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Aaron Gordon - Engineering in the Tropics

Published: Monday, 05 Feb 2018
Author: Cheryl Ann Benner
Department: Office for Education Abroad

Name: Aaron Gordon

Status: Senior

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Hometown: Detroit, MI/Kingston, Jamaica

Program name: 2017 Engineering in the Tropics, Costa Rica

Being able to attend the Engineering in the Tropics Study Abroad program was a life enhancing opportunity. As a Jamaican/American student from a low-income household, I did not think it would be financially feasible for me to attend an education abroad opportunity. Despite that, my advisor gave me a little nudge, guided me towards some financial resources, and before I knew it, I was signed up to attend my first education abroad in Costa Rica. Not only did I embark on my first trip to Latin American country, I had my first experience in a country where English was not the primary language.

Personally, I was able to grow as a world citizen. I had the chance to practice my Spanish with locals as well as the Costa Rican students that joined us on the trip. I was able to engage them and learn more about the culture and lifestyle of Costa Rica. If I needed to ask about a word or phrase, I could say to a fellow student "Como se dice..." or How do you say, and receive my answer in Spanish with an English translation. Although I was not a native speaker of Spanish, I learned how to quickly string together a thought using the base form of words. From this, I was able to actively and quickly think on my toes when ordering food, asking for the restroom, and figuring out the price of an item. For example, when ordering dinner in Tilaran I was feeling the need to have desert first. As the waiter approached me, I said to a fellow student, "Como se dice first?". He gave me the word and then I proceeded to order, "Yo quiero le queque de pastel con helado primero por favor." Essentially, it translated to, May I please have the warm cake with ice cream before my dinner. Although, I am sure that is not the custom anywhere in the world, the waiter chuckled and said, "Si senor-yes Mr."

Being able to study and explore ecological and sustainability engineering topics helped broaden my view on what I could do in my career as an engineer. I had the opportunity to firsthand see wind farms, dam systems, observe and discuss farming methods, and explore waste reduction issues. The connection between human built systems and environment was extremely immense. I began to alter my thought process and consider how our human footprint negatively affects Mother Nature, and what we can do to mitigate those negative outcomes. My brain was truly tickled and as a result, I want to explore more sustainability-focused opportunities as I dive deeper into my engineering career.

My time in Costa Rica really showed me the way of "Pura Vida". A signature catch phrase used throughout daily interaction, "Pura Vida" translates to Pure Life. For me, it expressed being content and accepting of life as it came to you and approaching everything with an attitude of happiness, thankfulness, and appreciation. It reminded me of a catch phrase back home in Jamaica, "No Problem". It meant no worries because everything would be all right. Every day that we saw our bus driver I would give the following greeting, "Buenas dias Miguel, como estas?" He always responded with a smile, "Pura Vida". After the trip, I have just been working to ensure that each day serves as an opportunity to live a life of "Pura Vida". I just accept things as they come and do my best to be happy, thankful, and appreciative of whatever may come my way.