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Kylar King (back left), Jared Stone, Noah Jewell, Tate Robertson, José Uscanga-Aguirre, Calla Regier, Marcella Stephenson, Destiny Hamilton, Cadi McLain (front left), Monica Ferris, Ravi Jadeja, Hannah Wilcocks, Delaney Jones, Xin Mei Teng, Tess Haddock, Emma Ward, Eriak Grum, Hannah Silensky and Alyssa Hardaway spend time on the National Technical University Atenas campus. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa Hardaway)

Cowboys in Costa Rica

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Media Contact: Kristin Knight | Communications and Marketing Manager | 405-744-1130 |

As morning nears, howler monkeys call out to each other to signal the start of the day in Costa Rica. In the nearby housing, 17 students and their faculty leaders awake for a new day of learning.

In January 2023, members of the Oklahoma State University Ferguson College of Agriculture traveled 2,000-plus miles on an 11-day excursion.

Coordinated through the office of multicultural programs, students explored sustainable development practices in Costa Rica through a study-abroad course.

“It was amazing,” said Monica Ferris, an agribusiness and agricultural communications freshman. “I’d definitely recommend it to future OSU students. The trip is a complete step out of the box.”

 Destiny Hamilton, an animal science senior, wanted to have a study-abroad experience before graduating from OSU in May 2023.

After attending the college’s information night and learning about the places the Costa Rica group would visit, Hamilton signed up, she said.

Hamilton’s motivation to follow through was because the Costa Rica course was one of the more affordable options for her.

“Study-abroad faculty worked to make the course a cost-effective option for students,” Hamilton said.

Preparing for the course consisted of scheduled meeting times for participants to discuss the itinerary, packing tips, rules, guidelines and any other questions students had about the course, Ferris said.

After five hours of traveling, the group landed in Atenas, Costa Rica.

Ferris was surprised by how different everything was compared to her hometown in California, she said. She was nervous about traveling to another country, she added, but once she arrived, she couldn’t have been more ready to take on the experience with her fellow students.

While in Costa Rica, the OSU group stayed eight nights in dorms on the campus of the National Technical University Atenas. Throughout the course, students participated in lectures in the evenings and received hands-on experiences.

The course itinerary was packed full of travel to different locations that each contribute to the country’s sustainable agricultural industry.

“We were waking up at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. and going until 9 o’clock at night,” Hamilton said.

A few of the places the students visited included the Poas Volcano National Park, El Toledo Organic Farm, and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, which is known as the CATIE Research Center.

Each of these sites are interconnected, meaning products produced at each place are dependent upon one another, Hamilton said.

At the Poas Volcano National Park, the students learned about the Costa Rica National Park System, which produces coffee, strawberries and ferns for export. The fertile volcanic soil is a reason Costa Rican flora and fauna flourish, Hamilton said.

“We learned about how the national park systems and agricultural industry work together in Costa Rica,” Hamilton said. “Protecting the integrity of the environment has its benefits.”

The OSU study-abroad group also visited the El Toledo organic coffee farm, Ferris said. The farmers use the skin of the berry and the coffee bean to create a variety of coffee-related products, he added.

“We learned the entire coffee production process from picking the berries to getting the berries down to the bean,” Ferris said.

Visiting El Toledo coffee farm gave Kylar King, a food science freshman, a good understanding of the amount of work that goes into coffee production and a deep appreciation for the people who work on the farms, he said.

The small Costa Rican farming communities reminded King of the farms he grew up around in Oklahoma, he said, and were one of his favorite parts of the study-abroad course.

“I learned a lot about how more sustainable practices could be integrated into large-scale agriculture,” King said.

When the group toured the CATIE Research Center in Turrialba, they attended a lecture from Eliecer Vargas, director of graduate programs at the research center and agricultural economics alumnus.

“We were able to hear about some of the projects she and her team were working on,” Hamilton said.

The course allowed Ferris to make new friends while learning about different types of agriculture in an exciting new place, she said.

“Don’t be afraid to try new things,” Ferris said.

The best advice for students signing up for a study-abroad course is to find the right program that works for them, Hamilton said.

“You can learn all you want about a place,” King said. “But if you don’t learn anything about its people, then you’re missing the point.”

Learn more about Ferguson College of Agriculure study-abroad courses

Story By: Jordan Robinson | Cowboy Journal

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