Friday, November 27, 2015

The Better Way: Addressing Differences and Leaving Costa Rica by Rachel Black

            Before heading to Las Cruces for the last few weeks of the semester, we spent a couple days at the small research station of Las Alturas, which is located on a privately owned farm near Panama. It was a complete 180 degree change from the atmosphere and pace of life in San Jose: the forest was right outside our window, we went without electricity for most of the day, and the people lived closely and shared produce from the local community gardens.
During our time we had the opportunity to volunteer at a local health center, which operates similarly to an EBAIS, and tour the local dairy and livestock farm. The second day my group visited the farm, and I tried my hand at milking a cow (not as easy as it looks). After a brief introduction the local agronomist told us how the farm raises livestock and milks cows the, “old, old, old, old way,” in comparison to larger, mass-producing farms. After seeing how much land the animals had for grazing and how kind the workers were to the animals, I proudly said, “It’s the better way!”. However, without skipping a beat, he quickly reminded me that everything’s a trade-off; although the milking is all done by hand and the cows have more land, that means at some point more of the forest had to be cut down. He mentioned how it’s not necessarily one way being better than another, because all have downsides and changes that need to be made.

Although in my personal opinion, this method of cattle-raising and dairy production truly is better than the many highly mechanized and confined versions we have in the States, this served as a good reminder to me, especially as I think about my return to the United States. There are many things about Costa Rica that remind me of or are very similar to the United States, but obviously there are also staggering differences in culture, family and social interactions, food, health systems, and day-to-day lifestyles. During my time here it was very easy for me to see a difference between the two and automatically write-off one as ‘better’ and one as ‘worse’, or one as ‘good’ and one as ‘bad’. This is generally human nature, but as I transition back to my routine in the US I want to think more critically about the differences I saw in order to make conscientious changes to my life back home. For example, it’s very easy for me to become frustrated by how much money we spend on healthcare in the US with how many people still lack access to care, especially when I compare it to the universal system in Costa Rica. But once again, there are advantages and disadvantages to each, and I believe this process of examining both sides will provide the longest-lasting impact in my life.

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