Nature, Governance, and Sustainability in Costa Rica

Editor's Note: This story – narrative, photography, and slide show – is by the Georgia Tech students in the 2019 NGS-CR Study-Abroad Program.

In just five weeks, we interviewed a former vice president of Costa Rica, scrambled up the slopes of a volcano, and came face to face with sloths, vipers, and bullet ants. The Nature, Governance, and Sustainability in Costa Rica (NGS-CR) Study-Abroad Program has been an unbelievable experience. From the remote jungles of Sarapiqui to the stunning peaks of Monteverde, Costa Rica has inspired us to explore and learn at every turn.

Our program started in early May in the capital city of San Jose. We experienced new culture every step of the way, through the museums we visited and atop country’s highest volcano. We made a difference in the community by teaming up with Lead University to reduce plastic pollution by sorting and recycling plastic bottle caps. We also met with Kevin Casas Zamora, a former vice president of Costa Rica, and discussed the nation’s history and current policy concerns.

Next, we went deep into the tropical rainforest to La Selva Biological Station, one of the leading research institutions studying tropical ecology. Hundreds of species of trees towered over us, filled with multicolored bromeliads and orchids and teeming with strange insects and birds. Oh yeah, and sloths! 

Mornings were filled with the warbled calls of birds and the bellows of howler monkeys. Strikingly beautiful yellow and green tree frogs leaped into view when our flashlights found them during our night hikes. Cold rain fell seemingly out of nowhere to dash away the heat of day.

We learned about the history of chocolate, known here as the “drink of the gods.” We heard how locals are educating their communities about climate change and sustainable practices. We left knowing that a single hummingbird can effect change – and with a lot of chocolate.

We then traveled to Monteverde, a mountain town enveloped by clouds, where we welcomed the drop in temperature with open arms. We partnered with the Monteverde Institute, which aims to educate the local community about the importance of sustainability. Visiting small, sustainable farms forced us to confront the unique challenges of sustainable, organic farming.

We trudged through mud and cow manure to visit the farm of a direct descendant of one of the first Quaker families to settle in Monteverde. We were treated to delicious home-cooked meals made from all-natural ingredients, such as fresh, soft tortillas filled with hot gallo pinto, Costa Rica’s national dish, consisting of beans and rice.

Our trip to Monteverde also included delicious tasting of local coffee, and of course, the thrill of zip-lining through the forests.

Our experiences have been part of two interconnected classes, BIOL 4813: Tropical Biology & Sustainability and PHIL 3127: Science, Technology, and Human Values. These classes have integrated biological and social sciences so students can better understand how Costa Rica, the United States, and the world construct political mechanisms to organize societies and sustain natural systems.

Our instructors were Michael Goodisman, an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and Juan Rogers, a professor in the School of Public Policy.

The NGS-CR Study-Abroad Program has been supported by the Office of International Education, the Steve A. Denning Chair for Global Engagement, and the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain. The program is affiliated with the College of Sciences, and its courses are taught by faculty from the School of Biological Sciences in the College of Sciences and the School of Public Policy in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

We are this story’s authors, the participants (and our majors) of the 2019 NGS-CR Study-Abroad Program:

  • Biology: Henry Crossley, Sarah Kuechenmeister, Amelia Smith, and Veronica Thompson
  • Biochemistry: Rajan Jayasankar
  • Environmental engineering: Miriam Campbell, Abigail Crombie, Catherine Mellette, and Isabelle Musmanno
  • Industrial engineering: Laura “CC” Gruber
  • Psychology: Katherine Chadwick

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Click on image(s) to view larger version(s)

  • 2019 NGS-CR students at the peak of Irazú Volcano.

  • Michael Goodisman

  • Juan Rogers

For More Information Contact

A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences