What Costa Rica Taught Her

Cat Lamond grates raw coconut to make homemade coconut oil.

Cat Lamond grates raw coconut for homemade coconut oil.

“It’s invigorating to put yourself in a foreign situation and go out on a limb to challenge yourself, said Mount Holyoke College student Cat Lamond ’18, who spent six months of her junior year at the world renowned Monteverde Institute (MVI) in Costa Rica.

MVI collaborates with Mount Holyoke, and Goucher College, to host an interdisciplinary spring semester program. “Students analyze economic development in conjunction with sustainability, globally, and locally in the Monteverde region with its exceptional biodiversity,” according to Eva Paus, the director of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives. The institute is also Mount Holyoke's first hub for Global/Local learning, an opportunity that connects research or internships abroad with community-based learning experiences in Western Massachusetts.

Going out on a limb dropped Lamond into a verdant landscape of new and challenging experiences. Living with a host family in the countryside, she began her days trekking uphill for thirty-minutes to the institute for a rigorous day of study, split between the classroom and the field. Although she spoke Castilian Spanish, Lamond first plunged into an immersion course in South American Spanish so she could nurture connections with her hosts, her classmates, and the culture.

In the classroom she studied globalization and the interlinkages of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Outside the classroom she traveled across highlands, plateaus, and coastal planes to encounter the Gold Standard in renewable energy.

Going out on a limb dropped Lamond into a verdant landscape of new and challenging experiences. Living with a host family in the countryside, she began her days trekking uphill for thirty-minutes to the institute for a rigorous day of study, split between the classroom and the field. Although she spoke Castilian Spanish, Lamond first plunged into an immersion course in South American Spanish so she could nurture connections with her hosts, her classmates, and the culture.

In the classroom she studied globalization and the interlinkages of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Outside the classroom she traveled across highlands, plateaus, and coastal planes to encounter the Gold Standard in renewable energy. There she was introduced to Costa Rica’s renewable energy infrastructure fed by wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal and biomass plants, rushing interlacing rivers, and heavy seasonal rains.

Deeply committed to the environment, Costa Ricans are fueling their country without the use of fossil fuels to preserve its biodiversity, natural resources, and wondrous beauty. They have set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2021.

“What I learned most from an environmental curriculum is that if you really want to sustain the world, you have to intrinsically value nature to conserve it,” Lamond said.

Lamond’s engagement with nature was not only on a grand scale, it was local, intimate. She toiled alongside her host family tending their small farm. The family took immense pride in sharing their vegetables, fruits, and coffee with their neighbors; thankful, too, that they had bounty to spare.

When Lamond’s study abroad semester came to an end, she stayed on at the institute as an intern, researching ethnobotany and the relationships between plants and culture. An anthropology major, Lamond felt especially privileged to interview her host mother and other local women who cultivate medicinal plants and fix traditional remedies for their families and community, passing down ancient and respected herbalist practices.

“They invited me into their gardens to share their most intimate knowledge of a form of medicine that relies on oral tradition to continue,” Lamond reflected. “I loved that they let me into that. It made me realize how much I love writing and storytelling.”

Lamond is still sifting through all of the ways she was touched and shaped by her time as a study abroad student and intern. She interviewed pillars of Monteverde’s history, people who got their hands dirty developing the community through education, conservation, and sheer grit and ingenuity. She learned how change is made.

Many of these insights Lamond is now bringing to her work with Casa Latina Food Rescue through Community-Based Learning. While ethnobotany is not a focus of the local component of her Global/Local Fellowship, she is just as deeply engaged thinking again about community building, shared labors, and her role in making change. She is particularly grateful that Mount Holyoke has provided and supported her inquiry and engagement, no matter where or how she sought new challenges.

In Monteverde, she spent long stretches alone in the unfamiliar rain forest, learning to trust her instincts, to relax, and be observant. Back home now, Lamond says, “Now when I feel the stress of intense study and coursework, I get outside and walk around the campus lakes until I feel a little bit smaller, proportionate,” she says.

Cat Lamond’s advice to students who wish to study or intern abroad: “Say yes to everything, especially the things you are afraid to do. That’s where the real growth takes place.”