Greetings from Costa Rica
As a matter of introduction, I'm Andrea Lund, a senior biology and Spanish major at UMM. I will not be graduating this spring, but will have to complete an extra semester or two to finish my two majors. I am spending this semester in Costa Rica studying global health and tropical medicine with Duke University and the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). I have always had an interest in the health sciences, but have only in the last year stumbled upon a passion for public health. My current post-graduation plans are to continue my studies in epidemiology working toward a Masters of Public Health. From what I've learned so far, epidemiology uses science in really cool ways to control the spread of disease through populations all the while taking important contextual factors like socioeconomics and culture into account. It's cool stuff - which is why I'm really excited to be here studying this stuff this semester!
OTS is a biological research consortium that maintains three field stations in Costa Rica and is internationally renown for its tropical ecology research and resources. OTS offers undergraduate and graduate courses as well as facilities for conducting research, and only in the recent past have they decided to expand their courses to include curricula in applied fields like global health and tropical medicine. The Global Health Semester is only in its second semester of existence, but it has recruited an incredibly intelligent and talented group of students this semester. There are 19 of us studying and living together this semester, and I am thrilled to be in the company of such people who are so passionate about the same things I am. Most of our time will be spent at OTS' field stations, but currently, we are staying with Costa Rican families and attending language school in San Pedro, a suburb of San Jose.
We have been in Costa Rica for three weeks, since August 17th. We spent our first week of class time at Las Cruces Biological Station & Wilson Botanical Garden near the town of San Vito in the southwest corner of country really close to the Panamanian border. Our accommodations at Las Cruces are the Wilson house, the house that was constructed by (you guessed it) Robert and Catherine Wilson, the couple that bought the property and started the garden back in the 1940s. They built up the garden with plants from all over the world, including a huge collection of palms and bromeliads. Since acquiring the house and garden in the 1960s, OTS has converted it into a student residence with bunks - so we're the lucky ones that walk out the front door into tropical paradise rife with heliconias, bromeliads, palms, banana trees, orchids, birds, frogs, and large insects and arthropods.
We spent our first week before language school learning about the socialized health care system in Costa Rica, its strengths and weaknesses, making comparisons with current health care issues in the United States, and disparities in health between Tico (Costa Rican) and indigenous populations. We have spent time talking with and receiving instruction from Dr. Pablo Ortiz, who is the director of the Area Salud Coto Brus (the public health authority in Coto Brus, the county where San Vito is found). Dr. Ortiz is an extraordinary individual who has worked on behalf of the marginalized indigenous Ngobe (no-bay) population in this region of Costa Rica. Public health issues with respect to indigenous communities are so interesting and so complex. There is so much at work within these issues - cultural differences, economic motivations, lack of political accountability. All of these factors carry a lot of weight in terms of public health impact especially with current concerns for controlling H1N1 flu.
In the future, I will be sure to go into more detail about how I am processing what I am learning here in Costa Rica. It's difficult to summarize three weeks of experience into one succinct entry, but we will continue this journey together as the semester wears on. It's sure to get interesting especially as we return to Las Cruces next week to start designing and implementing our first set of research projects and going beyond introductory lectures to the subjects we're studying.