Study Abroad Costa Rica

From the Field

The Grapevine

‘Magical’:  Students Study Biology, Phenomenology in Costa Rica

After a week of class in Costa Rica, politics major Patricio Rodriguez ’25 remembers watching a school of fish swell and shrink with the waves in a manner that reminded him of respiration, the pulse of the great lungs of the sea. He remembers the flowers that hang heavy in the cloud forest of Monteverde. But he especially cherishes a sight that cannot be photographed: the afterimage of a crater pool, lingering blue and spectral in his eye over the peak of the Volcán Poás.

"I was talking with Dr. Scott Churchill. We were looking into the crater lake, and as we were walking back from it, he said, ‘Do you see an afterimage?’ And I asked him, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You were staring at the pond for so long. Do you see this little blue thing in your vision?’ And I close my eyes,” Rodriguez recalls.

“I remember seeing the blue pond oval. And I look up. … I remember seeing the clouds come in; you could see the mist move, and everyone was taking photos of that. And I thought, no, that’s not something you can capture with a camera. That’s the afterimage. You look at the clouds, and you can still see that little blue pool.”

Rodriguez was one of seven students who accompanied biology professor Deanna Soper and newly retired psychology professor Scott Churchill, PhD, on a trip to study ecology and ecopsychology in Costa Rica.

While in the country, students visited multiple ecosystems, including the cloud forest in Monteverde, the seaside near Quepos, the Arenal volcano and the Poas Volcano, home to the world’s second-largest crater. Students observed diverse plants and animals, attended lectures in the field and participated in class discussions to reflect on their experiences.

Soper and Churchill frequently take the class out of the classroom. Churchill regularly visits the zoo with psychology students to see apes’ ability to communicate, and Soper takes students to Florida every other year to study corals and retrieve samples.

As Soper says of her adventures, “Obviously my first home has to be walking around in the terrestrial environment. My second home is the ocean, and my third home is on the back of a horse.”

Along with the tropical jungle, Soper’s research trips have taken students to national laboratories, sea turtle hospitals and the ocean floor.

Biology major Monique Bedolla ’24, one of the students who went on the Costa Rica trip, has worked as a research assistant in Soper’s lab since her freshman year. She called the excursion “magical.”

“I never thought that I’d be that affected by being in nature. I just don’t know how to describe it. It was just so magical,” Bedolla said. “I’ve been talking to my fellow students that went on the trip, and they also feel so affected by it. It makes us think about nature in a completely different way.”

Rodriguez and Bedolla both say the experience changed the way they see the world. Most of the students and both professors have returned to microscopes and papers; even so, the trip leaves a faint but irreproducible image lingering in their eyes.

“It’s a very important class to take because it makes you think about the way we live,” Rodriguez said.

“It helps reshape your view of the earth as a human, your connection to other humans, animals and the earth.”