The excursion was highly anticipated by the students and faculty involved and it seemed to live up to, and even pass, their expectations. “It was a phenomenal experience,” said Loughman. “The students, faculty, and people we met there made it special.”
Working with the native Costa Rican species was a unique experience that can only be achieved by actually going out and participating. “With all the knowledge learned in previous classes, this trip was like lecture material coming to life,” said Carly Cunningham, a junior in the Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology program. “I really loved how I was able to see the things I value most be focused on in the areas we were in.”
Bringing material learned at WLU to life was a large part of the program that the Natural Science department aspire to
do again. Loughman commented on this saying, “The most valuable part of the experience was just soaking it all in. It’s very difficult to get across in a classroom setting that the most important people are the people that are passionate.”
Working at the sanctuary was a large part of the program, but the group also spent time on the Atlantic side of the country focusing on the conservation of sea turtles in the area. The group were unfortunate to not see any turtles, but they did get to see a whole host of other species.
“My personal goal was to see an eyelash viper – we didn’t just see one, we saw two! You can read about this stuff all you want, it’s just completely different actually seeing it,” said Loughman. Sharing that experience with students who all share the same passion was in his words, “a very, very special moment.”
The authenticity of the experiences is part of what made the trip so useful for the students and faculty involved. “We got to go out with local Costa Ricans. My favorite part about the trip was that nothing was canned… This was without question the authentic experience of what it’s like to be a Costa Rican doing conservation,” said Loughman.
While the overall experience was incredible the team did face some difficulties as their time in Costa Rica corresponded with the surge of coronavirus cases worldwide. According to Loughman, for the first half of the trip the group were “living in a bubble” with limited internet access so the spread of the pandemic went largely unknown to them for around a week. When the group did regain contact to the rest of the world the potential seriousness of the situation set in. “We saw the Trump shut down the borders with Europe, the was the only real panic moment of the trip,”
All students and faculty took the precaution of self-quarantining for 14 days when they returned from Costa Rica in order to be on the safe side despite the number of Costa Rican cases being very low at the time.
Despite the spanner thrown in the works by COVID-19, the program was a huge success and allowed the students to gain extremely valuable experience and important life lessons. “We came back as one big family,” said Loughman.