We are now about 4 weeks into the semester and students have just taken their first exam — a good moment to reflect on the semester so far. We certainly have covered a lot of ground since the group arrived. From Atenas, we first traveled over to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and into its tropical rainforests. Adjacent to the forest we saw the expansion of mono-cropped pineapples and we visited a banana plantation to learn about multinational agribusiness operations in the country.

We crossed the country to the Pacific Ocean, where we saw amazing wildlife, crocodiles, scarlet macaws, poison dart frogs and mangroves near the mouth of the Tarcoles River. In this area we also experienced firsthand the consequences faced by the environment and impoverished communities due to the absence of waste management. These contrasts can teach us a lot about ways forward to sustainable development and about ourselves.

Next we went up to the mountains, looked into the crater of Poas Volcano, learned about conservation challenges from national park managers, and gathered critical visitor data for the park administration. We hiked in the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve, with its moss covered “elfin forests,” and learned about the balance of impacts and benefits from the tourism industry in Costa Rica. Students further attempted to get their heads around the complexity of the cloud forest ecosystem by solving their own hypotheses during a field project in the reserve.

Back in Atenas, we conducted another field project with the goal to improve the management of the organic mango and orange orchards at our Center, which remains an ongoing learning experience for both students and faculty. We discussed environmental and social challenges and potential solutions, arising from climate change and globalization in a biodiversity rich developing country.

Time seems to follow its own rules here sometimes, because it is incredible how much we have taught, learned, done, hiked, and got our hands and eyes on in just 4 weeks.  And next? Next week we are off to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. This experience will open a whole new perspective on everything that we have done so far here in Costa Rica.