Since it began nearly two decades ago, EARTH’s Tropical America Fair has built community in innovative ways. Attracting more than 5,000 visitors annually from across Costa Rica, it offers family-friendly activities with a rich variety of international cuisine, cultural performances from both EARTH students and outside artists, recreational mountain biking, a cross-country race and educational workshops related to the Fair’s theme, which this year is: “Uniting Cultures for Change.”
Every year, the fourth-year students in addition to their rigorous academic demands take on the responsibility of the Fair’s organization, seeking sponsorship, managing logistics and promoting the event internally and externally. With the support of students from other levels, staff and faculty, they work diligently to prepare the traditional foods of their home countries or regions (even doing taste tests for recipes with groups in advance), build and decorate bamboo food stands, rehearse folkdances and songs, and to clean up after the event ends. In addition to being an important learning opportunity, the Fair exists for a special reason: to raise the funds needed to bring at least one family member of each fourth-year student to EARTH’s graduation ceremony in December.
With students from more than 29 countries, EARTH’s student body is more global than ever. For a majority of students’ families, a trip to Costa Rica to witness one of life’s most exciting milestones would ordinarily be out of the question. The funds from the Fair, however, make such a trip possible.
Nokubonga Mweli (‘12, South Africa) comments: “The Fair is more than just an event, it’s a meeting point for people to embrace their culture, traditions and customs…opening doors to the Costa Rican communities, inviting them to see the richness of EARTH University, which is the intercultural aspect. Furthermore, this event brings us [fourth-year students] together with one goal in mind: having our parents here for the most important day of our lives, the graduation. And celebrating the four years of hardship, happiness, tears shared. We are a family. With the hope that one day we’ll see each other again.” For her part, she hopes that her father and sister will be able to join her on graduation day.
Liset Menacho (‘12, Bolivia), coordinator of the Fair’s culinary committee, echoes Nokubonga’s sentiments. “I would like to bring my Mom and Dad from Bolivia,” she shares, “because it’s the most wonderful gift you can give to your parents…for them to see you happy, a professional, realizing your dreams.” The possibility of bringing one’s own family members and helping classmates to bring theirs to graduation inspires everyone to work hard, she says. Equally important, in the process of planning the event, students learn about leadership, team-building and problem-solving across differences—which unites them.
EARTH alumnus Julius Mbuga (‘05, Uganda), remembers the connection he felt with his classmates and the EARTH community both during the Fair and at graduation. Sadly, although the funds were raised, his parents were not able to come to the ceremony due to visa delays. He is also glad to know that it is now easier for African visitors to reach the country through better air travel options now available, and he feels that the University has much more experience processing visas for global visitors. Despite his family’s misfortune, he says, “I felt proud of the efforts that my classmates and the University made” to bring his family to Costa Rica.
Indeed, Luís Armando Mamián (‘12, Bolivia), says students often help with food stands organized by other countries in addition to their own, simply to “share in the same joy.” With his fellow Colombian students and the Venezuelan students with whom they will share the stand, he looks forward to preparing carne a la llanera (country-style steak)—a dish his family often cooks for Sunday dinners at home. He enjoys working with the younger students to help guide them in the activity, since for some it will be their first time preparing the dish and participating in the Fair. As for whom he plans to invite to graduation, he says it’s difficult to choose between the many special people in his life—his parents, sister, uncle and others. He expresses gratitude to the Norwegian government, which has sponsored his scholarship, and to the kind people he has befriended in Costa Rica. “Some people have really taken me in like another son,” he says, and he looks forward to their presence at the ceremony, too.
Learn more about the Tropical America Fair here.