By Zoe Reich (’24, SEBS, HC) | December 18, 2023 | Original article published on the Rutgers Honors College Website

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In the Spring of 2023, I visited Costa Rica during spring break through an Interdisciplinary Honors Seminar embedded study abroad trip. Embedded study abroad trips allow students to add a week-long trip during a semester break or semester end. The option for a week-long study abroad was perfect for me. This Interdisciplinary Honors Seminar, which fulfills a requirement for the Honors College, was called Communicating Science in Costa Rica and was taught by Dr. Lauren Neitzke Adamo. The course encompassed weekly three-hour seminars on science communication and field trips to the Zimmerli Museum, the Science Explorer Bus, and the Rutgers Geology Museum, which Dr. Adamo also directs. 

Dr. Adamo noted that teaching an Interdisciplinary Honors Seminar allowed her to blend her expertise in geology and rocks with all of her favorite topics through a scientific, cultural, educational, and inclusive lens. She added, "The trip to Costa Rica brought us face to face with some amazing geology and landscapes. It was wonderful to watch the students make connections between the geology and the culture, biology, agriculture, ecology, and more within Costa Rica."

All of our classes prepared us for our trip. While there, we visited volcanoes, hiked by waterfalls, and drove up incredibly steep roads. During the evenings, we stayed in hotels and hostels. Some even had live music! The daily meals included arroz con frijoles and rice with beans; my classmates loved that meal. We split into groups during the trip to explore the different science communication topics we each wanted to write about. Anya Gowda, Philip Melnichuk, and I wrote about ecotourism. Other groups explored food, agriculture, and biodiversity. 

Going to Costa Rica allowed me to learn more about the field of biology and consider the scientific material I want to study. This experience changed my trajectory, pushing me towards environmental microbiology, which I will forever be grateful for. Science communication and the content we learned in class will be intertwined in whatever scientific roles I take on in the future. Anya said, 

“My class trip to Costa Rica not only helped me see the beauty of the geology of different landscapes but also the beauty in different cultures! Being so immersed in such a biodiverse environment is truly enlightening.” 

And Philip said, 

”This embedded study abroad trip was one of my most memorable Rutgers experiences. My passions for natural science, medical science, and science communication met in a perfect interdisciplinary course where I learned about new ways to communicate science and medicine, and I even built my first website to teach circadian rhythms through art.” 

You can read below our social media post on ecotourism, as well as posts by our other classmates, which were posted on Instagram and X @rutgersclimateandenergy while we were in Costa Rica.

Diving into Costa Rican Volcanoes: Ecotourism 

By Zoe, Anya, & Philip 

Ecotourism integrates nature, conservation, and tourism. This bridges tourists with exploring new environments. To be a good ecotourist, traveling with intentionality is critical. Before our trip, Zoe researched indigenous groups in Costa Rica to recognize the land's origins and who currently lives there. Beyond being aware of the people living in the land, we were conscious consumers. For example, Anya and Zoe searched for local artisan stores to support locally-owned businesses. Anya ended up purchasing some lovely handmade lava earrings. After we toured the Starbucks Coffee Farm, Philip researched the way Starbucks works within Costa Rica to get a bigger picture than the one portrayed by the tour. We visited many places during the trip, from national parks to local towns. When we visited the mud springs on the second to last day, we had yet another opportunity to observe the integration of a tourist attraction with the natural environment—a river. Here, we saw how the river was used as a cooling-off location with the manmade hot springs. Throughout our time in Costa Rica, engaging with and educating ourselves about the natural environment strengthened us as eco-tourists. 

Ready to Dish About Costa Rican Cuisine 

By Chris, Yanelli, & Navya 

Exploring the cuisine of Costa Rica was an incredible experience. The country’s strong agricultural industry makes many Costa Rican dishes with locally sourced ingredients bursting with flavor and nutrients. Moreover, we found that serving sizes are usually equivalent to serving sizes, a pattern we do not see reflected in the United States. For example, in Costa Rica, dishes that feature meat or fish have a reasonable serving size of the protein accompanied by nutritious staple foods like rice and beans on the side. We found that far fewer dishes were fried or drenched in oil and salt in the manner that most side dishes—such as French fries—usually are in the United States. One of the benefits of enjoying such freshly prepared, nutrient-balanced meals is that they are so satisfying that they eliminate the need to snack throughout the day. We often found ourselves eating less at meal times and not having the usual urge to snack on temporarily gratifying, sugar-packed junk food. Thus, we felt more energized, less lethargic, and overall better. By indulging in only the necessary meals, we received the nourishment we needed while avoiding excessive consumption of processed foods. Overall, it is no surprise that we felt better about the food we were eating while exploring the culinary delights of Costa Rica. With its vibrant and diverse cuisine, Costa Rica is a fantastic destination for any foodie to experience something unique, fresh, and healthy. 

Costa Rica Farm to Table 

By Akanksha, Adina, Adrija, Analiese, Shreya 

Everywhere you looked in Costa Rica, you could see local fruit stands and farms. Every inch of the volcanically enriched soil was used, keeping the hillsides rife with coffee plants, tropical fruit, and cattle. Back in New Brunswick, you look to your right, you see a building, you look to your left you see a building, and you look ahead, and you see a … building. Accessing fresh local food is very difficult without a car. In fact, New Brunswick is considered a food desert due to the scarcity of sources of high-quality, fresh food. Relying on convenience food can have long-term health detriments, and in the short run, it leads to people feeling sluggish. Even with all of Rutgers’ efforts to provide healthy meals, we could definitely feel the difference between our normal diets and the effects of eating fresh food daily as we hiked the volcanoes, feeling energized by the local plantains, beans, and rice. In addition to the many initiatives in the city, we should consider converting our resource-intensive turf lawns to gardens that grow native fruits and vegetables and can much better support the ecosystem and surrounding communities. 

Biodiversity in Costa Rica 

By Donald, Matt, Yiraldo, Ishaan 

Despite being a relatively small country, especially compared to the US, Costa Rica has a substantial amount of diversity in its ecosystems. Some parts experience immense amounts of rainfall, while others are rather dry, being in rain shadows. Rain shadows are created when coastal winds carrying heavy clouds of water vapor blow towards mountains, which then force the clouds to begin moving upward. As they climb higher, the clouds begin to cool and condense into heavy rain as they move towards the peak of the mountain range. But once they cross and begin descending down the other side of the peak, they have already released most of their water vapor, leaving very little rain for the lower regions of the country such as the Costa regions. Within Costa Rica, places like San Jose and Arenal are on the sides of the mountains with rainforests, and they are rich in biodiversity. The plant life is a deep shade of green and tall trees are densely packed over the mud. Likewise, the animals are incredibly diverse, ranging from toucans to monkeys to vibrant tree frogs. Comparatively, areas in the rain shadows, such as Liberia, have limited biodiversity. The plants are mostly brown, with low shrubbery and grassland dominating the landscape. Lizards, snakes, insects, and other animals accustomed to dryer weather are the norm. Overall, Costa Rica is a beautiful country filled with a vast amount of diverse and complex biodiversity depending on the region you lay your eyes on. We are beyond thankful for the privilege and opportunity to observe and study such a beautiful part of our world in person.

 Learn more about this Interdisciplinary Honors Seminar and check out more student posts by clicking HERE.