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Trip Report: Alternative Spring Break in Costa Rica

COE Students in Costa Rica
Tickle College of Engineering students traveled to Costa Rica in March of 2013, visiting sites such as the Santiago Apostol Parish Ruins here. Back row, from left: Avik Purkayastha, Vick Singh, Matt Lloyd, Faith Frye, Megan Ferrell, and Emma Hollman. Front row, from left: Victoria Vest, Kiley White, and Michelle Morin.

TCE International Coordinator Judith Mallory accompanied nine students—Faith Frye, Avik Purkayastha, Vick Singh, Matt Loyd, Victoria Vest, Emma Hollman, Megan Ferell, Kylie White, and Michelle Morin—to Cartago in March, 2013, for service projects each morning and cultural activities in the afternoons. The group stayed in a small dormitory-like facility with a daytime staff, including local cooks, and a night watchman.

The students divided their time between two orphanages for the daily service projects. The first location is a long-term home to more than 100 children. They live on a gated “campus” in individual homes with women who act as mother figures. The children attend school in the community.


Victoria West and Kiley White
Victoria Vest and Kiley White, from left, conduct a volcano building experiment with children at an orphanage in Costa Rica.

The other location is a home in an urban setting with thirteen children who live there on a temporary basis. They have two “tias” (“aunts”) on staff to take care of them.

COE students conducted science and engineering experiments in the children’s classrooms. These included paper airplane competitions and making homemade play-dough (which the children had never seen), straw rockets, tin foil boats, and volcanoes. The demonstrations went well and were enjoyed by the resident children.


UT COE Students at Costa Rican Volcano
UT COE Students at Costa Rican Volcano

The group also had two small building projects at each location. At the campus facility, TCE students constructed a small stage for use in an outdoor gymnasium. The materials were mostly recycled, and there were no power tools. Students discussed the design and alternated working on the stage and engaging in experiments with the children at the facility. In this way, all could participate in both activities.

At the second location, the tias had requested a fence to protect a vegetable garden. Again, with no power tools and less-than-ideal materials, they designed and constructed the fence. The garden was also widened and cleaned up in the process.

Cultural activities in Costa Rica included a walking tour of the city, a visit to the artisans’ market and produce/meat market, a dance class, two Spanish language lessons, a visit to the Irazu volcano, shown above right, and a trip to the rain forest of the Tapanti National Park.


Our Lady of the Angels Basilica
Our Lady of the Angels Basilica

The trip took place during the week prior to Easter. Since many Costa Ricans are Catholic, Easter-related activities were abundant, including processions and re-enactments. Cartago is also the site of the most significant basilica in Central America, Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (Our Lady of the Angels Basilica), shown at right, where thousands of people make a pilgrimage each August.

The TCE students took time each evening to debrief and discuss the days’ activities and impressions.