Georgia Highlands College

GHC Study Abroad Goes to Costa Rica – May 2013

“Pura Vida!” This motto, simply translated “pure life,” is often heard multiple times daily in Costa Rica, the “green destination” of the 2013 GHC Study Abroad trip led by Lecturer in Communciation Alexandra MacMurdo.  Costa Rica has the distinction of being “the happiest country on the planet” according to the Happy Planet Index, which ranked Costa Rica No. 1 out of 151.  MacMurdo was also joined by Jasmine Olander, lecturer in biology, and Allen Easton, professor of chemistry.  Maymester courses in conjunction with this trip were Intercultural Communication (taught by MacMurdo) and zoology (taught by Olander).  It was a natural fit with MacMurdo being a faculty advisor for Green Highlands and Olander being a specialist in science. 

The group traversed a large portion of the country, starting in the capital city of San Jose, moving northwest to the Arenal region, continuing to Monteverde, up to the north country in Los Chiles, down to the Central Pacific Coast and back up through Sarchi.

Sites visited included the InBioparque, a natural park and research station created by the National Institute of Biodiversity.  Students walked ecosystem trails and saw thousands of mariposas (butterflies) in the butterfly garden.

Next we traveled to the Poas Volcano, which is one of the largest active volcanoes in Costa Rica.  Students loved seeing the La Fortuna Waterfall, with a 200-foot cascade to an aqua pool.

The Monteverde green mountain region is situated near the Continental Divide and contains a spectacular range of flora and fauna. 

We traveled up to Los Chiles, which is in the northern section of Costa Rica, only 15 minutes from the Nicaraguan border.  Here the students went on a boat tour of the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge.   An expert guide showed us many interesting animals, including sloths, ocelots, crocodiles, and huge lizards that looked to be the size of cats!


The Santa Elena Cloud Forest gave the students an opportunity to walk among the clouds and experience an ecological nature walk like no other.  It was interesting to learn about all of the environmentally-conscious development practices in place there.

Highlights of the trip also included a horseback riding tour through breathtaking landscape and a zip lining canopy tour.

Down on the Central Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio National Park boasted beautiful white sand beaches that can only be reached by a nature walk through a lush jungle.  Beware of the monkeys:  they will swoop down and steal your food when you aren’t looking.

We finished up the trip with a visit to Sarchi, a major crafts center known for its brightly painted ox carts, or carretas, covered in elaborate designs.  Sarchi is also home to the Britt Coffee Plantation, where we learned all about how coffee beans are grown and harvested as a major export of Costa Rica.

MacMurdo said, “I am thrilled with the experience of seeing the beauty and ecology of Costa Rica, and all that is being done to protect this amazing landscape.  All of us – students and teachers alike - learned so much and made wonderful memories in “the happiest country in the world.”

Abigail Futch, a GHC student who went on the trip said, “I can assuredly say that spending nine days in Costa Rica changed my life forever.  I not only did things I never thought in a million years I would do, but I met the most amazing friends, saw unbelievable things and made unforgettable lifetime memories.”


The jungle and waterways of Costa Rica provide habitat for a wide variety of mammals, reptiles and birds.




The 2013 Costa Rica class.






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