News Letter 2000

What are You Doing this Summer?
Changing Our Minds in Costa Rica

Kristy Reinert ’02, Andrés, and Cheri Sirois, ‘02 

Andrés comes home from his school in the tropical forest to listen to Metallica. A little girl wearing a D.A.R.E. T-shirt attempts to sell an exotic and endangered rodent to foreigners. A young student can recount the latest episode of Rugrats but is awestruck by the chance to try out a camera. And a bunch of American Quakers are running a cheese factory high in the hills of Costa Rica. 

Bad, right?  That’s certainly what we thought at this time last year as were forming our independent project theses. We were taking part in a course called Cultural andEnvironmental Conservation in Latin America, co-sponsored by the departments of Biology and Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. This spring course culminates in two weeks of summer field experience in Costa Rica. “What right does our country have to impose its culture on people of developing nations?” we thought, impressed by our own open-mindedness. And off we went to find out what Costa Ricans (ticos) thought about this Americanization. There we were, asking, ¿Qué piensa Ud. de la americanización de su país? And there they were... staring blankly at us. No, it wasn’t our gringa accents. While trying to reword the question, we discovered that the only way to get an answer was to completely eliminate the word “americanización.” Substituting a few examples of our idea of Americanization seemed to yield better results.

After a full 13 days of asking around, we hadn’t met a single Costa Rican preoccupied with “Americanization” or feeling that it was a particularly bad thing. What we were calling Americanization often was not perceived as foreign by ticos, and things that were seen as “American” were not seen in a negative light. We now had lots of newfriends but no thesis. 

No thesis, but a whole lot of scribbled interview notes and a jumble of new questions about our perspective. It seemed that the things we dubbed U.S. cultural imperialism were what they were viewing as modernization and the results of normal foreign trade. By the end of our two weeks of chatting around the countryside we had concluded that we were researching something that didn’t exist. At least not in the minds of ticos. 

Did we come home thinking that Rugrats cartoons belong in remote Costa Rican mountain villages? No. We did, however, come home realizing that we may not yet have the understanding necessary to make an informed decision. We went to Costa Rica to learn a bit about its environment and culture and we returned to the United States having not only gained those lessons but a greater understanding of the American-ness of our own thought processes as well.
                        Cheri Sirois, ’02, and 
                        Kristy Reinert, ’02

The 1999 Cultural and Environmental Conservation in Latin America group planting trees as part of a watershed regeneration project in Las Juntas, Costa Rica.  

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