School of Business Administration

Costa Rican rainforest offers lessons in economic development and sustainability

icon of a calendarMarch 30, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Emily Morris

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Costa Rican rainforest offers lessons in economic development and sustainability

Business economics student, Dakota Zehler, on a bridge in the rainforest.
Within the rainforest, business economics student Dakota Zehler explored a new classroom, where he studied Costa Rican culture, economic development and sustainability.

Throughout his childhood, OU business economics student Dakota Zehler moved often as his family relocated with his parent’s Army assignments. Through this experience, Zehler developed an appreciation for global perspectives. Traveling through Oakland University’s study abroad program proved a natural extension of his education and offered an ideal way to explore his future career.

“That’s the way I grew up … Because of my parents, I always thought gaining a global perspective helps you grow as a person,” Zehler said.

Combining his economics major and Spanish minor, Zehler sought a travel experience that would elevate his understanding of developing economies while taking advantage of his Spanish studies. He researched study abroad trips to Chile and Argentina, before to spend summer 2021 in Costa Rica.

“It all starts with deciding where you want to go, and then OU’s International Education Office did a great job of helping me do the rest… easy and simple,” Zehler said.

Upon arriving in Costa Rica, he was intent on exploring the country. Zehler began each day with a traditional Costa Rica breakfast, before trekking into the rainforest for the daily species report.

“Every day I woke up in the rainforest, and I couldn’t believe I was there,” he said. “I gained an appreciation for the country’s nature, which inspired me to pursue a career in reusable resources.”

Studying in Costa Rica solidified Zehler’s environmental sustainability career aspirations. He also made valuable connections beyond the typical classroom and collegiate experience. He met more than a dozen similarly passionate young professionals traveling from other universities, and he gained a further appreciation of Latin culture through the people he met.

“There are a lot of people who have a greater appreciation for their natural resources than we do in the U.S.,” he said. “There’s a balance.”

First-hand experience left a lasting impression that typical study sessions only skimmed. Zehler developed a global perspective that furthered his economic understanding and professional skills.

“I found skills that are invaluable to bring into my career,” he said. “I’m learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations by gaining confidence but also being able to ask for help if I need it.”

Exploring Costa Rica was just the start for Zehler. For his next trip Zehler aims to build more diversity into his global perspective by studying Spain’s economy along with its sustainability habits.

With a career goal focused on economic development and environmental sustainability, Zehler believes the professional tool set he’s developing through his international experiences combined with his education will set him up for an enriching career.

“With help from OU, the costs, dates and timelines are all really achievable, and the experience really outweighs those steps along the way,” he said. “Nothing compares to studying abroad, and if you give it a shot, you’ll become a much better person.”

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