Living the pura vida in Costa Rica

Last Updated 31 March, 2016

by Adam Lyon, class of 2010

Costa Rica is a country the size of West Virginia in southern Central America bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. With rainforests, tropical beaches and active volcanoes all just a short drive away from the country’s largest city and capital, San Jose, Costa Rica is truly a unique place. Called the land of pura vida, pure life, Costa Rica has opened the door to a wide variety of possibilities for NNU faculty and students.

Biology Research
In spring 2008, Dr. John Cossel, chair of NNU’s Department of Biology, first took a group of students to Costa Rica for a week-long biology topics course during spring break. In just one week, students were able to hike through cloud forests on Cerro de la Muerte (Mountain of Death) and swim in the Caribbean Sea while learning about ecology and biodiversity. Since then, students and professors have returned to Costa Rica every year to learn, explore and serve.

Dr. Ron Galloway, professor of business and associate dean for site development, oversees travel experiences NNU offers and has helped develop the opportunities students have in Costa Rica. He shares, “Traveling internationally gives feet and eyes to the liberal arts. Students are much better able to understand history, theology, philosophy and the arts when they travel away from their home and grow their perspective. Costa Rica is a fantastic place for this because of the density of life and culture there.” To showcase how international travel complements the liberal arts, NNU offers interdisciplinary trips to Costa Rica every few summers.

Interdisciplinary Trips
In 2011, Cossel returned to Costa Rica with Dr. Ben Earwicker, chair of the Department of Literature, Language and Culture, and Professor Jamie Tucker from the Department of Art and Design. Twenty students joined these three to explore ecology and biodiversity, Spanish and photography. Traveling from the beach, the group hiked into the cloud forest and back during their two-week visit, stopping at an organic coffee farm and a rainforest research station along the way. The group even spent some of their time hiking at night, using headlamps to light the path. Hiking at night exposed students to the rich diversity of life in the rainforest that isn’t active during the day and allowed them to observe animal species they would otherwise never have seen. Students spent their last few days in San Jose exploring the city and using their Spanish-speaking skills to barter for food and souvenirs.

In May 2015, another interdisciplinary class traveled to Costa Rica. Joining Cossel this summer were Dr. Darren Grinder from the English department and 20 students who received credit in both biology and English. This summer’s dual-credit trip focused on tropical ecology, biodiversity and climate change, with a special emphasis on writing about these issues. In the midst of hiking through the rainforest and exploring exotic beaches, these students wrote about their experiences learning about tropical conservation and sustainability methods first-hand.

Semester Abroad
In addition to interdisciplinary trips, NNU students can travel to Costa Rica to study abroad for a semester in the Latin American Studies Program through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Junior communications science and Spanish double major Michael Reimer (Whitefish, Montana) participated in this program last fall. He recalls that the “main highlight was being able to join in the rhythm of life and really connect with my host family, the people and their culture.”

Science students can join Cossel or Dr. Leslie Hay from NNU’s biology department in the research they each conduct in the Costa Rican rainforest every summer. Cossel and his student team research native frog species in the canopy of the Costa Rican rainforest, while Hay and her team research Costa Rican cat species like jaguars and ocelots.

NNU continues to look outside its Idaho home for ways to put feet and eyes to the liberal arts. Research, service projects and integrated learning opportunities are at the core of who the university is. Costa Rica provides the ideal environment for each of these things. As students travel, they are learning to engage the world but are also being shaped by their experiences. They are returning to NNU and enriching the community and their futures with a little of the pura vida that Costa Rica offers.

Photo caption: Students enjoy photography, culture and wildlife on an interdisciplinary trip to Costa Rica. Photo by Dr. Ben Earwicker.

Watch a video produced by current mass communication major Vladimir Imakaev (pictured on page 18) about biology research in Costa Rica at