Costa Rica as your classroom

This story originally appeared in Tulane’s New Wave.

By: Mary Sparacello
msparace@tulane.edu

Currently, seven Tulane undergraduates are spending the spring semester studying tropical and environmental studies at a Tulane-run campus in Costa Rica called Centro de Investigación y Adiestramiento Político y Administrativo (CIAPA). Located in a quiet neighborhood about 20 minutes from the bustle of Costa Rica’s capital city San José, CIAPA has been offering extraordinary study abroad experiences for more than a decade.

“There is a whole infrastructure in place in Costa Rica for students to travel around the county and experience nature,” says Ludovico Feoli, executive director of the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane.

This semester, students are dividing their days between indoor seminars and out-of-classroom time in the laboratory that is Costa Rica, says Kathy Jack, Tulane anthropology professor and director of the environmental studies program.

“This program is incredible because students experience things firsthand,” Jack says. “Students learn best by seeing and doing. You can listen to a lecture about a sustainable coffee plantation, but if you can physically go and see it, be a part of it, you gain a much more solid understanding. This is an experience that these students will never forget.”

Feoli is one of six Tulane professors teaching intensive two-week classes in Latin American and Environmental Studies at CIAPA this semester. He taught the semester’s first course, Environmental Politics and Policy, in which students traveled to a fair trade certified coffee business. There, students experienced the different stages that go into producing coffee, starting with actually harvesting the beans.

“Costa Rica is a great place to study environmental policy because it has been at the forefront of policy innovation,” Feoli says. One example of Costa Rica’s innovation is its program to provide “payments for environmental services,” such as giving a financial incentive to landowners to regenerate forests. As part of Feoli’s course, Tulane students visited the institution that manages that program. To gain a well-balanced understanding, he says, students will also be exposed to environmental challenges that Costa Rican policies have not mastered, such as solid waste management and water treatment.

Over the course of the semester, students will visit nature preserves, beaches, volcanoes as well as San José cultural and political institutions. Tulane sophomore Suzi Kondic is studying at CIAPA now and appreciates the two-week-long intense classes that allow her to immerse herself in one subject. After each class, students have a week off to travel. Last week, Kondic visited the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, known for its pristine beaches. “It was absolutely beautiful,” Kondic said in an email “and such a rewarding experience.”

The current environmental studies semester at CIAPA is the latest offering to college students at the prestigious academic research institution. CIAPA was founded in 1974 during a period of tremendous upheaval for the region. CIAPA and Tulane have partnered to find solutions to Central America’s economic, political and social challenges.

Since 2000, Tulane has operated a summer study abroad program at the CIAPA campus. In 2009, Tulane started coordinating the center’s research program and managing its facilities, and in 2012, the center began offering study abroad opportunities year-round, says Annie Gibson, a Tulane professor of practice who organizes programs at CIAPA.

This summer, CIAPA will host a Spanish immersion program for college students, and the center is collaborating to attract students from peer U.S. institutions who want to study abroad, Feoli says.

For the fall semester, Tulane students can travel to Costa Rica for the Central American Experience at CIAPA, in which students will take classes in Central American politics and culture from a regional perspective, says Gibson. Students will do an internship and visit field sites throughout Costa Rica and Nicaragua, travel to Panama and stay on a week-long rural homestay.

Study abroad at CIAPA can a meaningful opportunity, one that students never forget. Currin Wallis, a current sophomore at Tulane, spent the fall of her freshman year in Costa Rica. The experience factored into her decision to major in Latin American Studies and Spanish. Wallis was thankful for the opportunity to take classes taught by professors from Tulane and the University of Costa Rica and then to be further engaged during excursions and field trips outside of the classroom: “CIAPA gives you a three-dimensional learning experience.”

See additional photos at the CIAPA facebook site.

Mary Sparacello is a communications specialist in the Office of Development Communications.

To see the original story published on Tulane’s School of Liberal Arts website, click here.