Student Stories: Costa Rica stay readies Animal Science major for poultry plant

Joshua Cassar with a toucan in Costa Rica. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Prior to his trip to Costa Rica, Josh Cassar had taken only two Spanish for agriculture classes. After participating in the month-long immersion program during the summer of 2013, Cassar -- a junior majoring in Animal Science with an emphasis in Poultry Science -- felt fully prepared for his internship overseeing various departments at a poultry plant in Pennsylvania.

In Costa Rica, Cassar was placed with a host family that did not speak English. He took classes for five hours a day, five days a week, and would go on tours afterwards. The tours were agriculture-based and included visiting a farm and a fruit-processing factory.

"It was different from the classroom because it was more applied," he said.

During his internship in the Bell and Evans poultry plant, Cassar realized just how much of an asset being able to speak Spanish really is. While working in the plant, he oversaw each department, working alongside other workers. He also learned how to run machines and supervised workers, rotating them through different positions in each department.

Cassar estimated that 90 percent of the poultry plant employees were Hispanic. The internship would have been much more challenging if he didn't know Spanish, he said. Communication barriers would have prevented him from being able to tell workers what to do, asking if they needed something and rotating them through positions.

"Having had the classes here in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences then going to Costa Rica for the immersion program helped the process of learning Spanish," he said.

Being with Spanish-speaking workers during the internship helped Cassar learn even more Spanish. It offered him the opportunity to learn words for tools and processes that he wouldn't have known otherwise. This is important to Cassar, who now intends to pursue a minor in Spanish, because he hopes to have the opportunity to build a career in the poultry industry.

"People tell you to do what you love, and I don't see working with the poultry, on the farm or in the plant, as a job, but just something that I enjoy doing," he said.

Last Updated November 17, 2015