts had to do with improving tourism.
I also asked Sergio about his opinion of the United States’ conservation efforts. His personal opinion is that a lot of the conservation efforts undertaken by the United States are more for economic reasons than anything else. I discussed the idea of the cap and trade system with him, and explained to him how it worked (side note: thank you, Dr. Wasnich. Thanks to your Econ 101 class, I felt pretty darn smart at this point in the conversation). After this explanation he remarked, “There’s a saying: when the purse is touched, everyone feels.”
Finally, I asked him the question that I wanted to know the answer to most of all: “What can we do in the United States to help the environment?” “The answer is simple,” he said. “Recycle and reforest.” After having a fantastic blonde moment where I forgot that “reforesting” just means “planting more trees,” I thanked him for his time and thought about all he had to say.
My experience in Costa Rica was invaluable for improving my Spanish speaking skills, but it also inspired me to be more environmentally conscious. My family and I don’t currently recycle anything other than bottles, and I’m looking for a way to change that. I now try to use dishcloths instead of paper towels, and real plates instead of paper ones.
And, of course, I always turn out the lights.
Sarah Josephine Schave (“Josie”) is a junior at Ashland University. She is currently pursuing a double major in Middle Grades Education (with dual concentrations in Language Arts and Social Studies) and Spanish. She is also the student programming intern for the Ashland Center for Nonviolence, and she is looking forward to collaborating with fellow ACN members on new and exciting programs. Josie enjoys peace, justice, and Mint Oreo Blizzards.