International Business Class Explores Costa Rican Culture

November 02, 2009

Costa RicaProfessor of International Business (INB) Cecilia McInnes-Bowers has taken students overseas for over a decade, but last summer was the first time she took students to Costa Rica.

The class visited the Costa Rican environment, businesses, the embassy, volunteered in El Carpio (a Nicaraguan refugee camp). They expanded their comfort zones and gained greater appreciation for what they have.

“It was a very dynamic way to make cross culture education real,” said McInnes-Bowers, “It’s very different than lecturing and discussions. Until you’re integrating everything you learn in the classroom, you can’t really know how to use it.”

McInnes-Bowers designed the class to be like a program. An INB elective, the class provides four credit hours for INB and two credit hours of Spanish.

In Costa Rica, the class spent breakfast and dinner together and shared experiences that were both stimulating and challenging. The students lived with Costa Rican families and were challenged by having to navigate and function in an environment that was foreign.

Having grown up in Miami and Puerto Rico, McInnis-Bowers was comfortable in a Latin American environment. “It was a real shock for some of the students,” said McInnis-Bowers, “but it was all just superficial differences.”

“It was completely out of their comfort zone. It was a real shock for them dealing with how things work versus how they really are. But it was all just superficial differences,” said McInnes-Bowers. She and the students did not share the same challenges because growing up in Miami and Puerto Rico made her comfortable in a Latin American Environment.

“I really had a mental breakdown,” said Jasmine Clayton (Class of 2010). “There was a huge language barrier, there was no air conditioning, and the windows were always open so bugs came in.”

McInnes-Bowers saw her students move from being so uncomfortable in the new environment to being reduced to tears because they didn’t want to leave their Costa Rican mamas. “As a faculty member it’s exhilarating,” she said.

McInnes-Bowers and her students were all very moved by their volunteer project in the shanty-town of El Carpio, with its trash, stray animals and gray water.

“Everything looked so nice until we arrived at this giant landfill and entered El Carpio,” said Clayton. “We were building bunk beds for families and some homes had no floors. Some had walls made of pieces of metal stacked together and bathrooms were usually holes in the ground.”

In passing, McInnes-Bowers noticed one home where through the window, she saw lace curtains and a kitchen table set with napkins held by a napkin.

“A mother had made this nice home for her family, and that’s when it hit me,” said McInnis Bowers. “There are not impoverished people, only impoverished places. That’s the power of service learning.”

-Mary Neville (Class of 2013)

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