A Potomac School graduate gains valuable experience while volunteering on a conservation project in Costa Rica
Nineteen year old Kathleen Wilson, a graduate from The Potomac School in Virginia, USA, has always been interested the world around her. Eager to seize the opportunity to see the world as a volunteer, as well as to gain experience in her field of interest, Kathleen spent 7 weeks on a conservation project with Projects Abroad.
While books and lectures play vital roles in education, hands-on experience has the unique ability to drive home any lesson, transforming theories and ideas into something more tangible. It is a person’s experience with a subject that helps them to realize what they like or what they dislike, and whether it is a path that can and should be pursued in education or as a career. With a shift in thought towards higher education, gap years and semesters are becoming increasingly popular among incoming university students as they look for experience and lessons outside of the classroom. In a similar attitude, Kathleen Wilson took the opportunity of a gap semester to explore the backcountry and biodiversity of Costa Rica as a volunteer on a conservation project in Barra Honda National Park where she joined volunteers from around the world to assist local specialists in carrying out bird and mammal investigations, as well as community conservation efforts.
“I came to Costa Rica on my gap semester because I wanted to study biology and environmental conservation at university and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to see the world as a volunteer and learn a bit more about conservation efforts,” Wilson says. “I had pretty high hopes for this trip but it has surpassed my expectations in so many different ways. I love studying and doing things to protect the environment, and Costa Rica takes things to a whole new level!“
Conservation volunteers in Barra Honda carry out various projects, but two of the most successful are the bird surveys and bat investigations. The unique tropical dry forest climate makes Barra Honda National Park home to a wide variety of bird species, which reside in the trees of the forest and fly through the canopy around Barra Honda Mountain. Additionally, volunteers work directly with resident biologist/bat specialist Eduardo Artavia in documenting the various bat species’ inhabiting the caves beneath the park. To date, 45 different specifies have been identified with the help of volunteers.
“Being able to take part in the bird surveys and bat project has given me a new appreciation of nature and has inspired me to learn as much as I can about this ecosystem,” says Wilson. “I think that the more we can understand about the world we live in, the more we can love and protect it.”
Another one of the primary initiatives carried out by conservation volunteers and staff is the involvement of the local community in conservation efforts within the park. Volunteers frequently find themselves taking part in environmental education projects in local schools, as well as community clean-up efforts. Volunteers come from all over the world making their experience a multi-cultural one. Furthermore, volunteers and staff live together on-site, building relationships that would not otherwise be realized.
“I feel that there is always a risk involved whenever you leave your home environment,” states Wilson. “You will be challenged in new ways, whether physically, culturally, socially or just adapting to having a new lifestyle. I have been pushed here but I know that when I leave, I will carry with me a new sense of inspiration, a new sense of self, and lots of wonderful new friendships that could only be made in Costa Rica. Pura vida.”