Jorge Alejo Arce was born to a farming family in Orosi, a coffee-growing district in Cartago, Costa Rica, on April 24, 1951.
He discovered his aptitude for teaching as a teen after getting involving in a volunteer program to teach illiterate kids and seniors.
After working two years in printing, Arce had saved enough money to begin his studies at the University of Costa Rica – where he eventually graduated with a degree in agronomy.
His first post-graduation job was with CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center), where he stayed for 11 years in the phytogenic resources unit. He worked on native seed conservation projects, protecting species endemic to the tropical zone.
One day while reading the newspaper, he spotted an announcement about a new university that had begun recruiting instructors. “I submitted my curriculum vitae out of curiosity,” Arce said between laughs. He received an interview and a job offer six months later.
“I never imagined myself retiring from here. When I began working, I thought seriously about quitting. It was very hard; the conditions were terribly unfavorable. We suffered from electrical cuts and no telephones. We had to travel to the towns of Guácimo or Guápiles to make a call. It was pretty rough,” Arce said.
Arce points to the difficulty of the early years. He had two young children, and his wife María Lucrecia alone had to take care of them in Cartago during the workweek. Arce would arrive home each Friday evening, only to leave again for EARTH’s jungle campus early Monday morning. He has repeated that circuit weekly for the last 28 years.
During his nearly three decades at the University, Arce has taught the courses on environmentally sustainable farming of tropical crops, in addition to tropical fruit growing and work experience.
Arce, now 67, leads a healthy life as an example to his students. He plays soccer with them twice weekly (and has done so since starting at EARTH), maintains a whole-foods vegetarian diet, and bicycles practically everywhere he needs to go.
Arce leaves EARTH having enjoyed a wealth of life lessons along the way. “I have learned so much from my students. Very often, they are the best teachers because they teach one to appreciate life,” Arce said. “All the encyclopedic knowledge one can acquire is great, but life lessons such as that one are the most important.”
What comes next for Jorge Arce? He plans to dedicate himself to personal ecotourism projects, along with enjoying some well-deserved leisure time with his wife and adult children.
Arce officially retires from EARTH University at the end of August.
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