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by Laura Toro, University of Minnesota

Today I am having a delicious Costa Rican coffee while I am watching the landscape that surrounded Las Cruces. I can see the palm trees from the dining hall area, they make me nostalgic, I cannot stop thinking about my home country. This area reminds me of El Valle del Cocora, one of the most beautiful regions of Colombia, where the tallest palm tree in the world can be found. Sadly, this species is critically endangered, and although several measures have been taking in order to protect the current population, the future of this species does not look promising. I wish we could have a conservation system like the Costa Rican one.

After spending six weeks studying different ecosystems, from Dry Forests to Paramos, and working with frogs, butterflies, lizards, and invasive gingers I have realized how lucky Costa Ricans are. This peaceful Central American country is an excellent example of progress and goodwill. People from different nationalities and organizations from around the world have been working together in order to conserve thousands of species that can be found across Costa Rica. Their power and determination have been able to change laws, and to recover what was left after the explosive expansion of monocultures in the 70s.

The stations we visited during this adventure were an excellent example of the potential that community projects have. Every place was full of passionate people willing to conserve and protect what they had no matter how difficult or costly it seemed. Every person I met was proud of their accomplishments, and most important they were excited to share their successes and failures with us. Their welcoming smiles made me feel at home and their motivational speeches encouraged me to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. They said that we were the future, and that our findings would help them improving their projects. I do not know if we were able to fulfill those expectations, but I cannot be more grateful for this experience and for what I learnt in the process.

Even though the process was not what I expected, I learnt that everyone not matter their background have always something important to add, and that her or his perspective could make what could seem as a good project and excellent one. Working in groups is not always easy, we could all speak the same language, but misunderstandings frequently happen. So being able to talk and express our feelings is necessary if we want to have a healthy environment. If we all were able to leave our egos behind we could all learn more about the ecosystems we studied and enjoyed more the opportunities we have.

These weeks also made me aware of the importance of self-caring. We all were adults, and we were supposed to know our limits, but sometimes I saw people fainting or struggling with lethal infections. That scared me and made me realize how naïve we are. We are not unbeatable, we also need to sleep and eat well, and by the way DRINKING WATER in the tropics is mandatory. I hope we all have learned the lesson!

Thank you Pati, Sofi, Ronny, Jorge, Oscar, Esteban, Mariana, Marcelo, Becca, Pablo, Darko, Sean, Jenny, Susan, Adriana, David, Nico, Nicole, Elaine, Alana, Faith, Laura, Ana, Anna K, Anna P, Anna M, Amanda, Sage, Patrick, Harshad, Dipsy, Amy, Tiffany and Becky for being my family these past weeks and sharing your passion and love with me!! Also, thanks to the staff in every station!! I loved the gallo pinto and the tortillas you made for us <3

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