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Environment focus

During the month-long rural community practicum, the environment is one of the three major academic areas of focus. Students interested in the environment have a variety of ways to incorporate this into their rural practicum experience, depending on their particular interests. Here are some descriptions and photos from recent students about their environment-related practicum experiences in rural Costa Rica.

Student Testimonials


Ilana Mishkin

Ilana Mishkin

Carleton College

I lived in Pueblo Nuevo de Guácimo in the province of Limón, about an hour/hour and a half from the nearest city. I worked on a cocoa plantation studying sloths.

Every day, during two three-hour sections (6:00-9:00 AM and 2:00-5:00 PM), I tracked nine baby sloths using radio collars and telemetry equipment, working with the assistant of biological investigation on the plantation and another student on my ACM program. Because there are over 300 sloths living on the plantation, our work was to track the same nine sloths each day to find out more about their habits and develop a more detailed plan for their conservation.

My experience in Pueblo Nuevo gave me valuable insight into what it's like to be a field biologist, but more importantly, it gave me the chance to fall in love with sloths and become truly passionate about their conservation.


Matt Nadel

Matt Nadel

Colorado College

I stayed in Pejivalle, Jimenez, Cartago and had the opportunity to work with AyA and ASADA, the two groups in Costa Rica that deal with aqueduct and aquifer management in rural areas, as well as water cleanliness. I had an incredibly interesting experience with this office.

My first ten days I worked on a project with a specific water extraction well in the town. Through measurement and calculation, I discovered that over 107,000 liters of fresh and treated water was being pushed from the water holding tank daily because the tank was not big enough. The town has now begun construction of a new tank, which will allow them to provide a more reliable water flow during peak hour usage, and use the new amount of water to develop more agriculture in the area.

My second project was working on the organic farm with my family, dealing with innovative organic methods of farming methods, and building a hydroponics system that doesn’t require the use of land and uses less water than usual planting techniques.

In addition to everything I learned about water management, I now have a second family in Pejivalle. From the second that my dad picked me up from the bus stop on my first day, I was immediately welcomed into the family. As the month went on, I learned more and more about them and truly opened up with them, all in a different language. My family truly taught me what it meant to be happy. There was no need for technology or expensive diversions, but rather, an old game of bingo and 20 people under the light of an old lantern, chatting, laughing, and simply enjoying each other’s company.

The experiences that I had with my family and academic projects in Pejivalle have changed my outlook on what I want to study and what I want with my future. I could not have asked for a community engagement experience that was more interesting, interactive, and worth my time.


Katie Richards

Katie Richards

Carleton College

I lived in Pueblo Nuevo de Villa Franca de Guácimo in the Limón Province. The climate was very hot and humid – there was never a moment during the day when I wasn’t sweating, but the rain during the night was cool and comfortable.

The community is very small and the majority of the people there are somehow related. My host family owned a plantain farm. We had pigs, piglets, chickens, roosters, dogs, a cat, a parrot, cows, etc. Surrounding our house, we had a variety of tropical fruit trees – guava (the Costa Rican version), coffee, oranges, mandarins, guanabana, lublón, sweet lemon, etc.

Two to three times per week for two hours at a time, I taught an English conversation course to a group of women working at the Amazilia chocolate manufacture. I planned lessons that helped them learn how to interact with a lot of their English-speaking clientele, who often visit between the months of January and September – the tourism season.

My second project was collecting data on a group of nocturnal, two-toed baby sloths in FINMAC, the cacao farm. Twice a day, and six days per week, I collected data on their location, movement, and activity, as well as the weather, the presence of predators, etc. The purpose of the project was to help biologist, Geovanny Herra Valverde, who assists biological research for the University of Wisconsin, Madison, figure out why so many baby sloths are dying unexpectedly.


Jillian Sarazen

Oberlin College

I spent my month-long rural stay in Pejivalle, Jimenez, Cartago. My project was at the Environmental High School in the town, where I helped out in the environmental studies classes with various environmental projects. I spent most of my time with 7th grade classes and the main projects I accomplished included making a recycling bin out of recycled plastic bottles, planting trees by a river, filling a motorcycle tire with cement, and designing a ceramic tile landscape design in the center, and my final day I gave a presentation about the biodiversity in my home state. These projects allowed me to have close, personal interactions with the students I worked with as I was able to talk and learn from them. The projects are also part of the school's Bandera Azul Ecológica (Ecological Blue Flag) program. The program rewards stars to the schools in country that incorporate environmentally friendly practices and education into the curriculum and the high school in Pejivalle has recently been rewarded all five possible stars. These experiences helped me realize my interests in environmental sciences and see first hand the importance of environmental education.

When I was not at the high school, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend time my family's organic farm. I learned about their sustainable practices and helped out with various activities such as planting in the garden. My time spent with my family was what made my experience in Pejivalle so wonderful. As soon as I arrived, I was completely welcomed into their family. I formed lasting relationships with them as I learned about the life they live in this beautiful town in the mountains; all while only speaking Spanish. My time in Pejivalle was filled with new experiences, new family and friends, teaching, learning, lots of Spanish and exploring.