Semester at EARTH, friends for life

Filed Under: EARTH Stories, RAI News
Date: May 11th, 2018

Zoe Parham, 20, is a junior at the University of Missouri (“Mizzou”) in the USA, studying plant science.

“When I started college, I knew I wanted to study abroad. I didn’t know when, what or where – until I found EARTH University.”.


As Missouri numbers almost 6 million people (more than the entire nation of Costa Rica) and Mizzou more than 30,000 students, EARTH represented a refreshingly calm, reflective environment for Zoe – a real change of pace.

“Many of the students from my university who have visited EARTH don’t go for an entire semester. In that sense, I knew my experience was going to be different.”


Mizzou – an EARTH partner institution since our foundation – sends students per year to the tropical campus. Visiting learners often attend summer sessions, complete internships or engage in Spanish-learning programs.

“I knew I wanted to take Spanish classes and meet people from around the world. And because I study plant science, EARTH was an obvious choice. It met all my requirements.”


Upon her arrival to Costa Rica, Zoe got settled in her residence hall, became friends with her roommate Jennifer Illescas (’19, Ecuador), participated in welcome-week activities, and got her class schedule – enrolling in all the courses first-year students take.

“I didn’t have the slightest idea of all that was in store for me at EARTH. I was excited and scared, but mostly excited.”


One of Zoe’s goals for the exchange program was to learn a little more about ecological plant production in Costa Rica. This made her decision to study at EARTH easy.

“When I discovered plant sciences, I knew it was what I wanted to dedicate myself to. I’m meant to work outside, in the fields, with my own hands.”


In the future, Zoe is eager to channel her passion for plants into her own florist business.

“I want to provide the flowers and, down the road, the food for special events – doing it all sustainably and with a strong emphasis on local production.”


EARTH’s semester program offers students the chance to fully integrate themselves into the everyday EARTH rhythm while engaging in the University’s innovative curriculum.

“I took all my classes with the first-year students, except the math course. I interned on the organic farm and took Spanish classes with Prof. Emilia Villalobos. It was truly incredible.”


With her classmates, Zoe took many courses: communication and culture, tropical crops, farm experience, equipment operation and natural sciences – all in Spanish.

“The tropical crops course with Prof. Pocasangre was my favorite.”


In a close-knit community like EARTH’s, it is easy to establish meaningful relationships with the other students from all over the world. The Class of 2018-2021, for example, is composed of 112 students from 31 countries.

“I became a close friend of Miguel Arrieta, a ‘tico’ (Costa Rican). He even took me to his home in Orotina a number of times to hang out with his family. Additionally, we visited other quintessential Costa Rican sites, such as Puntarenas, Jacó and Puerto Viejo. During Holy Week (spring break), we went to Cerro Punta in Panama. I loved it. I got to know a large percentage of the first-year students, and I grew really close to a few. I believe I achieved my goal of integrating myself into the University’s student life.”


Beyond being an excellent student, Zoe is accomplished in many activities: Taekwondo (a blackbelt), krav maga, violin, piano and diving. Still, she was determined to learn Spanish.

“I took five years of French in high school. That probably helped me a little in learning Spanish. I’d also taken some basic courses at home, but nothing quite compares to immersing yourself in an environment where people speak Spanish 100 percent of the time.”


Zoe says she recommends the semester program at EARTH to anyone who is interested in forming part of a multicultural family, trying out a simpler and eco-friendlier lifestyle, and learning about sustainable agriculture and community development from experts.

“What I liked most were the people. Everyone makes you feel welcome and wants to get to know you. You end up wishing you could stick around a lot longer. In fact, I feel a little envious when I remember that my classmates will be together for four full years. Luckily, I can contact them whenever I like and hopefully visit them.”


Upon her return to the USA, Zoe is moving to Colorado for three months to intern at Rocky Mountain National Park, where she will be involved in the construction and maintenance of recreational trails on the public lands.

“After this, I will graduate in May 2019. Then, I want to start on my long-term goal of hiking the National Trails System, crossing from California’s Mexican border to the Canadian border in Washington. It’ll take about five months to complete, but it’s something that’s been running through my mind for several years.”


Want to have an experience like Zoe’s or know someone who might? Contact our Study Abroad Office and register for the program that suites you!