Costa Rica: Trip to wildlife preserve a truly immersive experience

A group of students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spent two weeks in Costa Rica as part of a study abroad English course called “Living, Reading, Writing Nature.” The course, a special topics class taught by Pamela Herring, a lecturer in the UTRGV Department of Writing and Language Studies, is in its eighth year and centers on assigned readings, two written by Jack Ewing, co-founder of the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, where the students stayed. Hacienda Barú, a private nature reserve with 830 acres of protected forest, mangrove and seashore, allows students to participate in hands-on activities like swimming near the base of waterfalls, tree climbing, overnight camping in the jungle, and the “Monkey Challenge,” an obstacle course in the trees. (Courtesy Photo)

A group of students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spent two weeks in Costa Rica as part of a study abroad English course called “Living, Reading, Writing Nature.” The course, a special topics class taught by Pamela Herring, a lecturer in the UTRGV Department of Writing and Language Studies, is in its eighth year and centers on assigned readings, two written by Jack Ewing, co-founder of the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, where the students stayed. Hacienda Barú, a private nature reserve with 830 acres of protected forest, mangrove and seashore, allows students to participate in hands-on activities like swimming near the base of waterfalls, tree climbing, overnight camping in the jungle, and the “Monkey Challenge,” an obstacle course in the trees. (Courtesy Photo)

“I have found that everything serves a purpose, and nothing is there by accident.”

—Xóchilth Román, Sociology, Brownsville

By Steven Masso

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – SEPT. 6, 2018 – Eight students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spent two weeks exploring the scenic wilds of Costa Rica as part of a study abroad English course, and brought home some valuable lessons about the earth and the environment.

“Living, Reading, Writing Nature,” a special topics course taught by Pamela Herring, lecturer II in the UTRGV Department of Writing and Language Studies, is in its eighth year and centers on three assigned readings, two of them written by Jack Ewing. Ewing is the co-founder of the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, where the students stayed.

“When we go, the kids have to leave their computers behind and can only use their phones on Saturdays,” Herring said. “If they don’t want the pure experience of being unplugged, they can go to Paris or Spain,” she joked.

Hacienda Barú, a private nature reserve with 830 acres of protected forest, mangrove and seashore, allows students to participate in hands-on activities like swimming near the base of waterfalls, tree climbing, overnight camping in the jungle, and the “Monkey Challenge,” an obstacle course in the trees.

For many, exploring the natural environment of Costa Rica was a step out of the comfort zone.

Xóchilth Román, a graduate student from Brownsville, was nervous at first.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into, much less that I would be trekking the rain forests, wading through rivers and experiencing the ocean for the first time,” said Román, a disaster studies major. “I have never seen so much wildlife and natural beauty all around me.”

Lesley Gomez, a sophomore from Lovelock, Nevada, was delighted she made the decision to study abroad.

“I would have never voluntarily signed up for many of the activities that we did – like ziplining, tree climbing and the monkey challenge – but I am glad that I did them,” she said.

CREEPY-CRAWLIES

Spending a night in the jungle typically is the highlight of the trip for many of the students.

“The hike is very demanding, but then they sleep on the top of a mountain, eat under the stars and wake up to the toucans singing,” Herring said.

Román said the Costa Rican jungle is lush with vegetation, with forest and coastline wherever she turned. And the wildlife they encountered in the forest was even more exciting.

“I had never thought I would find myself in the middle of a jungle with animals I have never seen and heard of,” she said.  “Though I am not the biggest fan of anything creepy and crawly, my state of mind changed dramatically on the third night there. The spiders and lizards became my friends, because they ate the flies and mosquitos.”

‘PURA VIDA’

The UTRGV students quickly became enchanted by the hospitality of the Costa Rican people and their use of the phrase “pura vida,” or “the good life.” Aside from being friendly tour guides and hosts, Gomez said, their small gestures of kindness also meant a lot.

“All the people in Costa Rica were so nice,” Gomez said. “They always remembered that I ordered hot chocolate in the morning, so they would have one waiting for me by the time I sat down.”

Román was amazed by the Costa Ricans’ views on nature, and hopes to bring some of that back to the Valley.

“The way the people of Costa Rica respect and embrace their environment is astounding, and it made me want to bring that home with me,” Román said. “I have found that everything serves a purpose, and nothing is there by accident.”

Herring said some students finish the course with completely different interests and passions.

“One student told me, ‘I just realized I’m an adrenaline junkie.’ Right now, the student works in an office. The student said, ‘I can’t do that anymore. This is what makes me feel alive.’”

UTRGV STUDENTS – STUDY ABROAD: COSTA RICA

  • Litzy Aleman, Interdisciplinary Studies, Brownsville.
  • Samantha Balboa, Chemistry, Brownsville.
  • Andrea Cardenas, Accountancy, Brownsville.
  • Jesus Espinosa, Criminal Justice, Brownsville.
  • Lesley Gomez, English, Lovelock, Nevada.
  • Angelica Morales, English, Brownsville.
  • Jeronimo Rodriguez, Multidisciplinary Studies, Los Fresnos.
  • Xóchilth Román, Sociology, Brownsville. 

A group of students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spent two weeks in Costa Rica as part of a study abroad English course called “Living, Reading, Writing Nature.” The course, a special topics class taught by Pamela Herring, a lecturer in the UTRGV Department of Writing and Language Studies, is in its eighth year and centers on assigned readings, two written by Jack Ewing, co-founder of the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, where the students stayed. Hacienda Barú, a private nature reserve with 830 acres of protected forest, mangrove and seashore, allows students to participate in hands-on activities like swimming near the base of waterfalls, tree climbing, overnight camping in the jungle, and the “Monkey Challenge,” an obstacle course in the trees. (Courtesy Photo)

A group of students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spent two weeks in Costa Rica as part of a study abroad English course called “Living, Reading, Writing Nature.” The course, a special topics class taught by Pamela Herring, a lecturer in the UTRGV Department of Writing and Language Studies, is in its eighth year and centers on assigned readings, two written by Jack Ewing, co-founder of the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, where the students stayed. Hacienda Barú, a private nature reserve with 830 acres of protected forest, mangrove and seashore, allows students to participate in hands-on activities like swimming near the base of waterfalls, tree climbing, overnight camping in the jungle, and the “Monkey Challenge,” an obstacle course in the trees. (Courtesy Photo)

A group of students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spent two weeks in Costa Rica as part of a study abroad English course called “Living, Reading, Writing Nature.” The course, a special topics class taught by Pamela Herring, a lecturer in the UTRGV Department of Writing and Language Studies, is in its eighth year and centers on assigned readings, two written by Jack Ewing, co-founder of the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, where the students stayed. Hacienda Barú, a private nature reserve with 830 acres of protected forest, mangrove and seashore, allows students to participate in hands-on activities like swimming near the base of waterfalls, tree climbing, overnight camping in the jungle, and the “Monkey Challenge,” an obstacle course in the trees. (Courtesy Photo)

A group of students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spent two weeks in Costa Rica as part of a study abroad English course called “Living, Reading, Writing Nature.” The course, a special topics class taught by Pamela Herring, a lecturer in the UTRGV Department of Writing and Language Studies, is in its eighth year and centers on assigned readings, two written by Jack Ewing, co-founder of the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, where the students stayed. Hacienda Barú, a private nature reserve with 830 acres of protected forest, mangrove and seashore, allows students to participate in hands-on activities like swimming near the base of waterfalls, tree climbing, overnight camping in the jungle, and the “Monkey Challenge,” an obstacle course in the trees. (Courtesy Photo)

                 
ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Steven.Masso01@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Student Staff Writer / 956-882-4330

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications / 956-665-2742