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Don’t Be “Wasteful” when Studying Abroad

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It is always easier to stick to the known and ignore the unknown because it is “scary,” but the unknown is where the adventures take place.
I went to Costa Rica with eight other students from the United States. Initially, I told myself I was going to disconnect from the world, meaning no social media, no speaking English, and embracing the new culture I was being thrown into. This did not happen at first. It was much easier to bond and connect to people going through the same thing I was instead of immersing myself. This meant I was speaking English and hanging with the “gringos,” as my Tico friends and professors called us.
More than two months into living in Costa Rica, I had yet to travel without my fellow gringos, and I decided that I needed to change that. In the U.S., I study International Relations with a focus in Environmental Policy, so I started to search for something that I could do on my own that would interest me. I found Planet One World.

What is Planet One World?

Planet One Costa Rica

Planet One World is a Voluntourism organization run by Ken Tiemann, an incredibly intelligent man from Germany, who has spent the better half of the last two decades living, teaching, and learning in Costa Rica. Fluent in English, Spanish, Japanese, and French, Ken has turned 36 hectares of land into a permaculture farm that is 100% self sustainable. Some of the many highlights include:

  • Electricity that comes from solar panels
  • Water that comes from collected rainwater
  • Hundreds and thousands of different edible plants
  • Raising pigs, goats, and chickens
  • A 200sqft compost trough

What does Planet One World do?

Planet One World can be a place to stay for a night that is away from city life and situated up in a mountain where there is quiet and stars. It can also be a place where groups of people go to learn more about the environment and indigenous culture (Ken’s wife is native Bri Bri, the indigenous people of the area). It can be a place to volunteer and spend months working with sustainable agriculture, working with locals to develop policies, and helping enforce existing policies (such as the no hunting policy in that area).

What Planet One World was for me:

Costa Rica

For me, Planet One World was a place to learn about myself while also learning about the world around me. There was one common theme for the weekend: try new things. From the food to transplanting various small plants to wiring electricity to making wine, if I was offered the opportunity to do something, I did it.
I spent my first full day exploring the 36 hectares of land, starting with a tour by Ken, and enjoying all the new sounds and things around me. Besides the animals and plant life, there were a variety of machines that helped keep Planet One World sustainable. The most interesting, for me was the wood gasifier, a device that converts wood into a gas that can be used to power an engine or generator.
My second day at Planet One World was spent talking to one of the workers, Adolfo, who helps on the property. A native Bri Bri and grandson of the shaman, Adolfo had a view on the world that was vastly different from mine. As someone who was raised in a culture that did not have cell phones or TVs and did not create waste like we gringos do, every minute spent talking to Adolfo, I learned something new or had a new idea planted in my head.
My third, and last, full day was spent mostly alone exploring the property more and wondering how I can end up in a place like this some day. The most important thing I learned is that people can be much less wasteful and much more sustainable than we currently are, and that this is something that cannot be taught in a classroom. Other takeaways from the weekend include:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions because curiosity is where learning happens.
  • Eat the food that you are given; you might enjoy it.
  • Sometimes a weekend alone is what is needed in order to truly understand what you are missing out on.
  • Costa Rica has giant spiders, but most of them are harmless (watch out for the hairy ones though).
  • For every thing you think you know, there are 100 things you can’t even imagine.
Planet One Costa Rica

My weekend with Planet One World was not what I expected; it was better. In Costa Rica, I learned a lot. I improved my Spanish, I made many new friends, I climb mountains by myself, visited volcanoes, and grew as a person. Studying abroad with IFSA gave me the opportunity to do so many things, and my weekend at Planet One World was one that I will remember for my lifetime.
Nic Galanski was an International studies major at American University and studied abroad with IFSA at Universidad Nacional  in Herida, Costa Rica in Spring 2016. He served as an alumni ambassador for IFSA.