Under the Costa Rican Sun: York’s EcoCampus

Posted by Sam on August 11, 2016

Get In The Know | The Vari Reel

Group photo in front of a brightly colored, modern building surrounded by forrest.
The inaugural class of the Lillian Meighen Wright Centre, part of York University’s new EcoCampus and its Las Nubes Project. (Photo Courtesy Mark Terry)

Did you know York University has a campus in Costa Rica? Pretty awesome, right? Even cooler is the fact that it is located in the foothills of La Amistad National Park, which encompasses 401,000 hectares of tropical forest and constitutes the largest nature reserve in Central America.

While York has been doing research in the region for years, the University recently celebrated the grand opening of the Lillian Meighen Wright Centre (LMWC), which stands as the centre piece of York’s EcoCampus in Costa Rica and has already been established as the home of the Las Nubes Project. Soon the building will also serve as the headquarters of the Faculty of  Environment Studies’ s Semester Abroad program (right now, just individual courses are held there, for both undergraduate and graduate students). Research and education there focus on neotropical conservation, community well-being and sustainable livelihoods, eco-health and Indigenous knowledge worlds.

I could keep sketching out this paradise from an outsider’s perspective, but why not hear from someone who has actually been there instead? Princie Reza, a York graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), recently returned from Costa Rica after working and studying on York’s EcoCampus. To give you an insider perspective on life in there, we reached out to her with some questions about her experience. As you would expect, it sounds painfully wonderful.

 

Can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Princie Reza. I am a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) at York University. Alongside working toward a master’s degree in Environmental Studies, I am also pursuing the Business & Environment diploma that FES offers jointly with the Schulich School of Business. My research interest lies at the intersection of business and sustainability. I am focusing on corporate social responsibility, social and environmental enterprises, as well as cooperatives. I completed my undergraduate degree here in FES as well, specializing in Environmental Politics.

Where exactly did you stay in Costa Rica?

We spent almost a week at the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor, home to the York University EcoCampus. I stayed in the town of Quizzara with an amazing family. My home-stay family members Eduardo, Cecilia and Diana were very welcoming!

Family photo of a Costa Rican family.
Princie alongside her host family. (Photo Courtesy Princie Reza)

What did a typical day look like on the EcoCampus?

Every morning, we would wake up at 6am and have breakfast together at 7am. Then our home-stay dad would drop us off at the meeting spot where Oscar, our diligent bus driver, would pick us up to take us on our adventure for the day at 8am. Every day consisted of two to three activities. On one particular day, we got a tour of the Lillian Meighen Wright Centre. We then embarked on a short hike, visiting the suspension bridge that the Las Nubes Student Association funded. Although the hike was intense, the sights and sounds were breathtakingly beautiful! Upon returning from the hike, we proceeded to plant trees at the EcoCampus. This was tons of fun as well. In the evening, my home-stay family, roommate and I would sometimes sit on the front porch with their two dogs, Toby and Mini, and have a nice chat before having dinner and going to bed.

Back view of a woman crossing a suspension bridge in the middle of a forrest.
The Las Nubes Suspension Bridge. (Photo Courtesy Princie Reza)

Were there any difficulties you faced? What was your experience like first stepping foot onto the EcoCampus?

One of the challenges I faced was a language barrier; my home-stay family did not speak any English, and at that time, I only knew a few words in Spanish. Dinner conversations consisted of an obnoxiously large English-to-Spanish dictionary that I brought from home, my roomate Zoi’s phrasebook, tons of hand gestures, games of Pictionary and very slow and deliberate enunciation. Despite not speaking each others’ languages, we managed to find ways to communicate with each other. Although I initially saw language as a barrier, it soon became evident that with a little patience and perseverance, we were all able to overcome it.

Wide view of lush green forrest topped by mist.
One of the many incredible views from the EcoCampus. (Photo Courtesy Princie Reza)

What was your main purpose for being in Costa Rica working on the EcoCampus?

The field courses offered on the EcoCampus were highly relevant to my plan of study. Felipe Montoya’s course touched upon issues of well-being, ecotourism and sustainable livelihoods. Ravi de Costa’s course was on globalization and Indigenous peoples. The knowledge I acquired in both courses was incredibly helpful in allowing me to gain a concrete grasp on the possibilities of more sustainable and socially conscious alternatives to conventional businesses. The family I lived with on the EcoCampus owned and operated a farm that supplied coffee to CoopeAgri, a co-operative that prioritizes democracy, workers’ dignity, environmental well-being, the inclusion of women and general societal well-being. Throughout our time there, there were multiple opportunities to visit and learn about sustainable farms, both worker- and consumer-owned cooperatives, as well as cultural and niche-based operations to promote sustainable livelihoods. It was amazing to see a practical translation of many of the theoretical concepts and ideas I had come across throughout both my undergraduate and graduate degree here at FES.

People around a table checking the quality of coffee.
Students can learn about quality-checking coffee, as here at CoopeAgri. (Photo Courtesy Kal Romain)
Middle-aged man feeling the moss on a rock with petroglyphs (stone carvings)
Professor Ravi de Costa of York University presents a lecture on the petroglyphs (stone carvings) in Costa Rica’s Alexander Skutch Biological Reserve. (Photo Courtesy Kal Romain)

Working outside in the beautiful sun, contributing to community projects, all the while fulfilling your academic requirements . . . need I say more? Beginning in Summer 2017, the Faculty of Environmental Science will be opening up the Las Nubes Project to allow students the opportunity to study a full semester abroad in Costa Rica on the EcoCampus. For more information on York’s EcoCampus and the vast array of opportunities it provides, be sure to check out the EcoCampus’s official website. It should be noted that the EcoCampus is available to both graduate and undergraduate students.

Just to send you off on even more of a “why am I not there right now?” feeling, below you can find a gallery of more photos for your utmost viewing pleasure. Costa Rica, here I come.

Sam
Sam

Sam recently graduated with an Honours BA in Communications.

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