The Spanish have a saying, "lleve a su mesa," which roughly translates to "from farm to table."
This is the central idea Ginger Thomassy and eleven other University of Tennessee freshmen observed when following the path of a coffee bean through the Costa Rican economy. Led by Haslam administrator, Mark Willoughby, the eight day trip included stops at all levels of coffee production in Costa Rica, talks on Costa Rican economics and treks through the country's rich biodiversity.
Thomassy is a supply chain management major and was drawn to this unique opportunity to study abroad on a smaller scale to explore her interest in ecotourism, and the hotel and coffee industries. However, she insisted her main reason for going was because of her love to travel.
Upon arrival in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, Thomassy indulged in the first of many delicious Costa Rican meals before attending a seminar on basic conversational Spanish catered toward helping the students navigate the culture on their own. Thomassy stated the locals were appreciative of the students attempting to communicate with them through their native language and attempted to reciprocate through practicing their English.
On the first full day in Costa Rica, Thomassy hiked six miles in the Los Santos Valley region to learn the environment's place in the Costa Rican economy and the importance of protecting it. Along the way, she encountered many native species while learning basic survival skills of the rain forest. Later, the group returned to go on a night hike and Thomassy experienced the beautiful Costa Rican night sky from atop a mountain.
On the third day, Thomassy visited one of the farms in the Los Santos region where coffee beans originate. Fernando, the owner of the farm, showed the students how to pick the coffee beans as well as taught a lesson on supply chain management of his pig and chicken farm. Later on in the trip, Thomassy and the others were able to see where all of Fernando's coffee beans were sorted, washed, dried and fermented as well as where they were sold to the public.
On day four, the group left the cool mountains of San José for the hot beaches of Bahia Ballena. A walking tour of the city gave Thomassy a feel for the Costa Rican sense of community as she learned coffee corporations redistributed a percentage of their profits to the people and observed how friendly the locals were to the group of foreigners. The locals offered the group coconuts to drink by the beach, something Thomassy could now check off her bucket list.
Another talk on micro-finance from a local entrepreneur named Travis was presented that afternoon. He invited them to go surfing with him the next day, but only Thomassy, Melissa Hall and the five boys accepted. Travis preached how he focused on his own values to ensure his customers were satisfied with his product rather than focusing on the money aspect of his surfing business. The day proved to be a continually wet one for Thomassy as after lunch the group took a kayaking tour where they encountered macaws, white faced monkeys and a Jesus Christ lizard, one that can run seven feet per second and across water.
On day six, Thomassy packed an authentic Costa Rican meal of chicken, rice, banana and tortilla wrapped in banana leaves and hiked with the group to the tip of the whale's tail in Marino Ballena National Park - the sight where many humpback whales migrate during the winter months. Thomassy took advantage of the break in the trip's busy schedule and spent the day relaxing as she drank in the culture around her.
On the seventh day of her time in Costa Rica, Thomassy attended a lecture on Costa Rican economics, her favorite lecture on the trip, and toured Manza Té, a major tea plant. She taste tested teas for purchase and then ate lunch with the company's executive board. This provided her with a perfect opportunity for her to ask questions on how to run an internationally lucrative business.
On Thomassy's last full day in Costa Rica, actors led the group along a fun, guided tour of Café Britt where she learned the importance of adapting a business to its community. The rest of the day was spent exploring downtown San José and the local markets. The group was treated to a farewell dinner by some of the locals and Thomassy was fortunate enough to witness the Festival de Luz, an annual celebration of lights accompanied by parades, performers, fireworks and lights. It was a sight she was incredibly happy to witness.
Be on the lookout for more trips and programs like this through the Haslam College of Business!
Participants of the trip: Ginger Thomassy, Carly Magnum, Charlie Green, Connor Morss, Courtney Beck, Emily Toye, Kara White, Melissa Hall, Sarah Bowman, Seth Horton, Sydney Everett and Beter Habib.