PROGRAM DESCRIPTIONThe School for Field Studies (SFS) Costa Rica: Sustainable Development Studies Semester program provides the opportunity for students to examine the effects of globalization on classic development issues such as agriculture, biodiversity protection, economic development, urban sprawl, population growth, waste management, and water resources.
Costa Rica is currently undergoing a period of rapid economic and social change. As this resource-rich, wonderfully biodiverse country continues along a path of rapid development, it is increasingly influenced by global policy, such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and foreign markets. Costa Rica's economy has shifted from one based chiefly on agriculture to one driven by ecotourism and technology exports. At the same time, rapid rural-to-urban conversion is straining natural resources in ecologically fragile areas.The country is at a critical juncture as resource management decisions are being made in an effort to keep pace with competitive global markets. Our goal is to study different development and resource management models that protect the biodiversity of Costa Rica's ecosystems while promoting socioeconomic benefits for its people.
Students in this semester study abroad program focus on evaluating the success of Costa Rica's world-renowned land and biodiversity management systems and developing alternative strategies for economic development and biodiversity conservation, such as land-use planning, organic agriculture, and conservation outside of protected areas.Visits to cloud forests, dry forests, volcanoes, lowland rainforests, and plantations in Costa Rica offer opportunities to examine management schemes, identify the benefits of protected areas, and determine which systems offer the best option for economic development, the maintenance of cultural norms, and the preservation of biodiversity. Understanding the forces driving Costa Rica's policies, as well as those driving ecological changes, will be key as students analyze potential solutions for Costa Rica and the Central American region.
FIELD RESEARCH, LECTURES, AND EXERCISES
- The interdisciplinary curriculum informs students about the links among natural ecosystems and social and economic systems in Costa Rica
- Courses in ecology, environmental economics, resource management, and language and culture lay the groundwork for research on sustainable development issues
- Field trips introduce students to a diversity of ecosystems and social conditions
- An extended field expedition (in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, or Panama) to compare and contrast development and resource use issues between the two countries or regions
- Camping trips to explore rare and threatened tropical dry forest ecosystems in Guanacaste Province to Palo Verde or Santa Rosa National Parks, one of the most sustainable management models for protected areas in Latin America
- Visit National Parks to investigate parks and people relations and the pressures of ecotourism on small gateway communities. Learn about forest ecology
- Learn about bioindicators of ecosystem health and rainforest ecology
- Develop management policies by continuing our long-term bird monitoring program and analyzing the impact of the road as a barrier and source of mortality for the fauna found in Carara and Santa Rosa National Parks
- Visit Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the largest private reserve in Latin America initiated by donations, and examine the impacts of heavy visitation
- Develop field research skills in ecological sampling for plants, birds, and invertebrates, rapid rural appraisal, habitat assessment and mapping, species identification, infrastructure assessment in protected areas, and survey and interview techniques
SAMPLE DIRECTED RESEARCH
- Management practices of Carara National Park
- Evaluation of the socioeconomic benefits of Costa Rica's national parks for neighboring communities
- Impact of road traffic noises on the avifauna of national parks
- Evaluation of ecosystem services, such as biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration, in agroforestry systems
Conversations and collaborators with local residents, small business owners, and farmers to better understand their perspectives and needs to provide the framework for SFS research plans. Activities might include:
- Monitoring and maintaining trail infrastructure at the Municipal Forest integrating local schools and conservation organizations
- Long-term community projects: U.S. culture and English taught in the elementary school, environmental education at the Municipal Forest, and recycling projects. Soccer games, community festivals, and short home stays
Students who study at The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies' field station in Atenas will live on a hillside with spectacular views overlooking the Rio Grande River in the fertile Central Valley. The field station includes a large house, an outdoor classroom, a moderately sized organic garden, a patio and pool, as well as banana, mango, and orange groves, a chicken coop, and untouched forest areas with trails.
Students live in a dormitory (up to four to a room) with bathrooms. There is a classroom, small laboratory, and a computer room with internet access. The field station is part of the small neighborhood of La Presa/Los Angeles. The friendly town of Atenas is a short walk from the field station, while Costa Rica's tropical forests, beaches, mountains, and volcanoes are within a day's travel.