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9 posts from September 2016


CIEE Sustainability and Environment students take sustainability on the road

Field Trip 1 is dedicated to the theme "Water and Energy".  We traveled from northern to southern Costa Rica, along the Pacific slope, to explore alternative energies and aquatic ecosystems.  Day 1 delivered partly sunny skies, brimming with a lot of energy and excitement.

FA16 in fields of wind farms
FIeld of dreams: Wind farms dot the landscape of northern Costa Rica.

Then came day 2 and 3, and energy and water came to life. 

12. Rincón de la Vieja
CIEE Sustainability and Environment students contemplate the geothermal vents at Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Stormy skies over geothermal and solar
Storms are brewing over Costa RIcan geothermal and solar power plants

The Great 8 get to indulge in some serious experiential learning.  They are not deterred!

The great 8 in the rain FA16

From left: Ariel Kahn (Univ. of Colorado Boulder), Alejandra Pedraza (Univ. of Colorado Boulder), Sydney Hall (Western Washington Univ.); from left, in the back row: Ella Hinkley (Univ. of Minnesota), Bex Klafter (Carleton College), Scott Vondy (Ursinus College); center, front row: Otter Giltz (Univ. of Colorado Boulder), and Rosie Briggs (Univ. of Colorado Boulder)






"Education is the most powerful weapon wich you can use to change the world"Mandela




Former student Maya Klem from University of Western Washington giving a talk about her experience in the summer program of Tropical Ecology and Conservation 2016.


Part of being a CIEE student is taking a message wherever you are. The knowledge and experience that Maya gain with our program must be passed onto her apprentices: 3rd grade students back in home.

Well done Maya!!! We are proud of you!


While in Monteverde, most of the days consist of biology lectures during the mornings and Spanish classes in the afternoons; but this classes are combined with activities for a better understanding of the topics cover that day.


Jack Obergfell (Indiana University - Bloomington) determining the color of soil samples from different places we have visited in Costa Rica.



Samantha Stovall (University of Colorado - Boulder), Zach Plooster (University of Minnesota -Twin Cities), Emily Rockhill (Pomona College) and Alex Wiltse (Vassar College) checking the soil texture of samples from Corcovado, Santa Rosa and Monteverde.


Rebecca Hoffman (Northeastern University), Alex Wiltse (Vassar College), and Alex Bush (Southern Methodist University) building an hypothetic bromeliad food web with animal cards.


After a good time making connections between species and noticing how complicated tropical food webs are, Paige Heitzman (Gustavus Adolphus College) proudly shows the result of her bromeliad food web.



One of our Spanish classes consisted in learning how to make a typical Costa Rican meal and all the vocabulary associated to it.  We had a lot of fun cooking and learning Spanish and the final result was delicious dish consisting of rice, beans, fried plantains, picadillo (chopped vegetables cooked with bell peppers, onions, stock, herbs and spices; it can also include some type of protein) and the traditional homemade tortillas.


Cooking is always fun!, here Abby Molloy (Whitman College) getting all the ingredients ready for the picadillo.



A great meal is not complete without a natural juice and Mary Brady (Whitman College) is on top of that preparing a delicious drink for everybody.



Making homemade tortillas is not an easy task, but our professional tortilla makers Sequoia Perpetua-Lowry (Eckerd College) and Emma Astbury (Saint Joseph's College of Maine) learned the technique really well.


Humans and tropics

"Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction" E.O.Wilson

Foto 14-9-16 10 46 25 (1)



As E.O. Wilson well said, nature is part of us.But getting to know the tropics implicates a little bit more than ecology and taxonomy of the amazing tropical ecosystems. It is also understand how us, humans, interact with ecosystems and of course how our actions(positive and negative) affects the environment.

One of those activities that affects the environment is agriculture, so in "Humans in the tropics" class our instructor Gisella took us to a coffee farm in Monteverde.

Foto 14-9-16 10 11 21

 -Students and instructor Gisella in Doña Hermida's farm.


We got to know a local farmer call "Doña Hermida", a very charismatic lady that show us her farm and family... a very close cultural experience with a true "Monteverdense"(thats how Monteverde local people used to call themselves).

Foto 14-9-16 10 21 25

-Doña Hermida talking about coffee rust, a fungus that affects coffee plantation.

In just an hour on the farm we saw medicinal plants, coffee plants,pigs and chickens, many frutal trees, leaf cutter ants( not Doña Hermida's favorites) and even a nest with baby birds, all in the same place.

And of course we couldn't resist to try more fruits like bananas and "Cas" a very sour fruit..but hey! don't blame us! We were super hungry!



Foto 14-9-16 09 56 41


-Cheyne got the big banana, and Sofia...well she was happy with her "baby banana"(that's how she call it).Cheyne Springbett from University of Colorado Boulder and Sofia Moscovitz from Oberlin College.


Foto 14-9-16 11 14 43-side

 -"The Cas Effect", here Ben from Purdue University and Sequoia from Eckerd College trying cas, a very sour fruit that put some really funny faces on them, Abby  from Whitman College just avoid the cas, that explain the smile!


After the coffee tour, Doña Hermida and her family give us a delicious meal: rice with chicken( the emblematic costarican dish, beans, plantain, "picadillo de arracache"(a root planted in the farm, related to cassava), avocado and corn tortilla, the best part= mostly everything it is from the farm, isn't great?


  Foto 16-9-16 18 04 51

-Our lunch at Doña Hermida cook by her family, a truly Costarican meal.


It was delicious!!!!!

Sadly we said "Hasta luego"(see you soon) to Doña Hermida and our last stop was in a pig farm. We learned lots in our first day of Humans in the Tropics class but the adventure is just starting!

Until next time, keep tune!



The Highland Salamander

While visiting Costa Rica's paramo we found this highland salamander.  It used to be super common but is now hard to find.  It lives under logs and rocks where it lays its eggs.  Females guard and rotate the eggs.  This salamander population declined dramatically about the same time as many highland amphibians, including Monteverde's Golden Toad.  We talked about amphibian declines a bit before returning our friend to where we discovered it.  



What a month of sustainability in Costa Rica looks like

Welcome to our first installation of the CIEE Sustainability and the Environment Fall 2016 blog. Here we chronicle what it looks and feels like to study abroad in the little country with the big reputation for balancing the triple bottom line: the environment, economy, and society. If you follow along this semester, you'll notice the students get a little shaggier and maybe a little moldy, as they slosh across the country, through the rainy season. But you'll also notice that they are loving the mud and fun, and the classes are pretty cool too.  

Here we start off with the unsuspecting students, clean and tidy, in Alajuela (Orientation site).

1 Alajuela FA16

This good-looking group of 8 is (from left): Bex Klafter (Carlton College), Sydney Hall (Western Washington University), Alejandra Pedraza (University of Colorado Boulder), Otter Giltz (University of Colorado Boulder), Rose Briggs (University of Colorado Boulder), Scott Vondy (Ursinus College), Ella Hinkley (University of Minnesota), and Ariel Kahn (University of Colorado Boulder).

Notice how cute and clean everyone is. Well, we're about to visit some landfills, including illegal ones.

Maybe traveling to Costa Rica to see landfills is not on everyone's bucket list, but for students of sustainability, it's a good place to reckon with the reality of a tropical, developing nation, and that's what we do.  We find out that reality has many sides, some of them smelly. But a visit to a landfill community can also reveal a lot of positive things that are going on, all around us.  We visited friends Kattia, don Humberto, and doña Alba Luz who live next to the landfill, surrounded by techno-color murals.  

3 Illegal landfill FA16

5 La Carpio mural FA16

We are (from left): Kattia, Humberto, Alba Luz, Karen, Alejandra, Ariel, Otter, Sydney, Rosie, Ella, and Scott.  

We didn't feel the introduction to Costa Rica's urban jungle would be complete without a trip to the FIRST-EVER waste water treatment facility for the Central Valley (home to some 3 million people). Although the Tajos Wastewater Treament Plant IS a place where there are literally tons of black water flowing, it is ALSO a place where you get to wear hard hats (that's a plus; note how excited the students are).  And, it's a place where you learn that - even in what seems like an impossibly polluted place - there are are people who care enough to turn the situation around. We leave hopeful (but without the hard hats).

9 wearing hardhats
Hector shows how to wear a hard hat.

We're aware that the students are still holding out for biodiversity, so we relent (we are weak). Soon after arrival in Monteverde, and after an awkward first-encounter with homestay famlies, students go for a long hike in the cloud forest, and we take them to see the stunning San Luis Valley as well!

7 Sydney and Leti
Sydney and Leti give it their best shot.

  8 cloud forest FA16

6 mirador san luis FA16
The Great Eight.

The students still look pretty cute and clean, so we will have to change that very soon. That will happen, sooner rather than later, when Adam gets them for a day dedicated to plants and their pollinators and dispersers in the famous Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso de Monteverde.  Home to epiphytes, lianas, vines, and other spectacular plants and animals, it is a magical day. Pura Vida.

Cloud forest interior
In the classroom: the cloud forest interior
Purple-throated mountain gem
Purple-throated mountain gem

Stay tuned as we post from the field during Field Trip 1.  Spoiler Alert: The students start looking like they've been in the tropics for awhile.  For instance, see Ella and Ariel on Day One.

12. Ariel and Ella in the rain
















Former students from Spring 2016  program, Spencer Keyser and Sarah Di Bartolomeo promoting our program at the Study Abroad Fair at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Thank you guys! 


Welcome Fall 2016 Tropical Ecology & Conservation


Tropical Ecology and Conservation, Fall 2016.


Welcome to our adventure!

Just carrying our backpacks and hiking shoes and a big smile on our faces - the journey as begun! Costa Rica welcomes us with green lands and awesome wildlife everywhere we look. Starting in the capital our instructors and TA's introduced us to a small country full of biodiversity and new things to discover.

Since day 1 we were immersed in a new culture, we tried some local fruits that put some funny faces on some of us.  Smell is a good cue, right Paige?




-Paige Heitzman from Gustavus Aldolfus College

After 3 days in the city, we start the journey to get to know the tropics. Just a couple of hours later we got to know our first ecosystem: the Paramo


Our classroom in the highlands of Costa Rica.



Highland endemic salamander Bolitoglossa subpalmata, one of the rarest and threatened species of  Costa Rica


We are just starting and we love it! 

Welcome to Fall 2016 Tropical Ecology & Conservation Program


One of the first ecosystems explored in Costa Rica was the Paramo, an ecosystem found above 3000 meters in elevation (above tree-line).  Here is the whole group with Alan enjoying the view.



While learning about mangroves, the students got to experience this type of ecosystem really close.  Here Alex Bush (Southern Methodist University) is enjoying his time walking through Red Mangrove roots.



Snorkelling around Isla del Caño was a great experience, got to see many different species of fish and a big school of Jacks



Had a great time during nike hikes looking for creatures like frogs, snakes, insects, spiders, etc. Here is Emma Barnes (University of Maryland) with a Cat-eyed Snake Leptodeira nigrofasciata