Alumni Spotlight: Madison Cox


A Seattle native, she completed her undergraduate studies in biology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington in 2015, including a semester with CIEE Tropical Ecology + Conservation in Monteverde in the fall of 2013. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Microbiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying the microbial ecology of the cow rumen.

Why did you choose this program?

I was looking for a program which would give me the opportunity to be immersed in a tropical ecosystem, which was academically rigorous, and which had a focus on independent research.

Several people in my department had taken part in CIEE's Tropical Ecology and Conservation program in Monteverde, and it was clearly a good fit. I also liked that the program was independent of a University, and the class was very small.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I didn't have to do anything. Most of the program we were camping or in dorms, so there is no need to consider housing arrangements before arrival. From start to finish, all major transportation and lodging are arranged. Visas are handles through clever loopholes/a quick trip to Panama, so no work is needed beforehand.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I think that it is important to know what you want to get out of a study abroad program. Every program will have its own structure and culture. This program has a very small group dynamic, and the group is pretty much in isolation together in a foreign country for the first two months. And that leads to very close friendships as well as plenty of interpersonal challenges.

If you are looking for a more typical college experience in a different country, be ready to find programs whose structures meet your expectations. So basically, make sure the structure of the program is really designed to give you what you hope to get out of the experience.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Depends on what phase of the program you are in. In the two, two-week trips it is hiking, camping, small group field studies, and coursework in various terrestrial biomes in Costa Rica. In the Monteverde station month, it is intensive classes and getting to know the community. And in the month-long homestay, it is waking up and spending time with your host family before class, light coursework, and heavy focus on an independent research project conducted in the cloud forest.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

The day I left I was petrified. I had so many good friends at school, and I was so scared of missing out socially on a whole semester at my home university.

But as soon as I landed and met the people I would be traipsing through the jungle with for three months, my fears were relieved.

I did miss out on the social scene at my home school, but the small effort to catch up was nothing compared to the wonderful experience of getting to know and experience firsthand the tropical ecology of Costa Rica with an absolutely unforgettable group of new friends.

If I am studying abroad in the fall, should I bring a Halloween costume?

Yes. The program head's band puts on a heckuva Halloween show every year. They have some costumes in a gross bin, but bring a little something to wear and contribute to the bin!