One of the goals of this trip was to compare and contrast the agriculture of Illinois and Puerto Rico. While this has been the main focus, I have noticed many other interesting differences, as well as similarities, between Illinois and Puerto Rico. While Illinois is mostly flatland, covered in either farms or urban/suburban area, anywhere you turn in Puerto Rico you see a completely different view. The variety is endless. Driving across the island, you are exposed to beaches, desserts, mountains, and rainforests. Just traveling a half hour away puts you into an entirely different universe. Everywhere you go seems like a new place, it’s hard to believe all these places are located on just one small island. We’ve spent weeks exploring beaches and waterfalls, yet there’s still so much more to see. The amount of variability and the beauty of the land is astounding.
Something else special to Puerto Rico is its weather. While Illinois goes through all four seasons (one of them being an extremely cold winter!), Puerto Rico is warm year round. I was actually surprised, as I thought it would be warmer. Judging by other hot places I’ve been, such as Mexico and Arizona, I thought Puerto Rico would be similarly unbearably hot. Since its winter, the heat hasn’t been too unbearable, and it even gets chilly at night.
Because of this climate, Puerto Rico’s agriculture is very different from that of Illinois. While Illinois has mainly corn and soybean, Puerto Rico’s environment is able to accommodate a wide variety of crops. Some of their staple crops are Plantains, Bananas, Cocoa, Coffee, and Guava. However, while the climate is ideal for many of these crops, it is still not sustainable and therefore agriculture in Puerto Rico is not too prevalent and much is imported.
With different climates comes different agricultural methods. For example, in Illinois, we would like the increase the heat reaching crops, while in Puerto Rico this needs to be prevented. Therefore, greenhouses are built very differently in both locations. In Illinois, greenhouses consist of glass, a sight I am quite used to. However, in Puerto Rico, I was surprised to see how different greenhouses look. Rather than glass, they are built to reduce the heat and sun exposure. Most even come equipped with fans to help cool and circulate the air. Whenever I think of greenhouses, I think of glass, and of increasing heat, so this was quite a shock to me.
Something unique from our trip is that we all came from UIUC and visited UPR Mayaguez. Because of this, we were able to see the differences between the two schools, and get a feel for how college in Puerto Rico is different than back at home. I was lucky enough to actually have a long discussion with a student at UPR that was actually studying abroad from North Carolina. He said UPR was a really good school, everyone was friendly, almost everyone speaks English, and everyone was much more relaxed. He really stressed the last point. Back in the states, people are always so stressed and in a rush and we never take a second to just sit back as breathe in the fresh air and look around us and think. We never take a pause from our busy lives. He explained how relaxed everyone was and how it helped him be the same.
The trivia game also helped us learn about a lot of differences between Illinois and Puerto Rico, as well as the two schools. It was a great idea to implement that game, as it taught all of us and the students, all while providing a fun time corresponding to UPR’s laid back environment. I feel lucky to have been able to share this experience with all of my peers from UIUC, and not only enjoy a vacation, but also learn a lot about Puerto Rico and relate it back to our lives in Illinois. This was an incredibly unique and rewarding experience.