Missouri State University
Immersion Programs
A chronicle of Missouri State immersion service trips

You’re Invited to Give Back: Serve with MSU Students across the U.S.

Alumni can now join current Bears for volunteer opportunities offered around the U.S. as part of this awesome MSU Tradition: Immersion Trips! US map showing immersion locations What began a few years ago as an idea to get students engaged in the community has grown into a program featuring multiple trips (regional, nationwide, and international), during which students learn about each other and about the positive change they can make in the world.  As a two-time MSU alum (B.S. In Professional Writing in 2012, and M.S. In Student Affairs in Higher Education in 2014), I have experienced what it means to be a Bear for life, and connect to the Public Affairs Mission in a deep way.  I am happy to have this opportunity to share our love of the mission and traditions of Missouri State with those making a difference outside of Springfield, MO.


pop the college bubble, be fully present, and spread the love graphicWhat are Immersion Trips?

Pop the College Bubble. Be Fully Present. Spread the Love.  Missouri State’s Immersion programs allow students the opportunity to spend their breaks serving and learning in communities across the world.  These experiences allow students to:

  1. Learn more about a community
  2. Immerse themselves in the culture and social issues faced by a community
  3. Grow as volunteers into Active Citizens


Here’s how you can get involved – There are two ways to Give Back with Immersion Trips (March 12-17 2017) – Go to  http://www.missouristate.edu/CommunityInvolvement/118000.htm and:




photo of students around MSU flagServe with Students!

Engage with the Public Affairs Mission by serving alongside students in seven communities across the country, including Asheville, Atlanta, Aurora, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, and New Orleans.  Missouri State students are excited for alumni to join them during this unforgettable experience.  In each community, students are focused on learning about a certain issue, ranging from homelessness to sustainability.  You can get involved today.

Sign up



preview of MSU crowdfunding pages Donate to a Trip!

Help our students live the Public Affairs Mission by making a gift to the Missouri State University Foundation.  Your monetary donation will be used for travel expenses for students, including food, lodging and service.  Of course, there are some really great incentives for you to support our students – depending on your gift, these include photo postcards from students’ service sites, a signed Missouri State flag from the group, an Active Alumni Member Card, and more!  

Make a gift



We look forward to working alongside you and your family members to connect to service and Public Affairs during spring break 2017.  Thank you for your support of the Missouri State Immersion Trips!

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Not Goodbye, Just See You Later

Having fun in the Cloud Forest!
Having fun in the Cloud Forest!

In my previous two blogs I have included how I plan to return to Costa Rica. In my next trip I will make sure to include working and volunteering my time at La Bella Tica Farm again. It was a rewarding experience to be able to learn the first processes that go into getting that delicious cup of coffee that many people enjoy. I think that with any product that people enjoy it should be encouraged to know how that product is first processed. Even better if you have the time and find a place that will allow you to do those first initial steps in person. More so because we hardly get to see or experience how for example coffee is harvested and made, or how cocoa is made into savory chocolate. I think that if we have the opportunity to do the work that goes into the everyday products that we use, we will find a greater appreciation for them. More appreciation for the things we consume or buy will help us be less wasteful and more conscious of our intake.

We visited a small school's playground on a hike back from the coffee fields.
We visited a small school’s playground on a hike back from the coffee fields.



Furthermore, I also enjoyed going through the partner organizations IVHQ and Maximo Nivel who help program part of our trip. Their employees also made us feel at home with their enthusiasm and helpfulness during our stay in Costa Rica. It even encouraged me to consider a post-graduation job with them or a program similar to them. I was raised being bilingual in Spanish and English and one of my goals is to find a career where I can utilize both of those languages and if possible learn a few more. Working at programs such as the organizations mentioned above seems like a perfect place for me because of the exciting environment of being able to construct programs and help others in their community service journeys. As well as, being able to travel and experience other beautiful places. For instance the programs above have other destinations to work at, specifically in Latin America, and I would love to immerse myself more in Latin Culture while also helping others.

We will see where the next few months take me as I complete my last bitter sweet semester at MSU and find my passion and my place.


Brenda Torres Barraza

Senior Global Studies and Spanish Major

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La Bella Tica Cafe

This is where the entire operation happens: Drying, roasting, packaging
This is where the entire operation happens: Drying, roasting, packaging

As my peers and I were enjoying a wonderful meal prepped by our host family, Ersi (the wife of Oledemar who are the owners of the coffee farm where we volunteered) walked in to say hello. She was so cheerful to see a full house of volunteers, she sat down and started making conversation with us. There was a language barrier for some people in the house, but I would happily translate along with a couple other people in our group. As she noticed that she was able to communicate better through a translator she wanted to share with us the story of her and her family’s coffee farm.

Our group said goodbye to our awesome hosts, Oldemar and Ersi.
Our group said goodbye to our awesome hosts, Oldemar and Ersi.

She began the story by saying that most of the land in Costa Rica was owned by one powerful rich man until some Quakers and other religious groups decided to change the scales. These groups wanted to give some of the agricultural land to different families in the area. In order to do so, they raised money to buy a huge amount of land from the rich and powerful man. Once they did, they held a raffle in order to choose which families would receive a certain terrain. The lot that we volunteered in was number 7. I believed that there were about 20 different acres, each and every one beautiful and rich with colors. Once the land was divided up the families were able to grow crops and sell them to different companies. They would work very hard, but after so many years felt that their work was not being fairly compensated. During this time, volunteers would stay at the farm to help them harvest coffee, grind it, and package it. One day, a caring volunteer discussed with Oldemar’s family, what holds them back from creating their own coffee business instead of not being compensated fairly? This caring volunteer ignited a motivation in this family to build their own coffee business from the ground up. The first thing that the family did was invest in a coffee roaster. One that they have had now for more than 20 years. Since then their business has been booming more and more throughout the years. Volunteers have came and helped this family and just this past year they built a whole cabin and extra bathrooms just for their wonderful people that come and assist them with their coffee production. The place we stayed was so beautiful it is amazing that they built it within under a year with their own means and skills. They really do care for their volunteers and try to make it as homey as possible, but with Ersi amazing cooking that is easily achieved, it is so delicious!

The resilience and determination of this wonderful family inspired me, along with their generosity to share their home and unique coffee process with us. I feel like I have a loving Tico family to visit anytime I want to return to Costa Rica, and that is a very exciting factor for me because I do plan to go again in the near future.


Brenda Torres Barraza

Senior Global Studies and Spanish Major

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Post Costa Rica Trip

After coming back from my amazing trip to Costa Rica, it is difficult for me to find the words to describe the immense beauty that I experienced during this trip. It makes me wish that I sat down and journaled during the moment so I can share details from my experience. Alas, I didn’t journal as much as I would have wanted because I was having too much fun. Usually when I would try to sit down and write about my day it was time to go off to our next adventure or time to grub on delicious food.


Nonetheless, what I do want to express in my first blog of my community service trip is that because of the wonderful group that I traveled with and our awesome scenery and host family, I felt like it was a second home. There was so much laughter and good vibes all around. When we arrived at the airport before arriving to Costa Rica, I think the first endeavor for our group was to pop the awkward social bubble. After spending a few hours together during our delay in Atlanta we all fell into ease with each other’s company. To be honest, I think it is beautiful and rare when a dynamic group can work so well together.


Our time in Monteverde, Costa Rica was an incredible experience! From challenging ourselves through long, incline hikes, to picking coffee cherries, roasting the coffee beans and packaging the coffee, to testing our faith in human contraptions by zip lining and soaring through the canopy. As well as, exploring the cloud forest of Monteverde, where you walked through a lush rainforest and hike upwards to be literally up in the clouds. The wind was so fierce it will rock your socks off. Man oh man, as I write this I just don’t feel like I am expressing my Costa Rica experience with justice. You simply have to go and experience it for yourself. There is so much beauty to take in, wonderful friendships to make, and exploring to do. I will definitely go back and next time I will try to journal more so I can satisfyingly describe my wonderful experience.

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Brenda Torres Barraza

Senior Global Studies and Spanish Major

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A Typical Day in Costa Rica

Our volunteer cabin was a great place to rest after a long day of service.

Each day we spend in Costa Rica was unique and interesting. However, one day sticks out as particularly interesting. In my opinion, Wednesday was easily the most challenging and exhausting day, but I also had the most fun.

It started out with a few of us waking up very early in the morning in attempt to catch the sunrise. Well, we tried, but turns out there was a mountain in the way. A little disappointed, but it was worth the effort. A couple of hours later breakfast was served and I managed to wake myself up with about 3 cups of coffee. The news came that we would be going to the field to pick coffee. This excited everybody because we were unable to go the previous day due to weather.

We made the lengthy trek down to the coffee fields and got our instructions. Seemed easy enough. The weather was beautiful and we were right in the mountains. Picking coffee is straight forward, you take the ripe berries off and put them in your basket, going from one plant to the next. It doesn’t sound fun, but being there with everybody and enjoying the weather turned out to be a really cool experience. I was oblivious to the process of producing coffee prior to this trip, so getting that hands-on experience made me appreciate coffee a lot more.

Resting after a hike in the Cloud Forest.
Resting after a hike in the Cloud Forest.

Once you finish picking the coffee, your day is just getting started. Hiking down a mountain isn’t so hard, but hiking up one can get to you. We hiked up the mountain and I got the best leg work out of my life. After stopping several times on the way back to the house for rest, we finally stumbled into the kitchen for lunch. I think we all were a little surprised by how physically demanding the work was and impressed that some people can do this every day.

This day was far from over, though. We had planned a ziplining trip on Tuesday and despite being exhausted, I was beyond excited to go. I had never been ziplining and didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, I didn’t anticipate how great it would be. Hundreds of feet in the air with incredible views. It was one of the most exhilarating and adventurous times of my life. I had no idea that ziplining could be that fun. Plus the Tarzan swing at the end, which is exactly what it sounds like.

After the great ziplining experience we all went to a café and talked about the experience. The coffee was amazing as always and the stories were even better. We got back to the house and had some fantastic dinner, bragged about our stories to those who didn’t go, and finished off the night by playing card games for hours. It was such an amazing day and really encapsulates my Costa Rica experience.

Trey Kenner

Sophomore Astrophysics major

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Making Memories

Being outside of your comfort zone is something we all somewhat fear. However, being there is how you grow as a person. I’ve learned over the last few years in college that it’s best to not fear being outside of your comfort zone, but to place yourself there and look at it in a positive light. That is why I wanted to go to Costa Rica.  When I was first meeting everybody that I would be going on this adventure with, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know anybody I was going with to a country I had never been to. It took me a bit to realize that I wasn’t the only one in this situation. We all were a little uneasy and that’s what bonded us. When we’re outside of our bubble, we look for others to connect with. It’s the idea that perseverance through adversity breeds strong relationships. When you go through a tough time with others, those people are forever connected to you. I think this is what allowed us all to bond so quickly.

Taking a break from picking coffee cherries to pose with our friend.
A mountain view from San Jose

I did learn a great deal about the culture in Costa Rica. It was the first time where I had been in a country where the majority of the population did not speak English. We stayed with host families and ate several times at restaurants right in the city, rode public transportation, spoke to locals, and avoided flushing toilet paper. This experience was the biggest culture shock of my life and I loved it.

We also had a lot of experiences that weren’t necessarily cultural. Such as ziplining and hiking through the forest and mountains. Ziplining was one of the most adventurous and exciting things I have ever done, and when we finished I just wanted to do it again. The views from the hiking trails were surreal.

The actual physical labor and production of coffee was very interesting and at times a blast. I wasn’t a big coffee person before the trip, but after going through that experience how could I not appreciate a cup of coffee? The entire process was foreign to me, and I loved learning about all the aspects that go into the production of coffee.

The weird thing to me is that my favorite parts of the trip had almost nothing to do with being in Costa Rica. Some of my better memories come from playing card games after dinner, or funny car rides with our taxi driver, Freddy. I think this is the epitome of “popping the college bubble.” It’s not about just travelling somewhere you’ve never been, or experiencing something different from home. Sure, it’s important to expose yourself to new cultures, but what I found from the experience is that the relationships we build and the memories we create are about what we decide to make of a situation.


Trey Kenner

Sophomore Astrophysics major

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My Experiences in Costa Rica: Part 3

Sightseeing was a big part of my experience in CR. We got to do a lot of hiking during our trip. We hiked to work, we hiked from work, we hiked to catch the sunset (twice), some of us hiked to catch the sunrise, we hiked through the rainforest, we hiked up a mountain– we hiked everywhere. Bottom line is: my feet are killing me. Just kidding. Bottom line is: Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful.

One of our excursions involved hiking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Monteverde is basically a rainforest, and it was an awesome experience to hike through the jungle and look for wildlife. While the only wildlife we came across was a raccoon in the women’s restroom, the views from the forest were breathtaking. We hiked up to the top of a mountain to a spot that overlooked a beautiful valley. Our heads were literally in the clouds at this point, and plumes of fog periodically made everything disappear. It was an awesome experience.

On our hike back home, we came across this beautiful sunset. Sunsets are definitely one of the crown jewels of CR.

Finally, my personal favorite sightseeing experience in CR were the constant rainbows. Seriously, there was almost invariably a full, vibrant rainbow every 20 minutes.

Overall, I am very glad that I was able to participate in this journey. I met some amazing people and made some wonderful friendships. I am so thankful to have been able to serve alongside my peers in the beautiful community of Monteverde. I have definitely become more culturally aware and this trip has sparked my passion for service. I look forward to using this passion to serve my own community in the future. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible!


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My Experiences in Costa Rica: Part 2

My zip-lining experience is as follows:

“Next!” the guide calls, just as I’m reaching the top of the stairs. I adjust my helmet and hesitantly step onto the platform. I’ve done this before, but for some reason, I’ve convinced myself that, today, this is how I’m going to die. Not a bad way to go, I must admit, but I’m still very weary about this particular zip line. The person in front of me has just been pushed off the platform and is now, quite literally, flying through the mountains. The guide motions me over and attaches my harness to the line with several carabiners. I grasp the line with my gloved hand, and my harness with the other. I lift my feet up so that I’m hovering over the platform. The formerly green and mountainous vista in front of me is now hidden behind a dense fog. I think to myself, “Of course, as soon as it’s my turn, we get engulfed by a cloud.” That’s Monteverde for you, I suppose. They don’t call it the Cloud Forest for nothing.

“Be careful not to brake too much, or you won’t make it to the end,” the guide explains. I listen passively, as my mind is largely occupied by the question, “What happens if my harness snaps, and I fall to my death?” It’s not long before the guide gets the go-ahead to send me down. He asks, “Are you ready?” and I respond with an enthusiastic “Uhhhh, sure!” as he pushes me from the platform onto “Latin America’s Longest Zip Line” AKA “My Impending Doom.” “Pura Vida!” I hear him say, as I begin sailing into the clouds.

I emerge from the clouds almost immediately. A beautiful, green, mountainous landscape opens up before me. I can see for miles. I can see farms, livestock, houses, and winding roads all throughout the mountainside. I’m taken aback at how green everything is here. I’m not used to this much beauty. Joplin, Missouri has its perks, don’t get me wrong, but to me, this place is otherworldly. This view is enough to distract me from the fact that I’m 300 feet in the air, at least for a while.

As I make my way into the middle of the line, the wind starts to pick up and I struggle to keep myself facing forward. I panic a little, but I find that braking helps straighten things out. I don’t think much of this until I begin to slow down considerably, with what looks like a whole lot of zip line in front of me, and a whole lot of distance between me and the ground below me. It’s not long before I come to a complete stop. Most people tend to come to this complete stop at the platform on the other end, but apparently, I am not most people.  I have now established myself as “That Girl Who Didn’t Pay Attention to The Guide When He Told Her To Go Easy on The Brakes,” and I’m now dangling 300 feet in the air with no idea how to get to the end platform. I’m a little terrified at this point, and I scream, “Help!” I can see the guide at the other end make his way out to come get me, and I can feel my peers laughing hysterically 200 some-odd feet behind me. The guide clips his harness to the line and pulls himself out to where I am, kind of like a monkey. When he arrives, he clips his harness to mine, and begins pulling the both of us back to the platform. When we get to the platform, I apologize profusely to the guide and receive a few zingers from those who flawlessly completed the line before me. It’s all in good fun, though, and soon we’re headed to the next line to continue our Costa Rican adventure.

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My Experiences in Costa Rica: Part 1

I chose to study abroad in San Jose and Monteverde, Costa Rica from January 8th, 2017 to January 14th, 2017. Going into the trip, I was told we would be volunteering on a coffee farm. I wasn’t aware, however, of the awesome friendships and experiences I would encounter along the way. Nothing was quite what I expected, but in the best way possible.

I arrived at the St. Louis airport at 4:00 AM on Saturday, January 7th for a 6:00 AM flight to Atlanta. I was a little weary about embarking on this excursion at first. I expected to be an outsider of sorts, as I was coming from a different school and city than the other trip participants. But it wasn’t long before I felt at home with my new peers. In fact, it only took a couple of games of “Egyptian Rat Screw” (look it up) at gate E16 in the Atlanta airport before we were all comfortable screaming and laughing with each other, excited to take on this journey together.

After our first night in San Jose, we traveled by bus to the plantation owner’s/our host family’s home in San Luis, Monteverde. We were greeted in the volunteer house by other volunteers and a deliciously authentic Costa Rican dinner. We settled in for the week and adjusted to the volunteer life. Some aspects of the “volunteer life” took a bit of getting used to, like the outdoor bathrooms, lack of hot water, and the sound of the wind and rain loudly and terrifyingly hitting the side of the house at night. But, it wasn’t long until we all got into the swing of things.

Our first day at work was spent sorting coffee beans at the dining room table. During this time, we all got to know each other quite well. We exchanged life stories and learned about each other’s reasons for travelling to Costa Rica. There was quite an age range of volunteers while we there; some just escaping high school, other’s just entering retirement.

Our first day on the coffee plantation was the following day. It was a unique experience that was new to most of my group members. The walk to the plantation was an experience in and of itself. The incredible mountainous vista was breathtaking (and so was the intense uphill hike back home– phew!) Our experience at the plantation was also very unique. It was a truly eye-opening experience seeing the process coffee goes through from tree to cup. I had no idea going into this trip how much work was involved in this job. But to our host family, this coffee crop is their life’s work. They work day in and day out at their plantation. They cultivate, shell, dry, sort, roast, and package their coffee all out of their home. Their crop is 100% organically grown Arabica coffee, hand-picked from it’s natural environment. You can literally taste the care put into each bean. It was a great privilege to experience this all first hand and to be involved in such extraordinary work.

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One Gnarly Trip

A reflection of sorts:

In the days since the trip, people have asked me so many times how the trip was, but I have not been able to accurately capture the experience in words. I try to show a picture, and since it is worth a thousand words, it is better, but it still doesn’t do any justice to the experience. The beauty was uncapturable, indescribable, and if you’ve never seen the vibrance of the rainbows, or felt a cloud pass through you, incomprehensible. I find myself staring at the person with whom I’m talking, knowing whatever short summary I gave didn’t even begin to do the experience justice.

But it was so much more than visual beauty. At least in my case, having almost never been outside of the midwest, and never out of the country, I was like a dog in Bass Pro Shops. I couldn’t begin to process everything being thrown at my senses. I barely slept because I didn’t want to miss a thing. No matter whether it was a sunset, sunrise, a cat in the house, a toucan at the birdfeeder, or a conversation being had at the table, I didn’t want to miss a thing. While I know this is impossible, I think I did a pretty decent job, although I did in fact miss the toucan at the birdfeeder. Sure, I didn’t get to see a macaw, or a monkey, or even a sloth, but the sun setting behind a mountain across the gulf as I stand overlooking a city, a waterfall, and more mountains than I can imagine was a feeling I will never forget.

I guess sometimes you don’t need to be able to tell how the experience was as long as you can talk about how it made you feel. If you can describe how you felt, that says more than what actually happened that made you feel that way in the first place. After all, you could talk to each of us that went to Costa Rica and get a completely different account of the same events based on our previous experiences and the extent to which they made an impact on us.

The point of the trip was to pop the college bubble. I may be biased, but I have no trouble saying we succeeded. I wasn’t sure if this trip would be like some I’ve been on where there was an unspoken focus on the experience outside of the service, but as we sat at the table in a foreign country that we had never been to, playing cards, discussing how we could take the things we learned and apply them to the Springfield community, I knew it would be different. We were, without a doubt, having fun and enjoying the experience, but we were certainly engaged in the service as well.

When the wifi went out unexpectedly for the majority of the week, we were forced to engage further in our current environment. We were able to spend more time building relationships with each other, but with the other volunteers that were also staying with us, too. I enjoyed trying to find aspects of the meals I could take to improve my own cooking and looking at the long lists of firsts I had accomplished on the short trip. Even looking past the easy things, such as flying, leaving the country, or ziplining, I found many things. I made a concerted effort to try everything that was served whether I was enjoying Gallo Pinto (at every meal) or realizing that I still didn’t enjoy pineapple when it’s fresh. I went from rarely drinking coffee before the trip, to drinking black coffee by the end. Oh yeah, and I JUMPED OFF A TARZAN SWING! (That’s still surprising to myself)

I learned so much on the trip, many things I will never forget. So when it comes to telling people how the trip was, I have started saying, “Unbelievable. I am so glad I went.” While this rarely satisfies someone’s curiosity, it’s the most accurate statement that I could give them.
And then I tell them about the zipline, because as a fellow traveler described it to me, “That was gnarly!”


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