Note: this post is one of dozens written by students participating in a 2015 field course in Costa Rica. The entire series is here.
Reflecting back on my study abroad trip to Costa Rica, I can see all the beneficial knowledge and characteristics that I gained from the experience. My cultural view was broadened when we visited our first destination, San Jose. The city was large and densely packed, which gave me a chance to see how the Costa Rica population functions. The street were busy and frankly quite chaotic, compared to those here in Kansas.
Every night while in San Jose we went out for dinner, most of which were Costa Rican cuisine. The food in Costa Rica was far better than what I had expected. The meal sizes were not only larger than what I am use to back in America, but also presented delicious and healthy food. I noticed that the food in Costa Rica lacked preservatives and processing that most American foods contain, which I found to be much more enjoyable.
I was surprised by the hospitality of the people in the big city of San Jose. Unlike many large American cities, the people were incredibly friendly and genuine despite the language barrier. It was obvious that the people in Costa Rica value the revenue that tourism brings to the country. Tourism was especially apparent when we reached areas such as Manuel Antonio and Monteverde. In many instances there were more Americans in these two areas than native Costa Ricans. The towns where tourism was heavy flourished due to the high amount of money flowing from the travelers.
The cloud forest in Monteverde probably left me with the best memories because I was able to see the true beauty of the rain Forest. There was life everywhere you looked, and was just as I had imagined it prior to the trip. The cloud forest was a perfect location for our research because there was a large population of Zingiberales in the area. My favorite part of the trip was doing the research itself, and getting my hands dirty looking for bugs. It was amazing to experience biological field work for the first time and I am now interested in participating in an ecology field of some sort. My trip to Costa Rica is one that I will remember for the rest of my life, I had a truly fantastic time!
Studying abroad in costa rica was probably the best decision I have made during my two years at the University of Kansas. The amount of information that I have consumed has been truly remarkable and I can already say that this course has taught me more applicable knowledge than any course I have participated in before.
In order to prepare for field research and the world of arthropods, we attended some lectures at the University of Costa Rica. The afternoon consisted of five lectures that all related to Costa Rican arthropods in some way, and ultimately would help us understand different aspects of arthropod research. Dr. Chaboo, from the University of Kansas, started out the lecture series by discussing some basic information on beetles and how certain ecosystems impact arthropod biodiversity. Her lecture was what set the foundation for my understanding of arthropod research and its importance on the modern world. The next lecturer was Paul Hanson, who was originally from Minnesota but decided to move to Costa Rica after he got offered a teaching job at the University of Costa Rica. Paul introduced us to the topic of galls, which are bubble-like abnormalities formed by different bug larvae that live inside plant tissue. I found this lecture to be extraordinarily interesting because I have witnessed galls on plants for years, but never thought it was being caused by a separate organism.
The next lecture introduced me to an aspect of learning that I have never had to deal with. Angel solis from the Instituto National de Biodiversity gave a lecture in Spanish on various beetles. This lecture was a bit of a challenge for me considering I do not know much Spanish. I tried my best to follow along and picked up on some basic words that allowed me to vaguely understand the topics Angel spoke about. Angel’s lecture did teach me about a foreign perspective that I had never considered. At KU we have thousands of foreign students that do not know English very well, and Angel’s Spanish lecture put me in the foreign students' shoes for an hour. it is incredibly difficult to comprehend a lecture that is not in your primary language, and after my experience I have a lot more respect for non-English speaking KU students!
The fourth lecture was taught by American Erin Kuprewicz from the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institute. Erin educated us on seedling survival studies and how placement of a seed can impact its survival. I found this lecture to be interesting because it opened my eyes to the different organisms that can affect a plant's reproduction. Erin indicated that both mammals and arthropods can consume seedlings, but placement of the seed can determine which organisms are able to consume it.
Finally we had a lecture from Carlos Garcia Robledo from the Instituto de Ecologia on how plants are affected by climate change, invasive species, and insect herbivores. Carlos had the most in-depth lecture out of the the five lectures. My favorite part of the lecture was when Carlos tied in modern technology such as apps and search engines with ecology. For instance, he spoke of a plant identification app for the iphone called leafsnap that allowed users to photograph a leaf to determine the species. I found the concept of leafsnap to be incredibly useful for beginner ecologists such as myself. Because I do not know many plant species this app would help me identify plants quickly in the field without having to use an identification book. Combining technology and biology is becoming more common and I think that concepts like leafsnap will be widely used in 5-10 years.
Listening to lectures at the University of Costa Rica has introduced me to new aspects of biology that I would not get a chance to experience at KU. All the ecologists that spoke during the lecture series provided direct data from their personal research, and showed us students what concluding research data should look like. Ultimately I really enjoyed listening to all the researchers speak because it got me much more interested in entomology research and all the possibilities of different research projects that are currently being conducted and what still needs to be researched!
For months I have looked forward to my expedition to the Costa Rican rainforest. In just 10 days I will depart from Kansas City and arrive in the city of San Jose. I have never had the opportunity to leave the United States before, so my Costa Rica adventure will be unlike anything I have experienced thus far in my life. Being a biology major interested in research, I am insanely excited to study the rainforest and all of the organisms the ecosystem has to offer. This research trip will expand not only my scientific skills, but also my understanding of the world outside of America. As I continue to prepare for the trip, I have developed a few goals that I would like to accomplish while in Costa Rica. First, I would like to improve my ecology and field biology skills. Secondly, I seek to improve my understanding of foreign cultures because I have never had the opportunity to leave the United States. Finally, I am interested in improving my photography skills, and my note taking skills so that the trip can be documented and saved for the rest of my life. Words can’t explain how excited I am to be given this opportunity, and I will continue to count down the days until we depart for Costa Rica!