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Programs : Brochure

  • Locations: Costa Rica, Costa Rica
  • Program Terms: May Experience
  • Restrictions: Furman applicants only
  • Budget Sheets: May Experience
Dates / Deadlines:
Dates / Deadlines:
Term Year App Deadline Decision Date Start Date End Date
May Experience 2019 10/29/2018 11/14/2018 TBA TBA
Fact Sheet:
Program Type: Faculty-led Language of Instruction: English
Minimum GPA: 2.5 Areas of Study: Biology, Earth and Environmental Studies, Sustainability Science
Faculty Director or Program Advisor: John Quinn - Biology, Karen Allen - Earth & Environmental Sciences Applicable Financial Aid: Study Away Scholarship
Prerequisites: Yes Type of Course Credit: Furman course credit
Credit Hours Per Term: 2 credits Housing: Dormitory/ Residence Hall, Hotel
Program Features: Research Project
Program Description:


in Monte Verde Cloud Forest, Costa RicaOVERVIEW

This program allows students to gain an understanding of the biological interactions between organisms and their environments in tropical ecosystems.  Tropical forests possess the greatest biodiversity of any terrestrial biomes on our planet.  They are also the earth’s main engines for photosynthesis, releasing oxygen, consuming carbon dioxide, and trapping solar energy.  They remain poorly understood by science, containing vast numbers of species that have never been named, much less studied.  Many of these species may have utilitarian value to society, such as new foods or medicines.  Yet tropical forests are disappearing at a frightening pace, with accompanying extinction of species, through deforestation motivated by demand for timber and agricultural land.  We will spend three weeks in the spectacular tropical forests of Costa Rica, becoming intimately familiar with their plants, animals, and ecology.  In the words of a former student, “It’s like walking through the pages of National Geographic.”

While a small country, Costa Rica possesses incredible biological diversity, and habitats ranging from wet tropical forest on the Caribbean slope to dry seasonal forest in the Pacific lowlands, with mountain cloud forest in between.  The extensive network of nature preserves in Costa Rica is a model for the rest of the world, and provides many pristine habitats to visit.  However, the rapid pace of development outside these preserves is also putting great pressure on the natural environment, allowing us to study the sometimes tense relationship between development and conservation.

The academic content of this program will primarily be taught in the field, using both observational and investigative approaches.  Nature walks led by Furman professors and local guides will familiarize students with the local flora and fauna, and illustrate important ecological principles.  Inquiry-based learning will be used extensively.  Students will conduct field and laboratory research projects, including projects assigned by the professors and projects the students design independently.  Students will participate in the entire research cycle, from formulation of hypotheses, through experimental design, collection of data, statistical analysis, and preparation of scientific papers.

To learn more academic, environmental, physical and health expectations for this program view our Tropical Ecology Costa Rica Inventory.


Field Studies in Tropical Ecology (BIO-342) : Students visit a variety of habitats including tropical rain forests, tropical dry forests, and cloud forests in Costa Rica. Intensive study of natural history will be combined with original ecological investigations and preparation of research papers. (2 credits)

Additional information: All biology majors are required to take a 4-credit course in some area of ecology.  The linked combination of BIO-341 (spring term) and BIO-342 (Max Ex) satisfies this requirement.


May Experience programs are open to Furman University students of all majors, subject to any course prerequisites. Successful applicants will demonstrate a marked academic, vocational, or personal interest in the topic of the course. The faculty directors of this program will read all applications and admit the most qualified individuals. All things being equal, preference is given to upperclassmen who have not participated in a study away program previously.

The course is open to any student with a genuine interest and enthusiasm in the subject.  The prerequisite, BIO-341, is a 2-credit linked course forming a coordinated 4-credit program.  The prerequisite for BIO-341 is any biology course (including the “non-majors” 101 and 102 courses).  In past years, we have had successful participants from a wide range of departments including Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, Spanish, and English.

The essential qualification is genuine interest in tropical ecology, which can be sustained despite a tough schedule of long days working in sometimes inhospitable conditions (heat, rain, insects, etc.).  Many participants have career plans in ecology or tropical biology; others just go for general interest.  Another important qualification is the ability to make a positive contribution to group dynamics living and working together closely under the conditions described above.  Academic promise, as reflected by GPA, is also important.


A total of 13 nights will be in Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) operated stations, which provide dormitory-style accommodation (bunk beds) and three meals a day in dining halls.  The other 7 nights will be in hotels or eco-lodges booked by OTS for us with full board.


This is a field course and there are some unavoidable risks associated with being in tropical forests.  Venomous snakes are relatively common in the areas we will visit, along with bees, ants, and other stinging insects.  Students will receive extensive safety briefings to allow them to identify these risks and to behave appropriately so as to minimize the danger; however, risk cannot be completely eliminated.  Costa Rica has a well-developed medical infrastructure with clinics available even in rural areas.  OTS will arrange transportation to medical facilities if necessary, and translators to help with language if necessary. 

Field work will involve several long day-hikes, up to 10 miles.  Students should have sufficient fitness to participate in these activities, which are integral to the educational objectives of the course.  Students should to discuss their fitness for this activity with their physician.

Students should have up-do-date general vaccinations such as tetanus. The CDC recommends Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations for most travelers, although our activities will not put students at particular risk of exposure.  Malaria is very rare in Costa Rica, and current advice from the CDC is mosquito avoidance only; furthermore, the few recorded cases of malaria have been in parts of the country that we will not visit.

We may also arrange a snorkeling trip, led by a licensed operator, near the end of the course. This will be non-challenging and students may opt out if their swimming skills are inadequate.

The Rinker Center for Study Away and International Education reviews all study away programs on an annual basis, and more frequently as needed, to plan for and mitigate risks associated with the health and safety of participants while traveling. In this day and age, nothing is risk-free. Students and faculty are instructed to remain vigilant and cautious at all times and will receive additional instructions during a pre-departure orientation session and on-site orientation programming. When students commit to a study away program, they are asked to self-disclose personal information - which may include allergies, medications, disabilities, mental health conditions, medical concerns, and past medical histories. This information is shared with the faculty directors and study away staff for use during medical emergencies, and in an effort to be aware of and plan for situations that may arise or accommodations that are needed while students are away from Furman's campus resources. It is extremely important for students to be transparent and forthcoming about their concerns, needs, and medical histories prior to the start of the program as well as during the program. Furman University contracts with Educational and Institutional Insurance Administrators (EIIA) to provide medical and emergency services to students while traveling abroad on Furman study away programs. Students participating in study away programs in the United States are required to show proof of medical insurance. 


To confirm participation in a study away program, a non-refundable $500 deposit is due two weeks after acceptance. The final payment deadline is in early to mid-March and will be specified in the Financial Agreement associated with the program.

Study Away Need-Based Scholarships
Need-based study away scholarships are available. Priority is given to students who have not previously participated in a study away program. Students who apply by the May Experience scholarship deadline will receive a scholarship amount estimate ahead of the program deposit deadline. Townes, Duke, and Hollingsworth Scholars should alert the Rinker Center for Study Away to apply their one-time study away stipend to their study away program.May

Experience Study Away Program Fee Inclusions
        Roundtrip airfare from a designated city (for international destinations)
        Transportation for domestic study away programs varies by program
Tourist visas (if required)
Lodging for the duration of the program
Ground transportation for program-related activities/events
Entrance fees to programmed activities/events/venues
Tours included in the study away program
Group meals (students will know ahead of time how many group meals will be provided)
Emergency Medical Insurance (on international programs)

Program Fee Exclusions
Transportation to the designated departure city (for international programs)
Transportation for domestic study away programs varies by program
Meals not included in program fee (will vary by program)
Required books/materials/supplies/equipment/gear
Passport fees

Optional Program Expenses
Site-seeing during free time
International cell phone plan
Trip cancellation or interruption insurance 
Personal expenses and souvenirs

Please see May Experience Budget Sheet at the top of this page for estimated program costs.