A lot of work, but I loved every minute of it. Please let me go back!!!! Past Review

By (BIOLOGICAL AND BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES., Trinity University) - abroad from 01/28/2013 to 05/13/2013 with

Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS): San Jose - Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Heck ya it was worthwhile! I would go back in a second! I learned a ton about tropical ecology, conservation, and current environmental issues, all important things. But more than that, I got to spend four months living with amazing, intelligent people that love the same things I do, who would get excited about birds and plants and four hour hikes and stuff that makes me happy to be alive. I've never had that before, a group of people to share this passion with. We traveled across the country, seeing amazing animals I would never have dreamed existed, swimming in waterfalls and hotsprings, eating fruits that don't have an English name. This program has made me feel like an adult, like I am capable of traveling the world and seeing/doing anything I want. It is humbling to see new places and cultures that you know nothing about, but empowering once you realize how fast you can learn.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? None

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

This program was amazing, the best experience of my life, but it was not a vacation. We worked hard and long, and learned a ton of biology in the process.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The behind-the-scenes administration were very organized and helpful. The responded to emails quickly and kindly, and did whatever they could to help us out when we needed it. The actual professors that we interacted with most of the time were amazing. Not only were they extremely knowledgeable about absolutely everything, but they took really good care of us as human beings and always made sure we were as sane and happy as possible.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

It depended on the station. Most of them were fine, they had comfortable beds, relatively few bugs in the rooms (there are just a lot of bugs everywhere, if that is a deal breaker then turn back now!), and the bathrooms were surprisingly clean most of the time. Some of the stations had more biting insects than I was happy with, but overall no major complaints. We often had a common room too, which was a great place to hang out and get to know people.

* Food:

We ate so much delicious fruit, it was magical! The general food pattern was: breakfast - gallo pinto (rice and beans), eggs, and fruit; lunch: a main dish, a salad, rice and beans, and fruit; dinner: a meat, a carbohydrate (rice, potatoes, etc.), a bean or bean-ish thing, a salad, and desert. They did a good job of adding enough variation to keep us from getting bored with the food (like the occasional pancakes and pasta), and everything was always yummy. I was worried that we were going to get tired of rice and beans, but I definitely never did! They were also really good about accommodating vegans and vegetarians.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

This is a biology program, so the primary focus of the experience is to learn biology. That being said, we did get to interact with locals on a fairly regular basis and in the three weeks spent in San Jose taking the Spanish classes we were completely immersed in the local culture. The homestays there were very special, most of us really liked our host families and they taught us how to function in Costa Rican society.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

They did not jack around with our health! Any time they were remotely worried about anyone the professors would take them to the hospital almost immediately just to make sure they were all right. That being said, there were a few health issues you just had to live with. People got Traveler's Diarrhea on a pretty regular basis, which was uncomfortable but not unmanageable. There was also the occasional sprained ankle, scorpion bite, wasp sting, etc. that was just part of being outside so much. You have to get a few pretty standard vaccines (Hep A, B, and C, Tetanus, etc.) as well as a few more exotic ones, like Typhoid. I would not recommend getting the rabies shot, you don't need it at all and it is expensive. Malaria is up to you - we didn't need it for the actual program (I didn't get it), but there are some cool beach towns in the Malaria area where some people went for Spring Break.

* Safety:

Our professors knew their stuff, so I always felt very safe with them. That being said, you do spend a fair amount of time in a tropical rainforest, where there are just some natural hazards that you need to learn how to deal with (scorpions, spiders, snakes, etc.) The profs tell you everything you need to know when you get there, both for navigating the jungle and for navigating the cities later in the semester. We didn't have any problems in San Jose or any of the other urban areas, but like any big city, you have to be aware of your surroundings.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

You spend most of your time at biological stations, where there is no place to spend money. Thus the only time I had to spend any money was when we were in San Jose and during Spring Break, and both of those you could spend a lot or save depending on your preference. We would go out to bars and movies and whatnot a few times a week in San Jose, so that cost us some. You are completely on your own for Spring Break, so make sure to budget for that. It is possible to have a cool spring break experience for reasonably cheap - I think ours was like $300/person for 2 weeks.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $5? (For snacks at the bus stop)
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Budget for spring break and start planning at least a few weeks in advance, just so you know what to expect. Also, OTS gives you like $150 to pay for lunches while you are in San Jose - we ate super cheap lunches and used that money to play with on the weekends.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

I didn't speak Spanish coming into this program, so I did everything possible to avoid speaking it when I could. Everyone in our program spoke English, so usually we didn't necessarily need to use Spanish on a daily basis. But when we were in San Jose, no one spoke English so we had to use Spanish all the time. But there were always people we could speak Spanish too if we wanted - the cooks, our professors, etc. - I just chose not too

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? 2nd level in high school
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? I would definitely practice Spanish before you get there. I forgot all of the Spanish I knew before going, and the whole month and a half before the Spanish class in San Jose was very frustrating and confusing for me in that respect.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Getting to be outside all the time
  • Amazingly beautiful locations
  • Great people, students and professors alike
* What could be improved?
  • All of the due dates/tests happened at the same time
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? BRING A LOT OF SUNSCREEN!!! It is horrendously expensive in Costa Rica! Also, adjust your expectations before going in. This program is a blast and you will love every minute of it, but they work you hard. It is not a vacation. And if you don't like being outside and getting dirty, this is not the program for you.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Field Research in Tropical Biology

Course Department: Biology
Instructor: Mau Garcia, Erika Deinert and Pablo Riba
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This class was a lot of field work, conducting research projects with visiting faculty members, going on field trips to learn about the specific ecosystems we were in, and designing and conducting our own research projects. As long as you like being outside and learning about cool ecosystems you will enjoy this class a lot!
Credit Transfer Issues: I didn't have any problems
Course Name/Rating:

Environmental Science and Policy in the Tropics

Course Department: Environmental Science
Instructor: Pablo Riba and Erika Deinert
Instruction Language: English
Comments: They do a really good job of teaching important environmental issues in the context of Costa Rican policy and history. We went on a lot of field trips that allowed us to actually see what we learned in class, going to coffee plantations, teak farms, banana plantations, etc. They were all super fun and we learned a lot! The class had some small assignments (book reports, readings, etc.) and two big tests, a midterm and a final. The tests were long and challenging, but they were graded fairly.
Credit Transfer Issues: I didn't have any problems with it.
Course Name/Rating:

Fundamentals of Tropical Biology

Course Department: Biology
Instructor: Mau Garcia, Pablo Riba, and Erika Deinert
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This class was great! We would learn cool facts about biology/ecology, and then we would go outside and see what we had just learned about. We would go on hikes and the professors would tell us all about the plants and animals we would see. I enjoyed it!
Credit Transfer Issues: I didn't have any problems