First Moments in Costa Rica – A Student Adventure

The front porch at the student center provided peace, quiet and tropical jungle at our footsteps.

  • Tropical Rain Forests, Ecology and Coffee
  • Endless Valleys, Lush Flora, Warm Climate Fauna
  • Chalupas, Refried Beans, Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, Gallo Pinto…Delicious Food
The lush mountains of Costa Rica offer uninhabited jungle,  small villages and pristine, clean air.

By Kiley Voss

The word “surreal” had been in my vocabulary several few weeks before leaving the United States. As the plane slowly descends, the mountains seem different somehow. They are seemingly more majestic, if only in the way rolling hills covered in trees can be, some partly covered by a few white puffy clouds, adding to the effect.

August 27th, 2018 – Day 1: This day had probably been one of the biggest leading-up-to-days of my entire life. All of the researching, applications, paperwork, scholarships, doctors, farms, preparations and packing for almost one year has led to this day. Success! Here I am in Costa Rica!

Studying Conservation Biology at SUNY ESF (State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry), I have used the second to last semester of my senior year to complete a study abroad program for three months in Costa Rica, taking classes and getting hands-on learning. The School for Field Studies (SFS) title of their program is Sustainable Development Studies, with classes in resource management, tropical ecology, environmental ethics and directed research.

Arriving at the SFS Center, after the bus took all 22 of us students down winding roads, through hills and valleys of lush emerald green flora, passing vibrant-colored one floor houses, cattle and dogs…and people in cars and on motorbikes, we saw our home for the next three months. It was located at the very end of a road just before the level land drops off into a valley.  The Center is more plants than buildings, with orange trees and mango trees, a pollinator garden, greenhouses, vegetable beds and composting areas (to make affordable mulch).

Driving in Costa Rica offers the exciting view of high-rising mountains and rolling hills galore.

Touring our new home briefly, we find the outdoor classroom, where in a few moments we will be having dinner. Dinner will always be served in the dark, as the sun sets at 5:30 p.m. and dinner will always be at 6 p.m. Wearing our rain boots, which is required of all of us after dark to protect ourselves from possible venomous snakes that are on our Campus Center, we head to the open classroom. We get our first taste of Costa Rican food as we make our own chalupas, an open-faced hard tortilla, in a buffet line style, with options in order of meat, refried beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole and shredded cheese.

I’m still in awe. I can’t believe I’m actually here! There are so many noises that I hear outside my shared bedroom, that I don’t know if they are bird or monkey or insect, and that’s the weirdest, but most exciting thought! I am so used to hearing birds, mammals, or insects back in New York that I can place to the species if heard that this is a whole new world.

August 28th, 2018 – Day 2: Waking up with the sun at 5:30 a.m. today gave me time to journal on one of three hammocks we have on our dorm front porch, as well as two swinging chairs and rocking chairs. It was the absolute best. So peaceful. Time to think with nature. Looking out into the trees surrounding our view, I saw two hummingbirds and two ground birds, while hearing a variety of sounds that for the life of me, I can’t place.

Our front porch at the Campus Center provided the peace and quiet of nearby tropical forest. 

At 7 a.m., the breakfast bell rings, and the aroma of unknown food lures us to the kitchen. We find that the kitchen, which is at the very edge of the center and the hill that it sits upon, offers a beautiful overlook. Breakfast was absolutely delicious, a mix of rice and beans (which I would later find out is called gallo pinto), scrambled eggs and fried plantains, which are, put simply, a bigger form of a banana.

The kitchen window provided a bountiful view of our backyard.

Getting a tour of the farm, after learning about the cucumbers and peppers that are grown in the raised beds, one of the students spots a small brown body low on an orange tree. Looking more closely, we realize it’s an owl! I run quickly back to the dorms to grab my camera, and later learn it was a little Ferruginous pygmy-owl! An avid birder, this is a huge find because:

  1. Birds of prey are always harder to see in the wild than sparrows, finches, or other herbivore/omnivore birds are.
  2. An owl seen during the day is a rarity.
  3. After looking up the range of the species, I realize I would have never had the chance to see it in the northeastern U.S.
A common owl of tropical lowlands, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is often seen during the daytime (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

This is the first time I have ever seen this bird and it may be the last. Thankfully, this bird’s “pinging” sound will be heard from our dorms all throughout the three months, I will later discover.

We continue on our day, learning about our home, this new country, and getting to know one another, getting our first glimpses at what life will be like here.

First thoughts of Costa Rica?

A grand adventure full of firsts, but I already know I’m going to love it here!