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      Winter Break in Costa Rica

      A Student Reflection on a Life-Changing Learning Experience

      Audrey Rucker, communication studies, '18

      Audrey Rucker

      A Colorful Journey

      Junior communication studies major Audrey Rucker celebrates a rainbow sighting while exploring Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Rucker)

      Over winter break, I was one of 16 Widener University students who traveled with four faculty members to Costa Rica to explore the coast, jungle, volcanoes and everywhere in between. Because of my experience in Costa Rica, I not only grew on an intellectual level, but also a spiritual one.

      After arriving at Cares21, the property Widener University purchased last fall to support study abroad experiences and research in Costa Rica, we traveled to the beaches of Ostional to watch the annual Arabada, or laying of eggs. The 3:30 a.m. wake-up call was worth it when we got to witness first hand hundreds of turtles laying their eggs. We had the unique opportunity to meet with both the Asociacion de Guias Locales and the Association of National Parks and gain two different views of the issues Costa Rica is facing surrounding turtle eggs. Turtle eggs are one of Costa Rica’s major sources of income, yet they are being endangered by tourists and wild dogs. As students, we were able to interpret and approach these issues in unique ways related to our majors and then come together to help find possible solutions.



      The five-acre property, known as CARES21 (short for Consortium of Agro-ecological Research and Education for Sustainability for the 21st Century), sits about 20 miles north of San Jose in Costa Rica. It provides a base for Widener University to continue existing projects and to develop new research in Costa Rica’s central coffee region.

      We also had the opportunity to visit Las Lajas, where WU Brew coffee is picked, processed and packaged before it is shipped to the university. After learning the ‘ins and outs’ of proper coffee bean picking, our group split into two to have a friendly competition to see who could pick the most coffee beans. The winning group could not even get close to the amount the pickers gather on an hourly basis. The next day, we learned step by step how the coffee beans are processed, and finally, got to partake in cupping, or what we would call coffee tasting. As much as students wanted to chug the coffee, we all tried the proper cupping protocol. After tasting coffee from Las Lajas and then other brews from competitors, our taste buds knew the difference. Las Lajas takes pride in its shade-grown coffee fields, which is one of the many unique factors that gives it an exceptional taste.

      We often woke up at Cares21 and began catching butterflies, and at night, we captured moths by hanging a sheet with a light shining on it. We then classified and studied these insects. Cares21’s location on the side of a volcano also provided us with a perfect setting for morning hikes, where we could bird watch and study plants.

      Other adventures included a trip to the Alajuela market where we became immersed in the culture of Costa Rica and could see what everyday life is like. It was very obvious that we were “tourists,” yet each and every native we met was welcoming and patient as we tried our best to speak Spanish. Each day, we ate locally grown cuisine and gained an appreciation for the care that goes into preparing food naturally. It was refreshing to see the relationships between the people of the communities we visited, because we learned that money and education have very little to do with social status in Costa Rica.

      It is impossible to capture everything we experienced in such few words, but in short, my time in Costa Rica allowed me to try new things, step outside of my comfort zone, make new friends, learn and grow. After being immersed in the happiest, most loving and loyal culture, I became inspired to take more chances, have no regrets and adopt a positive outlook on the world. I will carry this with me for life. The lessons I learned through this experience go far beyond what a textbook could ever teach me.

      I would encourage every student to take advantage of global learning opportunities at Widener to become immersed in a new culture and build relationships around the world. These experiences will surely open many doors for us in our future and provide memories to last a lifetime.

      Experience it for Yourself

      Interested in going to Costa Rica in May? Sign up for ENVR 188/HUM 188: Coffee Culture and the Environment in Costa Rica. Please contact Dr. Stephen Madigosky at or Dr. Beatriz Urraca at for an application form and additional information. Space is very limited, so sign up soon! If you would like to hear more about Audrey's experiences, you may write to her at

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