Imagine a course where students learn about a country’s delicate ecosystem by exploring the various geographical zones, their inhabitants and the challenges they face. The key to creating an authentic experience rather than providing typical student “destination” travel is meeting with local guides, many of whom are naturalists possessing an intimate knowledge of the ecology and culture of a country or region. Students get acquainted with these so called visionary collaborators, providing them with an opportunity to be inspired by their work. In Costa Rica student groups have the chance to work with the renowned ecologist Dan Janzen and his team, whose conservation field the Area de Conservacion de Guanacaste (ACG) includes more than 325,000 species. Ultimate goal is to generate a DNA Barcode for each one.
The two former teachers Crawford Hill and Eddie Rodriguez are running Chill Expeditions a company that offers teenage students an adrenal rush on their trips, such as whitewater rafting, climbing active volcano peaks and zip-lining hundreds of feet above a rain forest to take in a “monkey’s-eye” view of the jungle canopy. But they are quick to point out the emphasis is just as much an in-your-face cerebral experience as described above. They call this unique experience eco-immersion. To further deepen their interaction with the local communities, the students take part in service projects when available. Hill said, for instance, that about two dozen student groups from all over America recently participated in building a school in Costa Rica over a period of a year. Students have also helped local indigenous people to build and install clean-burning stoves, which use less wood and produce less smoke, replacing those that have caused respiratory illness in their villages. Other projects have included planting organic gardens, laying sidewalks and using recycled materials to build walls.
A great hands-on experience on how ecology impacts a country and its people and a wonderful way to introduce teenagers to an entirely different world.