Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What I Learned in the Rainforest by Andrea Cantalupa

Posing with our professor and project advisor Jessica Arias in front of our final research poster.
            As we prepare to finish up our Spring semester abroad at La Selva Research Station, I think it is safe to say that the thoughts that all students have about their place in the world has surely changed. Most students on this trip are currently juniors in college, which is a very important, transitory year. And I, also a student at this point in my life, came on this trip hoping to be transformed and to get a better sense of what it was that I wanted to do in the future. While the students on this trip all came from a variety of different backgrounds and interest, I think the one quality we all had in common was that we wanted a career in which we could help people.
            In class, we became familiar with the concept of “One Health” which involves people of all different backgrounds- doctors, veterinarians, epidemiologists, lab technicians, community programmers, environmentalists etc.- working together in order to create a healthier world. What I think is cool is that, over the course of the trip, our group has gotten a taste of many of the different approaches that can be taken to improve the health of others. In February, we removed harmful ectoparasites from bats’ skin, which not only aids in improving the health of the bats, but also of humans that live in close contact with the bats. In Nicaragua, we planned an outreach program aimed to bring healthy food alternatives to the community, and teach them about the benefits of recycling. Our time at La Selva culminated with our independent research projects, in which my group worked tirelessly in the lab culturing bacteria found on human hands, and trying to identify a plant alternative that can effectively remove harmful bacteria from hands.

            We have been involved in so many opportunities such as these throughout the semester, and yet, all of us in the program continue to strive to do more. We want to have an even greater impact. We want to know that we are making a true difference. That being said, I think what our class has been able to achieve in the little time we had available is impressive. There is a reason that all the world’s problems are not solved in a day: big problems take time to resolve. We were given a semester or, in some cases only a week, and sometimes just one day. The situations we were put in were good exercises in what is feasibly possible, important lessons as we all prepare to go down different career paths and pursue different interests. When entering into an unfamiliar area or community and wanting to create a change, you will not always have someone there to teach you the best way to go about doing so. The responsibility is on you to try and reach people in the most effective way possible. I am proud of the fact that we were able to give back to the Costa Rican community, and I am proud of our group for the impact we were able to make in such a short amount of time.

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