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2021 Engineering/MBA Student Blog

Engineering/MBA Dual Degree International Study on Global Engineering/Business 2021 Itinerary – Costa Rica

San Jose

May 17 – MON: Tour of City
May 18 – TUE: Business Visits: CINDE (Development & Investment), Linde (Industrial Gas & Engineering Services), and Recluta (Executive Recruiting Latin America)
May 19 – WED: Cultural Tour
May 20 – THUR: Business Visits: S.C. Johnson (Consumer Goods), Boston Scientific (Medical Devices) and Palo Alto Networks (Computer & Network Security)
May 21 – FRI: Business Visits: Enertiva (Renewables & Environment) and Mesoamerica (Private Equity & Entrepreneurship)


May 22 – SAT: Cultural Tour
May 23 – SUN: Cultural Tour


May 24 – MON: Cultural Tour
May 25 – TUE: Cultural Tour and Travel


May 26 – WED: Business Visit: Las Catalinas (Sustainable Community) and Tico Electronics (Advanced Manufacturing)
May 27 – THU: Business Visit: El Viejo (Agricultural Sugar Plantation & Mill)


May 28 – FRI: Business Visit: McKinsey & Company (Management Consulting)
May 29 – SAT: Free Day to Explore
May 30 – SUN: Cultural Class, Farewell Dinner

Day 1 - San Jose - Tour of the City

We landed in Alajuela, Costa Rica at 1pm Central time after nearly twelve hours of travel. Despite all of the challenges posed by COVID, we were immediately greeted by our charismatic guide, Josue, and our amazingly skilled coach driver, Jose. After getting settled in at the hotel, we headed out again for a full coach tour of the Costa Rican lower valley. Josue shared highlights of the city center as he explained many details of Costa Rican life. We learned that the traditional breakfast was called gallopinto, consisting of white rice and beans and often served alongside eggs. The traditional meal for lunch was called a casado, also including white rice and beans alongside a protein, fried sweet plantains and a salad. Our final destination of our tour was a family owned restaurant named Restaurante Mirador Tiquicia. Located on the eastern side of the mountain range, we enjoyed casados of our own while overlooking a beautiful view of the Costa Rican valley as the sun set. Andrea, our server and daughter of the owners, surprised us by letting us walk out onto their terrace overlooking the city. They had decorated the hillside with 7,117 artificial roses, each with their own LED. Andrea noted that each rose represented one of each language present worldwide. After enjoying every single piece of the amazing view, Jose carefully navigated us back down the mountain to our hotel, where we were all more than ready to go to sleep.

Day 2 - San Jose - Business Visits

Our first full day in Costa Rica began with an in-person company visit at CINDE, the Costa Rica Investment Promotion Agency. CINDE was founded in 1982 as a non-profit, operating under an endowment from the United States. Our speaker walked us through the importance of foreign direct investment, including the staggering growth of non-traditional exports such as electronics and medical devices. While Costa Rica does have higher wages than neighboring Latin American countries, it stands out in education. With nearly 8 percent of the country's GDP allocated to education, Costa Rica has one of the most highly educated workforces in the region. Coupled with its drive for sustainability and its proximity to the United States, Costa Rica is a prime candidate for foreign companies to invest in. We also learned about the challenges that Costa Rica faced and about its areas for improvement. In the afternoon we had two virtual company visits. The first meeting was with Linde, a multinational chemical company that mainly produces gases in Costa Rica. Their products included gases separated from the air, including nitrogen, oxygen and argon, in addition to specialty gases such as nitrous oxide and acetylene. Linde discussed the importance of safety, including each of the preventative, predictive and corrective maintenance measures they perform regularly. We also learned how Linde differentiates between customers, such as the use of pipelines for large customers, microbulk containers for customers with moderate demand as well as cylinders for smaller customers. The second meeting was with Recluta, an international human talent consulting firm based in Costa Rica. Recluta works with international companies, filling positions in industries from pharmaceuticals, finance and information technology. The managing partner of Recluta, described the importance and challenges of bringing local talent to international companies. We also learned about how the acceptance of foreign culture and general friendliness affords the people of Costa Rica the ability to work easily with foreign companies.

Day 3 - San Jose - Cultural Tour

Today we woke up early to drive to the Volcano named Poás, one of six active volcanos in Costa Rica. We learned that Poás last erupted in 2017, where volcanologists were able to predict the event months in advance, implementing evacuations and safety measures. They routinely measured gas emissions from the crater lake, analyzing compositions of various gases to predict major eruption events. In the group picture, everyone is wearing hardhats from Bullard, a family owned business in Cynthiana, Kentucky and the inventors of the original hardhat!

After lunch we traveled to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a conservation and animal rescue on 76 acres of rain and cloud forest. In our previous company visit with CINDE, we learned that 98 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity is produced via renewable sources, including 68 percent from hydropower and the remaining 30 percent from wind, geothermal, biomass and solar, in that order. At La Paz, it was very apparent how Costa Rica manages to produce so much hydropower. The conservation averaged 43 inches of rainfall each year, producing four beautiful waterfalls that we were sure to take many photos of. This power, along with geothermal from the volcanic activity, provided Costa Ricans with 80 percent of their power last year. We also learned about animal conservation, with each of the animals at the reserve being rescues from around Costa Rica.

Day 4 - San Jose - Business Visits

Today we met with SC Johnson and Boston Scientific virtually. The speaker for SC Johnson went into depth about the process in which they bring products to international markets, including psychological needs beyond just purchasing a product. They stressed the importance of selling an idea in addition to the key to their success – being the number one best company to work for in Costa Rica for many years. SC Johnson has focused on making employees feel welcome, especially in Latin America where employees are highly social and interactive. The speaker mentioned how even during COVID the company would send birthday cakes to employees. These small acts meant far more than one would think. We also learned about the sustainability methods in which SC Johnson participates, including listing each and every ingredient in their products for consumer transparency and engaging in global recycling programs for their products. Boston Scientific is a medical device company working in Costa Rica since 2004. As we have learned in our previous visits, Costa Rica excels in human talent, allowing other medical device companies to thrive in the market. We learned in our virtual meeting about the depth of research and development that Boston Scientific undergoes in Costa Rica in addition to its manufacturing capabilities. After lunch we met in person with Palo Alto, a leading global cybersecurity company. Our speaker mentioned how Palo Alto has succeeded in the market based on Costa Rica’s infrastructure and talent, protecting 9 out of 10 and 95 out of 100 of Fortune’s top companies. We also learned how Palo Alto has seen recent growth in providing a multitude of services, allowing customers to employ the exact cybersecurity solution that they require. Our speaker also stressed the importance of human capital, providing many personal examples how treating employees with respect and reverence can provide not only a better work environment, but also a better product for consumers.

Day 5 - San Jose - Business Visits

Today we had two virtual company visits in the morning. The first visit was with a company called Enertiva, a company focusing on developing solar power in Central America. Enertiva focuses on providing financing and installation of solar panels to private companies. The speaker described how companies can lease the solar panels by paying for the energy they produce back to Enertiva for a fixed time, with the remaining life of the panels to be owned by the company. This method allows companies to enjoy the many benefits of solar power without the large upfront capital cost commonly associated with purchasing and installing solar panels. These benefits include lower energy costs, increased sustainability, greater environmental branding among others. The second virtual company visit was with Mesoamerica, an investment management company focusing on developing infrastructure in Central America. Mesoamerica’s investments are focused on companies that would improve daily life, such as sustainable power and telecommunications. We learned a lot about how Mesoamerica works with companies to identify profitable and impactful areas for investment, as well as how they intend to grow in a rapidly developing market.

Day 6 - Arenal - Cultural Tour

We made the most of our first day of the weekend by visiting the Arenal Volcano National Park. In the morning we hiked down the mountain side to the La Fortuna Waterfall, a 70 meter waterfall in the Alajuela Province. The landscape was beautiful and immaculate, cementing Costa Rica’s drive to environmental stewardship. For lunch we hiked up to the Arenal 1968 Lava Trail Restaurant, located on the hilltop next to the Arenal volcano. We learned about Arenal’s first eruption in 1968 after lunch. Costa Ricans at the time mistook the dormant volcano for a mountain, after which its first eruption led to the death of 80 people. We learned of the three main methods in which the surrounding area was destroyed. The first and most deadly is called pyroclastic flow, an eruption of hot gases and ash that is flung at speeds of 200 km/hr from the volcano. The second type are called volcanic bombs, wherein large chunks of solidified lava is thrown from the volcano. The third are lava flows where molten lava from inside the volcano flows down the side, destroying flora and reshaping the volcano. Thankfully the last time any of these events occurred was in 2010.

Day 7 - Arenal - Cultural Tour

Today was mostly a traveling day, with the morning being free before traveling from Arenal to Monteverde. The drive took about 2.5 hours despite the locations being fairly close together. This was because Monteverde is located on the other side of Lake Arenal and positioned next to the Arenal volcano, causing the most direct route to be around the lake. We learned that Lake Arenal grew to three times its original size after the Lake Arenal dam was constructed in 1979. Despite relocating two nearby towns, the lake is vastly important to Costa Rica as it supplies 12% of its power. We stopped for lunch at the restaurant Café & Macadamia, located right on the lake. From the lake we were able to see part of the Tejona Wind Farm. In our previous business visits, we learned that wind power makes up 30% of Costa Rica’s power. After lunch we finished the journey to the hotel Fondavela Monteverde at which we had a group dinner.

Day 8 - Monteverde - Cultural Tour

After having breakfast at the hotel, we traveled to Selvatura Hanging Bridges, a portion of cloud forest in Monteverde with infrastructure for animal watching, sky bridges, zip lines and much more. Our guide walked us through the new trail path, noting each of the plants that the six sky bridges were named after. We learned that many plants in Costa Rica have medicinal uses, ranging from sore throat remedies to pain relief. The leaves and bark of these plants are used to make tea or steamed for inhalation and are a Costa Rican tradition. We then had lunch at the park before returning to the hotel. After our free afternoon we had a group dinner before leaving for a night walk through the cloud forest with a local guide. The tour guide provided many insights into the animal nightlife of Costa Rican forests, including information on parasitic fig trees and katydids that produce a frothy foam to protect themselves during the day.

Day 9 - Monteverde - Cultural Tour and Travel

This morning we packed our things and made our way north out of the mountains. We saw wind farms and the volcano where geothermal energy is generated, completing our exposure to all four sustainable energy sources in the country, with solar and hydroelectric being the other two. We stopped along our way at the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall, a beautiful waterfall located just 36 kilometers from Liberia. The group enjoyed respite from the heat in the water before getting back on the road. We checked in the hotel in the late afternoon, giving many students time to wash clothes from the week before. In the evening we enjoyed a group dinner at the Jauja restaurant before returning to the hotel and settling in for the night.

Day 10 - Liberia - Business Visit

We had two business visits today, one in-person at Las Catalinas and one virtual with Tico Electronics. Las Catalinas is a privately developed beach town in the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste. Las Catalinas has been developed as a new urbanism town with a focus on sociability and travel by foot. With few homes containing garages, Las Catalinas aims to provide a social experience without the disruptions associated with automobiles, such as noise and space. The founder of Las Catalinas spoke with us about the difficulty of developing a living space in rural areas, including developing utilities like electricity and potable water. We also learned about the construction regulations in Costa Rica, such as the minimum width of passageways and earthquake preparedness. These regulations make developing urban areas in Costa Rica more difficult than in the United States. After having lunch in Las Catalinas we returned to the hotel where we had a virtual business visit with Tico Electronics, a contract manufacturer based in Costa Rica. Tico Electronics was founded with the value of providing manufacturing jobs to single mothers. These women were both needing employment and had smaller hands fit for detail-oriented manufacturing positions. Over time Tico Electronics has become a major exporter of products for the aerospace, industrial and medical industries. We learned in this business visit about the importance of strategic decisions. In the case of Tico Electronics, hiring single mothers provided the company with highly reliable workers, contrasting the traditional stereotype of single mothers needing a lot of time off to care for their children.

Day 11 - Liberia - Business Visit

We left the hotel in the morning, traveling south through Guanacaste. We stopped at the Hacienda El Viejo Sugar Plantation and Mill for a business visit and boat tour. The business visit consisted of the plantation’s sugarcane expert speaking with us about the growing cycle of sugarcane and how Hacienda El Viejo capitalized on sustainable agriculture through the reuse of dead leaves on the soil to prevent weeds from growing and to provide nutrients back to the soil. We also learned how raw sugar is produced, including Hacienda El Viejo’s process that saves 80% of the water in the sugarcane and reuses the water for irrigation. We then heard from a master distiller, learning the steps involved with going from sugarcane molasses to rum. These steps included fermentation, distillation and aging. 

After we had lunch at the plantation, we took a boat tour of the river Tempisque, a brackish river consisting of both sea and fresh water. On this tour we were able to experience multiple forms of wildlife, including crocodiles, birds, monkeys and bats. We learned that the Hacienda El Viejo dedicated 5,000 acres of their land to a wildlife conservation of the tropical dry forest and wetlands. This conservation area is vastly important to protecting the endangered ecosystem of the area while also providing space for the fauna away from the sugarcane fields.

Day 12 - Samara - Business Visit

In the morning we had a virtual business visit with McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm. McKinsey provides customers with business expertise that allows them to improve performance and exceed goals. During our meeting we learned about how McKinsey has developed regional offices across Latin America to better provide service to the region. Recently this has been in the form of Costa Rica, but McKinsey uses factors such as GDP growth as a viability measure of entering the country. In this case, Columbia and Uruguay have had steady GDP growth over the last several years and thus McKinsey is evaluating opening offices there. We also learned that Brazil’s business market is so much larger and different from other Latin American countries that it is treated as its own region.

After our virtual meeting we each got COVID tested at the hotel for our flights home. Thankfully, all tests came back negative. Many students then took the time to explore the landscape, whether that be wandering down the beach or lounging in the pool. In the evening we had a group dinner at the hotel to celebrate our tour guide’s birthday.

Day 13 - Samara - Free Day

Today we had a free day to explore Azura Beach. In the morning, half of the group went on a kayaking trip from the beach out to an island along the shore. Here we were able to get a full view of the beach as well as see many hermit crabs exchanging shells. We snorkeled near the island beach, played some soccer, and had a pineapple as a snack before heading back to the hotel. Some members of the group walked up the beach to town and took surfing lessons, getting practice in until we all had a group dinner.

Day 14 - Samara - Cultural Class

Sunday was mostly a free day, with the exception of a cooking class at the hotel in the afternoon. In the morning, the other half of the group went on the kayaking trip out to the island. Another group went back to the town to surf more, capitalizing on their weekend surfboard rentals, while others stayed at the hotel and relaxed in the pool. The cooking class was led by one of the chefs at the hotel, who taught us how to prepare and cook ceviche, fish brined in lemon juice and served with onion and pepper, as well as how to make empanadas. Each student paired up and made the appetizers for our farewell dinner that evening, which was hosted at the Italian restaurant at the hotel. At this dinner we recounted all of the things we had learned over the past two weeks, from the importance of wildlife conservation, the value that human talent plays in attracting foreign direct investment, the wide range of renewable energy sources in Costa Rica, and cultural differences between people that must be considered in international business.