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I never set foot on a beach, but I saw the Caribbean.  Sunrise, from the top of Mt Chirripo brought a vision of glory.  The glacial lakes glowed with the warmth of the sun; the plants struggling to survive atop ancient rock thrust up from the earth are for a moment golden and immaculate.  As you look down, yes down, on the clouds you realize that you truly are on top of the world.

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My ascent of this mountain brought rainbows, flocks of sulfur-winged parakeets and breathtaking views stretching from coast to coast.  I only spent three days enjoying its raw and beautiful qualities, but for three weeks I wandered its lower slopes at the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve.  I studied the plant Gunnera insignis, a beast of a plant that likes to live on the edge.  The edge of landslides and rivers, that is, so I learned to enjoy scrambling up and down landslides too.  My purpose was to determine the plant’s habitat preference and examine a unique symbiosis.  Pockets of green tissue within the plant are the obvious signs of the symbiosis, which made finding it easy.  The fun part was scrambling around on the landslide with a knife in hand, taking samples.  Don’t be concerned, none of my blood was drawn during the making of this experience.

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I had the joy of working with two Gatton Academy students for a week.  I introduced them to various field research techniques and served as their guide through the cloud forest.  It was great to inspire students to consider field biology, and inspiring for me to watch their excitement grow.

You are probably thinking that this doesn’t seem like a typical experience abroad.  Where are the tourist traps and cheesy souvenir shops?

Well…there weren’t any for me, and I like it that way.  I was able to “create-my-own” study abroad experience.  I made connections in-country and tied my studies into my research project on campus, making it an all-around cultural and educationally beneficial experience.  AND to make it even better, it was all paid for through a couple of hard earned scholarships.

Pura Vida.

Pure Life.

In Costa Rica I was often greeted with these words and they have stuck with me as I think about my experience.  It’s the only phrase that comes close to describing it.  Pure Life is the only way to describe water so clean you can drink straight out of the stream, waking up without an alarm to birdsong each day, seeing more stars in the night sky than ever before, and hiking for 3 hours by flashlight to watch the sunrise over the Caribbean.  It’s a fantastic place to live and way of living.  Every day I try to find a little something that reminds me of Pura Vida to keep Costa Rica close to my heart.

Oh!  And I did get plenty of data for my research while I was there.  So beyond the life changing bit and experiences I will remember forever, I have a start on my Honors Thesis!

~Clarice Esch

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