Questioning Costa Rica: Perspectives on ecotourism from the ground up – #2



VanderJact_CostaRica_06_09, originally uploaded by CLACS – NYU.

Nearing the end of my time in Quepos, Costa Rica I reflect on the changes in my thought processes, obstacles encountered and adaptations made throughout my research here. An initial obstacle coming into the experience was my language level. I hoped, rather fool-heartedly, to remedy this problem to a sufficient extent during my first two weeks in a language immersion and home stay program. However, as all who have undergone the process of learning a second language know, two weeks is far from enough! While my knowledge of the language has improved by leaps and bounds, the process of face to face interviewing has been a continual struggle throughout my time in the field. During my interview with the Mayor of Quepos, Oscar Monge, I realized that I needed to make a change in my approach. Originally, I had planned to base the majority of my field research on formal interviews and participant observation with a modest number of supplementary surveys. However, realizing the language barrier’s effect on my investigation, I shifted toward privileging the collection of surveys over my original intention to gather the majority of my information through formal interviews. I was at first hesitant to make this switch, realizing the complications that accompany the use of surveys, including loaded questions, leading answers, and the contrast between qualitative and quantitative data that results from this research method. But, what other way to determine its usefulness, than to try?
With renewed inspiration I hit the streets of Quepos and Manuel Antonio daily, walking from shop to shop, street to street, introducing myself and my research to anyone who would listen. With all of my initial hesitations at the forefront of my mind, I was met with a completely unexpected enthusiasm and support from local residents. After spending 3 weeks gathering surveys, I am still amazed at the level of acceptance and cooperation that I encountered; of approximately 230 potential participants, a total of 200 surveys were collected. Throughout the surveying process I was able to meet an enormous subsection of people who, if I had proceeded with my original strategy, would have been unfortunately absent from my work. In addition to collecting a huge amount of data from local residents, the survey acted as an entry point to further conversation about environmental consciousness in the area, as well as resident’s perceptions of tourism’s role in their daily lives. In hindsight, I realize that every cloud does have a silver lining: the obstacles that I encountered led to a more fruitful method of immersing myself in the local community, an absolutely essential element for my particular line of questioning.
In addition to my survey collection, I altered my in-depth interview method as well. The majority of interviews I conducted after the first two weeks have been via e-mail, a process which each participant has kindly agreed to. Finally, as pictured above, the Director of the Environmental Education Program at Manuel Antonio National Park, Javier Herrera, allowed me to attend his presentations on the importance of environmental preservation and protection at two local schools. The presentation pictured above was targeted at primary school children in Quepos, complete with interactive question and answering as well as a natural habitat activity shown in the above photo. I look forward to my time back in the states to compile my survey data, connect already visible and interesting patterns in responses, and solidify connections between conversation and observation. Pura Vida!

Diana Van der Jagt
MA Candidate, CLACS

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