Costa Rican Ecoscapes

Although it’s not a typical goal of most counseling students, I knew I wanted to study abroad in graduate school. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see as much of the planet as possible. I decided Costa Rica was a good start.

by Elizabeth Goodrich MA ‘07

Elizabeth Goodrich is a second-year counseling psychology student in Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling. Goodrich wrote this essay based on her experiences in Ecoscapes: Costa Rica, an overseas course in the graduate school’s interdisciplinary Core Program. The course is taught by Charles “Kip” Ault, professor of education, as well as instructors from the University of Costa Rica. After completing her degree, Goodrich plans to be a child and adolescent counselor.

Although it’s not a typical goal of most counseling students, I knew I wanted to study abroad in graduate school. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see as much of the planet as possible. I decided Costa Rica was a good start.

The Costa Rican people have a saying, pura vida (pure life). They use it as a greeting, a cheer, an exclamation of excitement for living. For me, this saying embodies the sprit and vitality of Costa Rica and its people.

My host family lived in San Isidro de Heredia. I worried about my nonexistent Spanish-speaking ability, but thankfully, the father, Nestor, spoke some English, as did his two teenage daughters. The mother, Aiesha, spoke as much English as I spoke Spanish, but ironically, we spent the most time together. We would sit at the kitchen table and draw pictures to serve as our words or pass my little translation book back and forth. And when that failed, she would feed me–constantly.

The first part of the course focused on the biodiversity and ecosystems of Costa Rica. My favorite of these was Campanario, a biological reserve located on the Osa Peninsula. Since the reserve is most easily accessible by water, we piled into small motorboats and headed out to the aquamarine Pacific. We saw dolphins and, much to our delight, blue whales in the distance. Kip remarked that it was the first time he’d seen these creatures in his many trips to the area.

We headed toward land. In Survivor fashion, we were given the chance to swim ashore. I made it to the beach and caught my first glimpse of our tropical paradise. The research station sits just slightly up shore, nestled among the outskirts of the rain forest. Students from all over the world come to this amazing research station to study Costa Rica’s exotic rain forest and Pacific coastline.

Our guides and instructors from Lewis & Clark and the University of Costa Rica taught us about the environment around us. I grew addicted to lacing up my hiking boots and trekking into the jungle. The rhythm and motion energized and nourished me as I took in the beauty and mystique around us. There were surprises at every turn. Howler monkeys greeted us from the trees, giant butterflies careened around us, and a deadly fer-de-lance lay coiled just off the path.

We finished our days with candlelight dinners (to save power) and then tromped around the reserve in rubber boots to get to know new friends. We had the option of sleeping in the field station or in raised tents out in the open. Each night the ocean lured us to sleep.

Next we headed to the Caribbean coast for the service portion of the course, which involved patrolling beaches to protect sea turtle eggs. Sea turtle eggs are a sought-after aphrodisiac and this has caused the turtles to become endangered. The goal of the patrols is to find turtle nests, harvest the eggs, and transport them to a safe spot where they can stay until the turtles hatch. 

This mission proved to be more challenging than we expected. The all-night patrols were difficult–especially in our tired and smelly state–and we didn’t find any turtles or nests. I began to wonder grimly how people could do this full time.

Then one night, a few of us decided to stay out a little longer than usual. We were singing and chatting to pass the time until Kip exclaimed, “Shh! There’s one!” And we saw her–a giant turtle making her way back to sea. We ran after her and placed our hands on her giant, table-sized shell. I finally understood why some people spend their lives doing this. The sheer thrill and magic of seeing this epic creature and protecting her life exhilarated me.

In the year since my return, people close to me have gotten used to hearing me start conversations with, “When I was in Costa Rica …” At some point during the trip, I changed. I became more confident, more vibrant, more willing to do things that scared me. I discovered the world is much more beautiful than I could have imagined. And I learned there is nothing like expanding your horizons to expand your soul.

Pura vida!