Week 10

Week 10

I’m back in Houston.

This is my hope for this blog entry: Provide you reader with a true, succinct sense of my time in Costa Rica.

The summer was broken into three fundamental parts:

  1. Research into potential projects for both the GMI team and future Rice students based on the medical needs of Costa Rica’s middle to low class population
  2. A short class with Costa Rican university under graduates on the fundamentals of design (with an emphasis on the medical field).
  3. A technical internship with an America-based medical equipment company (in my case, St. Jude Medical).

We lived for most of the internship in fully furnished condominiums, about a 0.75mile walk from a grocery store and a .25mile walk from a mall with necessary non-food amenities. For Erica and I, work was about a 30 to 45-minute drive (by a contracted shuttle service). While safety was never really an issue (we stayed in a relatively tourist-friendly part of town), walking alone at night was strongly, strongly discouraged—no different from any big city. Being a white, female also meant most people assumed I did not speak Spanish (75% correct), not necessarily a bad thing.

My internship went very well. While it was in the manufacturing division, not the type of job I am truly interested in, my primary project was modifying a process with the test and design of a new fixture. This involved detailed testing on current process, potential impact of process change, feasibility and stress dynamics of the new fixture design, and cost analysis.

While I worked at St. Jude I learned how to communicate clearly my thoughts and ideas. Most engineers were required to have some familiarity with the English language but this varied vastly. Some were fluent, others had just a passing understanding of the language. Operators, who I worked closely with for some of the testing, spoke no English at all. I was given a lot of independence at my job. This was both good in that I had freedom to do what I needed to do, but it was also hard in that at times I lacked the necessary help and resources—slowing down my project’s process through my own inability to communicate.

The short course was fascinating but perhaps not in the way you expect a course to be. Most of the curriculum covered involved things I already knew from undergraduate—the basics in product design. What was interesting was seeing how a handful of Costa Rican students, who had never before met and who didn’t know the fundamentals, tackled the hands-on projects of this course. I was proud and amazed at what they accomplished, their passion, and their diligence. It was a good experience because it showed me the power of the unexpected and how people can come together.

Overall my time in Costa Rica was hard, feeling like an outsider is never easy, but meaningful and powerful. I learned things about people, about culture, and in some ways, even about myself. I know more about what I want to do and how I want to do it.

Looking forward to this coming year,

Jeannette Nelson


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