COBA professors and students were world travelers this summer, as we have covered in parts 1 and 2 of our blog series on our study abroad trips. This July, professors Laura and Mark Phillips took students to Central America where they received course credit in MGMT 419 (Global Entrepreneurship) and MGMT 340 (Fundamentals of Life Design). We asked Dr. Laura Phillips to tell us about their experience. We hope you enjoy the third installment of our four part blog series on the 2018 travels of the COBA Study Abroad program.
What made Central America a unique place to study?
Central America is a unique place to study Global Entrepreneurship because while the culture, laws, and economic environment are different from the United States, Central America is a place with lots of start-up businesses. Also, the people are very hospitable which makes visiting start-ups easier. In addition, Central America is small geographically but the different countries are unique. Some of the challenges of starting a business in Costa Rica are different from the challenges of starting a business in Honduras. Finally, we were able to see first hand how the government can drastically alter the business environment; the recent unrest in Nicaragua is an unfortunate example of the instability inherent in emerging economies.
What businesses were you able to visit?
I’m not even sure where to start here. I guess I’ll just make a list.
San Jose, Costa Rica
- Yuxta Energy–solar energy
- e.e.d.–legal services for social ventures
- VivaIdea–a think tank for increasing the impact of entrepreneurship in Latin America
- Vida Adventura–adventure camp
- Hotel Las Tortugas–small private hotel in Playa Grande
- Taco Star–taco shop on the beach
- Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat
- CATIE University and the Sustainability House
- butterfly farm
- dairy/cheese making business
- beneficial plants business (medicinal, herbs, etc.)
- pueblo tourism business
- Mission Lazarus–here we also
- made organic fertilizer
- conducted a half day training session for the students and teachers at the vocational schools on basic business topics
- hardware store
- trash collector/recycler
- restaurant owner
- coffee farm/barber shop/tienda owner
For the most part we visited with the entrepreneur (or an employee for the larger organizations) to learn about what they do, what the biggest challenges are, how/if they plan to grow, etc.
Did you take the students on any sight seeing tours?
- Walking tour of San Jose
- Ziplining at Vida Adventura
- Horseback riding at Vida Adventura
- Surfing lessons at Playa Grande or
- Canoeing on the estuary at Playa Grande
- Birdfinding nature walk
- Hike to waterfall and swimming
- Cultural scavenger hunt (milking cows, Latin dancing, making tortillas, etc.
- Archaeological tour
The students enjoyed the sightseeing activities. They were a lot of fun.
What is it like to be able to spend so much time with students in another country? How does it differ than being in a classroom setting in Abilene?
This particular study abroad is different from going to Oxford or Leipzig because we really are all together most of the time. There were even a couple of places where we stayed in one big house. It’s very different because in Abilene you are with your students in class and then they do their own thing the rest of the time. On this study abroad we usually eat together, we travel together, we spend much of our free time together, plus we have class together. You really get to know each other and, as the students said, you become more like family.
What were your favorite moments/experiences of the trip?
Well, I love the fact that we are outside so much and that even when you are “inside” you are usually outside. In many ways life is harder but in many ways it’s simpler. The pace of life is slower and the people put more emphasis on relationships than on to-do lists. Most of our students found the Latin pace therapeutic. There were many great experiences but one of my favorites was going in the butterfly house. The house was full of flowers and the butterflies seemed like flying flowers. It was beautiful.
I also loved watching our students conduct the business training for the people at Mission Lazarus. That activity was a real challenge and stretch for our students, especially since we were having to work through a translator. They students rose to the challenge and did a fantastic job!
If students could only learn one thing, what do you hope they learned?
I would want our students to learn that people are people everywhere; we are more similar than we are different. I would want them to learn that there are business opportunities everywhere but that to be successful you MUST know the culture and context of the place in which you are operating. I would want them to know that the fast-paced, individualistic, climb to the top American business style is not the only way to live. I would want them to know that being happy and being successful are not directly tied to a salary amount or prestige. (So…that’s four things, but they are kind of related.)