Brown Environmental Leadership Lab: Costa Rica: Program Overview
Monteverde: The Cloud Forest
Students will spend several days in Monteverde, located in the highlands of northwestern Costa Rica. The Monteverde Zone spans several different ecosystems, linking Costa Rica’s drier Pacific slopes with the country’s wet Atlantic forests. Along the continental divide just above Monteverde lies the tropical montane cloud forest, a rare forest ecosystem that is almost continually in mist. This striking contrast of wet and dry ecosystems makes Monteverde an extraordinary place to study plant-animal interactions, ecology, and natural history.
The name Monteverde—“green mountain”—can mean different things. In general, it refers to the Monteverde Zone, a geographical area that encompasses approximately 14 communities. Historically, these communities produced much of Costa Rica’s milk, and the area was popularly known as the “milk shed.”
Monteverde also refers to the original Monteverde village founded by 14 Quaker families in 1951. These Quakers came to Costa Rica in search of a place where they could live out their pacifist beliefs without persecution, after four of their men were convicted, jailed, and eventually released for refusing to sign up for the U.S. draft. Today the village of Monteverde has several hundred residents, and still maintains a strong Quaker/USA influence.
Because of its natural beauty and unique history, Monteverde is a prime eco-tourist destination, attracting almost a quarter of all the tourists who visit Costa Rica. Much of this growth has occurred in the last fifteen years, and Monteverde is grappling with the rapid shift from a sleepy, dairy zone to one dependent on tourism. While in Monteverde, students will conduct research in the cloud forest and meet with local farmers and residents in order to learn how locals are attempting to balance economic development with environmental preservation.
Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG): Ecology and Conservation in the Tropical Dry Forest
Students will spend several days in the tropical dry forest of northwestern Costa Rica. Tropical dry forests are some of the most endangered ecosystems in the world because they are often threatened by farming and fire. These pressures have certainly left their mark on Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province, where hundreds of years of cattle ranching have destroyed much of the primary forest. In the 1960s, in order to preserve what forest remained, the Costa Rican government invited US biologists and Peace Corps members to plan a national park.
Today, Santa Rosa National Park and the larger Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG) that surrounds it contain 80% of the biodiversity of Costa Rica, and are approximately as species-diverse as the entire United States and Canada combined. In addition, the park protects a national historic site known as La Casona, where in 1856, the Costa Rican army defeated a band of Confederate sympathizers who sought territory for US slave states. Because of this remarkable history, staggering biodiversity, and the innovative conservation, research and education initiatives taking place, the ACG was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999.
While in the ACG, students learn about adaptations that allow dry forest plants to survive the dramatic environmental changes that occur from wet to dry season. They will also explore a range of issues in local conservation, including climate change and water pollution impacts on fish species, and balancing conservation goals with economic development in an economically disadvantaged region.
Your Action Plan
What happens after you leave Costa Rica? How will you respond to the needs of your neighbors, your community and the world?
We believe that it is not enough to understand complex social issues. Instead, effective leaders ask themselves, "What will we do with what we know? How will we serve others? How might we work for long-term social change?"
At the Leadership Institute, we help our students define the issues that they are passionate about and construct an Action Plan to address them. We work with you to set realistic goals, identify mentors and resource people, and anticipate challenges.
We encourage you to think about some potential Action Plan topics before you come to BELL, but most students don't actually know what their Action Plan will be until they start working on it at BELL. Your instructors will help you design an Action Plan that fits your interests and skills.
Below are examples of BELL Student Action Plans:
- Received a grant to install solar panels on a high school
- Developed composting systems or recycling programs
- Constructed a wind turbine at school
- Converted school buses to bio-diesel
- Converted incandescent light bulbs at school to compact fluorescents
- Educated other students about alternative energy resources
- Eliminated Styrofoam in county buildings
- Planted a vegetable garden at a high school
Review students’ final reports on their plans in our digital Action Plan library.
Your program fee includes:
- Tuition fee for all courses
- All lodging as part of the course
- Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners
- All transportation, field trips and site visits as described in the program description
- Transfer from/to airport on day of arrival and departure
Your Program fee does not include:
- Air travel to/from Liberia, Costa Rica
- Classroom materials (textbooks, notebooks, pens, etc…)
- Cell phone incoming/outgoing calls
- Items of a personal nature
- Pre/post-program accommodations