Cultivating consciousness in Costa Rica

For most college students, the idea of a visit to Costa Rica conjures images of lazy days spent on pristine beaches, surfing and an exotic nightlife.

But for Brian Potter, assistant professor of political science and international relations, Costa Rica serves as much more. In his opinion, it is a blueprint for all Latin American nations, and even for the United States. And from Jan. 1-16, Potter plans to show a lucky group of students just that.

Potter, along with John Pollock, professor of communications, and Douglas Peterson, assistant business professor, plans to take between 25 and 30 students on a study tour of Costa Rica during the College’s winter recess.

The tour will be done in conjunction with courses in international business, cross cultural management, cross cultural communications and international politics.

“Costa Rica is a model country in economic and political development,” Potter said. “It is more advanced in terms of wealth, the education system and the status of women than perhaps even we are. It is not a Latin-American norm.”

Potter, a specialist in Latin- American policy, has had a deep interest in studying these nations for as far back as he can remember.

But of all the Latin-American countries they could have chosen, why does Costa Rica have Potter and his colleagues so enraptured?

“Costa Rica has done something right that other Latin American countries have not,” Potter said. “Its success rests on a combination of democracy, economic policies that involve investing in people for the long term and environmental protection.”

The study tour will focus on all of these areas.

“This tour is going to be a demonstration of what Costa Rica has done right with explanations from people in eco-tourism and management,” Potter said.

Students and faculty chaperones will spend the first three days of the tour in San Jose, making stops at the Costa Rican Human Rights Institute and INCAE, the Costa Rican Graduate School of Management, where they will learn about the country’s economic development.

After focusing on the business aspects of the country, students will then embark on an ecological tour of both coasts of Costa Rica, stopping at many of the country’s renowned national parks, nature trails, beaches, rainforests and biological reserves.

“You can’t separate the environment from business in Costa Rica,” Potter said. “Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is a main part of the economy. About one-fourth of the country is made up of national parks and reserves. In the United States, we consider environmental protection a luxury that costs money. They consider it an investment, and have managed to profit from it.”

Aside from its stellar environmental policies, Potter believes that Costa Rica’s economic and political approaches also merit examination and praise from the rest of the world.

“The world is basically divided into wealthy and developing nations,” Potter said. “Latin America is a middle ground. While most Latin American countries didn’t get their freedom until the 1960s, Costa Rica has been free since the 1820s. It provides an example of what nations that have recently gained their independence should strive to do.”

According to Potter, one of the main things that other Latin-American nations should focus on is becoming more globalized.

“Costa Rica has many international corporations operating there,” Potter said. “Most of Latin America is still filled with maquiladoras, and even those are moving to China where it is cheaper. But in Costa Rica, Intel is opening computer chip factories.”

Potter stressed that the United States could learn something from what is often viewed by Americans as little more than a vacation hotspot.

“Costa Rica is a more equitable model based on business, politics and how it frames the issue of sustainable development,” he said. “It has a better human rights record and educational system than we do. It also has more widespread access to basic services like health care, pensions and internet access.”

With its specialized itinerary encompassing so much of the Costa Rican nation, Potter hopes students embarking upon the study tour will see the country’s success.

“I think they’ve (Costa Rica) done a good job,” he said. “Hopefully, by the end of the tour, the students will agree.”