Bethel’s Global Studies Program Leaves Lasting Educational Impression on Students

Upon returning from his alternative spring break experience in Costa Rica through Bethel’s Global Studies program, student Derek McDaniel started his own compost and recycling system at his home.

“It only took about an hour to get it set up, and nature provided the rest,” McDaniel said. “No money spent here.”

An Army National Guard Cook, McDaniel also spoke to his head NCO and asked if he could take leftover scraps and compostable materials from the cooking process as opposed to just throwing them away.

“The first time I did this,” he said, “I saved compost and table scraps of 400 to 500 personnel for future use in gardening and to feed hogs that I have.”

These were ideas inspired by his recent BU Global Studies journey.

“The trip to Costa Rica was my first one out of the country,” McDaniel said. “My wife went on the trip too. We honestly did think we were simply embarking on a little vacation while getting some class credit.”

McDaniel admits that he was not expecting the life changing experience he had in Costa Rica. He also says the program opened his eyes in so many ways with him realizing first and foremost that their Bethel University group wasn’t just there on a mission to help this remote village. He quickly realized that there was much for his group to learn from their host country as well.

“We had studied the Pura Vida life in the previous months leading up to the trip,” he said. “And I have always been an outdoor person – someone who was taught to take care of the land and it would take care of me. But the time that we shared at the local school there learning about permaculture, upcycling and aiding in the beach cleanup, it really helped me see the impact we each can have on our communities here in the U.S.”

According to Stacie Freeman, Director of Bethel’s Global Studies program, “Our experience in Santa Teresa was facilitated by BU Global Studies' non-profit partners, Casa Pampa and Bright Light Volunteers. Prior to departure, the students enrolled in a course where they learned about the history and culture of Costa Rica and the Nicoya Peninsula.  Upon arrival, we were introduced to a local agronomist who taught us about permaculture, the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.  One of our service projects involved a beach clean-up at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.  The debris we collected (mostly plastic water bottles) was recycled and up-cycled into hanging gardens for a local school and into ecobricks for school construction projects.”  Freeman said the group also attended a workshop with an Argentinian artist who showed them how he makes children's toys from reclaimed wood, plastic and metal.

“Here in the U.S., we find ourselves living in the fast lane,” McDaniel shared. “We don’t think we have time for such conservation efforts. But there in Costa Rica, on this alternative spring break, we got to see a culture that is so real and people who really care for nature and who are finding simple and easy ways to preserve it. We learned a lot from them.”

Ginger Terry, a non-traditional student in Bethel’s College of Professional Studies also said the trip was life changing for her.

“I learned a lot about the beauty of Costa Rica and the people as well as the culture. But the most surprising thing is that I also learned a lot about myself,” Terry said. “I learned that no matter where a person lives, we are all global citizens of the world!”

Terry says she wishes that other students enrolled in the College of Professional Studies would participate in future programs.

“It’s easy to think that traveling to Costa Rica with Bethel is just a trip, but it is a learning experience that has application to anyone studying any major really.”

Global Studies Director Freeman said she is pleased that the students on this program saw it as the educational experience that it was intended.

“Traveling with BU Global Studies is not a trip.  It's not a vacation.” she said. “It is an educational service opportunity designed to help participants develop a sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity.  The goal is for participants to walk away from these programs with the knowledge, confidence, and skills they need to become the global leaders and citizens of the future.  And it’s a great way to live out the mission of our university!"

In addition to serving and learning with Casa Pampa's Learning Lab for Sustainability, Freeman said BU students also taught a conversational English class to Costa Rican high schoolers and that overall, 23 volunteers served 480 hours in Santa Teresa which had an economic impact on the community of $11,000. 

Freeman said Global Studies offered programs in Colombia, Cuba and Peru during 2017, and the program in Costa Rica began the list for 2018 global service learning opportunities.

“We will be going to Atenas, Costa Rica July 10-17 as part of the Bethel Global Studies experience,” Freeman said. “We have a few spaces left for BU students, faculty, staff, alumni, family and friends.”

Those interested can contact Freeman at

Derek McDaniel working at a local school in Santa Teresa

Ginger Terry learning about and contributing to the composting efforts of a local school

Some culturally unique extracurricular opportunities included taking a volcanic mud bath.

The entire group in Costa Rica
Posted by Jennifer Glass at 10:20 AM