One of the best ways to learn something is by experience, and that was the idea behind opening the University of Toronto Summer Abroad Program called: Costa Rica: A Living Laboratory For Sustainability In Practice.
From 8 to 28 July 2023, 18 students from the University of Toronto visited Costa Rica to participate in this summer program, co-organized by the Earth Charter Center for ESD at the University for Peace.
According to Mark Hathaway, professor in charge of this Summer Program, Costa Rica presents many unique opportunities to study sustainability in a relatively small territory. Since abolishing its army in 1948, Costa Rica has prioritized healthcare, education, biodiversity conservation, and sustainability, with majority of energy coming from renewable sources. As a result, despite a modest per capita income, it has a high human development index and a relatively low ecological footprint (one quarter of Canada’s). Nonetheless, Costa Rica faces many challenges as well, like growing social inequality, disorganized urban transportation, use of agrochemicals, migration that generate some dilemmas in how to find solutions for these problems.
In this sense, Costa Rica presented a good real-life lab for these students coming from Toronto, to learn about how sustainability look like in a territory, and reflect on why some progress was made and what holds back a country like Costa Rica to be more coherent with the vision of sustainable development.
Half of the course happened in the Earth Charter Center’s classroom, learning the different topics in theory, sometimes with guest speakers. And the other half of the course happened in field trips. Students were able to visit national parks and rainforest, San Jose downtown, permaculture sites, indigenous group territory and hydroelectric plant.
Although it was a academically demanding course, participants had time to relax and connect with nature and with each other in transformative ways.
We are very happy with the success with this program, and look forward to host more groups in the near future.