Coming to Costa Rica, I expected myself to undergo some culture shock from the abrupt lifestyle change. The transition from city life to “roughing it” in the rainforest was bound to require a significant adjustment. It took until this final station to make me realize just how much this semester has changed my perspective on many things.
One of these changes became evident during work on our second Independent Project. As a psychology major, my interest in this program has always been focused on the animal behavior lessons. Frog mating and call patterns? Fascinating. Plant anatomy and classification? Not so much. Our first Independent Project (poison dart frog intraspecific interactions) fell well within the scope of this academic focus, and was easily explainable as an ecological as well as psychological investigation. I assumed that we would find a similarly-adaptable topic for our second project.
Surprisingly, though, we decided to go in a very different direction. For our project, we have been locating seedling and juvenile trees of the species Guaiacum sanctum in order to analyze trends in leaf growth related to age and light availability. Had I been told in my first week in Costa Rica that I would be spending one of my last weeks in the country searching for tiny little trees to measure them and take pictures of their canopy, I would’ve thought that I had a very boring task in my imminent future. Strangely, I actually really enjoyed our forestry data collection. Setting up and leveling the tripod to take a canopy photo while my groupmates measured the height of and took samples from the tree felt like the most genuinely scientific thing that I’ve ever done. As we searched for our trees in the dry forest, which is much less dense and therefore much easier to navigate than the wet forest at La Selva, I heard myself announce the location of a new specimen by saying “There’s a baby one over here! Aw, it’s so cute!” I tend to consider most animals cute, but never before had I applied such an adjective to a plant. Evidently, this course and the forests of Costa Rica have greatly increased my interest in non-animal organisms.
Other small changes have also taken place at Palo Verde. Upon arrival to the station, my immediate complaint was that I was very uncomfortable with the scorpion population. We found them everywhere – on the ceilings, under our mattresses, on the walls outside our bedrooms. This was especially disconcerting for me because scorpions have been a common theme in night terrors that I’ve had since I was a child. Once the threat of scorpions making their way into our beds had become real (although we have bed nets that greatly decrease that likelihood, as long as we are thorough checking under the bed each night), I became unable to sleep for fear of getting stung in the night. Over the week that we’ve been here, though, I’ve almost become accustomed to the arachnids. I can now usually sleep most of the night without waking up and pulling out my flashlight to check my bed for them. I even found a tiny one outside last night and, for a split second, thought that it looked kind of cute with its tiny little claws and stinger. This I consider to be progress.
Only two weeks remain in our semester abroad. It has been an enlightening and ever-changing three months, and although I am beginning to feel ready to head home, I know that I’ll miss this tropics as soon as I leave.