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Communication Professor Prepares Students to be Global Citizens

Using Zoom, David Tarvin led a Texas-Costa Rica cultural exchange focused on making the world a better place.

By Brittney Nava ‘23

Anyone lucky enough to cross paths with communication professor David Tarvin has heard him joyfully say the signature Costa Rican phrase, “Pura Vida.” However, anyone enrolled in his Communication in a Diverse World course has also heard this phrase straight from Costa Rican students themselves. 

To give his students a high-impact experience, Tarvin coordinated a semester-long virtual exchange with Keylor Sanchez’ English language class from Universidad Técnica Nacional in Costa Rica this past spring. Students from both countries were charged with the collaborative goal to create a professional newsletter highlighting the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals

This isn’t Tarvin’s first time connecting Aggies with Ticos (the colloquial, self-given nickname of Costa Rican natives). He regularly leads trips abroad and has made it a goal to take students to Costa Rica once a year. 

“I truly believe that you do not know who you are, until you know who you aren’t,” Tarvin said. “Studying abroad is the most important thing any undergraduate can do to shape their future. But, then 2020 happened.” 

After the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a global change of pace, Tarvin was unsure when or how he would be able to continue facilitating education abroad, especially his yearly trips to Costa Rica. Luckily, it was Cara Wallis, the director of internationalization for the Department of Communication that sparked an idea.

“Dr. Wallis suggested, instead of taking students to Costa Rica, why not bring Costa Rica to the students,” Tarvin noted.

It was a situation that called for creativity and adaptation. The course was structured to be hybrid — Tuesdays were in person, while most Thursdays were on Zoom with both Tarvin and Sanchez facilitating the exchange. 

“Even if 2020 didn’t happen, not all students have the means to travel abroad, whether it’s financial means, family obligations, or it just doesn’t fit in their schedule. I think opportunities, like what I tried to create, help students that don’t have the chance to go abroad,” Tarvin said.  

The Spring of 2021 saw the first Texas-Tico virtual exchange and inspired this year’s United Nations’ SDG newsletter project.

“I realized many of the things discussed between Texas and Costa Rican students related to one of the Sustainable Development Goals,” Tarvin explained. “So I asked the students, ‘Did you recognize that what you just mentioned was number six of the SDGs?’ And they’re like, ‘What’s an SDG?’” 

The SDG initiative was enacted in 2015 to provide nations with a shared framework of action toward peace and prosperity of people and the planet. All UN members committed to work toward fulfilling these goals by 2030; however, public awareness surrounding the goals is narrow. After noticing this first-hand in his classroom, Tarvin took the initiative to weave these goals into the center threads of the Texas-Tico cultural exchange. 

The completed newsletter was shared via email with Sabrina Juran, a regional advisor for the United Nations Population Fund in Panama, who responded that she shared it with her colleagues.

“We are impressed. We are speechless. We want to publish,” Juran said.

Tarvin ultimately decided to postpone plans of publishing the newsletter to allow for greater development and more student contribution, but was very pleased with how the UN received it. 

“The thing I was most proud of, though, is the last day [of class] when we discussed what the experience meant for everyone,” Tarvin added. “Just seeing how much each student had grown was beautiful.”

Aside from the SDG project, Tarvin was intentional about creating space for meaningful and critical discussions between students from both countries, especially as enrolling in the course fulfills Texas A&M University’s cultural discourse graduation requirement.

Throughout the semester, students had engaged in fruitful conversations with one another despite a language barrier and broadened their understanding of cultural norms, biases, privileges, and even themselves. This unique opportunity prepared students for life beyond Texas A&M as global citizens. 

Communication in a Diverse World, listed as COMM 343 in the university’s course catalog, is open to all majors and offered during spring semesters. Tarvin is currently planning next year’s class with hopes to incorporate an international field trip to Costa Rica.