This blog shares adventures from Michigan Tech students studying sustainability in Costa Rica!
Hola! Welcome to our blog! We’ll try to make this an entertaining blog for Michigan Tech staff, students, Monteverde members, and others to be excited to read (rather than a blog that only a couple of our parents will be forced to tediously endure).
The writer of this first blog post is Andrew Miscimarra. I am a Michigan Tech student who is majoring in Sustainability, Science, and Society, and I’m minoring in Leadership and in Global Community Development Partnerships. Don’t worry if my degree is confusing (studying it is still confusing to me). Essentially, in my future career, I want to work for non-profits and government orgs on projects that bring clean water to communities around the world, in addition to food security programs.
To introduce you more to our trip, our purpose is to learn about sustainability in the Monteverde Institute (located on the map below) for about 6 weeks. We are both in the classroom and taking field trips to learn about how Costa Rica has been creating a more sustainable society in terms of the environment, ecology, energy, water treatment, and more.
I absolutely love all of my classmates on this trip (who you’ll meet in each additional post to this blog), and I am not just saying that to be polite. They have been such an amazing group to travel with. In the photo below, from the left, my new amigos are: Max Schramm, Thomas Vermeesch, our amazing professor, Dr. Richelle Winkler, Isadora Mitchell, Vesper Kingdon, Abby Pettit, Morgan Majeske, Me (Andrew Miscimarra), Ben Wireman, Drew Knutson, and Melia Austin.
On our first full day (May 19), on our way to a farm tour in Finca Luna Nueva, we stopped at the beautiful La Paz Waterfall, and we were lucky enough to hike both behind it and below it!
Chocolate Will Save the World
At Finca Luna Nueva Lodge, we were given a tour of the large permaculture rainforest farm that they managed. I was absolutely amazed by the varied efforts that the farm managers and employees took to ensure the sustainability of the farm. All of these initiatives are completely natural, so they find ways to overcome challenges and promote sustainable farming without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. The approach is based on regenerative farming, which involves restoring the health of the soil. Most farms worldwide plant the same crops on the same plot of land over and over again until the soil’s nutrients are depleted, and then that land is unusable for a long time, and those farmers have to find a new plot of land to use and eventually degrade again. Instead, the Finca Luna Nueva farm rotates the plants that are on each plot of land of the forest. Before and after they plant larger species that take up many nutrients, like the Cacao trees, they spend a few years planting certain species that will rejuvenate the soil so that it can be used again. And on top of that, the plants that they use in the meantime to rejuvenate the soil actually produce foods and spices (like red beans, black beans, pineapple, turmeric, ginger, and breadfruit) that can be used for consumption and revenue. So this type of farming is a win-win situation for the land, farmers, locals, and the economy. Another initiative that the farm has been working on has been to increase the biodiversity of the forest, and they have grown the number of species of edible plants on the farm to over 200 species! Another interesting farming initiative that they are using (and teaching to both local and global farmers) is to plant certain species that take carbon out of the air and put it into the ground with their roots. This is incredibly important due to the fact that most farms (and the farming industry in general) do the opposite; they add carbon into the air, increasing global climate change. And what I found to be very profound and also humorous was that Cacao trees are the best plants to absorb carbon, so “Chocolate will save the world!” We also got to eat many of the plants that were growing, including a couple hot pepper plants and even termites (yes, termites, which are apparently good probiotics).
More fun and educational adventures that we have been fortunate to experience this past week were a rainforest tour and a “cloud forest” tour. A cloud forest is similar to a rainforest, but because the forest is so high up on a mountain, clouds actually pass through the forest, instead of being above the forest and precipitating down. Those were really fun to hike through because we passed hundreds of very different types of flora, experienced a stunning view of the Arenal Volcano (shown below), and watched multiple, rare blue quetzal birds, which are highly revered by the cultures in Central America. These trips were also highly educational and taught us how much climate change has already affected this environment. For example, there are way more dry days during the year than 40 years ago, and during those dry days, it only rains 1 liter per square meter for the entire day. However, during the wet days, it rains much more than it did 40 years ago. In contrast to the dry days, it rains 8 whole liters per square meter in just two hours. These extremes lead to species in the forests becoming endangered. But, to end this paragraph on a high note (so that you don’t leave this blog post super depressed about the future of our planet), the Monteverde Institute has been making many strides in monitoring, researching, and reversing these trends. And I feel so privileged to be able to learn and participate in these efforts during these 6 weeks.
Finally, I would like to thank our Professor, Richelle, our Monteverde guide and mentor, Randy, the Monteverde Institute, the Michigan Tech faculty, our homestay families, the broader community around Monteverde, our families, and many others for helping us in so many different ways in order for this trip to feel like the exciting, interesting, smooth-sailing, and learning experience that it is. ¡Así que muchas gracias, todos ustedes! (So thank you very much, all of you!) Also, thank you to all of you that are reading this blog! ¡Pura Vida!
Hello again from Costa Rica! Today, your writer is Drew Knutson. I am a Mechanical Engineering student at Michigan Tech, and I wanted to come on this trip to experience a second Latin American culture, from a six-week trip to Guatemala, to improve my Spanish, and to learn more about sustainability and sustainable practices here in Costa Rica.
As of now, we have spent about a week in our homestays. It is incredible to see the community from this lens and it is definitely one of the best places to stay, both to support the locals more and to be in the culture very intimately. My homestay is in Santa Elena, which is about 2.5 miles from the Monteverde Institute. I am staying with Andrew, the author of the last post, and we are actually one of the closest to the Institute. Many of the other students in our group are in Los Llanos, which is farther past Santa Elena by about 1.3 miles.
The food in the homestay is amazing as well! We eat a lot of rice and beans, but that is pretty common throughout Costa Rica. Just last night I had an interesting – but very good – fried egg cauliflower dish. From what I could tell to make it, you dip the flower part of the cauliflower in an egg wash, probably with salt and pepper or a spice of your choice – and then fry it as you would an egg. My lunch is commonly leftovers of the previous day’s dinner. Breakfast has generally been scrambled eggs, rice, and beans, or fried plantains – which are similar to bananas and delicious when fried. We also have a lot of coffee every day. I am a big fan of it – I love coffee, and am a little bit of a coffee snob, to be honest – but there are also plenty of other options to drink, and my homestay has been very accommodating to Andrew when he does not want it.
One of the most interesting cultural differences as compared to the United States is the use of alternative medicine. As much as doctors are still important and everyone takes you completely seriously when you say something, many people turn to teas and more natural sources rather than medication. It is much less noticeable in more important things, but for sleep, concentration, rejuvenation, and many other things teas are the answer. However, as I mentioned everyone takes you completely seriously whenever you have an issue. People seem to live by the mentality of “You know your body best, if you think something is wrong you are probably right.”
I actually have the luxury of comparing my homestay experience to the one I experienced in Guatemala. Almost everyone else on the trip has never lived in a homestay. It is very different from my time in Guatemala but the cultural immersion here feels much greater. Part of the problem with my time in Guatemala was staying with my family and spending a lot of time with them. It was still very fun, but we were not as immersed as I feel I have been here. The cultural differences here are incredible to be a part of, and everyone has fallen into a new normal very quickly. I have heard a few people talk about bringing some of the changes back with them to try and be healthier and live more sustainably. I am hoping to do the same, but we may easily fall into the way we have always done things quickly.
We have reached our second week in Costa Rica and third blog post. My name is Abby, and I am a Sustainability Science and Society major. I want to focus more on sustainable policy and how to organize future sustainable efforts, which makes Costa Rica a great place to learn.
While being here may seem like an extra long vacation to those reading these blogs, it is actually quite the opposite to most of us here. I am going to do a day in my life situation to share with you how I have experienced my week so far.
My day typically starts with an atrocious 6 am wake up to a very loud alarm. After laying in bed and dreading my decision to wake up early, I muster up the effort to shower and get ready to go to breakfast.
My and Isadora’s homestay situation is a bit different from everyone else’s. We are staying with a family that rents cabins to tourists for a living. This means that we get to share one of the places to ourselves, so we have our own bathroom and sleeping area. When we want to mingle with the family we just walk over to their house which doubles as the reception area. When we go in for breakfast in the morning, we normally share the space with the family and the other guests.
I either eat breakfast at 6:30 am or 7 am on the weekdays because of our class schedule. While eating a hearty meal of eggs and toast, I get to mingle with the guests, our host sister Tracy, and their cat (Amado) while waiting for my lunch. After collecting my lunch and saying my goodbyes to the family, I get to walk 5k to school. Yippee. To complete the walk from my homestay to the institute it takes around an hour, possibly closer to 50 minutes with no breaks. I normally break the walk in half, so I stop in Santa Elena which is about 20-30 minutes away. I spend some time at a coffee shop there doing my homework for the week. This allows me some time to rest and regain my energy while also being productive. About 9:30am, I start to collect myself and my belongings to get ready to walk the rest of the way. I am always sweaty when I arrive at the institute, but it is some great exercise.
Our classes for the day begin with Spanish at 10:30. The group is separated into two Spanish classes, one is for the people who are experienced with the language and the other is for beginners. I am in the beginner class which means I get to learn in the outside classroom! The Institute campus is incorporated with the surrounding forest so there are a lot of ways to experience nature but the outside classroom is my favorite. The room is almost all glass and wood and has a wooden pentagon table in the middle where we sit for class. It is a great way to learn Spanish and see the surrounding wildlife. The Spanish teachers here are wonderful too. Evelyn, Eva, and Lilliam are all wonderful at explaining the language. The more classes I have, the easier it becomes to understand and communicate with my host family and the surrounding community. Just the other day, I was helping my host mom with her math class while speaking Spanish!
After Spanish class, everyone gets a lunch break. I always enjoy the lunch my host family packs for me, my mom is a great cook. The meals can fluctuate between pasta, a mixture of rice and meat, or a sandwich. I enjoy the rice and meat combination but it is good to switch things up every so often. My favorite part of my meal is the Nutella sandwich that my host mom packs for me everyday.
The next section of classes after lunch are the Michigan Tech classes taught to us by our amazing instructor Dr. Richelle Winkler. Our first class (Population, Health, and Environment) begins at 1 pm and is 2 hours long. However, for a 2 hour class it goes by really quick. For this week, we had to choose a Latin American country and collect demographic information and explain the data. I chose Peru and the data was surprising to me. Going into this class, I definitely had biases towards certain countries just from information taught in high school and from United States news. While there are some Latin American countries that are struggling with certain issues, there are quite a few that are high up on the Happy Planet Index, meaning that the people of the country live longer, have more well being, and have less of an ecological footprint then the rest of the world. Dr. Winkler has a background in demography so her teaching is interactive and just overall fun to learn.
After a 30 minute break, we start our next class which is the Sustainability Seminar class. This class is linked with the field trips we do, so we learn about the place we are going and why it is related to sustainability. The field trips we do consist of listening to speeches and traveling to different areas. As a sustainability major, I feel at home in this class and enjoy learning about how Costa Rica is sustainable, and what they are still working on. This class is also interactive through fun activities to understand our personal impacts and different ways of thinking. For homework, we have to write about our experiences on the field trips for the week and how the people or places impact the environment and sustainability. It is a great way to see the diversity of issues and solutions.
Classes end around 4:30 pm everyday for all students, so that means that there is a large collection of people ready to walk home. After collecting ourselves, we all walk to Santa Elena in a big group. Santa Elena is where people disperse to their separate homestays so our group splits into three different ones. The Los LLanos group walks another half hour while the others get to be home in 10-15 minutes. After arriving in downtown, I tend to stay in the same coffee shop that I hang out at in the morning and do homework. The coffee shop closes at 7 pm and that is about the same time my homestay makes dinner so after about an hour or an hour and half I make the walk home. The sun also sets really early in the evening, around 6 pm, and there aren’t many street lights near where I live so it is better to walk when the sun is out. The walk home is way more enjoyable than the walk to the institute, it’s all downhill.
When I get home, I rest for a bit before dinner. My homestay family eats dinner late so we eat around 7:30 pm to 8pm. During the week my homestay mom has night classes so my homestay sister Tracy makes us dinner. The meals are always delicious and I always enjoy hanging out with her. The dad always has the news on for dinner so I always try to watch and listen to practice my Spanish. After dinner, I help clean up a little bit and then stay and talk until I am ready to go to bed. Before bed I always take a nice cold shower. The combination of heat, humidity, and walking at least six miles tends to be rough on the body. I tend to go to bed early because of pure exhaustion and the need to get up early the next morning. Even though my days are filled with walks and schoolwork, I am still enjoying my time here and I’m always so excited to start a new day!
I’m Melia Austin, and I just finished my first year at Tech. I am a Biological Sciences major with minors in Pre-Health and International Spanish. My love for learning new things, speaking Spanish, collaborating on scientific research, and going on adventures is what drew me to this study abroad program. We’re not even halfway done with our time in Costa Rica and I’ve already done all of these things and more!
We’ve settled into a routine of classes over the past couple of weeks like Abby explained in the last blog post. To make sure I keep finding adventure in my everyday schedule, I made a bucket list for my time in Costa Rica. I’m going to summarize our past few days in Costa Rica in a list of things that we’ve done recently that you should add to your bucket list. These are all small and unique things that go beyond typical Costa Rican tourist adventures, and I encourage you to try to check these things off your list if you study abroad in Costa Rica!
1. Try every ice cream flavor at the Monteverde Cheese Factory
The Monteverde Institute where we attend our classes is a thirty-second walk from an amazing heladería (ice cream shop) called the Monteverde Cheese Factory (yes, you can also get good cheese there!). They have over twenty unique flavors of ice cream. Some may be familiar to you like galleta (cookies and cream) and café (coffee), but there are some that you probably haven’t heard of before like guanábana (rhymes with Mahna Mahna and is a fruit that grows in Costa Rica) and ron y frutas (rum and fruit). A few of us are trying to eat our way through their whole menu which means we often walk to the Monteverde Cheese Factory between classes for a scoop!
2. Help your host family make a traditional Costa Rican dish
One dish you’re sure to eat if you come to Costa Rica is gallo pinto which literally translates to spotted rooster. But never fear, vegetarians! This plate is actually a delicious mixture of beans, rice, and spices. Gallo pinto is one of my favorite foods here, so I asked my host mom to teach me how to make it. I’ll definitely make this simple and delicious meal when I’m back in college because it is the perfect college meal: it has cheap ingredients, simple steps, and a ~30 min prep and cook time.
3. Plant a tree (or several)
We recently had the opportunity to plant some trees as part of a reforestation effort organized by the Monteverde Institute. We had the morning off from classes and drove down to a nearby town named San Luis to plant some trees! It was a fun experience to take part in a sustainable solution that we’ve been learning about in our classes #huskyup. If you study abroad in Costa Rica and plant trees in San Luis, it is likely that you will also get to check the next item off your bucket list…
4. Find artifacts!
Many indigenous people lived in San Luis in the past, and evidence of their presence is all around San Luis. As we were digging holes for our reforestation project, we found some small pieces of reddish, smooth clay that appeared to be broken pieces of ancient pots!
5. Push a car in neutral
Ok, let’s call this specific bucket list item optional. This is a more opportunity-based experience, but it comes with a fun story so I’m going to put it on the bucket list anyway. This past weekend we took a Monteverde Institute van out to Costa de Pájaros, a fishing community on the Pacific Ocean about an hour and a half away. We had a fun and relaxing day going on a boat tour around some islands to see oyster farms and mangrove forests, and we also got to hear from community leaders about sustainable initiatives in their town. However, when we said our goodbyes and hopped in the bus with one last “¡Gracias!”, we ran into a problem. The van wouldn’t start. Our program coordinator put the van in neutral and we pushed the bus out of the driveway so we could drive another car close enough to jump start our van. This proved to be more challenging than jumping your textbook case dead car battery on a cold winter’s day in Houghton. After two hours of attempting to charge the battery (we even tried using a boat battery charger #tenacity), we finally got the engine to start and drove home just in time to see the sunset over the valleys by the continental divide. You gotta love unexpected adventures.
I tried to focus on non touristy adventures that you all could easily work into your time in Costa Rica if you choose to study abroad here. That being said, there are also a lot of cool opportunities in the area to do things more catered to tourists. I personally hope to go ziplining and bungee jumping before we leave Monteverde! There’s a lot of amazing adventures that you can have while studying abroad in Costa Rica. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to have these everyday adventures, start a bucket list, add my suggestions to it, then come to Costa Rica to study abroad, and check these experiences off your list!
¡Hola! My name is Ben Wireman and I’m going to be your writer for this week. At Tech I’m majoring in mathematics, and minoring in Spanish International and Peace Corps Prep. I think I got really lucky with my blog post due date because we just got back from an awesome field trip to the Bijagua area to learn about geothermal power and hot springs.
At 6:30 on Wednesday we all piled into the van (don’t worry we got it checked out after last time) and set off. We had been learning about geothermal power in Costa Rica in our sustainability class, so our first stop was a geothermal power plant. Unfortunately, this year due to the pandemic we weren’t able to go inside the plant, but it was really cool to see all of their steam pipes and power stations. Did you know that 98% of Costa Rica’s grid is from renewable energy and 8% geothermal?
For our next stop, we got to go swim in some hot springs! It was at a place called Las Hornillas where they had some trails they build to walk around their thermal vents and we got to see all of the boiling liquid and gas vents. The one thing they probably won’t tell you on the brochures is that thermal vents really stink like sulfur, but overall it was a lot of fun. We even got to cover ourselves in hot spring mud which is supposedly really good for your health.
After that, we went to our hotel for the night at Heliconias Rainforest Lodge. Out of the couple of hotels we’ve stayed at, this was definitely my favorite. The food and rooms were great, but I think my favorite part was their hiking trails. Some of us decided to go hiking on them and they had three massive suspension bridges that took us through the canopies. It was a bit hilly but the plants and views were amazing.
After this, we hopped in the van again and headed over to Rio Celeste. I had never seen pictures of Rio Celeste before and it was one of the craziest things I had ever seen. Right where the river starts, there are two smaller rivers coming down the mountains that mix and like magic suddenly the water turns bright blue.
On the sign they have, it explains that there are some particles of silicon and aluminum in the water and when the two rivers mix the PH changes, and the particles suddenly get much bigger, start refracting the light, and it turns blue. I think it is similar to how the air in the sky scatters blue light.
What’s really cool about Rio Celeste is that the blue color doesn’t go away. For most of our hike, we followed the river and we even got to go to a massive waterfall with the same bright blue water. It was really amazing!
This was one of the more touristy adventures we went on, but at the same time, I actually learned a lot. One of the main focuses of this trip was ecotourism and it was really cool to see how the towns structured themselves around tourism. When we went back to Heliconias Rainforest Lodge we got to talk with one of the managers, Gerardo, about the hotel and his experience with tourism. He actually told us that it was a co-op between 20 different families who used to own the land as pastures. We had a really cool discussion and got to ask a ton of questions about the local vs foreign-owned tourism struggle going on in Costa Rica.
June 14th, 2022
My name is Isadora Mitchell and I am a Sustainability Science and Society Major. I decided to study abroad in Costa Rica to experience a culture different than the one I grew up in and also largely due to Costa Rica being one of the leading countries in sustainability. This has allowed all of us on this trip to gain a unique perspective on how a country can be run in a more sustainable way. Personally, I cannot wait to find ways to apply the knowledge we have gained here to whatever I do in the future.
We are getting close to the end of our time here in Monteverde. Throughout our stay, we have been working on a project as a group. The purpose of the project is to better understand how human activity is affecting the water quality of the streams and rivers that flow through the watershed where Monteverde is located. We are utilizing data that has already been collected throughout the past few years through citizen science (this is data that can be collected by the “average” person, rather than only by professional researchers), as well as some data that we got to collect ourselves.
This past Sunday we were able to participate in collecting some of the data ourselves. The samples we collected were from Rio Negro Arriba and consisted of different macroinvertebrates (insects living in the river), as well as different measurements of water quality (such as the pH, dissolved oxygen, amount of nitrogen and phosphorus, water temperature, etc.). Each of these are used to indicate the water quality of the locations along the rivers they are found in. This is because each macroinvertebrate needs certain conditions in the water in order for them to be able to survive in it. There are some which can only exist in the most pristine environment, indicating that the water quality is high. In contrast, there are macroinvertebrates that can only exist in the poorest of conditions, indicating low water quality. And then there are those who exist in in-between conditions, indicating that the water quality is not good but it is also not bad. Depending on the water quality that the macroinvertebrates can survive in they are ranked with 1-3 being poor quality, 4-7 being medium quality, and 8-10 being high quality.
In order to collect the samples, we had to get out into the depths of the river (which in all honesty was not all that deep, with a few spots that were the exception). Finding places with leaf litter where we could stir up the macroinvertebrates, allowing them to flow downstream into the strainers that we would then dump into the collection tray. Once everything was cleaned from the strainer into the collection tray we then had to sort through the leaves and sticks in order to find the macroinvertebrates, transferring them into smaller containers where it was easier to see them. Some of the macroinvertebrates were easier to catch than others, especially the larger ones. Many of the smaller ones were incredibly quick, making it quite difficult to catch them, but nonetheless, we were able to!
Once the macroinvertebrates were placed into the smaller containers we were then able to start identifying them. This was slightly more difficult than I expected, as the booklet with the macroinvertebrates only showed the different families (which can have many different types falling into a family). But with the help of Luisa, who is the lead researcher organizing the collection of this data over the years, we were able to identify the various macroinvertebrates that we found. Altogether, the species that were found in our sample showed the water quality level was at a good-medium level, with some good macroinvertebrates families, plenty of medium ones, and a couple of bad.
June 16th, 2022
My name is Morgan Majeske. I am a Sustainability Science and Society Major at Michigan Tech, and I am going to be your writer for this week. Of all of the weeks I could’ve had for my blog post I got very lucky because I get to tell you about one of the most exciting days we’ve had in Costa Rica.
We had a busy afternoon planned, so we had to get to the Monteverde Institute by 8am on June 14th to start our classes. Unlike our usual schedule of Spanish, Population, Health, and Environment, (PHE is one class) and then Seminar in Sustainability, we did it in the complete opposite order ending with Spanish, so that we could finish all classes by 11:30am. In Spanish class (beginners level), our teacher had us sing and memorize a Spanish song called La Bamba.
After we had finished our classes for the day we all hopped in a taxi (probably the largest taxi I have ever seen because all of the MTU students fit in it), and headed to town for our first big activity of the day: watching the Costa Rica vs New Zealand world cup qualifier soccer game. We arrived at Bar Amigos (a sports bar/ restaurant) about a half an hour before the game started. We were lucky to be able to grab 3 tables despite how packed the place was. We got tables that had fantastic views of multiple different tv’s, ordered our food and drinks and sat back and watched the game. While I myself still don’t know a lot about soccer I learned a lot while watching the game. I learned about different penalties, what being “off-sides” is, and I learned that professional soccer players are some of the best actors I have ever seen. What I mean by this last one is that every time one of them gets tripped, pushed, or just experiences contact with another person they fall over like a cartoon character, which was very entertaining to watch. Costa Rica beat New Zealand and qualified for the World Cup with a score of 1-0 (New Zealand scored but then the point got taken away because there was a foul called so the point was taken away).
Fig. 1: Costa Rican fan reacting to their victory against New Zealand Fig. 2: Classmates and Locals watching the game
While it may seem like our day was already exciting enough we still had another big activity- a Coffee Ceremony at Santuario Ecológico with our tour guide Christopher. Prior to going to Santuario Ecológico, I had never heard about a Coffee Ceremony before. We very quickly learned that it is all about getting together with a group to learn about coffee, learn about your passions, and how to expand your coffee palate from someone who truly cares about the process. Christopher invited us to share in the ceremony. The ceremony consisted of Christopher showing us multiple different ways of brewing coffee, the importance of different brewing methods, the importance of timing when making a pour-over coffee and how just being a few seconds off can change the overall flavor drastically. We tried 3 different types of coffee and learned how the difference in cup used will change the flavor of the coffee.
When Christopher made us coffee the 3 methods he used were all different variations of the pour-over technique. The first method looked like a science experiment (#5) because the water that was poured into the top section flowed down to the bottom and then rose back up into the top chamber again before going back down into the bottom once the coffee had been poured in. This coffee was definitely the strongest of the 3 coffees we had, (I liked it but not as much as the other two we tried). The next type of pour-over we learned about was all about timing and how the flavor changes each time you pour water over the grounds (#7). Christopher gave us multiple examples of different flavors that could occur do to the time of the pour. Most of the ones he showed us were very strong/acidic, and he showed us how at certain points coffee becomes undrinkable. The final coffee we tasted was the kind that is most frequently sold to Americans because it tasted the sweetest and least strong of all of the options so far but this one he showed us how a balance of timing, and water temperature can change the taste of coffee. For this pour-over he switched between using very hot water and cold water to get the filter to stay in place, (#6) which when he was pouring the coffee into our cups helped the coffee flow quickly therefore making it so less oxygen was present in the drink, (high amount of oxygen can cause stomach aches).
One of my favorite aspects of the coffee ceremony was how it wasn’t just about coffee, it was about a man’s passion, creativity, and his desire to make other people happy. I learned a lot about coffee but I really enjoyed getting to listen to Christopher talk about passion and how following your passion is a great way to live because if you believe in what you are doing you can live a much happier life. Hearing him talk about this meant a lot to me because hearing someone talk with such intense joy about their work and life inspired me to want to live my best life when I get back to the Michigan.
My name is Thomas Vermeesch, and I am a fourth year Sustainability Science and Society major. I have been trying to attend this study abroad program since my freshman year in 2019, however due to the COVID pandemic I was unable to attend until now. It has been everything I had hoped it could be and more, and well worth the wait.
June 20th was our last full day in Monteverde, and we spent the majority of the school day preparing to present the projects we had been working on for the past month. Last week, we were diligently finishing up our water quality analysis project in class and designing how we wanted to present our findings to the Monteverde community. Honestly, I think that this project as a whole was a little challenging for our group because it was the first time many of us had done research like this with a community. But, I also think the learning experience was effective as we developed our global literacy more through problem solving. My favorite aspect of this project, was that there we were each able to contribute something based on our individual strengths and interests. For instance Drew, who is good at programing, was able to design the foundation of an app that will help future citizen scientists work on this project while Ben and Max, a mathematics and accounting major respectively, spear headed finding the correlations in the data and producing our graphs. To me this internal specialization of tasks made us work well and really feel like a team. If you would like to watch a recording of our final presentation to the community. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wF74R2wLAPNZV-wUJXqb5AfYdWn0eXj8/view?usp=sharing
After this presentation, we broke out into a half circle around the meeting room to present on our individual projects. We did this in a poster presentation style, where people could walk around to our different stations and hear about our different research topics. These projects were designed to have a smaller focus than our group project focusing only on an issue, a solution, or a policy related to sustainability in Costa Rica. For instance, Abby researched the issue of the copious stray dogs in Monteverde while Morgan learned about the reforestation initiatives in Costa Rica more in depth. I myself researched which native medicinal plants could supplement petrochemical drugs. I wanted to research this topic for a few reasons: I enjoy gardening deeply, I like to share practices that save money, and I thought that it could be a practical way to teach people about the world around them. I heard a quote at a meeting during one of our first weeks of the program that inspired me to do this research which said that, “We conserve what we love, we love what we understand, and we understand what we have been taught.” This idea resounded deeply with me. I do not know if I would be in this major, or deeply enjoying what I am studying, if it had not been for learning and playing in the nature center near the house I grew up in throughout my childhood. So I knew that I wanted to research a topic for this project that could get people excited about their relationship with nature. More so a lot of my peers were studying topics which delt with large scale issues or solutions in Costa Rica, which I found interesting and import, but this also prompted me to pursue a sustainable solution that someone could implement in their own home.
The reality is that many remedies of modern medicine leave a large carbon footprint, and are based off of solutions that have already existed in nature since antiquity. Before the contemporary solutions, the people of this area had to live off the land and I have come to learn that many of these practices have been forgotten. I kept my solutions simple, so that anyone could make the remedies in their house and this resounded with a lot of people. I printed several copies of my work and handed out almost all of them. I’m glad that people were able to learn something, and I hope that it’s able to help them too.
Before I get into the wrap-up, I would like to talk about one of my favorite things from the trip. We went to Manuel Antonio for our second to last main adventure, and it was amazing. I loved seeing the water again because I live near it in my house in Portage Michigan, and during school in Houghton. Unfortunately, it was salt water, but I got over that real quickly because of the waves. It was fun to just swim and jump around in them, but then we noticed the surf boards, and I was sold. I had taken a one hour surf lesson when I was younger in Hawaii, and made it a life goal to be able to surf again at some point in my life. I didn’t think it would happen this quickly, but I’m glad it was able to happen. I surfed most of our first full afternoon at the beach, and most of the first morning the next day after. I was super tired afterwards, but it was totally worth it. I was glad that it wasn’t just me, and much of the group was also able to participate and we had a great time.
We had a great time in Costa Rica on our Study Abroad program! We have just wrapped up everything and have had a great time. I compiled this video to show all of the highlights of what we have done. Obviously I couldn’t get all of the amazing things that we did throughout the trip, but I tried my best to get as much as I could into one video without being too long. After our trip, there are a few things that I would like to recommend for anyone interested in going on the trip in coming years.
Packing – When packing it is important to bring everything you need, while maybe leaving some extra things at home. Some things that I wish I brought were a proper raingear system and also a suitcase carry-on. I think it’s important to have everything you need on your person, but also, a suitcase carry-on is totally acceptable. I brought a hiking bag that barely fit the dimensions, and couldn’t pack everything I needed. Overall, it is important to bring the essentials, but also to leave some extra space for souveniers and anything else you may buy while in Costa Rica.
Group – Your group will be your second family throughout the trip, so it is crucial to be respectful to everyone and have a good time. If you’re anything like me, I didn’t know a single person going into this trip, but by the end they felt like another family. To be honest, it was kind of awkward in the beginning, but after we did some icebreakers and got to know each other better, we all became good friends. But, you also need your alone time. Saying no to the group, or going alone for a little bit is perfectly acceptable and necessary for your mental health during the trip. Take some time to listen to music and walk alone (let people know where you go), or do whatever else you need to, to just chill out and cool down.
Homestay – The homestays are an awesome place for cultural immersion. It is important for you to feel comfortable, but also to step outside your comfort zone a little bit in order to fully take advantage of new experiences. Whether speak a lot or only a little of Spanish, it is important to try your best in order to become a true family. Because I tried my best to communicate well in Spanish, I was able to thank my family for delicious meals and go out to special places like Selena to see the firebender in my video.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun. Many of the things you will do here are once in a lifetime opportunities. Take advantage of your time here and go with the flow even if you wake up a little salty. You will get a break on your free days and when you get home, but while you’re in Costa Rica, take advantage of every second that you are there.