Wednesday Spotlight: “Solamente Jugar”

Today’s spotlight is a video created by former Advanced Spanish, Creative Writing, & Photodocumentary student, Liz Johnson. Her video sheds light on life in Costa Rica with one of our welcoming homestay families. Not only are we spotlighting Liz’s video, but really the entire homestay experience. Even the most apprehensive students have returned from Costa Rica to tell us the homestay was one of their favorite memories from Costa Rica. Our pre-selected families welcome students into their home on a regular basis throughout the year and truly make them feel part of the family. We are thankful for such families!

Wednesday Spotlight: Perezoso

Some of you who follow us on Instagram (if you don’t already you totally should) may have already seen some awesome pictures of our on-campus Rec Room called “Perezoso”. In Spanish, “Perezoso” can mean one of two things: as a noun it means “sloth” (the animal), and as an adjective it means “lazy”. It’s true that if you want to, Perezoso is a good place to study and relax, but more often than not, Perezoso is a place where students and staff will go to have fun and enjoy some time off. Below is a small sampling of some of the activities you will find in and around Perezoso. You can find a link to and awesome 360 degree photo of Perezoso here!

Our Instagram pics this week showed a stressful pingpong tournament of epic proportions! Whether you’re a champion or a novice, ping-pong is always a fun plan. Look out though! Our moth researcher, Philip Barnette, assures us that next time he’ll win the tourney hands-down!

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Anyone for a game of basketball? For those of you who are tired of getting schooled by the Ticos in soccer, might be interested in a pick-up game of basketball on the court behind Perezoso! A popular activity before dinner is to get in a game or two of 2-on-2 and work up an appetite. You might show up to eat a little sweaty, but at least you can say you had fun.

Bonus! The basketball court overlooks the volleyball field down the hill where you can often spot agouti or coati searching for a snack.


And if that’s not enough, you can always play a good ol’ game of foosball! This summer with the World Cup, there will doubtless be people battling it out for their favorite teams on a slightly smaller scale.


Anyone who has taken dance classes on campus can tell you that they are a blast! The dance lessons held in Perezoso are an essential part of almost every program. Students can learn the basic steps of Cumbia and Merengue and most importantly, have a lot of fun!

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Lastly, who doesn’t love to kick back by the fireplace with some s’mores after a long week? The fire may be a little difficult to start due to the general dampness of the country, but it’s so worth it in the end! Just take a look for yourself!

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Wednesday Spotlight: Dr. Kris Irwin, Adelante Award Winner

The UGA Costa Rica Adelante Award honors a UGA faculty or staff member who has made major contributions to the University of Georgia’s Campus in Costa Rica.  These contributions may have come in any of the following areas:

  • Study abroad program development and on-going instruction on study abroad programs with particular attention to student mentoring and service-learning;
  • Incorporation of international content from Costa Rica into the curriculum in his or her field;
  • Cevelopment of ongoing research initiatives based at UGA Costa Rica;
  • Significant contributions to develop the UGA Costa Rica Campus infrastructure;
  • Significant contributions toward ecological and social sustainability of the UGA Costa Rica Campus;
  • Public service and outreach in the San Luis / Monteverde community;
  • Leading international conferences and symposia based at the UGA Costa Rica Campus;
  • Significant contributions to the Latino community in and around the Athens community;
  • Commitment to fostering relationships, educational or otherwise, between the Athens and San Luis/Monteverde campuses and communities.

The Adelante Award is given annually by consensus decision among the UGA Costa Rica Athens Office Staff and the UGA Costa Rica Campus Staff in review of all nominations.  Preference is given to individuals with demonstrated accomplishments in two or more of these areas.

Dr. Quint Newcomer’s Comments:

Kris has been highly engaged with UGA Costa Rica since very early on, even before I arrived. His first trip to UGA CR was in September 2003. He brought a group of 15 students and in-service teachers down to Costa Rica in March 2006 as part of an IDEAS Grant: “Environmental Education in Costa Rica: A UGA Service-Learning Experience” in which they interacted with faculty from the National University and the National Biodiversity Institute. They planted trees and learned about environmental education and Kris found his home away from home in San Luis. He then received a Scholarship of Engagement Grant and came back to UGA Costa Rica in 2009 to support community outreach activities in aquaculture pond management and to begin work on a service-learning toolkit to support faculty teaching at UGA Costa Rica. Based on the work completed in 2009, he was selected as a Senior Service-Learning Scholar to continue to develop the UGA Costa Rica Service-Learning Toolkit, which he completed in 2010. He has since helped with training several faculty to engage in service-learning as part of their education abroad programs with UGA Costa Rica. In 2010, we co-presented about service-learning at UGA Costa Rica at the “People, Place, & Partners: Building and Sustaining Engagement in Critical Times” Gulf-South Summit.

Kris Irwin Fishing

Since 2006, Kris has helped me write and submit at least seven funding proposals, including representing UGA for the annual WK Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Award. Most recently, throughout 2013, Kris participated in the drafting of a white paper which led to the development of a large Coupled Natural and Human Systems grant we submitted to NSF. Our fingers remain crossed! In Fall 2011, Kris initiated contact with the US EPA International Office, and has helped foster an on-going dialog since that time with the team who serves as the advisors for the Central American region regarding high-level environmental policy planning and technical support. Together with Warnell colleague Jay Shelton, we have made four presentations to different EPA groups, at both Athens and Atlanta offices, regarding the work of UGA Costa Rica and possibilities of research collaborations with US EPA.

 In 2013, Kris and I launched a new spring break program, Tropical Reforestation, offering a hands-on service-learning field experience in support of the UGA Costa Rica carbon offset reforestation program. Enrollment more than doubled between 2013 to 2014. Kris supervised graduate student Micheal Heldreth in the development of a nursery management and tree monitoring protocol, which is helping us to standardize the management of the program and has been critical to help us begin to measure tree growth rates over time as well as gather other critical site data and develop detailed plotting and mapping for the 30,000 plus trees we have planted as part of this project.

Dr. Kris Irwin (center) with Dr. Jay Shelton (left) and Lucas Ramirez (right).
Dr. Kris Irwin (center) with Dr. Jay Shelton (left) and Lucas Ramirez (right).

 In addition to his engagement as an educator of students, as a researcher, and as a leader of community engagement and outreach, Kris has been a tireless champion of UGA Costa Rica, encouraging his colleagues to get involved, serving on the UGA Costa Rica Academic Advisory Board, and perhaps most importantly, he keeps me laughing when I most need a good dose of humor.

 I’ve told you many of the highlights of my work with Kris over the past 8 years. There’s equally as much I haven’t mentioned here. For his many, many contributions and steadfast support, the UGA Costa Rica Athens Office staff and Costa Rica Campus staff have unanimously selected Dr. Kris Irwin to receive the 2014 UGA Costa Rica Adelante Award.

Wednesday Spotlight: Irwin Bernstein, Faculty

This week we are bringing you the words of Dr. Irwin Bernstein! Dr. Bernstein is a faculty member on the highly successful Franklin Spring Semester program. Franklin Spring covers a variety of course including classes in biology, psychology and Spanish. And you have the opportunity to be in beautiful Costa Rica for a semester! We hope you enjoy his take on why he enjoys teaching in Costa Rica rather than a traditional classroom setting and keep this program in mind for next year!


Teaching classes at the Monteverde San Luis Costa Rica campus is a whole different kind of teaching experience.  Faculty and students do not meet for 50 minutes at a time three times a week, or on any class schedule, but you eat all of your meals together, travel around the country together and see each other every day and for most of the day.  There is no segregation of faculty and students and you all get to know each other as people and not just in the formal roles of students and teachers.  If someone is absent or having any problem everyone knows of it and everyone pitches in as a community to solve problems.  unnamedPerhaps you might think that having so little privacy and separate lives would be a bad thing, but we all quickly learned to work together and to share with one another as friends.  Friends know a lot about you, but friends also know when to give you your space.

Being interested in non human primates, being in Costa Rica gave us many opportunities to see them in their natural habitat.  We had capuchin monkeys coming to campus, and we could sees what attracted them, what other animals they competed with and how they responded to us and to other animals.  Traveling around the country gave us access to three other indigenous primates and we could see how they made a living in different habitats.  Primates are the Order that includes ourselves and so may be of special interest, but they exemplify the general principles of Animal Behavior and Ecology.  Seeing them in this light, the study of Primates is not a narrow interest but just a single example of much broader and fundamental interests and scientific principles.  Seeing the animals in their natural habitat makes the animals real and gives you a first hand field for what you can and cannot do in studying animals and what the problems are in such studies.


Wednesday Spotlight: Front Porch of the Student Union

Although we think that our entire campus is incredible, it cannot be denied that some of our most cherished memories are on the front porch of the Student Union. It is a great central location; perfectly situated between the kitchen, front desk and library. It’s the ideal place to get some work done, hang out with your friends, or just sit and watch the sunset. There are some great UGACR 360 Degree Photos on our website of the Student Union both in the day and at night. As we spotlight some of our favorite things, feel free to comment with your own personal memories!

Student Union Panorama
The porch was hectic before Thanksgiving dinner a couple of years ago as everybody mingled and enjoyed the holiday spirit.

A popular thing about our Student Union is the gorgeous view from the porch that overlooks a splendid sunset each and every night. Every sunset is unique and beautiful, and we just can’t help taking pictures. Below are some of our favorites!

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The porch has great views during the day too!
The porch has great views during the day too!

Even local artist Jamie Calkin travelled down to Costa Rica to appreciate the beauty of the Student Union porch. We think he captured it perfectly, don’t you?

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In short, the front porch of the Student Union is the best place on campus to relax, do work, enjoy your morning coffee or your afternoon snack. When asked what his favorite memory of the Student Union was, 2013 student Parker Lovelace replied that “group game night definitely takes the cake,” and assured us that he would return one day to defend his title of “Front Porch Jenga Champion of the World”.

The porch of the Student Union is our favorite, because it is a place where students from all groups can join staff and visiting tourists to spend time together and enjoy the wonders of UGACR. Day or night the porch is the place to be.

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Let’s not forget that when you’re sitting on the UGACR porch drinking your coffee or watching the butterflies, that former President Laura Chinchilla once walked that same porch!


Wednesday Spotlight: Dr. Timothy Gupton, Faculty

This week we are pleased to introduce Dr. Tim Gupton as our Wednesday Spotlight! Dr. Gupton is a faculty member on the  Latin American & Caribbean Studies Program which runs from June 10th to July 29th. The LACS program is ideal for students studying Spanish, Latin America, and/or International Affairs. Plus, we think you’ll find that it has some pretty cool faculty. We hope you enjoy Dr. Gupton’s Spotlight and consider applying to his amazing program before the March 21st deadline (FRIDAY)!

Describe one of your favorite experiences since you moved to Athens.

Hosting the Portuguese Linguistics in the United States (PLUS) conference this past November (2013) was a definite highlight because I got to share Athens with a large group of scholars from Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, and other parts of the US.

What is your favorite thing about working at UGA?

There are two: 1) My colleagues in Romance Languages, and 2) I love being able to teach my chosen linguistic subfield (syntax) and having the freedom to develop courses that better serve our graduate and undergraduate students.

Iguazú pic

In one sentence, what makes an effective leader?

I think that preparation is crucial. I think you become prepared by surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you and who have a diversity of experience, and by listening to those people, what is important to them, and where they want to be.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

Well, I have a few I have found to be very true. The first is the classic Boy Scout mantra “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” The censored version of the second is something like “Bad stuff happens.” That is important to remember because you constantly have to adapt to the hand you are dealt. The third is related to the second: “This too shall pass.” Good and bad circumstances come to an end, and knowing that makes you better able to enjoy the good and move on from the bad.


What are your favorite pastimes?

I would say cooking, running, and fantasy football with my grad school friends.

What is something unique about you?

Most people would say that the unique thing about me is that I was born and raised in Las Vegas, but given what I do, the unique thing about me is that I taught English for five years in South Korea between my MA and PhD.

What is your favorite movie and why?

It’s a toss-up between two Cohen Brothers films, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where art thou? They never get old for me. Lebowski reminds me of a time and place – in my life and within the film. O Brother has a lot of music that I used to sing in church as a child, so that and the comedy always make me smile.

India wedding crop

How did you get into your field?

Linguistics was a requirement for my undergrad degree at UNLV that was typically dreaded by most students. It made my head hurt, but I fell in love with it. From there, I took every course in Spanish linguistics I could. I had an excellent professor, Dr. Deborah Arteaga, and my experience in her courses helped get me into a graduate program.

If you weren’t in this position, what would you be?

I probably would have become a geologist. I satisfied my science requirements with geology and just found it fascinating. My undergrad roommate was in geology and many of his friends were grad students in geology. It was always supercool listening them talk about the Earth.

Wednesday Spotlight: Kyushu University

Kyushu University

This month UGA Costa Rica has the pleasure of hosting a group of Japanese students and professors from Kyushu University. Their three-week program will focus on sustainability and English language immersion. The students have already had the chance to tour our campus and get an in-depth understanding of the many projects happening here with talks by our moth researcher Philip Barnette and our water quality researcher Kelli Williams.

In one of the more hands-on activities, students captured insects around campus and learned how to pin and preserve them. One of our resident naturalists, Jamie Alfieri, led the group in this activity. It is one of many chances the students have to learn and interact in English.

UGA Costa Rica Director Dr. Quint Newcomer teaches the group classes on sustainability. Student Rimi Yamaguchi says that through these classes she has learned a lot about connection. She now knows more about the ways plants and animals connect with each other as well as people.

Yuka Maruyama begins the careful work of pinning a very small insect.

Another aspect of the class is interacting and discussing these concepts in English. Students take turns giving presentations and leading discussions of the day’s material. Even walking around campus for a tour of the botanical gardens or a conversation in the dinning hall are opportunities to practice for these students.

The students have had their share of challenges as well. For some, learning to express themselves in English has been a difficult process. It has been amazing to see the progress they have made as they become more and more confident in their speaking abilities. For the insect pinning activity, one student was particularly hesitant about working with bugs. She could hardly bring herself to touch an insect. However, as the lab continued, she persevered and was able to expertly pin her insects. We can’t wait to see what else this group learns in the coming weeks!

Rimi Yamaguchi uses tweezers to carefully arrange the legs of her insect.

Wednesday Spotlight: Housing and Household Economics (HACE)

Still undecided about your plans this summer? How about traveling to places like San Jose and and ziplining in  Monteverde, Costa Rica? How about learning about management of household resources from a comparative international perspective? You can do all of this (and receive course credit!) through the Housing and Household Economics (HACE) program! This amazing program is led by Dr. Andrew Carswell, and he as taken the time to answer some of our questions to tell us what participating students can expect. So sit back and learn about the HACE program and apply before March 21st to spend your Maymester in Costa Rica!

What students can expect to learn:

The basics of housing (for the 3300 course).  These include things such as community development; the importance of neighborhoods; how to qualify, obtain and figure out a mortgage; the responsibilities of homeownership, a primer on the operations of multifamily/apartment housing.  The resource management class (3000 level) explores the family/household’s ability to manage household resources, both financial and labor, to ensure family success.

Difference between taking a course in Costa Rica and taking it at UGA:

For the 3000 course, studying in Costa Rica provides the unique opportunity to make cultural comparisons to better understand economic and social behavior.  In the 3300 course, some of the biggest differences from the UGA-based course is that we explore the issue of sustainable housing more; we study the differences between international housing and that in the U.S.  Finally, we also visit a second home/vacation home community that we do not address in the domestic version of the course.

Most enjoyable part of the program:

Getting the chance to interact with people form another culture in a user-friendly, mostly English-speaking environment (particularly on campus) reduces some of the sometimes uncomfortable aspects of visiting other countries.

Something you’d never done before going to Costa Rica:

Ziplining for sure!

Wednesday Spotlight: Michael Ariail, Teaching Assitant

This week we’re checking in with Teaching Assistant Michael Ariail. Michael works with Dr. Paula Mellom on the Language and Culture Service-Learning program that runs from July 3rd-31st (deadline for application March 21st). He has had the unique opportunity to go on the trip as both a student and TA, and offers a special perspective. So without any further ado: The Thoughts of Michael Ariail written under the encouragement of Aurora Fonseca, because she thinks he is cool enough to be the UGACR Wednesday Spotlight.


Describe one of your favorite experiences you’ve had since you started working with the Language and Culture Service-Learning program.

The Language and Culture program coordinates and runs an English language camp for the kids at the upper and lower elementary schools in the San Luis valley around the UGACR campus. Every year we try and connect into the Costa Rican national curriculum in either science, social studies, or both if possible. Last year, we partnered with Marley (the water intern) to join in the efforts of testing the water quality of one of the rivers around the UGACR campus. Kids from the upper and lower schools learned about the importance of clean water and how what we do impacts the water quality. We used English to tie it all in with language. A little science, a little English, and a lot of playing in the river = fun.

What is your favorite thing about working with UGA?

My experience with UGA Costa Rica actually started as a student on the Language and Culture Service-Learning Program. Apparently, they just couldn’t get rid of me. On my first trip to CR, I stayed in a homestay with an amazing family that really took me in and made me part of their family. Every year, I stay with them, and it seems to pick up right where we left off the year before. Being able to reconnect with old faces and meeting new ones is one of my favorite parts of the Language and Culture program and UGACR in general.


In one sentence, what makes an effective leader?

An effective leader is someone that can support, encourage, and make those under him/her feel like their voice is heard, but make the tough decisions at the end of the day.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17

What are your favorite pastimes?

I have recently picked up playing the guitar. I would say that I play as well as Jimi Hendrix currently does.

What is something unique about you?

I held a baby toucan on my first visit to Costa Rica. It is in the top 3 most terrifying moments of my life. The toucan was mad. If you have never been around an angry toucan, you need to pray that it stays that way. I feared that my eyes would no longer be in their sockets in the end. It worked out ok. My eyes are still in the right spot.


What is your favorite movie and why?

Gladiator – The 5 Oscars speak for themselves.

How did you get into your field?

My undergrad was in Spanish and Foreign Language Education. I went on the Language and Culture Service Learning program with Dr. Paula Mellom, and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go back with the program as a TA over the last few years. I took a year off while I was teaching high school Spanish. Currently, I am back at UGA in the Linguistics Master’s program, and I’m back with UGACR.

If you weren’t in this position, what would you be?

I would be teaching something. Spanish most likely, but anything would do.

Wednesday Spotlight: Bribri

Ways of the Past: Exploring the

indigenous culture of the Bribri

The Bribri are an indigenous tribe living in the southern mountains of Costa Rica. Our spring semester students and professors had the opportunity to visit and learn about this fascinating people. Fortunately for us, UGACR’s Spanish instructor, Ana Ligia Lopez, has given us this account of their trip! Many thanks to her and Professor Irwin Bernstein for the wonderful photos!

Students learn how to make fried arepas.
Students learn how to make fried arepas.

“I must be honest. A seven to eight hour bus ride did not sound appealing to me. Especially when car sickness becomes more familiar to you that you ever thought possible. Nonetheless, being in an indigenous community in Costa Rica for a weekend did sound interesting.

We left campus before 8 a.m. and arrived before dinner time after crossing the country — from the Pacific slope to the Caribbean coast. The weather wasn’t as hot as expected, but the rain came to stay on our second day. But that was a minor issue. Rafael Cabraca Selles, our guide, met us downtown and we continued with him alongside the river Sixaola—the same river that makes the division between Costa Rica and Panama. Then, in a community named Bambú we found what would become home for us for the next three nights. It is called Ditsowo, or the Corn House. In that three-story house, we all slept, ate, and had discussions about different topics regarding Bribri’s worldview, culture, challenges, and political issues.

After dinner, we all had a meeting. We checked our schedule for the next four days and had a briefing on Bribri culture. We learned how the universe was created and the animals that helped Sibu (the main god) build the iconical house that represents the Bribri universe. We learned about the political-religious division in the Bribri’s matrilineal society. Women own the land and can pass it on to daughters as well as be part of a clan closely related to sacred and religious roles like the awa (or shaman figure).

After a good night’s sleep in our lovely tents and a delightful breakfast, we headed to the Kashabri community. In order to reach it, our driver took us right to the edge of a river. After we crossed the river, another driver awaited us and some miles afterwards we were in a wooden structure with a palm leaf roof. There, two awa and the Bribri to Spanish interpreter welcomed us.

After that, we headed to the building next door, the conical house. Inside, we were taught more about Bribri’s culture and worldview. It was extremely informative and every single question was kindly answered.

Students and professors have lunch at Katia’s farm.

Then, we headed to the medicinal garden and some of the plants’ uses were explained. The respect that Bribri have for the land and every living thing is something you perceive in everything from a walk in the garden to a folk tale explaining the Earth is a female child that must be taken care of by us. Then, we were shown a replica of a sacred place that is located high in the mountains. Here the pebble wall is not more than 20 centimeters high, but in the sacred place it rises to one and a half meters. There, Sibu gave to the Bribris all the information they needed: language, all their traditions, and the sacred stones that are used by the awa in order to communicate with him.

A student learns to grind corn into flour with a large stone.
A student learns to grind corn into flour with a large stone.

Right after that, we sat down around a bonfire and the awas used a specific type of leaf that, after being exposed to the fire, he passed the around our heads, arms, and legs to ask Sibu for protection and a safe trip back home. Before leaving the bonfire, we bowed twice to the fire.

Then, grinding corn. By using a big piece of flat stone and another oval-shaped one, you can transform corn kernels into flour. The students were encouraged to actively participate in all activities, and this one was no exception. They realized how heavy the oval stone was and that a certain technique must be achieved in order to keep it balanced and upright.

By then, we had spent all our energy and needed lunch. We had one of my favorites: heart of palm, yuca, rice and chicken. I mean, real free-range chicken. The meat is darker and so much tastier! Buying local artisan crafts is also always a good idea: someone might appreciate it back home.

“Full belly, happy heart,” as we say in Spanish. We participated in the Sorbón dance. First the male starts, then the women join. After that, we thanked them for sharing their knowledge, patience and time with us. Their inner wish was that all of us share that knowledge as well.

The white substance that surrounds the bitter beans from a cacao tree is sweet and acidic.
The white substance around the bitter beans from a cacao tree is sweet and acidic.
A student grinds cacao nibbs into a paste as part of the chocolate-making process.
A student grinds cacao nibbs into a paste as part of the chocolate-making process.

The next day, we headed to Katia’s farm. Katia is a lovely indigenous lady who is always smiling and willing to answer any questions or help you out with pretty much anything. There is a sustainable farm on her family’s property. Their most important crop is cacao, that is a female plant. We walked around, fed the pigs, checked the chickens, and visited a traditional cooking place. Then, we head to ACOMUITA, a female association that all together are involved in cacao processing from the tree to your mouth. We were shown the whole process: grinding the bean, getting the pure, tasty and non-sweet chocolate paste. Lunch was held back at Katia’s place, again with tasty, tasty food.

The group crosses the Telire River.

Afternoon was river time! Some stayed at the shore, but one of the students decided that swimming was the way to enjoy the place. Meanwhile Rafael, Katia and myself spent some time together talking and trying to find shrimp under the river rocks. Back home, students had a cooking class! It happened that in our first breakfast we all had arepas — but a different type from the ones we usually have at UGA. These are fried, soft and brown. Since students were craving some of those, they learned how to make them. I think they had a lot of fun and hopefully they can replicate the recipe  when they are back in United States. After dinner we had another talk about some threats that the Bribri people are facing: hydroelectric damps, oil exploitation and mining.

This is the sloth the group saw on the way back!

The next day, we had our last breakfast and it was time to go. Rafael went with us up to the Bribri downtown, and then, a long ride back home. We were lucky and the driver spotted a sloth hanging on a tree. One the student’s wish was to see a sloth in Costa Rica — and her wish was granted!

Would I go back again to Bribri? Yes. This was my second time there and hopefully not the last one. You leave that place with more questions than answers, but its people’s kindness and generosity are something you cannot take for granted. Also, trips like this help you build confidence. There are still nice people in this world who are working hard to preserve their own culture and protect the land where they live. Trips like this can also show you how little you need to be happy and that good and nice people do exist wherever we go.”

Students and professors pose with their guide and hosts after receiving certificates of participation in the program.

Article: Ana Ligia Lopez

Photos: Ana Ligia Lopez and Irwin Berstein