Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Day 7

It’s hard to believe I’ve already been here for one week. Seven days. Only seven, and already so much has happened.

Yesterday morning we left La Fortuna for the Monteverde region, high in the clouds. Without a doubt, this is my favorite area so far, but I’ll get to that in a bit. We stopped along the way at Mariposa Cafe for coffee and empanadas, and puppies. The owner showed us the puppies in the back of the restaurant, next to the bathrooms outside. Ten of them, only fifteen days old. Little squirmy, furry blobs, eyes barely open. She handed me an all white one to hold – it eagerly nudged into my chest, seeking warmth or food, or both, which came soon enough – the mother returned to answer their cries. I gently put the pup back with the others.

For at least an hour, we kept ascending the dirt and gravel road through the hills of Monteverde, passing pastures, forests, and homes. Napping wasn’t an option – the road was so rough my neck ached, but at least Henry, our driver for the trip, took care to avoid the worst of the pot holes. At one point, an old man in a cowboy hat waved our bus down. His horse had run away and he’d been walking along the road, looking for it, all morning. Mom was his name, 75 years old. We gave him a ride all the way back to where he started, thanking us.

Once we arrived in the main town (with a paved road, thankfully), we got lunch at one of the nearby restaurants before going on the orchid tour in a nearby mini conservatory. Afterwards, we got to our next hotel, Cala Lodge, nestled back in the woods a little out of town. The rooms were like cabins, with hardwood floors, a set of bunk beds, a kitchenette, and a full bath tub. Definitely my favorite stay so far, including the town itself. But before getting to explore the area, we went to the zip line canopy tour. I haven’t felt that free in a long time – flying through the trees, through passing clouds, the way I’ve always thought a bird must feel like. I didn’t even care that it was raining, I just felt so alive.

The town of Monteverde reminds me of Colorado somewhat – eclectic shops, local artists, cafes, even a restaurant built around an old, massive tree – all while surrounded by passing clouds and thick forest. And finally, coffee shops with almond and soy milk. We spent around 2.5hrs exploring the area before meeting back up for dinner at a local restaurant. There was live music, and at one point Mario even sang for us and played the guitar. His voice is beautiful, smooth like velvet, like the foam on top of a cup of coffee.


Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Day 8

It doesn’t matter what time you set your alarm to – the forest wakes up at 5.

The majority of today was dedicated to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, located above the main town at about 5-6 thousand feet in elevation. We followed Mario along one of the trails as he pointed out the huge array of plants and animals – his depth of knowledge is incredible, given the biodiversity of such an area.

The rest of the day was spent in town for about an hour of free time, and then we headed back to the hotel to relax until dinner. I took the opportunity to go for a run along the main road and stretch my legs after spending so much time on the bus the past few days. We had a night hike around 5:30 before dinner, since it starts to get dark around then. We looked for animals along a trail with our flash lights, finding a few tarantulas, many other bugs, one frog, and a short glimpse of an olingo – a mammal that lives in the canopy. Tomorrow we head for Jaco.

Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Day 6

Today’s agenda was the Rio Celeste hike and the Baldi Hot Springs, both of which were amazingly exotic in contrasting ways. The hike to the river was a steep one, up muddy trails surrounded by ferns and lush foliage. The way up was, I’m guessing, 2mi, but took us nearly an hour because of the terrain and elevation. You could smell it before you could see it – not of some earthy, fresh, floral scent that you’d expect from something so brilliantly, beautifully blue, but of rotten eggs. Of sulfur. The chemical reaction between the two joining rivers, combined with the effect of the light and our eyes’ perception, is what gives the Rio Celeste its famous color (and smell). Aside from the odor, it was stunning. So vivid, like something you’d see in a fantasy movie. Actually, most things here have reminded me of Avatar so far – the brilliantly colored and diverse plants, the strange animals, the way the people make an effort to coexist sustainably with nature.

On the hike back the way we came, it started to rain. We were already fairly sweaty, so it actually felt pretty nice, especially after climbing the steps back up from the waterfall we stopped to see. At the top of the waterfall steps, a few people were gathering and pointing to something moving off the side of the trail. A coati. Basically a tropical raccoon-type animal, or something like a cross between a red panda and a lemur. Or a possum. It came surprisingly close before trotting away back into the brush. The wild mammals we’ve come across so far now include the three-toed sloth we saw yesterday, and now the coati. Of all the places we thought we’d find a sloth, this one was just hanging from a telephone line along the road.

After lunch at some casual restaurant by the trailhead, we all stopped at the hotel to grab our bathing suits and headed to the hot springs, which is kind of a misleading name because it’s not like a natural spring at all. This place is basically a resort – bars in the pools, waterfalls coming out of rocks into pools surrounded by foliage, caves you can walk into to find hidden saunas. Each pool was increasingly hot the farther up the hill you went, and despite the daily heat and humidity, it actually felt really good after our hike. I think the only “natural” aspect of Baldi is that it uses the heat from the nearby geothermal activity to heat the water. Everything else is man-made. Not like Rio Celeste, but still beautiful.

Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Day 5

The morning was spent driving from Sarapiqui to La Fortuna for a short hike (more like stairmaster) to the famous waterfall. I think Mario said there were something like 500 steps? My calves were trembling, but it was definitely worth it and it felt good to have some form of exercise after sitting on the bus. The stairs were fairly steep on the way down, but that didn’t deter anyone – most people were swimming in the basin of the waterfall or the second pool or scrambling among the rocks, slippery with moss. Blue water surrounded by bright green foliage, like something you’d see as a computer background. The cold mountain water was so refreshing with the humidity everywhere else. You could see the fish, meandering in the water around people’s legs.

After hiking back up the 500 steps and getting onto the bus, we stopped at a coffee plantation on the way back to the hotel. Down to Earth Coffee, “the best coffee in Costa Rica.” Mathias, the owner, was amazingly charismatic. His family has been growing coffee since the late 1800s, and after taking a detour with marketing, he inherited the business. He talked a lot about how he uses the fruit of the coffee bean, cascara, as a sweetener and to make tea, sweet coffee, and eve to eat it as a dried snack. He could relate coffee to nearly any subject – biofuel, fertilizer, business and the economy. We would return later in the day to buy our own coffee from him and to enjoy chocolate banana coffee shakes.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel before heading to kayak on Lake Arenal, which was it’s own adventure altogether. Besides the fact that it was on a volcanic crater lake, and that we got to swim init, it just so happened that once we started to paddle, the afternoon storms rolled in. But not just rain. Thunder, streaks of lightning, and winds gusting so hard the rain stung your face. Not to mention you couldn’t really see where you were paddling. We all managed to make it back alright, and at that point, just looked forward to those coffee shakes and getting dry.

Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Day 3

Woke up this morning at 5am to the sounds of howler monkeys in the trees. Leah, my roommate while we’re at this hotel, and I got dressed and met everyone in the restaurant area for coffee before heading out on the boat for a canal tour. The hotel owner’s dog, Sasha, a 7 month old Rottweiler, happily greeted us all once we saw her. What a life she must live, a pup in a tropical hotel.

During the 2hr boat ride we saw a great variety of animals and plants. Some were essentially a tropical version of birds I’d recognize back in Ohio, like herons and kingfishers, while others were completely exotic, like toucans and macaws. We even saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, basilisks, an iguana, and another caiman. As a zoology major, the animals interested me more than the plants, but they were beautiful and diverse all the same.

We have some free time until 1:30 or so, when we’ll have lunch before heading into town for a lecture and talking with local people about sustainability. Until then, most of us are taking naps, catching up on our journaling, or relaxing by the pool.

After lunch, shortly before leaving for town, I went to walk on the paths around the hotels, and found that the monkeys had come back. A whole troop of them, children and all. White-faced capuchins and one lone spider monkey, swinging through the trees.

Despite seeing wild monkeys for the first time, my favorite part of the day was actually getting to walk through the town. I know it was oriented towards tourists, but it was amazing anyways. Dogs, everywhere. Just roaming the streets, in and out of shops, between legs, through crowds. So many trinkets made out of coconut – necklaces, bracelets, bowls. Men chopping coconuts with machetes, or carving turtles out of wood. One woman was carving designs into the side of natural wooden bowls. She enthusiastically welcomed us in her shop, showing us all the masks, bowls, lamp shades, candle holders, and scrapbooks she made. She shared her favorite songs with us, helped us with our limited Spanish, and got to know us a little bit too. I ended up buying a bowl, and she carved my name into it in Spanish – Margarita. I also ended up getting a shirt and some gifts for friends. I can tell my biggest problem when I fly back is fitting all my extra stuff into my carry on.

I actually enjoyed the town more so than the  beach – the waves were very rough, the sand black, and palm trees swaying in time with the surf. We made our way to the turtle conservation center to learn about Tortuguero’s work for Hawksbill, Green, Leatherback, and Loggerhead sea turtles (although we didn’t see any).

Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Day 1

Everything is in Spanish and I love it.

I successfully ordered my food in Spanish and navigated my way through customs. On the flight, I actually sat next to a girl from Atlanta who was coming home after a two year bible school program in Charleston SC. She lives just north of San Jose with her family, who was greeting her here at the airport.

It was such an interesting comparison in perspectives – both of us were so excited to be going to Costa Rica, but for nearly opposite reasons. Her, because she was returning home, to something familiar. And I, because I was leaving America behind for an experience completely new.

Already we’ve had a few lessons in flexibility – our professor’s flight has been delayed and won’t arrive until 6:30pm, and our bus bumped another tourist van when it came to pick us up at the airport. We’re only waiting on one other girl to arrive, and until then we’re just staying at the hotel where we’ll have dinner later tonight.

Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Last in-country Class

Today is the last class we have together before we all board our separate flights in a few days. We most likely won’t see each other (a whopping 8 students total) until Monday afternoon in San Jose, Costa Rica (not San Jose, California, as I found out after buying the wrong ticket the first time). The past five classes have been spent going over the geological formation of Costa Rica, what makes it ecologically unique, how Costa Rica promotes sustainability as a country, and how the United States compares to it. But that’s not what I’ve been thinking about.

This is my first time traveling out of the country, and while I’m going to be out of my comfort zone and away from routine, I’m beginning to realize that it’s actually going to happen. I’m actually going to Costa Rica. I’m going to be tasting coffee, fresh from a plantation, hiking through national parks, ziplining through the trees, horseback riding along trails, kayaking across Lake Arenal, and whitewater rafting along the Sarapiqui River.

And the only thing in my way is a seven hour plane trip – not even that bad, considering I’m leaving the continent.

…And packing.


A drawn map of our expected route, starting in Costa Rica.

Washington Academic Internship Program – Kate Clark

This semester, I had the opportunity to participate in the Washington Academic Internship Program (WAIP) through the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. This program enabled me to obtain a position as a Policy Fellow with Battelle Memorial Institute’s Office of Government Relations. Battelle is a non-profit organization that manages several of the national laboratories within the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security. The organization’s mission is focused on using innovation to develop solutions for marginalized communities, and its philanthropic focus is on fostering STEM education initiatives. Interestingly, Battelle’s headquarters is based in Columbus, Ohio, which is my hometown. I enjoyed working in a government relations office and I am so appreciative of the opportunity. I learned so much this semester, not only regarding the subject matter of interest to Battelle, but also about my ability to work as a young professional.

Participating in this project enabled me to learn so much about myself and what my life after graduation will be like. I had time to rethink my commitment to going straight to law school after my time at Ohio State, and I made some amazing friends along the way. This semester showed me how many professional opportunities exist in the world, and that it is okay to be unsure of the correct path to take. This confusion led me to believe that I needed to stay in Washington DC again for the summer. So, I took a chance and put down a lump sum payment on an apartment for the summer before finding a job! Long story short, everything worked out and I ended up getting a summer position that is perfect for me. However, without my experience in the spring I never would have had the courage to bet on myself, and to believe in my own abilities and qualifications.

The relationships I made this semester greatly contributed to this transformation; I met some of the most amazing people in DC. Battelle’s Office of Government Relations is very small; I only had one supervisor who I reported to directly, and three other staff members that I worked with on a daily basis. This was great because I was able to learn from several people, especially since Battelle has such broad interests. Furthermore, I got to know the subject matter of each staffer in my office, which was fascinating. Getting to know my supervisor was phenomenal! He actually participated in WAIP a few years ago and was very understanding of my commitments and encouraged me to take every opportunity that came my way. He was also always sure to introduce me as his ‘colleague’ at events and made sure to give positive feedback when it was deserved. It is very clear that he wanted to help me this semester and I am really lucky to have had a supervisor who trusted me with important, independent work. Furthermore, WAIP gave me a mentor and a program manager who were integral to my success throughout spring semester.

The projects I was given at my internship were key to my learning that I needed to come back to Washington DC for the summer and that I wanted to put off law school after graduation to work DC again. I had the opportunity to do some really cool things through my internship with Battelle. Every day, I sent out daily news clips to the office. This sounds like a menial task, but it has actually enabled me to learn so much about the experiments and breakthroughs happening at the national labs. Reading daily google alerts also helped me to better define the role of Battelle in the Columbus community. My role has allowed me to research and monitor the effects of pending legislation on issue areas of interest to Battelle, and to draft succinct reports on congressional hearings covering subjects specific to my superiors’ projects. Working within a government relations office has underscored the importance of editing my own work; I have discovered just how important the ability to write well is in a professional setting. I was tasked with daily projects of reviewing transcripts, researching technologies, and writing reports on hearings and briefings. However, I also worked on more long-term assignments. I personally tracked the locations of the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Physics programs across the United States; let me tell you there are a TON. I compiled this information in relation to Congressional districts and members, and my work was used during Battelle’s Nuclear Physics Day. This lobbying day was planned before I began my internship, but my work was used in meetings with congressional members and their staffers. Additionally, as a non-profit organization, Battelle’s philanthropic mission is focused on increasing youth access to STEM education, and I was fortunate to be a part of a coalition meeting discussing Battelle’s continued advocacy under the current administration. These experiences made me much more confident in my ability to work in an office setting and let me know that the transferable skills of my degree at Ohio State will truly be of use to my future career.

I would not have had the same experience without participating in WAIP. I have lived in Columbus, Ohio for my entire life. Moving to DC for a semester, especially in the middle of the school year, was a huge commitment for me. I had to leave my family, friends, job, and student organizations (that I had grown so comfortable with) behind in my transition into interning in DC, and this was a scary process. However, knowing that 17 other Ohio State students were also participating in the same program and were feeling the same emotions really comforted me. I ended up having three other roommates and we became best friends. They each encouraged me to make the most out of each day in the district and helped me to get out of the apartment and explore the city. None of my accomplishments would have been possible without them. I am so thankful that STEP gave me the opportunity to make this experience possible.

This project enabled me to understand who I really am! I learned to open myself up to new experiences and I was also able to take a full course-load outside of my double major of International Studies and Chinese. The Public Policy classes gave me a platform to write my own policy recommendation on the ability of the federal government to lessen the effects of childhood hunger and enabled me to debate different issues with my classmates. I learned that I am actually interested in domestic affairs as well as international ones! This experience showed me that after graduation I want to return to DC to live and work, and I could not be more excited.

Education Abroad in Italy

Name: Evan Grootenhuis

Type of Project: Education Abroad

1. My STEP Signature Project entailed taking a class in the spring to prepare to travel to five cities across northern Italy (Padua, Venice, Turin, Verona, and Milan) through a program called the Industry Immersion Program. In Italy, I participated in company tours at Safilo, Pettenon, Rossimoda, Pasqua, Fiat, and YNAP, learning how these various companies minimize costs and utilize their facilities efficiently.  Also, I learned how these companies analyze the market and past figures to plan and strategize what to make and how much to make in the future.

2. My view of the world changed and was transformed while completing my STEP Signature Project because I was able to experience a different culture on the other side of the world and be immersed in to it. It was amazing to see the people and how they act differently in their simple day-to-day activities. We drove through the Italian countryside frequently and I was fortunate enough to see children playing. In this way, Italy is very similar to the USA, but in many other ways, they are different. I had amazing experiences that I will remember for a lifetime.

My understanding of myself was also transformed while completing my STEP Signature Project. This is because I went on this trip with people that I did not know prior to the class or trip. I had to go out of my comfort zone to experience everything I wanted to experience. Since the class was only second session, I didn’t get to know those going on the trip that well. But when in country, I got to know every single one of them and they are great people. I now have many new friends that I will continue to hang out with in the future thanks to this trip.

3. While in Padua, we toured the University of Padua and were able to talk to students and professors after. This was amazing to see the differences between the USA and Italy as far as education goes. I talked with one student, Marco, for the whole dinner and it was a great time. This affected me because it helped me to appreciate everything I have and how fortunate I am. Marco was in graduate school and working full-time while managing classes and I thought my schedule was busy. It was amazing to see the similarities and differences between me and him.

We were fortunate enough to tour a winery, Pasqua, while in Verona. This was amazing, it was awesome to see how the wine is made and put in to barrels and then put in to the bottles. The workers at the winery made sure we were happy with our wine while we taste tested and then we made our own wine after! This transformed me because it made me appreciate the simple things in life, and the atmosphere in the winery was so calm and enjoyable.

Another event is the fact that Italians don’t have water with meals, and there are no drinking fountains. If you want water, you have to pay for it and it is room temperature. This changed me because I never really appreciated the fact that I can get cold water for free anytime I want in the USA. This trip helped me to see how fortunate I am to have all the opportunities that I have in my life, and water is definitely included in that.

4. This change is significant to me because I am now more comfortable around strangers and people I just met. I now love meeting new people because I know how to give a good first impression. This matters and relates to my professional and personal goals because in a job interview, it is all about first impressions. I now know how to better interact with people I just met and to be somewhat reserved but to also tell them a good amount. Balance is the best way to give a good first impression and this will help me tremendously in my future.



With backpack: taken while on our walking tour in Venice.

With bottle of wine: taken after we made our own bottles of wine at the Pasqua winery in Verona.

With glasses of wine: taken at a restaurant in Padua following a company visit at Safilo.

With pizza: taken in Burano when we had some free time on the island.