Field Notes

Partnerships with Heart: Connecting Mindsets Globally

Last month, we sent our Admissions team on a road trip around Costa Rica to learn the value of partnerships in service-learning.

Last month, we sent our Costa Rica-based Admissions team on a weekend road trip to visit several of our partners in the land of pura vida—Rancho Quemado Development Association for Costa Rica: Empowering Rainforest Communities™, and Bodhi Surf & Yoga for Costa Rica: Protecting the Pacific™ and Costa Rica: Surf & Sports Service Adventure. Here’s a trip report from Aaron and Fehintola, two recent university graduates who work on GLA's Costa Rica team as Enrollment Advisors.


On a Friday morning, I found myself with a team of GLA's Regional Travel Specialists and fellow Enrollment Advisors, marveling at a family of dolphins we'd spotted by boat and learning about ocean stewardship under the guidance of Bodhi Surf & Yoga. Later that weekend we'd also learn to milk cows on a farm in the cloud forest with Rancho Quemado Development Association, pan for gold, visit past work sites where GLA students had helped further community initiatives in summers past and tour a sugarcane plantation. Typical day in the office.

The three programs we visited were all different in terms of the activities participating students do, where their Home Base is located and their community service experience. However, it was apparent how connected in passion, philosophy and mission the local program partners are. When GLA chooses local organizations to work with, we align ourselves with partners who bring the same underlying zeal that we have for creating a better, more equitable world, and who feel compelled to share their knowledge with future generations.

On this trip, a few takeaways stood out in my mind about our partners' connected mindsets.

1) No change is too small.

We may all have big, lofty missions like improving quality of life for a community of residents or protecting the natural world. However, shadowing Bodhi Surf + Yoga taught me that achieving these goals is not a matter of taking a few monumental strides. They can only be accomplished through a thousand small steps and decisions that communities commit to making together. One of the major learning themes on Costa Rica: Protecting the Pacific™ is the problem of plastic our world faces. Students learn about how we use too much plastic with no proper means of disposal or elimination. It only takes one individual to refuse single-use containers, straws and cups in favor of reusable ware to set off a chain reaction that can reduce the number of pieces of plastic found in our ocean, save marine animals from injury or death, prevent human health concerns, lessen pollutants and preserve our groundwater. And it takes just one person sharing that message to inspire three more to question their own single-use plastic dependency.

2) Businesses have a responsibility to be sustainable too.

If we want to succeed in making the world a more equitable place, nonprofit organizations can't be the only ones who value things like sustainability and consciousness of depleting natural resources over the bottom line. Shadowing the Development Association of Rancho Quemado, GLA's partner for Costa Rica: Empowering Rainforest Communities™, I saw how the fincas (farms) yield produce organically that supplies the local restaurants. The traditional sugar cane mill provides aqua dulce (a common hot beverage in Costa Rica) in small batches and other sweet treats to be sold in local supermarkets. These are just a small part of the communal effort to make the supply chains of this pueblo (small town) as sustainable as they can be, even as tourism to Rancho Quemado increases. Yes, the unspoken mission of the town is to bring in more tourism that stimulates the economy and improves the residents' quality of life, but it is just as important to do so not at the expense of the natural environment or the treasured traditional culture of Osa Peninsula. GLA shares this mindset as a certified B Corporation.

3) Mindfulness and positive change go hand-in-hand.

Bodhi Surf + Yoga was founded by a group of passionate individuals who are as obsessed with surfing and yoga as they are with using those activities as vehicles for connecting with the environment, understanding the ocean and rallying support for protecting of our natural resources. Visiting Bodhi Surf + Yoga's founders in Bahia Ballena, the location of Costa Rica: Surf & Sports Service Adventure, I felt how deeply GLA students will be affected by their time living in close proximity with Earth's greatest natural resource, and how much they'll come to value mindfulness. Starting every day with the cerebral, soul sport of surfing and building awareness through yoga practice isn't just dreamy and relaxing; it's a proven method for leading ourselves toward accomplishing greater objectives.

4) To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.

The few days we spent with our partners reminded me of why I work in international service-learning. Heading back to my San Jose homestay after our weekend excursion, I couldn't help but think that the world is made up of people who are more similar than we think. We all spend so much time considering our differences that we don’t realize how many aspects of life we have in common. And that is the essence of working in partnerships. With partners, GLA is able to accomplish things we'd never be able to alone. Together we bring students together and inspire a full-circle understanding of how our behaviors, our consciousness of our surroundings and our willingness to put aside our differences in the name of collaboration lead to lasting, positive change.

We all share one world, what can we do together to take care of it?


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Written by Fehintola Abioye, Aaron Nichols & Margaret Chiu

Fehintola Abioye, Enrollment Advisor | Fehintola has had a passion for adventure since a young age. Prior to graduating from Tufts University with a degree in International Relations and Anthropology, Fehintola traveled to Guatemala with GLA and studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. With all her combined travel experiences, Fehintola hopes to inspire young people to become global citizens and understand how much the world truly has to offer.

Aaron Nichols, Enrollment Advisor | Aaron is from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, and he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016 with a degree in Kinesiology. Since graduation, Aaron has worked in various fields including 9 months as an au pair in Spain! He is beyond excited to join the Global Leadership Adventures team, and to help inspire teens to make this work a better place.

Margaret Chiu, Content Writer & Social Media Specialist | An avid reader and writer since childhood, Margaret has always sought to enter distant worlds and make adventurous tales a reality. She has traveled through Europe, Asia and all over the United States to pursue her passion for outdoor adventure, cultural immersion and above all, translating experiences into words and media.