Posted: January 4, 2012

Name: Mike Braus
School: University of Wisconsin – Madison
Major: Animal Science, Zoology
Program: Sustainable Development Studies, Fall ’11

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
I liked most the Directed Research, start to finish. It was a lot different than any class I’ve taken and I feel I’ve learned more in those few weeks than ever before in my life. What I mean is rather than having a strictly informative experience, such as a typical lecture/discussion class, I had a formative experience as well. My favorite anecdote of solid learning in this program was from Achim’s DR group. They told me the way Achim would present new ideas and challenges to perform, and he taught the necessary tools and techniques over and over until they were well-understood.

You’ve been in Costa Rica for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Costa Rica is even more beautiful and interesting than I imagined. Ticos are wonderful people with much to offer in terms of richly sustainable living. In fact, after the homestay weekend, I saw the many ways in which my family and my host family are quite similar.
What is life at The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
The field station is a microcosm of America with a similitude of Costa Rican language and culture. This was the most challenging aspect: maintaining the immersive quality of being in a foreign country while studying in English with other Americans.

The best part of living at a remote field station was experiencing self-reliance and interdependence. I had the opportunity to be a part of teams with projects in the center that directly affect our lives and the lives of the surrounding community.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
My biggest challenge was trying to maintain myself as a student in a foreign country rather than a tourist going for a quick visit and returning home to “normal”.  The location and duration would seem to ensure an immersive quality of life, but in fact the complexity of our coursework and research obfuscated some of what I believe are more practical aspects of sustainability. I did not enjoy choosing either to practice Spanish and talk with Ticos like they are my community or practice science and observe Costa Rica from the outside.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
My best memory was at El Sur, going on a night hike after a long day of talking with the community. We saw glass frogs, toads, some exotic insects, and other wildlife, and it was all very poignant because we were viewing in a single day the environment as it encompasses natural and cultural landscapes.

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Pleased, genuine, rejuvenated.