Final Impressions of SFS Costa Rica

Posted: May 20, 2016

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
This program has been exactly that – an experience! From the wide range of field trips to the community outreach projects to the directed research projects we are currently wrapping up, the entire semester with SFS has been about gaining real-world experience. We have explored a large expanse of this beautiful country, and along the way have been able to initiative important and lasting changes in the community, in each other, and in ourselves.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
The people of Costa Rica are incredibly caring and giving. This was never any clearer than on our Tico Host Family Day, when we spent the day with a local family being spoiled by their hospitality! A very important issue here is the conservation of natural resources, and I have found that while most people have good intentions there are still many challenges ahead. The landscapes are absolutely stunning, but after a semester learning about natural resource management and the ethics of sustainable development I also notice the pollution and deforestation lurking outside the protected areas. That being said, my initial awe and wonder at the unique beauty of this country and its people has not subsided, as I have to pinch myself every once in a while to make sure I’m really here!

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?
Living at the field station feels sort of like summer camp: we do all our activities as a group, the walls are covered in colorful murals, and we have limited access to WiFi and phone service. Community living has been challenging, with group chores, a variety of schedules, and several server reboots, but ultimately rewarding. We have been able to make closer connections by spending all of our time together, and we have forged a sense of solidarity and comradery as we have gone through the challenges and triumphs of the program. The lack of Netflix has forced us to get creative in our down time, with many people bonding over books borrowed from the library or a marathon of Game of Thrones. The remoteness of the station has allowed us to appreciate the little conveniences that we had taken for granted back home, and to pour ourselves into our studies and adventures in another country.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Academically, I struggled with the format of our field labs and exercises; all of our papers were group projects, and I prefer to work independently, especially on important assignments. However, the opportunity to collaborate with other students allowed me to gain a new perspective on the research we collected and to appreciate the range of experiences we have as students from many different backgrounds and fields of study. Culturally, I have had to face the fact that we as Americans have so many expectations (variety, choice, leisure time, reliable WiFi, fast transportation, etc.) that in reality are luxuries. I have caught myself complaining about these (rice and beans for every meal does get old, after all), but I have tried to stop and reflect on how fortunate I have been to be able to get whatever I want almost immediately for most of my life.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
During one of our weekend breaks, some friends and I visited La Fortuna de San Carlos. We used up every minute to explore as much as we could, visiting a waterfall, walking a hanging bridge, relaxing in natural hot springs, and going hiking. A friend and I even ran a 6k trail race through El Castillo in the Arenal National Park! The views were absolutely incredible, and despite the ridiculous climb uphill, the herd of cows blocking our path, and the frequent stops for photo-ops, we were the 10th and 11th female finishers! This was definitely my favorite place we visited and I would go back in a heartbeat!

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Invigorated, appreciative, renewed.

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