Cross-Cultural Psychology Class Takes Students to Costa Rica

A Nebraska Wesleyan psychology professor and three students recently experienced a cultural adventure among the “happiest people on earth.”

Mary Beth Ahlum, Professor of Psychology, accompanied students Stephanie Burbach, Stephanie Genrich, and Vanessa Ventry to Costa Rica to study cross-cultural psychology. Interest in other cultures prompted all three students to sign up for this course.

“I love learning about and experiencing different cultures,” said Genrich.

In January, the group spent three weeks in Turrialba, Costa Rica. The students lived with host families called “Familia Tikos” and spoke fondly of their “Mamma Ticas.”

The language barrier was eased by previous study of the Spanish language and nonverbal communication.

“The hand gestures really helped me,” Ventry said.

The students said their experiences exploring Costa Rica gave them insight into various cultural sectors including health care, education, religion, dating, and food.

Genrich, a NWU senior who hopes to further study diverse cultures and public health upon graduation, was particularly interested in Costa Rica’s public health care system. While the students learned that residents are proud of a health care system that works well for them, they also learned that the system has some challenges since aid is paid through employers.

“We could just walk into the hospital and we wouldn’t have to pay,” said Burbach.

The group also learned Costa Rica does not have a military, so “they spend most of their money on education,” said Genrich. They attended an open air school and found that Costa Rica has several public universities.

Other cross-cultural findings included the differences in dating. The students were surprised to learn of the high infidelity rates despite the comparatively long dating period.

“Costa Ricans will date for six to eight years before a brief three to four month engagement period” said Burbach.

Costa Ricans are known as the “happiest people on earth.” The students discussed how the people of Costa Rica are more environmentally aware and recycle everything. The group went whitewater rafting and was able to experience the country’s emphasis on ecotourism.

The group said they returned home with a more global perspective. Ventry said she hopes to return to Costa Rica and has increased her interest in travel.

Genrich said the cross-cultural psychology course was “a great experience in other cultures.”

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