Trip to Costa Rica January 2011
The January 02 to 14, 2011 short-term study abroad program to Costa Rica was the second for Dr. Alice Shumate (Becton College, Florham Park Campus) and Dr. Aixa Ritz (Petrocelli College, Metropolitan Campus). This study abroad experience is also the first interdisciplinary study abroad course component for the University.
Costa Rica was selected because it is the ideal destination for Sustainable Tourism Development and Tropical Forest Biology field studies as well as knowledge acquisition through theory in practice.
During this study abroad experience FDU’s students were welcomed by officials of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (Costa Rica’s Tourism Ministry), CANATUR (Costa Rica’s Tourism Chamber of Commerce) and members of Costa Rica and J.W. Marriott Resorts’ management teams for an overview of the resorts operations. Students also exchanged learning tourism and biology experiences with students from the University of Costa Rica and visited the world renowned Moteverde Reserve and Peninsula Osa. A visit to a coffee plantation, hosted by its owner, allowed group members to experience the coffee harvesting process followed by coffee roasting and tasting processes. This study abroad experience culminated with a farewell dinner at a private home that allowed students to experience Costa Ricans’ way of life.
by Liz Whitener
I am not what you would call a "seasoned traveler." Until this experience I had never been out of the country. I was overly excited to apply for a passport, and was even more elated when it was stamped entering the Republic of Costa Rica. I packed very little in my suitcase, but packed tons of images in my head of the country we were about to experience. Looking back, I expected to see tropical plants, large bugs and to stick my toes in sand that led to the Pacific, which I had never touched. What I did not expect, was to make bonds I would remember the rest of my life to a beautiful country and beautiful people.
Two groups of students from different campuses and from very different backgrounds sat in a circle during the first class. We all eyed each other, trying to picture sitting by the pool together in a tropical country. I knew the thought didn't jive well with me at first. These were students I didn't even know, how was I supposed to have my fabled first international experience with them? This was also a country I knew nothing about, aside from what I had seen on House Hunters International. I did not know what to expect, but then, as our professor made it very clear, I was not to expect anything.
"No expectations" was a concept I very much struggled with, as the queen of great expectations. I imagined myself on a lounge chair under a giant palm tree, sipping a fruity drink from a coconut. This image was gently knocked from my mind after just minutes of education about our destination. By the time we set foot on land in Costa Rica, I had learned about a country just wanting to be- and happy to be. A land where people just wanted to work and have necessary possessions, take pride in their families and their land, and enjoy what had been given to them. It was hard to imagine. It sounded the complete opposite of our native homeland. I didn't know what happy people would like.
I have been to the land of content and back, and I can say the experience was all I could have asked for- even after I threw out my expectations. I was able to kneel in the sand behind the giant shell of a leatherback turtle, awaiting her delivery of life into the nest she had dug, very slowly and methodically, with her back fins. We had to channel through the locals to experience such an amazing sight, just the way it should be. Our group awaited the turtles' arrival in a small facility on the street in the small beach town. We clutched our little circle cardboard numbers, wondering if that number would decide if we got to witness the egg laying or not. Turns out, the number did indeed decide our fate in the best possible way. The turtle laid many eggs that evening, unaware of our presence behind her massive shell.
As the trip molded itself, the students I once couldn't imagine sharing this trip with became my safety net- my family of Ticos away from home. We overcame challenges and conquered fears together as a group. We shared great meals and not so great meals. We shared epic bus rides and not so great nights of sleep. It was amazing how quickly two almost separate groups became one, with the beautiful backdrop of Costa Rica as a positive catalyst. As we hiked up a riverbed in the Peninsula Osa, we found ourselves holding each others' hands for support across rushing waters and slippery surfaces. No one hiker would advance until their counterparts in line had also crossed the terrain. We were hot, sweaty, and our legs hurt, but as we reached and overcame the highest ledge of the riverbed a massive waterfall fell right on top of us. Our guide said, "Go ahead, jump in!" He was confused when none of us did, but we were waiting for everyone to make it to the top. We wanted to swim in the waterfall together. I truly believe that only a country with such a strong character could have provided a strong bond and connection between once strangers. There was something about the people we met and the places we visited that felt so open and free. The wind felt truly wild in parts and could whip around your face in a way that I was convinced could only be felt here. I remember starkly the moment I felt the two groups converge. We were all about to zipline through the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It was chilly, enough to add an extra bite to the nervous feeling in my breath. The clouds moving between the trees added a hint of mystery and adventure. The surrounding forest was silent as we embarked. We stood in a straight line on the first platform, all diminished by the same feelings of unknowing fear. I looked from face to face and recognized the same wave of panic and excitement on every persons expression. Everyone was quiet, with the exception of a couple nervous giggles and a couple mutterings of "I don't think I can do this," some quite possibly from myself. The first person sat in their harness and prepared for launch. The silence of the forest lingered, prompting a silence amongst the humans. I could feel my own stomach churning in time with the churn of the stomach of the person next to me. The first to travel down the impending zip line lifted her legs off the platform and off she went, speeding into the wall of green. We all felt the same sigh of relief and everyone burst into applause and screams without a second thought. We were going to experience all this country could offer, and we were going to do it together.
We all felt the same wave of emotion when looking at the darkest and starriest night sky any of us had ever seen. We found ourselves, all 18 of us, marvelling at the beauty that opened up before us and whispering in half excited, half whispered tones to one another. In that laid the true beauty of the trip, that strangers came together without any forced attempt, to eventually enjoy a once in a life time experience together. I expected to recall most the beautiful scenery and exciting animal encounters but I have been surprised to find that I recall more the moments we were all equalized and driven together, acting as one, by the force that is Pura Vida.
January 02 to 14, 2011