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Colorful birds, amazing waterfalls, active volcanoes, and warm, friendly local people – these are just a few of the things we saw and experienced during our action packed Maymester adventure in Costa Rica. Rising at the crack of dawn, we hiked through the forest, learning about the distinct ecosystems, studying the many different bird species we encountered, and making new friendships along the way. The trip flew by way too quickly, but it left me with a greater appreciation for all that I have, and a greater sense of responsibility to take care of it.

This experience made me more aware of things that I previously took for granted. I saw birds, but I never stopped to fully admire them, and I had no idea that there was so much to know about them. For example, the resplendent quetzal loves avocadoes. So do I! I was aware of issues of sustainability and conservation, but I never fully appreciated the role of plants, and specifically the cloud forest, in our global environment. This trip has made me stop and appreciate these things, and it has inspired me to learn more about animals, which is a good thing, since I hope to go to veterinary school.

Another thing I learned to appreciate while on this trip is my family, our health, and our financial stability. While in Monte Verde, we visited a local farm, which had been run by the husband of the family for many years. However, he recently passed away, so, now the wife and family members must run the farm without him. We realized what a hardship it must be for their family to operate the farm, so we bought a lot of coffee, sugarcane, and craft items that the family made for souvenirs. I admired the way the family pulled together and kept going through hard times. I also realized how fortunate I am to have a large, supportive family. My parents are both healthy and they both have good jobs. They require that I work and contribute to the cost of my education, so I work at the UGA teaching dairy. But it’s different for me, because I work primarily to gain experience that will help me further my education, not because I might otherwise go hungry.

Along with greater appreciation, this trip has given me a heightened sense of responsibility for my environment. I saw the impact that global warming is having on the cloud forest. I gained a better appreciation for sustainability and conservation issues that I have learned about at UGA. Since global warming is primarily caused by the carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned for energy, I can help solve the problem by taking steps to save energy. Examples of things we can do include setting our thermostats up a little higher in the summer and down a little lower in the winter, taking shorter showers, recycling, buying locally grown and produced products, supporting local farmers, and walking to places that are close rather than driving. I will make a greater effort to do these things to preserve this beautiful cloud forest as well as our environment at home.

This whirlwind trip was a crash course in Avian Biology, but it also taught me so much more. While hiking, swimming, ziplining, and having fun, I became a better, more appreciative steward of my environment and a more focused student. Hopefully, with continued hard work, I will get into veterinary school and someday return to Costa Rica as a veterinary volunteer to help the wildlife and serve the agricultural community in this place that is now so much a part of me.