By: Diego Garcia Olaechea, OTS PhD Student at the University of Florida
I first heard about OTS courses when I was an undergraduate student in Peru, many years ago. I have always had the desire to apply to one of these famous six-week courses in Costa Rica. Six weeks in which approximately twenty graduate students from different countries would be immersed in books, scientific literature, and critical thinking; conducting research projects, designing and carrying out experiments, and writing scientific articles. Six weeks in which students would be working with little free time, breaking their limits and extending their comfort zones to areas they would never have imagined. Six weeks doing non-stop and intense science.
To my satisfaction, I was accepted in the 2017-3 version of this course, and I was able to live out, without anyone telling me, every piece that I had heard about those courses. However, curiously, there was something else that I had not noticed before, maybe because of the excitement of the academic level of the course and everything I was going to learn, or because of traveling to the country with the most successful conservation history on the planet, or maybe because one tends to underestimate certain things. “One” does not make the course “alone.” We were a group of sixteen students plus three teachers who lived together for six weeks. We traveled all over Costa Rica, from the Pacific to the Atlantic slope, from lowlands to mountains, from dry forests to rainforests. This aspect of the course was what I had not anticipated: the human factor. This is why I strongly criticize OTS and the organizers of the course. How dare they to bring together nineteen strangers for six weeks, make them experience a thousand adventures together, get them to worry about each other, allow them to make bonds, perhaps for life. And then, abruptly, rip them apart and send them back to their countries of origin? Did they take into account what that would mean for each of us? How dare they?!
Academically this course was as expected, intense, productive, and with a thousand new tools to apply to our daily science. But something that exceeded all my expectations were those 19 strangers becoming friends, building a friendship that now crosses borders.