Flashlights in hand, a group of students trekked through a Costa Rican jungle in the middle of the night. When they emerged from the dense forest, they were on a beach, watching a mother turtle burrowing in the sand to lay her eggs. As they silently witnessed this miracle of life, someone yelled out, “Snake!”—and they turned to see a boa constrictor wrapped around a branch just feet away.
The boa left them and the turtle alone, and the evening turned into one of many exciting memories made by 12 students who signed on for Lafayette’s fall semester abroad in Costa Rica.
The program is headed by Susan Basow, Charles A. Dana Professor of Psychology, who led several cultural trips around the country and taught a required cross-cultural psychology course.
Students lived with host families in San Jose and studied at Universidad Veritas, where they took four courses during the 16-week term. In addition to Basow’s class, all students took an immersion course in Spanish matched to their level of competence. Students chose two other classes from a wide range of topics: environmental sciences; art and humanities; business and economics; health and human development; and history, politics, and international relations.
“I came to feel very at home with my host family and San Jose,” says neuroscience major Anjali Fortna ’14 (New Britain, Pa.). ”Traveling around the pristine beaches, gorgeous mountains, and amazing national parks made me respect the attitude the Costa Ricans have towards conserving their naturally beautiful country.”
The semester in Costa Rica supports the goals in the College’s strategic plan to provide students with a broader, more global education by enhancing faculty-led semester and interim (short-term) study abroad programs and expanding the geographical and cultural scope of its global offerings. The College also offers faculty-led semester programs in Bremen, Germany; London, England; and Madrid, Spain.
“One of the most valuable aspects of studying abroad is the opportunity to get an ‘outside’ perspective on the U.S. and to gain valuable self-knowledge regarding how one confronts new experiences,” Basow says.
Drew Williams ’14 (Collegeville, Pa.), a geology major, decided to study in Costa Rica because he wanted to learn Spanish while focusing on more tropical aspects of his major.
“The fact that I was able to receive credit for a marine biology course that required me to scuba dive some weekends to explore sub-marine habitats made it a hard opportunity to pass up,” he says.
The program appealed to Erik Maxwell Jones ’15 (Metuchen, N.J.) for other reasons. When he went to the information session and saw courses on human rights and international relations in Latin America, Jones, an international affairs major with a focus on politics in Latin America, knew he had to go.
“My study abroad experience in Costa Rica was truly unforgettable. It was great for someone who studies Latin America to be able to do so while actually living in Latin America,” Jones says.
On weekends, the students explored the country, visiting the Caribbean beaches and rainforests, the Pacific environment, and the volcanoes and waterfalls of the central highlands. One excursion took students north to neighboring Nicaragua, while on another they went south to neighboring Panama, including a visit to the Panama Canal. They visited a chocolate plantation, a sloth sanctuary, and took in a cultural performance at the Teatro Nacional.
Jones thoroughly enjoyed his time in Costa Rica, from coast to coast—literally. “After watching the sun rise over the Caribbean my first weekend in Costa Rica, it was only fitting that I watched it set on the Pacific during my last. I couldn’t have asked for a more poetic finish to my journey,” he says.
Basow will host the program again next fall. Interested students should contact the Office of International and Off Campus Education by Feb. 22 as possible to sign up.