On March 24th, 2022, the International School Network visited the Embassy of Costa Rica to interview the Ambassador, His Excellency Mr. Alexander Salas Araya and Minister Counsellor & Consul General, Mr. William Calvo.
What is a unique aspect of education in your country?
Costa Rica has a high level education and the nation's literacy rate is one of the highest in the world. Education is free, universal, and compulsory as the country and parents are co-working for children's education. The country supports its students by giving scholarships and establishing food courts. In addition, 8% of the GDP is invested in education. H.E. Mr. Alexander Salas Araya and Minister Counsellor & Consul General Mr. William Calvo are both from middle-class families but with the help of free education and scholarships, they have become very successful. H.E. mentioned that the quality of education and to have access to education is important. Access to education has been proven since the 1860s and is still improving. Still, some places in Costa Rica are enhancing their access to education. Moreover, Costa Rica had a transformation in its economy through the improvement of education. 10 years ago, the economy was based on agriculture but now it is mainly based on high technology. Costa Rica has been participating in trade, and has become one of the members in the OECD.
What are some similarities and differences you see between your country and Japanese students?
In Costa Rica, primary school students learn basic skills such as self management, the way to behave, and how to respect others. Costa Rican students have to take examinations from the beginning of primary school. Children have different specialty fields, so to discover the skills and not to force children to do as others do are seen as important things there.
What do you believe unites the nation, and what are some cultural values that you see in the people of your country?
Costa Ricans are well known as unique people. They respect human rights, build harmony with nature, are peaceful with no army and is democratic, and promote values. Furthermore, Costa Ricans protect their identity as a country by promoting their food, astronomy, national heroes, emblems, music, and culture. Costa Rica is also known as the happiest country in the world. H.E. stated that they try and make a country where both Costa Ricans and foreigners can feel happiness. They have a phrase saying “Pura Vida” meaning “pure life”; “Pure” represents good health, happiness, and welfare.
The relationship between the two countries
What are some qualities of your country that you would like to bring awareness to people in Japan?
H.E. Mr. Alexander told us that what is very important is peace and what we have to do is to make a strong effort to keep democracy, freedom, and peace in the world. He and his coworker like working because they can contribute to solving problems. Among countries, they are always promoting disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, protecting the environment, biodiversity, and nature, which Costa Rican have a strong feeling, and fighting against climate change. In 1948, Costa Rica gave up its military force. Since then, one of their developing models is building maintenance and promotion of peace.
It is important to imagine some examples, H.E. said. The size of Costa Rica is as large as that of Kyushu island, and its population is only 5 million, but the country is seen at a higher level than the possibility it has. This is because of its unique characteristics. H.E. also said that the level of healthcare system in Costa Rica is as high as that of France and even higher than that of the United States, and life expectancy of Costa Rica is nearly with the Japanese standard. Interestingly, like Okinawa, people in Nicoya peninsula live longer than those who live in other areas of Costa Rica. In this country, 10% of people are rich, 70% are middle, and 20% are in poverty. However, thanks to having invested for equality, only 5% of the poor are in misery, and this percentage of the poor is low compared to other similar countries, but that does not mean OK. To reduce the number of people in poverty, what is important is to keep improving the quality of education, H.E. said.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a small child, H.E. wanted to become a firefighter. As he started studying at school, he became interested in history and geography but people around him told him that jobs related to history and geography have low salaries. Later, H.E. wanted to become a diplomat to visit around the world. However, at that time becoming a diplomat was only for high-class people. Instead, he studied economics. His dream of becoming a diplomat came true when H.E. was politically appointed as the ambassador in Japan. The first time H.E. came to Japan was when he got a scholarship through JICA, where he learned about the Japanese culture, systems, and language.
What are your views on globalization?
Globalization has some positive effects and cannot be avoided. Each country has advantages to other countries, so helping each other is important. However, we have to be careful with respecting the culture and protecting our identities. H.E. mentioned that Japan is one of the best countries in keeping both its past and present. H.E. explained that in this globalizing world, we must follow both international and national law. For example, as Costa Rica follows both international and national law, it is one of the most trusted countries in ensuring that investments are protected. In addition, recently, Costa Rica has been visited by many foreigners and is a preferred destination to many people around the world. Therefore, the country works hard to support small Costa Rican shops to protect its identity.
What are your goals as an ambassador? What is your passion about working as the ambassador in Japan?
H.E. stated that he is passionate about teaching his country to Japan. When H.E. first came to Japan he was amazed about how the country was ahead in technology; H.E. was surprised to see the automatic doors, automatic bathrooms, and the system of cards. His goal is to have Costa Ricans gain the opportunity to get to know more about Japan and strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
Do you have a message towards Japanese students/people?
H.E. wants students to try to open their minds and to also learn and understand as much as possible from both the past and future. In addition, H.E. explained that respecting is the basis of building peace. H.E. desires students to respect and learn from all the differences; different nationalities, values, principles, and cultures.
Costa Rican traditional cart
These carts are often pulled by bulls. They are used to carry agricultural products. Besides agricultural products, they are also used to carry people. H.E. explained that in festivals, drunk people get carried in these carts. The colorful patterns on the carts are painted by hand.