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Blugold fights climate change in Costa Rica with service-learning

| Lucy Grogan-Ripp

According to studies conducted at Yale University, more than 70 percent of people believe that climate change is happening.

Part of this percentage of concerned citizens is UW-Eau Claire junior Kyra Luttenegger.

Luttenegger, a biology major, is using her service-learning project as an opportunity to eradicate the detriments of climate change.

Through an organization entitled AIESEC (pronounced eye-sek), Luttenegger spent a portion of her summer vacation fighting climate change in Costa Rica.

AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-run leadership development organization, works with hundreds of Blugolds each year. As for Luttenegger, she became connected with AIESEC after visiting their booth at Blu’s Orgs Bash (BOB)  on campus last fall.

“They had a booth set up at BOB and the travel aspect of the organization is what drew me in,” she said.

Luttenegger started her journey with AIESEC by helping out with their marketing campaign but eventually realized her true passion existed abroad.

“Once I was in the club, I fell in love with the organization,” she said. “But I knew at some point I wanted to live the product I was selling and volunteer abroad.”

After deciding she wanted to tackle climate change issues in a warm climate, Luttenegger narrowed down her project and chose to spend her summer in Costa Rica working specifically with organic agriculture and reforestation.

On a typical day, Luttenegger had an early wake-up call around 7 in the morning, when the locals they were staying with would cook breakfast over an open fire. Following an early but hearty breakfast, she and her fellow volunteers each were placed with a member of the community to tackle different responsibilities.

“Every day, we worked with a member of the community on various activities relating to agriculture and reforestation," Luttenegger said. "We were outside in the heat and dirt, and the work we were doing was extremely exhausting some days, but totally worth it.” 

She could see almost instantaneous physical changes result from the work she was doing, and for Luttenegger, this was a vital part of her motivation to keep working.

The encouragement from community members served as another source of motivation, and Luttenegger will never forget how kindly she was treated by the locals.

“The community members we worked with would bring us juice or fresh mangos and pineapples as a snack and also as a thank you for the work we were doing,” Luttenegger recalled.

When asked what her most notable experience was while abroad, Luttenegger was quick to note that the best part of her project was not a specific experience, but the people. She noted that, while it was often tough to communicate with the locals, the language barrier only brought them closer together.

Not knowing what the community members were saying forced her to focus more on other aspects of communication and helped her realize that words aren’t the only tool in forming deeper relationships.

“Since I didn’t know what the community members were saying, I paid more attention to their mannerisms. The way they acted while speaking allowed me to see how much they really cared and how thankful they were that we were there to help them,” she said. “I don’t believe [the language barrier] had a negative impact on my experience. If anything, it made me pay more attention to how people treat others in ways that words can’t express.”

Overall, through AIESEC, Luttenegger was able to center her project around what service-learning is all about: finding oneself through serving others.

“I absolutely love the project I chose. It got me out of my comfort zone and I really felt like I was making a difference. I learned so much, especially about myself,” Luttenegger reflected.

As more and more Blugolds follow in her footsteps, we can look forward to a day when we no longer see climate change as a threat to our future generations, but as a worry of the past.