Sustainability Column: Abroad Perspective

Travelling allows one to gain new perspectives and viewpoints on the world and, for my winter break trip, that was no different. I volunteered at two farms in Costa Rica this past winter break and learned a lot about how others interact with the environment. I walked, biked and used public transportation much more than I had before in the United States.

One farm I went to was a vegan animal sanctuary. Before going there, I was skeptical about going vegan and found it a bit extreme. Granted, I am vegetarian but I had not really considered going vegan before. While I was there it wasn’t hard at all, and the vegans I met were not “crazy.” I think it’s easy to “other-ize” those that are different, but this opportunity allowed me to engage in meaningful dialogue with those who I found so different from myself. I worked and helped feed, clean and take care of various retired or injured farm animals which allowed me to get to know the animals. They were so intelligent and it made me happy to see they were living a fulfilling life without being exploited. When I came back to the U.S., I did not remain vegan, but I gained an appreciation for those who were. In today’s times, we all could benefit from being open-minded and respectful of differing life choices.

The other farm I went to was larger and supported a biological research station. There, I learned about a more relaxed style of living, without the rush and stress of life in the U.S. I watched the sunset more times than I had before, which made me realize how much of life’s natural beauties I’d been missing. Organic farming is not easy – it took a lot more time and effort to pull weeds and till the soil without using fossil fuels. Not having air conditioning and hot water made me realize how luxurious life in the U.S. is for me. Getting my hands dirty was much more rewarding work than I thought it would be. Coming from Colgate, I always took pride in intellectual work, before actually exposing myself to the talent and effort involved in physical labor such as farming. It gave me a greater respect for the many farms that surround Colgate in upstate New York as well.

Overall, I encourage students to take time, if possible, to travel and explore different cultures and lifestyles. I developed an appreciation for those who grow the food I eat, and am humbled to be able to help in a small way. One great way to travel is through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) which is a work exchange program. Taking the time to volunteer isn’t easy, but it is rewarding.