Bodhi Intern Studies Effects of Voluntourism

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Read up about what the newest Bodhi intern, Sarah Coburn, is up to!

Voluntourism study intern

Finding Bodhi Surf School

About two years ago, I returned to my dorm around 10pm from my home away from home, Rocksport (the local climbing gym that I frequent in upstate New York), 20 minutes from my school, Skidmore College. I was exhausted from the full day of classes and studying, followed by hours of vertical problem solving — climbing-based work outs and impromptu wrestling matches on the mats with my equally-climbing-obsessed friends. After driving back to campus, a sprint into the closing dining hall met with disdainful looks from employees trying to head home, and scarfing down anything edible that was left in the hot plates from 6pm dinner, I headed back to my room. Head down against the bitter cold, upstate New York February night, I set off to start all the work that I had neglected in order to go climbing.

This routine occurred, and still does as a rising senior, about 3-4 times a week. I flopped down on my bed with no time for a shower and opened my laptop with my chalk-covered fingers to commence the academia. Like most college students, I found myself checking Facebook before anything educational came across my screen. My gaze fell upon the page of potential internships and jobs that my professor had created for Environmental Studies majors, like me. As I scrolled down through the various wildlife center openings, “camp counselors needed!” posts and environmental agency office positions, I came across one post that grabbed my attention. “Internship position. Title: Sustainability Coordinator. Bodhi Surf and Yoga in Uvita, Costa Rica”. I immediately snapped out of my post-climbing-homework-is-not-that-important state and clicked on the link. As I read further, the more psyched I became. As an Environmental Studies major, a lover of the outdoors, and an avid traveller, this seemed like the perfect fit. Bodhi didn’t seem like it produced your run of the mill surf and yoga classes. It seemed holistic. It seemed dedicated to the earth as well as the local community. It seemed to be run by passionate people. In short — I wanted in.

I applied, interviewed and happily learned that the Bodhi team decided to offer me the position for the summer of 2014. Unfortunately, for a variety reasons I was not able to make it down that year, but my interest in Bodhi did not falter. I re-interviewed via Skype, and to my pleasant surprise, was welcomed down again for the summer of 2015, but this time I would be heading down with an additional project.

The same professor who had created the Facebook page, which alerted me to Bodhi’s existence, Dr. AJ Schneller, had a research project in mind that would take place in Uvita. I went to AJ’s office this past fall to inquire about doing an independent study with him as my faculty mentor as a senior, which would be the following year. He taught a course on Environmental Education that I had taken the previous year, so I knew that we both had a passion for getting kids involved with their environment and teaching them its importance in hands-on settings. He also knew of my potential internship at Bodhi, so he told me about the research he was planning to do, and invited me to join him as an assistant.

Sarah Coburn Bodhi Intern

Skidmore studies longterm effects of voluntourism

The friendly towns of Uvita and Bahia are located on the beautiful Pacific coast of Costa Rica and attract many tourists year round. This includes many voluntourism trips, comprised of middle school and high school students who are mainly from the US and Europe. Voluntourism can be described as traveling to a destination with the intention of dedicating lots of time to community service within the realms of social and/or environmental causes. One group that visits multiple locations in Costa Rica each year is Global Leadership Adventures (GLA). Their program in Uvita is called Protecting the Pacific and is dedicated to marine conservation and other ocean related environmental issues. The programs allows students work hand in hand with community members on projects such as reforestation, beach clean-ups, and GPS mapping of highly polluted areas. These are all great initiatives and help the community, but AJ’s research question asks: does voluntourism actually change environmental consciousness, behaviors, and ethics? Or is this trip to Costa Rica a vacation with a smattering of community service that high school students feel good about and then just return home to their old habits? In short, does voluntourism work to change long-term behavior?

To find out, AJ and I are interviewing five GLA groups who come to Uvita for two weeks each, before, during and after their experience here. We ask questions about any changes in their personal environmental-related habits, new environmental issues that may have come to their attention, and whether or not they will commit to changing their actions once they return home. I believe that people will save what they care about, so after these students experience an amazing environment like the coast of Costa Rica, maybe they will be more inspired to conserve it. My hypothesis and hopes about human nature will only be confirmed or denied once the data is collected and the study is done. It is an exciting project to be involved in!

My role at Bodhi Surf is also dedicated to human-environment relations. I have been working on Bodhi’s top secret Ocean Guardian Digest, which will be unveiled in the coming months! I have also been helping with the promotional campaign that will occur in the lead-up months their annual Ocean Guardian contest. Ciao and stay tuned!

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Guest Post

The article is from a guest contributor. If you would like to contribute on the Bodhi Surf + Yoga blog, please email us at [email protected]

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