Agriculture and Criminal Justice Department offers Field Experience in Costa Rica

Peter Floess

Staff Writer


Next March, the Agricultural Department and Criminal Justice Department at Parkland is offering a field experience opportunity in the country of Costa Rica. Both study aboard coordinator Don Bergfield and criminal justice instructor David Kelley enjoy organizing this trip.

“We have been taking this trip for 10 years; every trip is a little different,” Bergfield said. “For me the best part is seeing the students in a new cultural environment and how they process what they are seeing and learning.”

Once in Costa Rica, agriculture students tour many different kinds of agricultural operations. Courtney Wildman Hampton, a former Parkland agriculture student who went on the trip in 2010 and who is going again this December, found the trip to be very interesting.

“Costa Ricans produce such different crops than we do here in Illinois and the Midwest. The trip allowed me to see how pineapple, bananas, cassava, oranges, and many other crops are grown and harvested,” Hampton said. She especially recalls a visit to a water buffalo farm and cheese factory, where they were able to get an inside look at the operation and learn about how milk from the water buffalo is processed into cheese. The cheese that the water buffalo farm produces is usually turned into a mozzarella variety.

Hampton, who works as an accounting clerk at the Heyworth Grain Elevator, was surprised that that farmers in Costa Rica did not have elevators nearby.

“We didn’t see one on the whole trip,” Hampton said.

Criminal Justice Instructor Kelley would approve of such a surprise. He believes that cultural differences can be problematic for first responders if they have never been exposed to other cultures and that police recruits should have competency in interacting with people with varying cultural norms and values. He views the Costa Rican Field Experience as a way for his students to experience being a non-native language speaker who has to interact with law enforcement in a different criminal justice system than in the one they are accustomed to.

Kelley’s students tour different parts of the Costa Rican criminal justice system, including three prisons and Costa Rican OIJ (similar to the United States’ FBI). According to Kelley, a member of the OIJ also enjoyed coming to Parkland for extra law enforcement training in the past and is coming again soon.

Hazel Fierro, a Parkland criminal justice student who attended the trip in previous years noticed in Costa Rica, prisons are usually overcrowded. In one prison, she recalls “at least 42 inmates in one cell block with at least 12 bunk beds in each and the other inmates usually sleep on the floor.” She also noticed that guards and prisoners interact more there than they tend to in the United States.

There are also recreational parts of the Costa Rican Field Experience that both Fierro and Hampton enjoyed.

“If I could go back, I definitely would!” Fierro said.

Hampton recalls that “most everyone that we came across in the county was inviting and friendly. The farmers and business owners who took the time to give us tours of their operations were very welcoming and quick to answer questions you may have.”

The signup deadline for Agricultural Business 106: International Agricultural Field Experience is Feb 10, however, interested students should register as early as possible to secure a space on the next trip.