Life at Brown Environmental Leadership Lab: Costa Rica
Get ready to learn outside! We have some spectacular places at our fingertips and our goal is to get to know them through formal study, and also by simply spending time listening, observing, and relaxing outdoors.
Several of our projects involve full days in the elements, including: reforesting pastureland, hiking, ascending trees, boating and snorkeling, milking cows, and harvesting sugar cane.
You can expect a moderate level of physical activity every day, and should be ready to get your hands dirty. We will be walking a lot on hilly terrain, and in rainy, muddy, and buggy conditions.
We stay in two main locations during the course: Santa Rosa National Park in the Guanacaste Conservation Area and La Calandria Lodge in Monteverde. In Santa Rosa, students experience life on a working biological field station: we live in rustic dormitories (no hot showers or air conditioning) and share meals with international researchers and Costa Rican staff in the park’s cafeteria. In Monteverde, we’ll enjoy spectacular views, home-cooked meals, and hot showers at La Calandria, a cozy private lodge surrounded by 67 acres of protected forest.
Both sites have electricity, wifi, running water, reliable communication systems, and are located within one hour of emergency medical services.
Program staff live on-site and are available to students 24 hours a day to provide support and supervision. Most staff are bilingual and have extensive experience living in and travelling around Costa Rica.
A Typical Day
Our days will start early, and each one will be packed full of activities, including field research, educational sessions, and time for team-building, recreation, and reflection. There are many field trips, hikes, and meetings with local conservationists and entrepreneurs. Here's what a typical day might look like:
7:00 – 8:00am: Breakfast.
8:00 – 12 noon: Morning Session (ex. tropical forest restoration project)
12:00 – 12:30pm: Lunch.
12:30 – 2:00pm: Free Time
2:00 – 5:30pm: Afternoon Session (ex. studying a leaf cutter ant colony in tropical dry forest)
5:30 – 6:00pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00pm: Free Time
7:00 – 9:00pm: Evening Session (ex. night hike or leadership activity)
9:00 – 10:00pm: Free time
10:00pm: Well-Deserved Rest
Global programs are academically rigorous. Given the intensity of the program, there is minimal free time.
This course takes place in the rainy season, which means that we will generally experience sun in the mornings and rain showers most afternoons. The weather in Monteverde is especially unpredictable, with intermittent sunshine, rain, fog, and wind in the course of a single day. Students should come prepared with raingear and clothes that can be layered as weather conditions change.
Average daily highs and lows in July are as follows:
Monteverde: Max 86F/Min 72F
Santa Rosa: Max 87F/Min 76F
Food and Water
Students can expect three balanced, home-style meals each day. A typical Costa Rican meal consists of beans, rice, salad, chicken/beef/fish/pork, and a vegetable side dish. The first three ingredients can be expected in every meal while the last two will vary.
While Costa Rican food does not have much variety in comparison to American standards, students should be delighted to know that their food will be fresh, locally-grown, mostly organic, and well-prepared. Vegetarian options are always available. All dining facilities have experience handling food allergies. Please be sure to fill out forms to inform staff of any allergies or dietary restrictions ahead of time so that accommodations can be made.
Clean drinking water will be available at all times. Many minor medical problems in the field are related to dehydration, so it is very important that students stay hydrated.
Staying safe and comfortable in the field
We have a unique opportunity to visit sites with a rich assemblage of wildlife, including the six- and eight-legged varieties. Unfortunately, not every species is benign, and tropical forests do have their share of inhabitants that bite and sting, including mosquitoes, ants, bees, wasps, and scorpions. We take seriously the discomfort that insect bites and stings can cause, and work closely with students to minimize their exposure. For most activities, we require students to wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and close-toed shoes to prevent insect bites (as well as sunburn).
Two mosquito-borne illnesses, dengue and chikungunya, pose a slight risk to travelers in Costa Rica. Both diseases can result in fever, muscle and joint pain, and rash. The risk of contracting either illness is very low in Santa Rosa and Monteverde. We encourage students to further reduce their risk by using insect repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants.
The other organisms we are often asked about are snakes, as there are venomous species in the habitats we are visiting. Students will wear snake gaiters in the field and will be instructed in how to stay safe in snake territory. Snake bites at biological field stations are very rare, and with proper precautions and a few simple safety guidelines the risk is minimal.
Program staff have many years of experience in these habitats and are practiced at spotting and avoiding potentially dangerous organisms. In the event of an incident requiring medical attention, instructors have reliable communication systems and remain within one hour (and usually less) of emergency medical facilities.