Spring break in Costa Rica: Business students study coffee, tourism

March 20, 2013 •

As droves of CU-Boulder students leave campus to relax and play during spring break, a group of business students in the B3 Residential Academic Program (RAP) at the Leeds School of Business will be studying the sustainable coffee and tourism industries in Costa Rica.

While immersed in a tropical island location of pristine rain forests and verdant mountains, 26 freshmen will be doing fieldwork for course credit.

Peter Ziel is working toward two bachelor’s degrees, one in business administration with an emphasis in finance and the other in political science. He’s looking forward to learning about the cultural differences in business and hopes the experience will provide him with an outline for how to adapt to different cultures and countries as he pursues a career in international business.

“The future of business is no longer focused in the U.S.,” said Ziel, “so having an opportunity to be immersed in international business as a first-year student is a chance I couldn’t pass up. Since this is a pilot class, it also allows us students to provide feedback to help the RAP fine tune the First Year Global Experience seminar. And Costa Rica isn’t such a bad spring break destination.”

The B3 RAP at the business school is a living/learning community that focuses on the business skills students will need in a global environment. Realizing that business is no longer localized to Colorado or the United States, the business school has prioritized globalizing its business education.

"The goal of the first-year global experience,” said Manuel Laguna, seminar co-instructor and director of Global Initiatives and the Media One Professor of Management Sciences at the Leeds School, “and other new international programs at Leeds is to provide students with a global mindset and widen their opportunities to apply their business tools and knowledge globally.”

Learning global business skills

As a pilot project, the First Year Global Experience is a semester-long seminar that provides students with an opportunity to apply their classroom learning on a spring break study and service trip outside the United States. Accompanying students to Costa Rica are seminar co-instructors Laguna and Scarlett Pontón de Dutton, director of the B3 RAP.

“In the seminar, we start with the framework of how business goes global,” said Pontón de Dutton. “We study a country’s political, cultural and economic situation and look at the barriers to entry for an international organization.”

Students will be staying at a coffee plantation in Cedral, located in central Costa Rica and at Escazu, outside San Jose. They will also be visiting with the Association of Rural Tourism Costa Rica (ACTUAR) and a local cooperative on rural tourism.

Students will be divided into four groups, with each group researching the accounting/finance or information/management and marketing segment of either the tourism or coffee industry. When students return to class after spring break, each group will share their findings and ideas with the others.

“I feel this trip is successful if the students come back from seeing different things from Costa Rica and actually begin seeing things differently,” said Pontón de Dutton. “My hope is that they later go out into the world and apply what they’ve learned at CU-Boulder in a culturally aware and responsible manner. The seminar is another step in globalizing their education, which will increase their opportunities as they launch their business careers.”

Freshman Tia Arnold is majoring in business administration with an emphasis on operations management and is working on certificates in quantitative finance, international business and entrepreneurship. She is looking forward to seeing how companies with a sustainable framework operate in Costa Rica.

“I’m really driven and I want to experience as much as I can,” she said. “Being able to have a study abroad experience as a freshman is a great opportunity.”