Posted: September 30, 2011

Name: Michael Braus
School: University of Wisconsin/Madison
Major:  Animal Science/Zoology

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I chose to study abroad with The School for Field Studies because I was not looking for a typical study abroad program. I imagine most students arrive at a relatively urban environment, attend a college or university with local students, and live with a host family. The SFS catalog and advertising caught my eye, and overall the administration was welcoming. I chose the Atenas, Costa Rica, site because I saw a great opportunity to see an enormously biodiverse environment, explore a more rural setting, and meet Costa Ricans more closely affected by environmental issues.

What were your first impressions of Costa Rica?
My first impressions of the country are its lush climate, exotic wildlife, and astonishing kindness. I am not exaggerating when I say Costa Ricans, or “Ticos”, are the warmest people I have ever met, and I have yet to experience any real culture shock because of their support for international visitors. My Spanish is nowhere near perfect, but the people I have met in Atenas and here at The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies have worked with all of us to communicate, be it to ask which strange objects are in fact edible, or to share a good story.

What were your first impressions of the The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies?
My first impressions of the Center were that it is a lot larger and more communal than I imagined. We play a real role in its functioning. I have recently been helping on the farm, in the kitchen, and alongside all the other students constantly. Moving past the first shock of arrival, I already find the Center to be a home away from home.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?
The biggest challenges this semester will be integrating at times the abstract concepts of our coursework with the complexity of our new surroundings. It has been intimidating to walk into the rainforest with nothing but a notebook and binoculars and try to discern the innumerable overlapping processes of tropical rainforest ecology and agro-ecology. Most important to all of us will be the role of people in these systems, and we are fortunate to have professors from the area to help us understand the lives of Costa Ricans.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
I am looking forward to living with and getting to know the other students on the program. Rarely have I met so many people devoted to understanding the world and how to be a part of a better future. Beyond our common interests, the communal lifestyle we have begun will greatly change the way I think about cooperative learning, design, and problem solving.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Enthralled, hardworking, and anticipatory.