Field-based Professional Development Course for TeachersField-based Professional Development Course for Teachers

Inquiry in Rainforests: an in service program for teachers

Program Details

Where:OTS Station La Selva, and Soltis Center (University of Georgia Station)

When: Jul 7 - 20, 2018


Duration: 2 weeks

Accreditation:2 credits or 96 contact hours PD/CE credit

Language: English

Deadline: April 1, 2018

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Inquiry in Rainforests: an in service program for teachers

... hands-down, the single most profound professional development experience of my teaching career.  Kristen Edwards, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, NASA, Washington, DC

A recipe for career-changing PD:

Start with a model for hands-on, field-based instruction, perfected at the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) an internationally-renowned institution for research and education. Stir in dynamic staff with decades of experience in science, in multiple modalities of teaching, and in teaching about teaching. Season with video production and techniques addressing the challenge of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Blend in awe-inspiring ecosystems and garnish with certification for two graduate credits through the University of Washington and 96 contact hours of CE/PD credits through OTS.

Re-invigorate your joy for biology

... by working like scientists – observing amazing organisms and ecosystems, asking questions, formulating hypotheses, designing experiments to test those hypotheses, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting results for peer review.

Re-ignite your passion in teaching

... by designing exciting projects that engage students ... while incorporating computational thinking, argument from evidence, and communication about the nature of science. 

Boost your confidence in teaching through inquiry

... through projects, discussions, and workshops that focus on creative teaching, while emphasizing crosscutting concepts, and core ideas recommended by the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education.

Develop digital video skills to engage “wired” students

 ... in meaningful ways, through workshops and assignments involving smartphones and other readily-available cameras, editing software, and pre-production planning. 

Step up to the frontier of 21st-century global studies

 ... through discussions with Costa Ricans engaged in education, research, ecotourism, and agriculture that offer first-person perspectives on conservation and sustainable development in tropical forest environments. 


Throughout the trip my eyes were opened to remarkable environments and new ways to teach my students ... Each of the projects changed how I teach ... I have always valued hands-on learning but now I am incorporating more science inquiry in all of my courses. Each day that I teach, it seems like I am incorporating ... my experiences in Costa Rica.  -- Amy Braverman, Alexander HS, Albany, Ohio

Science teaching is under intense scrutiny and review, thanks to the National Research Council’s Education and the National Academy of Sciences’ Next Generation Science Standards. 

As the NRC framework notes, virtually all extant science standards     “…  are long lists of ... disconnected facts, reinforcing the criticism that ... science curricula tend to be “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Not only does this approach alienate young people, it also leaves them with fragments of knowledge and little sense of the inherent logic and consistency of science and of its universality.”

In other words, teaching science as a list of “facts” is both inaccurate and counterproductive. But trying to teach about process without content is also meaningless.

So what’s the solution? 

Using the process of science to deliver the content of science, by presenting factual knowledge through inquiry and active learning. That’s easily said, but not so easily done. Genuine inquiry-based teaching can seem difficult, or even terrifying, to teachers accustomed to basing classroom credibility on being, “the person with the answers.” Because the moment a teacher begins a real inquiry-based lesson, students are going to start asking questions that the “answer guy/gal” can’t answer. And those questions will keep coming; the more exciting and relevant the inquiry, the more questions it will inspire!

Our course helps participants adapt to designing and managing inquiry-based lessons by modeling an entirely different style of teaching. We turn teachers loose in the rain forest, where the novelty of tropical organisms and ecosystems re-awakens their sense of wonder and excitement about nature. We encourage them to ask questions based on their observations. Then, using methods informed by half a century of experience in teaching through research, we help participants generate testable hypotheses from their questions ... and we’re off and running in a new paradigm of teaching and learning. 

Exploring digital media to engage students is another element of our approach. Advances in digital devices and software now enable participants (and their students) to produce high-quality videos using smartphones, tablets, and relatively inexpensive digital cameras.

So we guide participants in conceptualizing, shooting, and editing videos. After all, if we’re emphasizing that science is a process, what better way to help students understand the process than to demonstrate it in a video?  We encourage participants to explore and experiment with different video styles (illustrative, personal narrative, humorous, music-driven). We help each individual harness his or her creative potential to communicate about science in ways tailored to particular student populations. We also suggest ways to engage students by assigning videos as class projects.    

Our diverse field study sites include lowland Caribbean rain forest the La Selva field station of OTS, where an extensive trail network enables research groups to explore and conduct field studies on their own with confidence. We conduct additional field observations on recent lava flows undergoing primary succession around Arenal Volcano, while staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. The course concludes with additional field work, discussions, and workshops in the mid-elevation forests surrounding the Soltis Center of Texas A&M University.

Daily schedules are full. Lectures, workshops, and field work are intensive and rigorous, as appropriate for a graduate course. The course is exciting, fun, and demanding ... and not a relaxing eco-tour. Applicants should be certain to understand what to expect. 

“... Personally, I was afraid that I was going to walk through our woods and be disappointed ...  Cardinals don’t match toucans, and squirrels are a poor substitute to capuchins.  However, I was amazed in the beauty I found when I returned.  Ferns I never noticed, 2 or 3 spectacular wild flowers, and a gray fox all revealed themselves—and I appreciated them more.  The rain forest made me a better observer of my surroundings—I see the world with new eyes—the blind can now see.” - From William Hodges, Holt HS, Holt, Michigan

“ of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in 18 years of teaching.” - Martin Perlaky, Springfield HS, Holland, Ohio

“ amazing opportunity to learn new facts, new pedagogy, and most of all, to be overwhelmed by the diversity and concentration of life in the rainforest.”  -William Hodges, Holt HS, Holt, Michigan

Expect to be challenged: What you get out of this course will depend on what you put into it!

Expect to be challenged intellectually and professionally:  This course has been approved for two graduate credits and 96 contact hours of PD/CE credit – for good reason. It delivers training in field research, coaching in using research to teach the nature and process of science, instruction in tropical ecology and conservation, and tutoring in educational video production. This agenda requires participants to absorb and utilize information and techniques more rapidly than many have since college.

Expect to be challenged creatively: This course requires more concentrated creative effort than most professional development courses, because teaching the process of science and producing videos are both intensely creative endeavors.  Course staff offers assistance and suggestions … and the creativity must be supplied by participants.

Expect to be challenged socially:  Field research and video production are social undertakings, so participants face the same challenges that their students face when assigned to work with peers. Independent thinkers are welcomed with open arms … and must be able to work in groups. Field experiments and video projects require collaboration among 3-5 participants, so effective communication and mutual respect are vital. 

Expect to be challenged physically: This course is NOT an “outward bound” course, but is not a luxury eco-tour either. Our daily routine is full (see schedule). We start early and continue late into most evenings. Participants will be in the field for several hours most days, and should be sufficiently physically fit to walk two - three miles on dirt/mud trails in tropical heat and humidity. (We can usually avoid being out in the sun during the middle of the day, and classrooms are air-conditioned.) If you have questions or concerns, contact Joe, and check with your physician. 

Expect some rousing good times!  The beauty and wonder of tropical nature are awe-inspiring, both field experimentation and video production can be great fun, and there will be “chill time” during scheduled “R&R” periods. During breaks from work, we will enjoy casual wildlife-watching during a river trip, walking on a recent lava flow on an active volcano, looking down at the forest canopy from elevated suspension bridges, some pure relaxation (and fine dining) during an afternoon/evening at a thermal hot springs … and the company of stimulating and enthusiastic peers.

Honestly, I came away from this course amazed at how much was accomplished professionally and personally. During the course we were given the opportunity to do REAL science inquiry using REAL data, which was my professional goal for the course.   And in the “doing” I realized that I would now be much better able to MODEL this process for my students.  My teaching experience has proven that when I use MODELING the students are best able to achieve the learning outcomes.  I also experienced, as a “student” that I can make errors and revise hypotheses.  By performing multiple field problems I am now able to modify rainforest inquiry for use in the temperate deciduous forest.  And finally, I now realize that ending an investigation with MORE questions than I started with is really a good thing! -- Lisa Stefanucci, Northwestern HS, Albion, Pennsylvania


July 6 05:00 p.m. Meet and greet Hotel Tournon bar
  06:30 p.m. Welcome dinner Hotel dining room
July 7 07:00 a.m. Breakfast Hotel dining room
  08:30 a.m. Bus leaves for OTS office Lobby (w luggage)
  09:00 a.m. Orientation and introductions CRO classroom
  09:30 a.m. Broken Squares: An exercise in group dynamics CRO classroom
  10:15 a.m. Break Lobby
  10:30 a.m. Lecture: Geography, Climate, and Biodiversity of Costa Rica CRO classroom
  11:30 a.m. Lunch Lobby
  12:00 p.m. Load bus depart for La Selva  
  03:30 p.m. Check-in to La Selva Reception
  04:30 p.m. Intro to La Selva: Kenneth Alfaro Classroom
  06:00 p.m. Dinner Dining hall
  07:00 p.m. Intro to Visual Media in Teaching; Classroom
  07:30 p.m. Introduction to the art and science of digital photography  
  08:00 p.m. Video Workshop 1: Composition and lighting Classroom
July 8 06:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  08:30 a.m. Natural history walk 1 DH Patio
  11:30 a.m. Lunch DH
  12:30 p.m. Natural history walk 2 Classroom patio
  03:00 p.m. Natural history walk 3 Classroom patio
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Video workshop 2: One-take Wonders Classroom
July 9 VERY EARLY Guided bird walk (optional) DH Patio
  06:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  08:00 a.m. 21 Questions Classroom / field
  10:00 a.m. OTW production Classroom / field
  Noon Lunch DH
  03:00 p.m. OTW presentations Classroom
  04:00 p.m. Intro to Field Problems Classroom
  04:30 p.m. Tour lab boxes Classroom
  05:00 p.m. Tour lab Classroom
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Prep for Field Project 1: Formulating hypotheses Classroom
July 10 06:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  07:30 a.m. Field Project 1: Methods data collection Classroom / field
  Noon Lunch DH
  01:00 p.m. Field Project 1: data analysis report prep Classroom / field
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Field Project 1: reports discussion Classroom
  08:00 p.m. Prep for Field Project 2: hypothesis formation Classroom
July 11 06:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  07:30 a.m. Field Project 2: methods data collection Classroom / field
  Noon Lunch DH
  01:00 p.m. Field Project 2: data analysis report prep Classroom / field
  04:30 p.m. Field Project 2: reports discussion Classroom
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Video workshop 3: Editing Classroom
  08:00 p.m. Intro to Video project 2 Classroom
July 12 06:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  08:00 a.m. Video project 2: production begin post-production Classroom / field
  Noon Lunch DH
  01:00 p.m. River trip DH Patio
  04:30 p.m. Lecture / demo: The Botany of Tropical Foods Classroom patio
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Video project 2: finish post-production Classroom
July 13 06:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  07:30 a.m. Group field projects (GFP): hypotheses, methods, design Classroom / field
  Noon Lunch DH
  01:00 p.m. GFP: pilot studies, data collection Classroom / field
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Video project 2: presentations Classroom
July 14 06:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  07:30 a.m. GFP: data analysis Classroom / field
  Noon Lunch (order box lunches) DH
  01:00 p.m. GFP: report prep Classroom
  04:00 p.m. GFP: project report presentations Classroom
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Lecture: Arenal hydro project: Engineering, ecology, and sociology Classroom
  08:00 p.m. Open discussion, wrap-up, pack lab boxes, etc Classroom
July 15 06:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  08:00 a.m. Check-out, pick up box lunches; leave for Arenal DH Patio
  11:00 a.m. Lunch and hike (volcanic secondary forest to recent lava flow) Arenal National Park
  01:30 p.m. Load up for ride to Arenal Observatory Lodge  
  02:00 p.m. Check in to Arenal Observatory Lodge AOL reception
  02:30 p.m. Leave EcoThermales Hot Springs AOL reception
  07:00 p.m. Dinner EcoThermales
  09:30 p.m. Return to Arenal Observatory Lodge EcoThermales
July 16 06:30 a.m. Breakfast Dining room
  07:30 a.m. Check out; pick up box lunches, travel to hanging bridges Reception
  08:00 a.m. Natural history walks: Hanging Bridges Reception
  11:00 a.m. Lunch at Hanging Bridges  
  Noon Load up for travel to Soltis Center, San Isidro Gazebo/terrace
  05:00 p.m. Check-in orientation at Soltis Center Calandria Reception
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Lecture (Joe): Global change and the tropics Classroom
  08:30 p.m. Informal discussions (teaching scientific thinking; using video to engage students; tricks & tips exchange, etc: TBD) Classroom
July 17 07:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  08:00 a.m. Nature walks Classroom
  10:00 a.m. Plant-o-rama Classroom
  Noon Lunch DH
  01:00 p.m. Informal discussions Classroom
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Video workshop 4: pre-production planning Classroom
  08:00 p.m. Video Field Project: Video demonstrates scientific methodology Classroom
July 18 07:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  08:00 a.m. Video Field Project Classroom / field
  Noon Lunch DH
  01:00 p.m. VFP con't Classroom / field
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. Lecture: Strategies for Teaching Evolution Classroom
July 19 07:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  08:00 a.m. VFP con't Classroom / field
  Noon Lunch DH
  01:00 p.m. VFP con t Classroom / field
  06:00 p.m. Dinner DH
  07:00 p.m. VFP presentations Classroom
July 20 07:00 a.m. Breakfast DH
  08:00 a.m. Repack boxes Classroom
  09:30 a.m. Load bus and depart for Sarchi Parking lot
  10:00 a.m. Visit Sarchi Sarchi; TBD
  Noon Lunch souvenir shopping Sarchi; TBD
  03:30 p.m. Check in to hotel Hotel Aeropuerto
  06:30 p.m. Farewell dinner Aeropuerto restaurant
July 21   Fly home  


Joe Levine, PhD.
Teaching, communication, and public education

Joe LevineJoe Levine´s dissertation research, conducted between Harvard University and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, focused on the evolution of color vision in aquatic animals. He has taught introductory biology, marine biology, neurobiology, and physiology at Boston College, and a field course in coral reef biology at the Boston University Marine Program. His research has been published in journals ranging from Science to Scientific American, and his popular scientific writing has appeared in several trade books, as well as in magazines such as Smithsonian and Natural History. 

Following a Macy Fellowship in Science Broadcast Journalism at WGBH in 1986, Joe dedicated his life to improving science education and public understanding of science. He has produced science features for NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” and helped launch Discovery Channel’s “Discover Magazine.” He has served as scientific advisor to NOVA for programs including “Judgment Day”, and as Science Editor on two PBS series: “The Secret of Life,” “The Evolution Project,” and the OMNI-MAX films “Cocos: Island of Sharks” and “Coral Reef Adventure.”

With Kenneth Miller, Joe co-authors Biology (Pearson Education), the most widely-used high school biology program in the United States. He has conducted professional development seminars for teachers across the United States, and in Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the US. Virgin Islands, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Joe currently serves on the Board of Visitors of OTS, on the Board of Overseers of MBL, and has recently joined the  Board of Directors of the Museum Institute for Teaching Science.  

Joe also supports Mil Milagros (“A Thousand Miracles”) dedicated to improving the health and nutrition of children in Guatemala, and serves as an ambassador for EcoLogic, which works to empower rural and indigenous peoples to restore and protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico.

Kimberly Kellet
Field research, Tropical ecology, Active learning

Kimberly Keller Kimberly (Kimmy) Kellett, who joins our staff this year, earned her Ph.D. studying plant demography and biogeography at the Odum School of Ecology of the University of Georgia (UGA). She carried out field work for her dissertation in Costa Rica at the UGA field station in San Luís, Monteverde.

In addition to her own research, Kimmy is deeply engaged in inquiry-based, active learning. She received an award from UGA for outstanding teaching, and was selected to participate in the Future Faculty program. Her teaching experience includes both lectures and inquiry-based laboratories on the UGA campus, a course on island and marine ecology in the Bahamas, and an active-learning-based seminar on plant adaptations for first-year undergraduates. Kimmy also trains teaching assistants in teaching methods and pedagogy. 

In her classes, Kimmy transforms her students into scientists, in ways that foster curiosity and confidence. Students at all levels enjoy her practical knowledge of scientific methodology and field research techniques, her positive energy and passion for ecology, and the creative active-learning she fosters. 

Outside the formal work environment Kimmy teaches English to Latino immigrants in her community, volunteers to teach ecology classes at local middle schools, and helps coordinate a “Postcards from Scientists” program with elementary school.

Hazen Audel
Videography, Natural history, On-camera hosting

Hazen Audel Hazen Audel is a one-of-a-kind biologist, educator, naturalist, videographer, on-camera television host, and artist. A founding member of the award-winning science production group Untamed Science, Hazen spent years producing lively and hip - yet scrupulously accurate - science videos aimed at middle- and high-school students. 

Hazen holds a BS degree in Biology, with certifications in Art, Chemistry, and Spanish, and graduate training in ethnobotany and tropical ecology. He earned a Master’s degree in Teaching from Whitworth College, and taught both biology and art at the high school level in Spokane, Washington. 

Hazen has spent much of his adult life working with and learning from indigenous people in remote locations around the world, and he shares those experiences through his National Geographic Channel series Survive the Tribe. 

In our course, Hazen represents the “untamed” side of science teaching, enthusiastically sharing his unique combination of scientific knowledge and creative imagination with participants in several ways. He works with Jess to teach video production, coaches participants in creating their own on-camera persona, helps working groups imagine out-of-the-box styles for their educational videos, and leads the world’s best night walks through the rain forest. If you haven’t done a night walk with Hazen (preferably in the rain), you have NOT seen the rain forest!

Somehow, Hazen manages to find time, energy, and inspiration to continue his artistic work: sculptures in stone, iron, and bronze for interiors and landscapes; custom architectural installations; and interior design fabrications. 

Jess Ahearn

Jess AhearnJess Ahearn is a filmmaker and editor based in Boston, MA.  She graduated from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California in 2011 with a degree in film and television production.  While at USC, Jess also studied biology and ecology, including a marine biology semester at the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina Island.

Currently, Jess works as a video editor at edX, an online learning platform co-founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  She enjoys helping science educators produce media by working on the set of large-scale MOOC productions, giving lectures on video production to college science students, and working one-on-one with STEM teachers making their first videos. 

Over the last five years, Jess has developed a unique videography instruction program for participants in this course. Her lectures and workshops guide participants through learning about composition, lighting, sound, storyboarding, and editing.  In addition to her technical skills, Jess is a superb teacher, whose clarity, thoroughness, and patience help “newbies” gain both the skill and the confidence they need to produce their own videos. 

Outside of work, Jess volunteers at the New England Aquarium, where she performs animal husbandry duties and participates in informal science education in support of the aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank exhibit.  Jess is also an Advanced Study Program fellow at MIT and is currently engrossed in graduate courses in gender and media studies.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Course cost: $2795

The course cost covers room and board, course materials, and instructions. Transportation during the course is also covered. Expenses not covered by the course are travel costs to Costa Rica, airport departure tax ($29), and personal expenses.

Miller-Levine/Pearson Scholarships 

Two scholarships funded by Joe Levine  and Ken Miller, and an additional scholarship funded by Pearson Education, will be awarded competitively to individuals currently teaching high school biology in the United States.  Certain terms and conditions apply, in addition to general requirements listed below. Apply for these scholarships HERE. Application deadline April 7, 2017.

Bentley-Prestwich Scholarship 

One scholarship funded jointly by Barbara Bentley and Glenn Prestwich will be awarded competitively to an individual currently teaching biology or life-science in middle or high school in the United States. This scholarship is granted in partnership with the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots program. For more information on how to apply click HERE.

Becas OET disponibles para costarricenses

Más detalles y el formulario de aplicación aquí. Fecha límite para entrega del formulario de aplicación: 12 de abril, 2017 - Para consultas escriba a

Requirements for all scholarship recipients:

All applicants must submit an essay of 500 words or less describing their background, their students, why they want to take this course, and how they hope participation will change the way they teach biology.

All applicants must read the detailed course description, paying close attention to the page that discusses what to expect during the course. 

All scholarship recipients will be required to respond conscientiously to quantitative pre- and post-course questionnaires that will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Failure to participate in pre-course assignments may result in revocation of the scholarship.

All scholarship recipients must provide evidence that they hold a passport valid for at least three months after the end of the course. 

Any scholarship recipient not born in the US or Canada must obtain written proof of approval to enter Costa Rica from the Costa Rican embassy as soon as possible after notification.  (US or Canadian-born US citizens do not need to apply for visas in advance of travel.) We require foreign-born US residents and holders of US green cards to obtain this documentation because individuals born in certain countries may face additional requirements to enter Costa Rica.  Further information is available from the US State Department HERE and from the Costa Rican embassy HERE.

Application Process

Due to unforeseen circumstances in the lives of our coordinators, OTS will not be offering the Inquiry in Rainforest teachers course in July 2018.We hope to offer this course again on similar dates in July 2019.

Selection of participants is highly competitive. The course is taught in English; however, Spanish is useful, and participants are urged to develop basic Spanish skills.

How to apply?

The application process is simple.

First Download application form and make sure to properly fill it out. Once you have filled out the form send it and the required documents to The file name should be as follows: IRFLastname_Initial (i.e. IRFSmith_J). The file should be in pdf format.

For clarification purposes the documents that should be included with the form are:

  • Curriculum Vitae (4 page max.)
  • Letter of Interest: this letter should describe your teaching philosophy and what you expect to obtain from participating in the course.

Students are expect to have health insurance or travel insurance that is valid in Costa Rica. In some cases OTS may be able to provide insurance.

Accomodations and Meals

On arrival in San José, we will stay at Hotel Villa Tournon, a basic, friendly hotel downtown. Specific instructions to Villa Tournon from the airport will follow in an e-mail dedicated specifically to pre-departure information. At Villa Tournon, as elsewhere on the trip, accommodations will be double-occupancy, so you will be assigned a room-mate. In the field, we will be staying at the La Selva research station operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies, and at the Soltis Center operated by Texas A&M near La Fortuna.  Conditions are spartan (by American standards), but comfortable, and may be either double rooms or small dormitories, both with shared bathrooms.  Single rooms are not available.  We cannot accommodate spouses, children, or other guests.

Meals: Meals will be substantial and healthy, but not exotic. Rice and beans, chicken, fish, and fresh tropical fruits are standard. Vegetarian options are readily available to those who register for them on arrival at each station. Please notify us of any food allergies.

You will be a guest in Costa Rica, and consequently you will need to be sensitive to and respectful of Costa Rican customs and culture. In general, Costa Ricans (“Ticos” and “Ticas”) are warm, friendly, and courteous. We encourage you to interact with many Ticos, and we hope you will develop some good friendships.

It is important to remember that certain behaviors that are acceptable among fellow classmates at an OTS site may not be acceptable when dealing with non-course participants. For example, Costa Ricans tend to be conservative in their attitudes toward nudity and sex. Thus, stages of undress that are acceptable and inevitable in field station dormitories are offensive in public. Also, nudity on beaches, no matter how apparently deserted, is inappropriate.

Costa Ricans tend to be much more tolerant of noise (say, the loud music coming from the neighbor’s house or the children shouting and running in the living room) than many of us are in the U.S. While we ask that you be respectful of Costa Rican ways and customs, we also understand that cultural norms can often be subtle, complex, and even counter-intuitive. If you would like some advance preparation regarding Ticos and their way of life, we suggest you read Biesanz, Richard et al. The Costa Ricans (1982, Waveland Press, Inc., ISBN 0-88133-340-9) before coming to Costa Rica. Also, please feel free to ask OTS staff about any questions you have regarding cultural differences and norms at any time.

In Costa Rica you will be living closely with 12-16 other students and two professors and two field assistants/camera crew. This means communication and respect will be crucial. All of us need to be as open, honest, and cooperative as possible. We also need to have sincere respect for one another, regardless of different opinions and lifestyles. This includes respect for privacy, respect for rules and regulations, and even respect for the fact that unpredictability is an inherent feature of field-based programs such as ours. Indeed, next to communication and cooperation, flexibility and a good sense of humor are the most important characteristics of a successful student in our program.

By living and working with the same people for two weeks, you will undoubtedly develop a number of very close friendships. The combination of uncomfortable (being wet, muddy, and tired), wacky (a bunch of Gringos on the dance floor), wonderful situations (watching iguanas sunning on the bridge at La Selva), and truly amazing (interacting with people from all sorts of social back-grounds in very different settings) creates great images and memories. You will, for sure, share these with your fellow participants well beyond the end of the course.

As OTS students, you must not only be proactive in asking the questions (and finding the answers) that are important to you, you must also be ready to share your own knowledge and experience with the rest of the group.

Passport and Visa Information

You must have a valid Passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within 6 months of entering Costa Rica. If you are NOT a citizen of a North American or European country, you will probably need a special visa to get into Costa Rica. We recommend that you contact your respective consulate or embassy services to determine if you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica.

It is important to take into account the requirements to get a visa approved before you apply for one of our courses. If you are accepted into one of our courses we will provide any information necessary (within reason) to help with the visa application. Please keep in mind that visa application processes can take several months depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit

U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist Visa. Students planning to stay in Costa Rica after the program end date need to take this into account.

Please consult OTS if you have any questions about this.

Health and Safety

OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being and does not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. In cooperation with the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates (GEO), OTS monitors national and international events that might affect our students. Five decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an on-site orientation program upon arrival in Costa Rica. For our most current safety information, contact the OTS Enrollment Management staff at