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Costa Rica interterm a time to be up close to nature in the tropics

September 11th, 2017

by Emma Bradley

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Spending a month in another country is an absolutely amazing experience, especially when you are up close to nature the entire time.

That is what I and 11 other Bethel College students, along with Professor of Biology Jon Piper, were able to experience during the January interterm in Costa Rica.

We visited four different biological stations, which allowed us to see many of the different environments represented in this beautiful country.

At first, though, after a day of flying, we made it to San Jose, Costa Rica, easily among the largest and most populous cities I have ever visited.

There we began learning how to navigate urban Costa Rica, essentially by mirroring the behavior of Costa Ricans. Traffic was chaotic, so we quickly learned to only cross the street when others were doing so, because cars do not stop for pedestrians.

We then traveled to Palo Verde Biological Station, owned by the Organization for Tropical Studies. Davinia, one of the guides, suggested we watch the sunset from the boardwalk that extends into a wetland. We spent a lot of time on the boardwalk, because the wind kept mosquitos at bay, which was a welcome change.

After Palo Verde, we headed to Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve. An “absolute reserve” means no vehicles were allowed so we had a 30-minute hike to the station. Cabo Blanco is on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, so it has a beautiful beach along the Pacific Ocean.

This was the first time I’ve been to the ocean and it was overwhelmingly beautiful. We even got to spend our time in the afternoons swimming in the lagoon.

At Cabo Blanco, Tommy was our fearless Swedish leader. One evening, he taught us a Swedish game that turned out to be a lot like “Simon Says.” It was great to experience a bit of the culture of an extra country while in Costa Rica.

Next we moved on to La Selva, a true rain forest. The weather at La Selva was very different from the first two locations. It rained most afternoons – welcome after the constant heat of Palo Verde and Cabo Blanco.

At all the stations, we had evening lectures with Jon and other researchers, and then played card games as a group. We also went to bed early each night because we had to wake up early in the morning. Besides, it got dark early there.

The final station we went to was Las Cruces Biological Station and Wilson Botanical Garden. The garden drew a great variety of different animals, especially birds, that we had not seen elsewhere in the country.

Our last evening at Las Cruces, we each presented a small individual research project we had conducted through the past two weeks.

Traveling to Costa Rica was an incredible experience, one I never imagined I would have the privilege of being part of.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

Emma Bradley is a senior from Newton. Other members of the 2015 Bethel interterm class Tropical Biology: Costa Rica with Jon Piper, professor of biology, were Karl Buller, Hesston, Sarah Cunningham, Oskaloosa, Mariah Ekart, Wamego, Olivia Gehring, Manhattan, Kara Hiebert, Fresno, California, Karina Ortman, Freeman, South Dakota, Brooke Powers, Wamego, Katie Schmidt, North Newton, Natalie Unruh, Clay Center, Amy Wedel, Peabody, and Emily Wedel, Hutchinson.

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.