Final Impressions of SFS Costa Rica

Posted: December 11, 2015

→ Read Jessica’s First Impressions of Costa Rica

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
This is the type of question that is nearly impossible to narrow down to one defining characteristic or moment. The first thought that enters my mind is the long, extraordinarily narrow roads that wind up through the lusciously green mountains and along the iridescently blue coasts. These are the roads that took us to so many incredible places where we met many truly interesting and inspiring people. Each place maintained its own unique, natural beauty, whether it was the cloud forest in Monteverde or Maderas Volcano on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. These diverse ecosystems and natural phenomena fill you up with humility and a deep appreciation for the world around us, and that is something that I will hold with me forever.

The other critical component to these places is the people that live, breathe, and love them. I couldn’t possibly learn more about sustainable tourism than from a small community of 50 people in El Sur, Costa Rica who are actively pursuing techniques that will allow them to sustain themselves economically without losing the soul of the place they love and without sacrificing the environment that surrounds them.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
I am pretty much enamored with Costa Rica at this point. I love the “tranquilo” mentality that is nothing short of contagious here. I love seeing the smiling faces of the 5:45am crowd of La Presa during my morning runs. I love that a farmer stopped to have a 45-minute conversation about life with me while I was conducting research on his land. I love the afternoon rainstorms, and I love the green forests and mountains that stretch as far as the eye can see. While I do not love the mosquitos and while I still do not feel 100% confident in traffic laws, I have grown to love this country for everything that it is and perhaps even more for everything that it is not.

What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
There are many wonderful aspects of life at the Center, but there are also several challenges as is true of any and all great life experiences. As an avid foodie, food systems advocate, and aspiring farmer, I personally really enjoyed living on a Rainforest Alliance Certified orange and mango farm. I also really appreciated the emphasis that was placed on living sustainably, whether that be taking military showers or walking into town instead of taking a taxi, composting your leftovers or ensuring that there was no food waste at all. I have never before been surrounded by and lived with so many passionate people who motivate me to play my small part in making the world a more harmonious, respected place. This is not to say that it is always wonderful or even easy to live with 18 other people. I really enjoy getting to know and learning from people and I generally thrive off of the energy of others, however I do also appreciate time alone with my own thoughts, and that is something that is very difficult to find at the Center.

I do also find myself craving a more cultural experience fairly often. I am very aware that we could be far more remote than we are. It is a little under a 3 mile walk to town and approximately $1.00 per person for a taxi of 4. Even so I would very much enjoy more cultural immersion experience to not only improve my Spanish speaking ability and gain a greater understanding of the culture as a whole, but also to genuinely get to know and stay in contact with the people who live here.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Fortunately I have been very interested in and passionate about almost all of our academics, which has greatly reduced the amount of stress that I might have otherwise felt. The biggest challenge for me has been fending off my persistent senioritis that has recently kicked in with graduation just around the corner. Culturally I think I overcame most of my challenges once I become confident in my ability to speak Spanish with native speakers. I was very nervous for the first half of the trip that I would embarrass myself or that people would become impatient with me, both of which could not be further from the truth. Most people have been more than willing to not only speak Spanish with me, but also to have real conversations with me.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
Our mid-semester trip to Nicaragua was a compilation of some of my favorite moments and memories. From swimming in the lake and watching the sun set on the horizon to making jewelry out of recyclable materials with a local organization run by woman, from hiking up the steep slopes of Maderas Volcano to exploring the streets of Granada, I could not have been more content. On a less pleasant but equally important note, we also witnessed extreme poverty both in rural and urban environments. For me this was a critical reminder of the sad realities that exist not only here but also in every part of the world. We discussed the dismal waste management systems that exist specifically on Ometepe Island but also in many municipalities in Costa Rica, which can been seen clearly on many plastic-filled beaches and waters. These are important aspects of my experience here that have really influenced and changed the way I see the world and the place that I want to have in it.

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
While it is not an adjective, I have acquired a great deal of wanderlust. I also feel extremely appreciative and inspired.

→ Sustainable Development Studies Semester Program in Costa Rica