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Summer 2011: The Plan

Posted by kevinwolz on March 21, 2011

Late last year, I presented the several options that I was considering for Summer 2011. A lot has happened since then…some of it planned, some of it truly insane coincidence…but I am now firmly settled into my decision to study abroad this summer in Costa Rica. For someone who wants to study Spanish, tropical ecology, AND sustainability, there is no better place than Costa Rica. The awareness of ecological issues such as sustainable agriculture and conservation is stronger in Costa Rica than most countries, which makes it a truly unique place to study. Furthermore, it is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which means that its wide range of ecosystems contains a ridiculous number of species…plants, animals, and fungi alike.

My activities over the summer will be numerous and varied, but they will all tie back to the three primary goals for my time abroad:

1) Increase my Spanish language mastery to the fullest possible

2) Explore and experience tropical sustainable agriculture and habitat conservation

3) Enjoy, explore, and understand tropical ecology and biodiversity

My summer will be split into three main phases. Each of my three goals will be pursued in each phase, but goals and phases with corresponding numbers will be more strongly correlated.

Phase I: Instituto San Joaquín de Flores (6.5 weeks: 5/18 – 7/3)

For this first phase, I will be enrolled in an official study abroad program through the University of Illinois at the Instituto San Joaquín de Flores. San Joaquín de Flores is basically a suburb of San José, the capital and largest city of Costa Rica. In this program, I will take classes in Spanish on Spanish, along with a potential class in tropical ecology. I took four years of Spanish in high school, but have barely done anything since then to keep it up. If I don’t act quickly to achieve fluency, my skills will just continue down the slippery slope that has already begun. Classes will take place during the week, leaving the weekends open for excursions around the country. I plan on taking full advantage of this open time to see as many places in Costa Rica as possible, including volcanoes, national parks, beaches, and as many cool plants and animals as I can see! Throughout this phase, I will be living with a local Tico family…I can’t wait to find out more about them! For future reference, Costa Ricans call themselves “Ticos”…I’ll be using this term a lot in future blog posts.

Phase II: WWOOF (3 weeks: 7/4 – 7/24)

After my “official” program in San Joaquín is over, I will spend a few weeks WWOOFing my way across the country. WHATing, do you say? WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and has absolutely nothing to do with dogs. WWOOF is basically an organization that connects volunteers interested in sustainable agriculture with functioning organic farms that are willing to host them. In exchange for a few hours of labor each day, volunteers receive room & board…not to mention all the knowledge they gained while working on the farm! For this phase, I will be traveling with a female student from Kentucky whom I met while in Paris over winter break. Wait what!? Yeah…that would be one of those insane coincidences that I mentioned earlier. We have been in contact with 4-5 farms that we picked out from the long list of WWOOF farms in Costa Rica, and it looks like we’ll be spending approximately 4 days at each. The farms are spread throughout the southeastern portion of the country, and we’ll most likely be taking buses to travel between them. I can’t wait to see how this experience in tropical agriculture will build on everything I learned last summer.

Phase III: Research in Panama (3 weeks: 7/25-8/12)

Finally, after WWOOFing in the general direction of the Panamanian border, I will actually travel out of Costa Rica and into Panama. This phase was nowhere on my radar until about a month ago when I met with my biology advisor, Jim Dalling. As Professor Dalling’s lab happens to be one of my top choices for engaging in undergraduate research (something I have to do at some point in order to graduate), I was totally thrown for a loop when he mentioned that he would be in Panama doing research at the same time that I was planning on being in Costa Rica…again one of those insane coincidences. SO, I will be traveling to Panama for the final phase of my summer, where I will help conduct research in tropical ecology (more details to come in a separate research post).

Overall, I am SO PUMPED for this summer. It’s literally just about all that I think about these days. I am hoping that my school work load will lighten up a bit after spring break so I can devote more time towards familiarizing myself with Tico culture and brushing up on my Spanish. Can’t wait!

¡Pura vida!


4 Responses to “Summer 2011: The Plan”

  1. Joan said

    Glad to get all the details of your trip. Sounds wonderful and you should have a great time. Take notes and lots of pictures to show us when you come back. Be sure to take that excursion on ropes and pulleys thru the trees. Costa Rica is famous for that, too!


  2. Dale & Joyce said

    Kevin, sounds like you are in for a wonderful experience. Grampa wants to know if he can go along (as an OBSERVER).

  3. grace said

    Wow!!!!! Sounds like a great experience. Will you be home at all this summer?? Grace

  4. Sean said

    “insane coincidence” or maybe a part of a very well thought out and intricate plan? Just a thought 🙂

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