In Another Country Revisited

by R. Wesley Proctor ’10

I don’t really know how to describe my preconceptions going into my May Term abroad program in Costa Rica other than about 95% pure excitement mixed with 5% apprehension about living with a foreign family whom I knew relatively little about, not to mention the language barrier.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I have the good fortune of being able to say that I would not have done anything differently. Pushing myself to speak the language and interact with the family and the local community yielded tremendous dividends in both conversational improvement as well as in social education. I learned a lot about myself and an international environment while having a good time in paradise.

There were 16 Hampden-Sydney students on the trip. Everyone lived with a Costa Rican family and made their way to class twice each day at the institute where we studied.  During the week we worked hard during the day and unwound a little a night, but the weekends were definitely highlights.

The first weekend we toured around San Jose getting acclimated to the area as well as seeing many museums and places of interest, such as the Teatro Nacional (left), which was a standout because of its fantastic architecture. 

 The second weekend we went to Manuel Antonio (right), a rain forest national park positioned next to Quepos, a small fishing town. With the help of my taxi driver, I set up a day of off-shore fishing which turned out great; although it was the off-season, we landed a sailfish.

The following Friday I was invited by my host sister, who is my age, to go to one of her friend’s birthday parties. I foolishly accepted not knowing how hard Costa Ricans throw down. They told me I was welcome to bring a friend, so I invited Holden Bryant ’10. The party was ridiculous. One thing that was hard to keep in my mind was the possibility that some of these people do in fact speak English. It was about 10 minutes of my stumbling with my Spanish trying to tell someone, whom I thought to be Costa Rican, about the plot line of The Dark Knight before he informed me that he was from California.

Getting up at 7AM the following morning wasn’t the easiest task, but there was no way I was going to miss Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal.  If there’s anything that wakes you up in the morning it’s vistas of liquid hot magma chased by hot springs with waters of varying temperature both with and without aqua-bars.  Seeing this volcano may very well have been the highlight of the trip.  It was majestic, impressive, and humbling all at once.

Our final weekend we visited Tortuguero, an island in the Caribbean where turtles go to lay their eggs.  It was quite a trek to get there, but, when we did, it was worth it.  The beaches were astounding; the water was the perfect temperature, unattainable in any bath or Sharper-Image product.  I went fishing and canoeing; both offered uncanny views of the Caribbean Coast.  The canals behind Tortuguero made me feel like I was in the Amazon and far more intrepid than my mom may have liked.  We saw three types of monkeys, a sloth, toucans, crocodiles, and many other animals for which I lack the proper nomenclature. The trip was a blast.

The following weekend was our departure, which was bitter sweet.  I had such an indescribably good time and bonded with my host family, with whom I still keep in touch, but as always it’s good to be back in the old U.S. of A. as well as Hampden-Sydney.  The trip had such an effect on me that I have decided to minor in International Studies as well as a Spanish minor.  I would advise anyone who is thinking about doing a study abroad program to just check all reservations at the door because for me it was the experience of a lifetime.

Study Abroad 2003-2004

During the 2003-2004 academic year, 72 Hampden-Sydney students studied abroad in 11 different countries. The length of study ran from a full academic year to May Term courses and ranged from Europe to Central America to Australia and New Zealand.

On September 2, many of the participants gathered in the Parents & Friends Lounge and several shared stories of their adventures.

G. W. Zuban ’06 of Chesterfield, VA, studied at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, for the Spring Semester 2004.
G.W. chose St. Andrews because of its solid academic reputation and it because is substantially larger than Hampden-Sydney College but not in an urban environment. Early on, he could not find a building where one of his classes was held and stopped another student and asked directions; it turned out to be Prince William, who gave him directions.

Full Story…

Forrest Smith ’06 of Farmville, VA, spent the academic year at University of Glasgow.
He arrived the end of August. Forrest called it a “surreal experience.” “I always wanted to go to Scotland, and I threw myself into the culture. First, I tried haggis. It is a brilliant dish; I loved it. With haggis and a pint of Guinness you can’t go wrong. The people of Scotland are warm and friendly; if you ask directions, they don’t just give you directions they take you there.”
“The university experience was like independent study. Professors are very approachable but you are largely on your own. There is much reading. The routine is paper, project, exam, and go home.”
The rugged terrain is just as it would have been 400 or 500 years ago. This was the Scotland I went to see, and I was not disappointed. I traveled to Loch Ness and Loch Lomond and took 3- or 4-hour hikes on trails up the mountains. Scotland is so very green.

Jordan Gaul ’05, of West Chester, PA, spent the academic year at St. Catherines College, Oxford University, England.
“At Oxford there were no tests, study was entirely independent, lectures were optional, but evaluations were intense and individualized. It was the most thorough and rewarding system I have ever had the opportunity to study under.”

Full Story…

 

Mathew Anderson ’06 of Staunton, VA, spent his junior year in Paris on the Sweet Briar College Program.
“It was the best decision I have made thus far; of the 95 in the program, 10 were men.”
“We began with a month in Tours and then moved to Paris, where I lived with a host family and attended the Sorbonne. The Sorbonne is extremely different form Hampden-Sydney – huge classes, little support – a different experience.”
“Sweet Briar was great about side trips. We went to Monet’s Garden a Giverny and the American Cemetery at Normandy. I spent Christmas in Brussels. All the guys in the program decided to go to Sweden, and we found a 19 Euro plane fare to Stockholm. Several of us took a 16-day spring-break trip to Morocco including riding camels across the Sahara for two days. It was a phenomenal trip, so very different from anything I had ever seen. The skies and colors of Morocco are beyond belief.”
“Paris is a gift. It is all the sparkle and all the life you could hope for. Last year was the best year ever.”

Joseph Yarborough ’06, of Golf Shores, AL, spent the spring semester at James Cook University in Cairnes, Australia. He took courses in management, psychology, and aboriginal culture.
“I went with Mike Vassar (’06 of Midlothian, VA). Our study abroad conditions were that it was warm and everybody spoke English, and we found the right place.”
“In Australia what you learn above the surface is nothing to what you can learn under the water; diving with a whale is like being with a dinosaur.
We took a 3,000-mile 16-day road trip from Cairnes to Sidney. Up in the rain forests, there are trees that take a hundred years to grow. On the beaches the views are breathtaking. There are gorges with waterfalls that shake the earth. At Barron Bay are the prettiest sunsets you will ever see.”
“It was great experience. Anyone who gets a chance to study abound, just go for it.”

Monti Mercer ’06 of Fairfax, VA, took the May Term course in tropical biology in Costa Rica.

Full Story…

Daniel Gordon ’05 of Burke, VA, studied abroad in Grenoble, France, for two months last summer as part of the requirements for his French major.
“Grenoble is not a tourist town and most foreigners there are students. It is well located and I visited Paris, Verdun, Normandy, Dijon, and Monaco.”
“It was an experience everyone should have. I hope to return to spend a year.”

May Term 2004 in Costa Rica

By Monti Mercer ’06Dr. M. Carolina Y?er, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology, parted from her family for two and half weeks to take eleven Hampden-Sydney men to Costa Rica for tropical biology research.  We were able to perform studies on plants and animals found at three biological stations located around the country, each with its own tropical forest genre.  The stations are run by the Organizations for Tropical Studies (OTS), a non-profit consortium that focuses on undergraduate and graduate level education in tropical biology.

 

Six days were spent on campus preparing for all the research that would be performed in Costa Rica.  It was decided that we would break up into five research groups to conduct the experiments at each station.  We got up early Sunday morning to catch our flight out of Richmond at 7:30 AM, only to have a seven hour layover in Miami.  After we explored either the beach or the airport to pass the time, we finally turned back our watches two hours and walked off the plane into the Costa Rican capital, San Jose.  We all made it through customs with no problems and were greeted outside the airport by a mass of the native people taking pictures and shouting, “Need Taxi?”  A bus soon carried us away into the heart of San Jose where we would spend one night at hotel la Amistad (Friendship) before going to the first biological station, Palo Verde.
During the four hour bus ride to the first station, the change in vegetation became evident.  Palo Verde is a dry forest located in the northern section of Costa Rica on the pacific coast.  Driving up to the main gates, a collection of dragon flies and iguanas were present to greet us.  Settling at this station for four nights, we were provided with three rooms containing two sets of bunk beds per room, a fan, and our own bathrooms with no hot water.  We were also given mosquito nets that fortunately weren’t of much need.  Besides having to check the beds for scorpions every night, the annoying insects that seemed to be immune to DEET, and the long hot afternoons, we were able to make Palo Verde home for the given time.  The five research groups spent the days hiking the different trials in order to obtain information on our topics.  On the second day we took a boat ride down a river that dumps into the Pacific.  A large variety of wild life can be spotted if you have a good eye.  The river is crocodile infested; one of the guys was able to touch one from the boat.  Three guys and Professor Yaber were able to sample raw shrimp sprinkled with fresh lime juice, caught by the boatman in the middle of the ride.  The last day was spent writing papers and we gave presentations of the research that night.  To take a break from research before going to the next research station, we found ourselves on another four hour trip to the beaches of Manuel Antonio, still on the Pacific side.  It began to rain a few hours after our arrival.  We had already agreed to spend this night together as a group, and the rain didn?t spoil that adventure.  The next morning the guys met with Dr. Y?er to go to the beach inside the National Park.  To our entertainment, as if the beach itself wasn’t enough, the guys watched a Squirrel Monkey climb down out of a tree, steal a package of Oreo cookies off a young lady’s towel, climb back up the tree, and enjoy the creme center.  Guess he never heard of the Honor Code.  After basking in the sun all morning, the group returned to the bus for yet another four hour drive.
The Wilson Botanical Garden at Las Cruces is located in the south, about twenty miles north of the border with Panama. Four nights were spent here with spectacular accommodations for researchers.  We had rooms for two with wooden floors and blinds, a balcony overseeing part of the forest, a bathroom with hot water, and a phone.  Although, Las Cruces has the best accommodations out of the three stations, it was the most difficult to gather research topics.  Since it is a botanical garden, most of its wild life is comprised of various plants and birds.  There is division in the group over which station had better food, La Cruces or Palo Verde.  La Cruces has more international style food compared to the typical Costa Rican food served in Palo Verde but it can be hard to please some international travelers especially when every Costa Rican meal contains beans and rice.  We all enjoyed La Cruces and would not have been in a hurry to leave except the next stop was at a volcano.

The nine hour bus ride north to the active Arenal Volcano turned out to be a great experience for those who could stay up.  As the group got closer and closer to the volcano, we became surrounded by overcast and there was no change once we arrived at our destination.  The school had already arranged for an elaborate candle light dinner, so we became indulged with that believing we wouldn’t see the volcano erupt.  After dinner, a little before midnight, seven of us were relaxing in the Jacuzzi and celebrating one of the guy?s twentieth birthday, when we glimpsed a break in the clouds revealing fireworks shooting out of the mouth of Arenal into the empty black sky for a teasing five minutes.

We all watched Arenal in the morning light with hopes of seeing something red as we headed towards the last station in La Selva.  Being in a tropical rainforest, La Selva is full of more species of plants and animals than Las Cruces and Palo Verde combined.  The lab equipment available at this station was the best of the three stations; each group made efforts to use and learn about the different types of equipment.  The best research projects were performed here and were comprised of the following subjects: Leaf-cutter Ants, Bullet Ants, Fig Wasp, and Helliconiae plants.  The food and living accommodations were least liked here out of the three stations and it rained a lot, but the students still enjoyed their stay.  To celebrate the end of all of our research, the group played ultimate Frisbee and took their last hike through the tropical jungle together.

The Last day in Costa Rica was spent in San Jose.  It was comforting to return back to our starting place, la Amistad.  Most of the guys made use of time trying to see everything in the city before it was time to head towards the airport.  We learned a lot from this trip, from increasing our own biological knowledge, to experiencing Costa Rican culture and customs.  The guys began to discuss and really to respect true family values witnessed here.  We were all ready to go home and share our experiences with friends and family.  Thanks to Dr. Y?er and Hampden-Sydney we did it together in the brotherhood, and some of our experiences will never be forgotten.

Costa Rica: anything but “plain and simple”

by J. Devin Watson ’06Dr. Maria C. Yaber recently took twelve Hampden-Sydney men to Costa Rica for a tropical biology class.  We studied the various plants and animals found in three tropical forests located throughout the country, spending a total of sixteen days in Costa Rica.  All of our research was conducted at three biological stations run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), which also offers several graduate and undergraduate classes at the three stations.

 

After a week of preparation at Hampden-Sydney, we left early on the morning of May 25 from Raleigh-Durham Airport.  After a quick one-hour layover in Miami, we boarded the plane that would take us to San Jose.  Going through customs in San Jose was tedious, but we were excited to be in a different country; for some of us, it was our first time leaving the States. We spent the afternoon of our first day exploring San Jose and finding a place to eat.  Since the airlines have ceased serving food, we were all famished.  We met that night at the Grand Hotel and Casino of Costa Rica and enjoyed an upscale, authentic Costa Rican meal.

The next day we departed slightly later than planned due to some minor thefts and endured a four-hour bus ride to our first research station, Palo Verde.  Palo Verde is a dry tropical forest located in the northern pacific coast.  We spent a total of five days there.  Confronted by numerous clouds of mosquitoes and several inches of rain, the group was unsure how we were going to conduct all of our experiments.  Despite the afternoon showers and the droves of mosquitoes, we managed to conduct plenty of field experiments, gathering enough data for six group papers.  Fortunately, the food at Palo Verde was exceptionally good, which kept up the group’s morale that was tested by the clouds of mosquitoes.  We were able to convince Dr. Yaber to let us spend one of our five days allotted at Palo Verde on the beach at La Playa de Ocotal, a small beach with black volcanic sand, lots of fish, and a nice restaurant/bar. We spent the day swimming, throwing Frisbee, and marveling at the beautiful sights.

We left Palo Verde on Saturday, May 30, to travel to the Wilson Botanical Gardens at Las Cruces biological station, also run by the OTS.  We endured a grueling 11-hour bus ride all the way from the northern pacific coast to the southwestern part of the country, about 20 miles from Panama.  There we conducted research projects on subjects ranging from epiphytic interactions on palm and deciduous trees to the amounts of insect larvae found in Helliconiae plants.  We hiked the various trails around the station and some of us even went swimming in the Java River.  Rodo Quir?, the head biologist at Las Cruces, gave us a lecture on the current projects aimed at restoring the nearby pastures to secondary tropical rain forests.  We thoroughly enjoyed the spacious accommodations, the reprieve from the mosquitoes, as well as the great food.  We were all disappointed to leave.

After four days at Las Cruces, we left for La Selva, a tropical rain forest biological station in the Caribbean lowlands.  This would be our last research station and also the place where we would have to collect the most data and report more detailed findings.  La Selva contains fifty-six species of snakes, seven of them being poisonous, meaning we had to be careful where we stepped.  Two of the three groups studied the behavior of leaf-cutter ants, while others studied the golden-orb spiders and granddaddy long legs.  We were relieved once our presentations and papers were finished and were ready to go back to San Jose to buy souvenirs for our families and friends.

We enjoyed our experiences in Costa Rica and would highly recommend the class to future students, especially to students interested in ecology and environmental science or those who simply enjoy hiking and studying exotic animals.