Lizette Guzman-Zaragoza - 2012 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad? 

Besides traveling to my parent’s native land in Mexico I hadn't had an opportunity to travel outside of the United States. Growing up I always enjoyed listening to my friends' adventures while on their family trips abroad, and since then, I told myself that one-day I too would travel. Because traveling wasn't a big component of my childhood, I made sure to make it a component of my adulthood.

Volunteers supporting sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica
"We need your protection, help us!"

Why did you choose The Science Exchange?

It was all really by random chance, or perhaps fate? I was in an organismal biology course at San Diego State University and the director of the program gave a quick presentation of the internship and the organization. I found it extremely fascinating, the work seemed meaningful, the location (Costa Rica) was gorgeous, and the opportunity of acquiring a full ride scholarship was really what made it a realistic opportunity. 

What was your favorite part about Costa Rica? 

The food, definitely the food! It was delicious, but also very fresh. Many restaurants used local, in season ingredients and their menu was changing on a daily basis to suit the food they were able to get from local vendors.

What made your experience abroad unique? 

The ability to be a scientist and conduct research, but also share my knowledge with the local community of Tortuguero. We were able to interact with the students, teach them about sea turtles and the environment, and take them out on night patrols with us. 

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff was very friendly and knowledgeable of the biological field station and the town. The staff shared some environmental data with us (i.e. rainfall, humidity, etc.) and would help us in planning our research design, especially with selecting certain nesting zones on the beach.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have documented my experience more, taken more videos and pictures, written a diary, or started a blog. I am constantly looking back at my memories and wish I had captured more of them. 

Volunteer in sea turtle costume in Costa Rica
Wearing a sea turtle costume for a local march to ask the national parks to acquire more protection for the sea turtles!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program. 

We would wake up very early (5 a.m. or 6 a.m.) to conduct morning surveys, when we estimated the number of sea turtles that came up on the beach the night before and also the nests that were laid. After that we would have breakfast and clean all of our equipment we used the night before. Particularly for those of us in The Science Exchange, we used most of the afternoon to go out onto the beach and conduct our own research. 

After dinner we would prepare for nightly patrols, when we took biometric measurements of sea turtles, tagged them, and marked their nests. The night patrols were split up into two different four hours shifts, one from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. and the other from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I enjoyed studying the local flora of Costa Rica (I’m a botanist by training), getting smoothies from my favorite local vendor, and getting to know my fellow research assistants.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

All female research assistants stayed in one large room; we had bunk beds and shared one restroom, and there were about six of us. The male research assistants had the same accommodations. We had a downstairs recreation room and a separate building that we used as the kitchen. I really enjoyed the recreation room; we used it as a place to mingle, relax, nap, research, and be on our laptops after a long day, and it felt very cozy.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

This program is physically demanding; there is a lot of walking on the beach, carrying equipment, and long nights of patrol. It is also mentally challenging, because you have to be able to live in remote locations with mostly the essentials and you have to be open minded and welcoming of different cultures and views. Overall, keep an open mind and go with the flow, and be able to adapt to situations quickly.

Volunteer with nesting hawksbill turtle in Costa Rica
After working with a nesting hawksbill that came out during the day!

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?

My time abroad had a huge impact on my actions back home. I tend to engage in actions that lower my carbon footprint and help keep our environment and oceans clean. I try to be conscious of water use, carry a reusable water bottle, say no to plastic straws and bags, and I try to spread this knowledge to my friends and family as well. I find myself constantly looking for new ways to change my habits so that it positively impacts sea turtles and other organisms.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why? 

I would definitely recommend this program. You get so much out of it, both as a scientist and as a nature lover. It is easy to apply and Katherine (the director) does her best to fit your accommodation requests and find you a place where you will have a terrific experience.