UGA Costa Rica Blog

¡Pura vida!

Wednesday Spotlight: Arturo Cruz, Head Naturalist


Arturo Cruz has worked at the University of Georgia Costa Rica campus as head naturalist since 2011. As head naturalist, he is in charge of training resident naturalists to give tours and lead activities. He also is involved with many of the research projects on campus, including water quality, weather stations, and bird counts as well as the IT department.

A typical day, “goes from giving a hike or a night hike to doing research or identifying aquatic insects in the lab, to installing new computers or software,” he said. “My days go through all of them.”

As resident naturalists come and go through the years, the head naturalist is in charge of training and preserving a sense of continuity. “One of the main ideas for this position was to have one person who is from the area to know the natural history of this area so that we are all sharing the same information.”


Cruz began learning about nature from an early age. “I started learning about natural history, biology, ecology, and all that stuff from my family, from my father. He has worked some for some biologists in Monteverede on a lot of different projects and research.” During school vacations, Cruz would go out with his father has he studied bats or orchids. Growing up in such an environment, Cruz was a naturalist before he knew it.

In fact, Arturo and his father were working on a project for National Geographic when he first came to the UGA CR campus. For seven years they worked to map the trees on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, even discovering new species as they went. When the job of head naturalists came up, he knew it would be a good match for his interest in research as well as his desire to teach. “For me it’s exciting to learn about something new, but it is more exciting to have the opportunity to teach someone about what you just learned.”

Arturo is in charge of the data collected from our monthly bird counts.

A desire to keep learning keeps him sharp and always eager to take on a new subject or new project. “I always enjoy when I’m learning something new. That’s why I’ve been working with bats, orchids, dragonflies, plants. Those are really complex things to learn about, but once I’m really involved and comfortable, that’s when I like to try learning something else.”

For Cruz, one of the exciting things about working at UGA Costa Rica is that it is a learning environment where students can see their studies in a new way. “I think the students get a lot of information out of it. They get to see the rainforest and learn from it, not just from reading about it. They see everything and experience everything. If it’s insects, plants, birds, they get the chance to go out and see it and learn from the action of working with it.”

“I think it’s really important for a working environment like this when you need to do so many things. Sometimes you need more than a co-worker. You need a friend.”

As exciting as the surrounding tropical environment is, the one created on campus is just as important. “I like it because the people we have here are really nice. It’s like a family environment. The people from the kitchen or maintenance, the staff, the interns, the naturalists. As soon as they get here, they get this feeling. It works like a big family. Everyone is really close and I like that. I think it’s really important for a working environment like this when you need to do so many things. Sometimes you need more than a co-worker. You need a friend.”

Arturo Cruz with his daughter Cassidy

Cruz loves spending time with his wife Kimberly and one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Cassidy. He also plays bass in a rock cover band that performs monthly.


Arturo with his wife, daughter and parents on Easter Sunday of 2014

Monday Top 5: Fun Facts about CR’s Soccer Team

The Countdown to the World Cup is on! Brazil 2014 is mere months away and Costa Rica is ready to give it their all as they face Uruguay in their first game on June 14th! Costa Rica will play 3 games in June in the hopes of advancing on to the next round. If your are studying abroad with us this summer, the World Cup games are not ones you’re going to want to miss. Soccer is Costa Rica’s favorite sport and we get pretty serious about it! It will be a special experience to interact with the passionate fans of the small nation.

So, in the hopes of giving you tons of fun facts to impress your friends with, here are five things to know about the Costa Rican Soccer Team!

1. The national team is nicknamed “La Sele” short for La Seleccion.  La Seleccion means “the selection” and is a common nickname among Spanish speaking countries for their national soccer team.

2. Costa Rica is the most successful Central American team. Costa Rica played their first game as a national team in 1921, and has qualified for four World Cups since then: Italy (1990), South Korea and Japan (2002), Germany (2006), and Brazil (2014).

3. Costa Rica had an impressive debut, and made it to the final 16 during their first World Cup appearance, Italy (1990). Although, to date, Costa Rica has not progressed past this, we have high hopes for this year!

4. Costa Rica qualified for the 2014 World Cup on the same day as the U.S. (September 10, 2013). U.S. played Mexico and CR played Jamaica. Costa Rica still had two games to spare at this point and landed comfortably in second place behind the United States at the end of the Qualifiers.

5. Want some specifics about this World Cup? Costa Rica is in Group D with Uruguay, England, and Italy. Despite the fact that Costa Rica is in one of the “groups of death,” Costa Rica is supported by some outstanding key players: Bryan Ruiz, who ranks among the best playmakers in the North, Central American and Caribbean zone; our outstanding goalie, Keilor Navas; and tried-and-trusted performers Alvaro Saborio, Cristian Bolanos, and young Joel Campbell.

It’s going to be a great summer! Check back in with us for more updates and fun facts as we continue our Countdown to the World Cup!


Fun Fact Friday: Fall Application Deadline is TODAY!

Are you interested in studying in Costa Rica this fall with UGACR? Well, you better get to work on your program application because TODAY is the deadline to apply! This fall, we are offering Tropical Biology (Semester)College of Environment & Design: Landscape Architecture (Semester), and Coffee: From Bean to Cup! (Thanksgiving Break). So weather you are interested in studying Costa Rica’s tropical environment, taking on an architectural design project, or tasting some of the best coffee Costa Rica has to offer – you must APPLY TODAY to enjoy the experience!

Tropical Biology

Researching with Fall Tropical Biology.

EVERY zipline

Ziplining with Fall CED.

Coffee Cupping with Coffee: From Bean to Cup!

Coffee Cupping with Coffee: From Bean to Cup!

Wednesday Spotlight: UGACR 2014 Program Shirt


The time has come for the great reveal! For those of you who have not yet seen our stylish new program shirt, it’s time to stop and bask in its beauty. Students participating in a UGA Costa Rica Maymester or Summer program will be the envy of all their peers, because they are the first to sport our new creation.

Let’s talk about design! This fetching garment is the epitome of comfort and flair. (Shout-out to Satisfactory for their excellent printing job!) The shirt is green to represent our passion for sustainability and eco-friendly practices. UGA Costa Rica is fully committed to creating a sustainable campus and limiting the carbon-footprint of our actions. All of our students participate in a Carbon Offset Project where they have the opportunity to plant trees to diminish the carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of their visit.

Our shirt also features an image of our unofficial mascot here at UGACR — the sloth! Although they get a bad reputation for being lazy, sloths are actually incredibly cool. Sloths are peaceful, caring, easy-going animals. They live life at their own pace, and always live in the moment. These mellow mammals also have the ability to turn their heads almost 270 degrees. This trait makes them very insightful and able to see issues from many different perspectives. As sloths spend the majority of their time hanging from trees, they can also teach us about leading a balanced life that quickly adapts to changing circumstances. And finally, since sloths are the masters of camouflage, they can show us how to harmonize with our environment and practice unification rather than separation.

As you can see, with this year’s UGACR shirt, you’re not only going to be gaining a new favorite article of clothing, you’re gaining a new way of life! If you’re a Maymester or Summer UGACR participant, and haven’t yet picked up your shirt, please make sure to stop by our offices at the Office of International Education (across from the UGA track) today!

Monday Top 5: Facts About Juan Santamaria Day

As Friday was a national holiday in Costa Rica, we thought we would give you a brief run-down of what to know about Juan Santamaria Day and the Battle of Rivas.

1) Some Background Info: April 11th, also known as Juan Santamaria Day, marks the Second Battle of Rivas, and is a mandatory paid holiday in Costa Rica. The Second battle of Rivas occured on April 11th, 1856, between the Costa Rican militia (under the command of General Mora) and the Nicaraguan forces of William Walker, an American filibuster who had declared himself president of Nicaragua that year. Walker’s plan was to conquer Central America and enslave the population. Costa Ricans fought back against the attempt, and the country’s only military hero was born.

2) Who is Juan Santamaria: Juan Santamaria was a poor drummer boy from the province of Alajuela  who volunteered for Costa Rica’s militia when the fighting broke out.

3) What Went Down: Legend has it that at the Second Battle of Rivas, Costa Rica’s commanding officer asked for a volunteer to burn down the hostel where Walker’s men were staying. Many soldiers tried and failed. So, Juan Santamaria volunteered. He was just a boy and the illegitimate son of a poor single mother. He volunteered under the singular condition that if he died, someone would look after his mother. Torch in hand, Santamaria advanced through enemy fire toward the hostel. Though he was mortally wounded, he succeeded in reaching the hostel and burning it down before his untimely death. This led to Costa Rica’s victory at the battle.

4) Aftermath: Whether or not you believe the story, Juan Santamaria is now a national legend. On April 11th all government buildings close, and citizens receive a day off with regular pay. Santamaria’s act of heroism (which confirms CR’s sovereignty) is commemorated on this day by parades, civic programs and fireworks. Additionally, anybody who has ever flown into San Jose knows that Costa Rica’s main airport is called Juan Santamaria International Airport. Statues of Juan Santamaria can be found at the airport, the park that shares his name in Alajuela and before the Congress in San Jose.

5) The Whole Point: Legend or not, the story of Juan Santamaria lives on in the hearts of Costa Rican’s and is a part of the national identity. They cherish the heroic memory of the young, lower class boy who sacrificed himself to save his country from slavery while thinking only of his mother. What matters most in the end is that Juan Santamaria represents courage, fidelity, and loyalty and devotion to one’s country and people.


Wednesday Spotlight: Dr. Kris Irwin, Adelante Award Winner

The UGA Costa Rica Adelante Award honors a UGA faculty or staff member who has made major contributions to the University of Georgia’s Campus in Costa Rica.  These contributions may have come in any of the following areas:

  • Study abroad program development and on-going instruction on study abroad programs with particular attention to student mentoring and service-learning;
  • Incorporation of international content from Costa Rica into the curriculum in his or her field;
  • Cevelopment of ongoing research initiatives based at UGA Costa Rica;
  • Significant contributions to develop the UGA Costa Rica Campus infrastructure;
  • Significant contributions toward ecological and social sustainability of the UGA Costa Rica Campus;
  • Public service and outreach in the San Luis / Monteverde community;
  • Leading international conferences and symposia based at the UGA Costa Rica Campus;
  • Significant contributions to the Latino community in and around the Athens community;
  • Commitment to fostering relationships, educational or otherwise, between the Athens and San Luis/Monteverde campuses and communities.

The Adelante Award is given annually by consensus decision among the UGA Costa Rica Athens Office Staff and the UGA Costa Rica Campus Staff in review of all nominations.  Preference is given to individuals with demonstrated accomplishments in two or more of these areas.

Dr. Quint Newcomer’s Comments:

Kris has been highly engaged with UGA Costa Rica since very early on, even before I arrived. His first trip to UGA CR was in September 2003. He brought a group of 15 students and in-service teachers down to Costa Rica in March 2006 as part of an IDEAS Grant: “Environmental Education in Costa Rica: A UGA Service-Learning Experience” in which they interacted with faculty from the National University and the National Biodiversity Institute. They planted trees and learned about environmental education and Kris found his home away from home in San Luis. He then received a Scholarship of Engagement Grant and came back to UGA Costa Rica in 2009 to support community outreach activities in aquaculture pond management and to begin work on a service-learning toolkit to support faculty teaching at UGA Costa Rica. Based on the work completed in 2009, he was selected as a Senior Service-Learning Scholar to continue to develop the UGA Costa Rica Service-Learning Toolkit, which he completed in 2010. He has since helped with training several faculty to engage in service-learning as part of their education abroad programs with UGA Costa Rica. In 2010, we co-presented about service-learning at UGA Costa Rica at the “People, Place, & Partners: Building and Sustaining Engagement in Critical Times” Gulf-South Summit.

Kris Irwin Fishing

Since 2006, Kris has helped me write and submit at least seven funding proposals, including representing UGA for the annual WK Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Award. Most recently, throughout 2013, Kris participated in the drafting of a white paper which led to the development of a large Coupled Natural and Human Systems grant we submitted to NSF. Our fingers remain crossed! In Fall 2011, Kris initiated contact with the US EPA International Office, and has helped foster an on-going dialog since that time with the team who serves as the advisors for the Central American region regarding high-level environmental policy planning and technical support. Together with Warnell colleague Jay Shelton, we have made four presentations to different EPA groups, at both Athens and Atlanta offices, regarding the work of UGA Costa Rica and possibilities of research collaborations with US EPA.

 In 2013, Kris and I launched a new spring break program, Tropical Reforestation, offering a hands-on service-learning field experience in support of the UGA Costa Rica carbon offset reforestation program. Enrollment more than doubled between 2013 to 2014. Kris supervised graduate student Micheal Heldreth in the development of a nursery management and tree monitoring protocol, which is helping us to standardize the management of the program and has been critical to help us begin to measure tree growth rates over time as well as gather other critical site data and develop detailed plotting and mapping for the 30,000 plus trees we have planted as part of this project.

Dr. Kris Irwin (center) with Dr. Jay Shelton (left) and Lucas Ramirez (right).

Dr. Kris Irwin (center) with Dr. Jay Shelton (left) and Lucas Ramirez (right).

 In addition to his engagement as an educator of students, as a researcher, and as a leader of community engagement and outreach, Kris has been a tireless champion of UGA Costa Rica, encouraging his colleagues to get involved, serving on the UGA Costa Rica Academic Advisory Board, and perhaps most importantly, he keeps me laughing when I most need a good dose of humor.

 I’ve told you many of the highlights of my work with Kris over the past 8 years. There’s equally as much I haven’t mentioned here. For his many, many contributions and steadfast support, the UGA Costa Rica Athens Office staff and Costa Rica Campus staff have unanimously selected Dr. Kris Irwin to receive the 2014 UGA Costa Rica Adelante Award.

Monday Top 5: Helpful Study Abroad Websites

So you’ve been accepted to Study Abroad with UGA Costa Rica…. Now what? We know that preparing to go abroad can be extremely stressful and full of things that you are unsure about. This week we decided to focus on helpful websites that can help you with all kinds of potential study abroad worries. With these sites in your browser, you’ll have nothing to stress about for your upcoming trip!

International Studies Abroad (ISA) Tips:

ISA is one of our top resources for study abroad help. Their excellent  “:60 on Study Abroad” is an in-house web series that features ISA staff members detailing quick tips on study abroad. They have advice on “How to Stay Fit Abroad” and “How to Be a Vegetarian Abroad,” even “How to Unplug But Stay Connected” (our intern, Aurora, used that last one in her first-place Young Dawgs presentation).Our top 2 are their packing list videos for him and her. Some of the advice about adapters doesn’t work for us, ( in CR you don’t need an adapter) but for the most part the info is really great!

 US Passports:

To fly to Costa Rica you will first need a passport! A passport take 4-6 weeks to process, so it is important to plan in advance to make sure that everything goes smoothly. The process of getting a passport is relatively easy if you know where to go. You can get started with this link to the US State Department! Want another way that’s close to home? At the Tate Center UGA has a Passport Office. Check out this handy checklist and then go on in to apply for your passport!

Orientation Handbook:

Did you know that UGA CR has an Orientation Handbook? The Handbook has a lot of useful general info, but a lot of people like it for the Packing Checklist. Within the handbook there are lots of stellar packing tips and suggestions to help figure out what you will need. Even our veteran faculty who travel every year get out the ol’ handbook when it’s time to pack.

UGA Travel Center:

If travel abroad is in your future plans, your best local medical resource is the Travel Clinic at the UGA’s Health Center. The clinic offers travel health information and appropriate vaccinations to students, faculty, staff and the general public. They also offer many tips and resources on how to maintain your health while abroad.

Accepted Student Info:

Once accepted, don’t forget to check out the accepted student page on our website! It has lots of useful checklists and links. It even has a video of the Large Group Orientation from  April 5, 2014 in case you missed it! So check in to see if your program has a specific power point or calendar and make sure to check the top of the page for important things to take care of before your trip.


Wednesday Spotlight: Irwin Bernstein, Faculty

This week we are bringing you the words of Dr. Irwin Bernstein! Dr. Bernstein is a faculty member on the highly successful Franklin Spring Semester program. Franklin Spring covers a variety of course including classes in biology, psychology and Spanish. And you have the opportunity to be in beautiful Costa Rica for a semester! We hope you enjoy his take on why he enjoys teaching in Costa Rica rather than a traditional classroom setting and keep this program in mind for next year!


Teaching classes at the Monteverde San Luis Costa Rica campus is a whole different kind of teaching experience.  Faculty and students do not meet for 50 minutes at a time three times a week, or on any class schedule, but you eat all of your meals together, travel around the country together and see each other every day and for most of the day.  There is no segregation of faculty and students and you all get to know each other as people and not just in the formal roles of students and teachers.  If someone is absent or having any problem everyone knows of it and everyone pitches in as a community to solve problems.  unnamedPerhaps you might think that having so little privacy and separate lives would be a bad thing, but we all quickly learned to work together and to share with one another as friends.  Friends know a lot about you, but friends also know when to give you your space.

Being interested in non human primates, being in Costa Rica gave us many opportunities to see them in their natural habitat.  We had capuchin monkeys coming to campus, and we could sees what attracted them, what other animals they competed with and how they responded to us and to other animals.  Traveling around the country gave us access to three other indigenous primates and we could see how they made a living in different habitats.  Primates are the Order that includes ourselves and so may be of special interest, but they exemplify the general principles of Animal Behavior and Ecology.  Seeing them in this light, the study of Primates is not a narrow interest but just a single example of much broader and fundamental interests and scientific principles.  Seeing the animals in their natural habitat makes the animals real and gives you a first hand field for what you can and cannot do in studying animals and what the problems are in such studies.


Monday Top 5: UGACR Virtual Classroom Videos

This week we’re bringing you our favorite Virtual Classroom videos! These were produced by the extra special 2013 cohort of Resident Naturalists, with the technical expertise of photojournalism intern Kristy Densmore. Each video covers a different topic in a few short minutes. They are fun, educational,and proof that we have the best Resident Naturalists ever! Want to see more? You can also search “UGA Costa Rica Virtual Classroom” on Youtube or visit our page.

In this short video Freelance Naturalist Alexa Stickel tackles the subject of Nocturnal Predation.

2013 Resident Naturalist Alex Wright does an excellent job giving a brief Introduction to Interdependent Relationships.

Resident Naturalist Katie Lutz gives us tons of fun facts about The Cecropia Tree.

Water Quality Intern Marley Connor presents a great run-down of Water Quality in the Bellbird Biological Corridor.

Finally, Katie brings it home with a super cool lesson on Bats!

Well that’s all for now. Make sure you check out our Youtube account for more Virtual Classroom videos and for the other fun videos we post!

Fun Fact Friday

We have a new arrival at UGA Costa Rica.  Our newest calf, with a beautiful black coat and white patch on his forehead, was born a week ago. His name is Tejón, which means badger. And don’t forget the word for calf, ternero.

Our new friend Tejón makes calf number four here. The cows on campus keep us in supply with fresh milk that we use for our baked goods, cream, and hot chocolate.


Tejón and Margarita


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