Alexis Mougalian is a junior on the UGA Equestrian Team. She is majoring in Finance and had the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica during the summer of 2017.
This past summer, I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica and the experience was nothing short of amazing. Although the trip was for only a maymester, it was certainly jam-packed with priceless experiences. While eating dinner in El Castillo, a naturalist pulled me and a few others aside. He led us to a large leaf where a Red-eyed Tree Frog was resting. We were all mesmerized by the creature. The naturalist claimed that there were “no words” in the English (or Spanish) language that could illustrate the beauty of the frog. That phrase is probably the most accurate way to describe the whole trip. It’s difficult to find words to truly portray the activities we participated in, the people I became so close to, and the beauty of the whole country.
We zip-lined over the cloud rainforest, snorkeled in the reefs of the Caribbean, surfed the waves of Puerto Viejo, kayaked to the Arenal Volcano, and white water rafted the rapids of the Pacuare River. We were fully immersed in Costa Rica’s wildlife. The guide for one of our numerous hikes carried a machete which he used to chop down branches that crossed our path while we hiked through the rainforest. We climbed past Bullet Ants, poisonous Eyelash Vipers, and Howler Monkeys. At one point our guide stopped the group to point out a giant spider web which of course held a very large spider. He proceeded to pluck the Golden Silk Orbweaver off the web and place her in our hands. It was thrilling; we simply had no choice but to be fearless. It’s often believed that nature is filled with unknown dangers. However, it was incredible to experience firsthand that if you respected the forest, it returned the favor.
One of the consistent topics that was stressed in our lectures and studies was sustainability. Costa Rica is very proud of its beautiful country and committed to preserving it. One of the most amazing things about Costa Rica is that 98% of its electricity is provided by renewable resources. The country found ways to utilize their natural attractions as not only tourist sites but also energy providers. Unexpectedly, one of my favorite days of the trip was when we spent seven hours on a bus travelling across the rolling hills of the countryside. The views from the window were indescribable. I truly couldn’t tear my eyes away. Yet, scattered across the land were windmills creating valuable electricity. With global changes in wildlife due to human impact, Costa Rica’s efforts are both admirable and inspiring.
As a student of Terry College of Business, the credits I earned from this study abroad weren’t related to my major, however the lessons I learned certainly were. This experience broadened my horizons. I have a newfound respect for nature and an increased desire to preserve it. Integrating sustainability into corporate America is a millennial trend and the fact that I got to experience a version of this firsthand is valuable for my future.
Even more valuable are the strong connections made with my peers. In the beginning of May, eighteen strangers all looking for adventure gathered for the experience of a lifetime. We had different hobbies and majors, but we all were united by UGA study abroad. By end of May, we had made incredible memories and lasting friendships. I can truly say that I have never interacted with a more open-minded, fun, accepting, and brilliant group people. It’s been a few months since we’ve returned to the states but all of us stay connected. In fact, we met for a group dinner this past week, laughing and conversing just as no time had passed. There are no words to describe how thankful I am for the friends and memories Costa Rica has given me. Pura Vida!