Above the Canopy: Summer in Costa Rica


By Roslyn Rivas, Yale University ’17

Roslyn was a student on our Tropical Biology summer program in 2016 and currently serves as an Alumni Ambassador for OTS.

On our last day at La Selva, one of the biological station guides took a handful of us to visit one of the many research towers spread across the forested area. With our climbing harnesses and helmets in our hands, we set out to walk through the rainforest until we came across a metal frame tower that extended at least 50 meters high. Attaching our belts to the main rope, we climbed up flight after flight of stairs. Suddenly, about halfway up, we were met with a family of howler monkeys, calling out and inching closer, definitely curious about us. They weaved in and out of branches to the wires supporting the tower to get a closer look at the humans who were as high up in the trees as they were.

Soon we were above the canopy, able to see the tops of trees miles around us. It was such a surreal experience being up there, seeing the land and animals this organization is trying to protect. It reminded me of what I loved most about this trip: the sheer amount of wildlife I was able to come across. Throughout the month, I had the chance to study monkeys, birds, coatis, lizards, crocodiles, frogs, and so much more.

This trip was a dream come true not only because I got to travel and see so much wildlife, but also because it gave me a sense of what being a biologist would be like. I want to work in wildlife conservation, out on the field, and the summer OTS Costa Rica program gave me a glimpse of just that. I am so grateful to have been a part of this experience.


First Month in South Africa


By Kirstie McTear, Tuskegee University ’17

Kirstie is currently in South Africa for the Spring 2017 African Ecology and Conservation semester program.

The first few weeks as an OTS student were incredible! The day after we all arrived in Johannesburg we drove out to Nylsvley Nature Reserve where we spent the first 11 days of the program.

A typical day as an OTS student involves many components. Our day usually begins at about 7 am with a lovely breakfast prepared by talented OTS caterers. Students are welcomed to wake up earlier though, to go for a run or on a game drive/bird walk. Some students, including myself, take advantage of this opportunity and while on a run or game drive it is common to see wildlife such as giraffes and wildebeest.

gdvgame drive

After breakfast, we as students listen to lectures prepared by an amazing team of OTS staff and professors about conservation and ecology and the science behind these topics.


Around noon we all take a break for lunch and eat together. Following lunch, we may have a few more lectures or free time in the afternoon to do more nature walks or game drives.

We will then end the day with a delicious dinner around 6 pm. Many students will choose to go on an evening walk around the reserve equipped with headlamps and cameras to capture any nocturnal wildlife before going to bed. The next morning, we wake up and do it all again; excited to see what new adventure the day may bring!


Summer in South Africa: A Day in the Life


By Sydney Harris, Howard University ’17

Sydney was a student in our Summer 2016 Global Health Issues in South Africa program. She describes a day in the life during the homestay portion of the program below.

Today I woke up to the sounds of roosters crowing, the smell of a fire being burned for boiling water, and the sunrise peaking out, indicating that the day was to begin. The pace of life slowed drastically as we observed the daily habits of our host mom and neighboring homes.

These included her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, as well as many children playing while on holiday. We were the centers of attention, the awkward visitors; “makua” and were constantly reminded of it. I was never the girl to camp, or to spend the majority of her days outside, or to sit idle for periods of time, so the entire day worked to test my boundaries and what was comfortable to me. But I loved it.sydney-pic

I loved being invited into our homestay and being trusted to watch over and play with the children in the area. I loved learning about how similar things back home were done in completely different ways here.

The past days at this homestay have paralleled what the trip so far has done for me; it has given me a perspective that I lacked in my education thus far. It gave me a way to look at health and life from the lens of the children who have to walk 2 miles to get bread and the mom who must grow many of the things she eats. Truly it has humbled me and taught me to respect others for the way they live and the way that they make do with what they have, no matter where in the world.

Fiery-Throated Hummingbird in Costa Rica


By Philip Vanbergen, University of Louisiana, Lafayette ’18

Philip was a student on our Summer 2016 Tropical Biology program in Costa Rica.

Before my first trip to Costa Rica, the tropical rainforest was a foreign and faraway place that I only knew through nature documentaries and science classes. It wasn’t until I was able to experience the tropics myself that it became real for me. I had never seen such a rich variety of flora and fauna, and as soon as I got back to the states, I immediately started researching and learning more about this strange and beautiful part of the world. It was during this period of research that I learned about the OTS Tropical Biology Course, and as I learned more about the program, I wanted more and more to experience it as part of my college career.

I applied for the Tropical Biology course for the summer of 2016, and thankfully was accepted. I spent the next several months learning as much as I could about Costa Rica and the tropics in general as I prepared for the course. I would read and re-read field guides of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and plants to become acquainted with the natural history of the area. I was awe-struck by the beautiful and bizarre nature of the tropical plants and animals, and couldn’t wait to experience them myself.

One such animal I leabrightbirdrned about was the fiery-throated hummingbird, a gorgeous hummingbird of the high, montane wet forests of Costa Rica and Panama. I had hopes of seeing one during the course, but I had no idea that I would have such an intimate encounter with the species. During our stay in the Costa Rican highlands, I found myself within arm’s length of dozens of fiery-throated hummingbirds, which allowed me to take this photo with my i-phone. This is just one example of the many amazing animals I was fortunate enough to encounter, and I learned more during the course than I could have ever expected. All in all, this course will be one of the great highlights of my college career.

Collecting Water in Sanari Village


By Oscar Miao, Yale University ’17

Oscar was a student on our Summer 2016 Global Health Issues in South Africa  program. This program includes a homestay in a Venda community in HaMakuya. Oscar describes a day in the life during this part of the program below.

We wake up to the sounds of chatter and laughter outside our rondavel, a traditional African-style hut. I slowly get out of my sleeping bag, releasing a low moan of pain from sleeping on impenetrable cement. I fill up my bottle from a tank, and head outside of our rondavel to brush my teeth with the prepared water. Brush, gulp, and spit – a routine for brushing without a tap. Our homestay mother recognizes that we are up, and serves a straw basket full of fruit, bread, and tea.

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Costa Rican Wildlife


By Jocelyn Zorn, Sarah Lawrence College ’17

COSTA RICA: Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet, Fall 2016

iguana-2Costa Rica is home to the most fascinating and charismatic wildlife I’ve ever had the privilege to encounter. One of the most memorable wildlife sightings of my life happened in La Selva, where I got about two feet away from a three toed sloth and her baby. I walked by her completely by chance, and got to watch up close as she slowly (although not quite as slow as I expected!) climbed by me, calmly looking at me while I got closer to examine her. Iguanas also have a surprising amount of charisma.

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Life in the Jungle


By Natalie Myers, Occidental College ’18

COSTA RICA: Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet, Fall 2016

The Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet semester with OTS really appealed to me because of all the amazing places and field sites that the program visits- Las Cruces, La Selva, Cuerici, Monteverde, Bocas del Toro, and others. I was most excited about visiting La Selva, because that was where I knew that I would see the most animals.

On our first day at La Selva, we went on a walk with a nature guide. We saw a mother and baby two toed sloth from the bridge, the famous white cotton ball bats, howler monkeys and various other amazing creatures. These animals were all of the big, charismatic animals that everyone wants and hopes to see in the jungle, and I was excited to see them but not really that surprised.


I was more surprised by and interested in all of the small creatures and things that you don’t notice at first. Throughout my time at La Selva, I saw dink frogs the size of my thumbnail, tiny multicolored weevils, and tiny bromeliads. It was harder to find these, but I enjoyed seeing them a lot more. And these were only some of the things that I noticed more once I began to look past the large mammals and organisms.

All in all, this experience has taught me that its important to recognize the significance and role of these smaller, but equally if not more important, creatures around us. By doing so, we can learn more about the ecosystems around us and how to better protect them.


By Bridget Gross, College of Wooster ’18

Bridget was a student on the Spring 2016 Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet Semester in Costa Rica. This post originally appeared here.

An interesting thing happened during my first session of Population and Community Ecology this semester. My professor stood up in front of class and introduced herself and talked a little bit about her favorite habitat/ecosystem/biome. We then had to stand up, say our name and our favorite habitat/ecosystem/biome. Naturally, I said my favorite ecosystem was the Páramo, a high altitude ecosystem found in Central and South America. Continue reading

Summer in Costa Rica: Las Alturas


By Zoe Wood, Bowdoin College ’18

COSTA RICA: Tropical Biology, Summer 2016

There are several ways to encounter and experience nature, but most of the time we just glaze over the surface. I have always been inclined to hiking, camping, and spending time outdoors. But this past month, I’ve learned that some of the most valuable lessons we learn from nature can come not from rushing to a peak, but from taking it slow and observing.

las-alturas-picLas Alturas Biological Station in Costa Rica is not much more than a remote cabin and series of trails up in the montane cloud forest. When we pulled up to the station the air was cool and quiet; I was immediately reminded of home and felt relaxed. Tell your friends and family that you wont be reachable for a few days, the OTS staff reminded us.

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Leaving South Africa


By Joe Galaske, Grinnell College ’17 African Ecology and Conservation Spring 2016

Some moments in life are so profound that they have an impact on us for the rest of our lives. As I reflect on my semester abroad as a part of the African Ecology and Conservation program, I realize that this semester was one of those moments. Our travels took us everywhere—from the animals of the Kruger National Park to the remote villages of Hamakuya and the mountains of Cape Town.

Take the image above as an example. This photo, taken at Bainskloof (a research camp located high in the Cape mountains), was one of many spectacular displays of beauty characteristic of South Africa. This view, and many others, always awaited us every morning and evening.

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