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School of Sustainability News

August 2, 2018

3 ASU students show ASU pitchfork hand signals on a street in CubaDuring spring 2018, 14 Arizona State University students spent nine days in Havana, Cuba through the School of Sustainability program, “Cuba: Unlocked and On the Edge of Rapid Transitions.” This study abroad opportunity, offered in partnership with the Council on International Educational Exchange, allowed students from six ASU colleges to dive deeper into areas of energy systems, food systems, waste management, social equity and economy.

Students lived with host families during the program to better understand what it’s like to be Cuban during a time of economic struggle coupled with an increase in tourism due to the country’s newly opened borders. Through various off-the-beaten-path learning experiences, such as visiting urban gardens and volunteering in neighborhoods and waste facilities, students were able to interact with Cuban citizens and observe first-hand some of the complex issues exacerbated by the burst of tourism.

Students viewed the various program experiences through the lens of their area of study, and were required to submit a white paper about a particular challenge in Cuba with proposed solutions.

Leading up to the experience, students participated in an online course developed and taught by School of Sustainability instructor Brigitte Bavousett. Students met in-person for the first time at the Miami airport.

"The group of people who never met before became a very functional and effective learning unit from the first meeting," said Arina Melkozernova, a School of Sustainability instructor who was support faculty for the trip. "It must be the Sun Devil spirit that unites us."

New study abroad program: Costa Rica

During spring break 2019, the School of Sustainability will offer a study abroad program in a different location: Costa Rica. Through the program, “Did the Debt-for-Nature-Swap Create an Ecotourism Utopia?”, also led by Bavousett and Melkozernova, students will participate in homestays with Costa Rican families while studying and experiencing three ecotourism programs in Costa Rica: the Arenal Volcano, the Monteverde coffee plantation and the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve on the Pacific coastline.

In October 2007, the United States forgave $26 million of Costa Rica’s debt as part of a debt-for-nature swap to protect high-risk tropical forests and threatened species including jaguars, squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws. A debt-for-nature swap is defined by the United Nations as an “agreement that reduces a developing country’s debt stock or service in exchange for a commitment to protect nature from the debtor-government.”

Previously, deforestation had stripped Costa Rica of nearly 80 percent of its forest cover. Today, Costa Rica is often listed as the world’s top destination for ecotourism. Through partnerships with EcoTeach and Cares21, study abroad students will learn about ecotourism in Costa Rica and how it has been impacted by the debt-for-nature swap.

Applications are now open for this study abroad program in Costa Rica, which will take place from March 2 to 10, 2019. Students from any major may apply, and three credit hours will be earned through the program.

Several students and faculty members pose for a photo near a lush mountain in Cuba
Students and faculty pose for a group photo in Cuba