Alumni Spotlight: Ben Ryan


Ben lives in New Zealand and has a Science degree in Biology, and an Arts degree in Classics and History. Having worked full-time in retail for a few years, he would like to get a job assisting conservation efforts. He did this program as a way to gain experience, both for prospective jobs and also valuable life experience.

Why did you choose this program?

It was at a time when I was unsure of what career I wanted to pursue, but I have always loved working with animals and was interested in conservation. I was intrigued by Costa Rica. It was not a country I had ever really considered visiting, but I did want to travel to a tropical rainforest at some point and it sounded fascinating.

I was extremely uncertain about doing this program at first, but in the end decided that I had to do something interesting, as I was in a job I was not enjoying and had no other commitments in my life at the time. In the end, I decided to just go for it, and I have never regretted that decision since.

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

GVI assisted with all of the in-country arrangements. This included meeting me at the airport at San Jose (only available for designated times, though), and travel, food, and accommodation for the duration of the program.

I had to arrange all pre-arrival things, although the staff was very helpful in answering questions to assist with this. This included flights to Costa Rica, recommended vaccinations, and getting any necessary equipment (a list was provided by GVI). I had to arrange my hostel for the first night, although again the staff provided a couple of suggestions.

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

There are many pieces of advice I could give, as I learnt a lot in my time overseas. The biggest one for this program is to take the advice they give you in the information once you book seriously: bring long-sleeved clothing. You will need it. When I was going over I thought the greatest dangers would be encountering a jaguar or getting bitten by a snake. I was wrong. Those are still dangers, of course, but GVI has taken every step it can to ensure that the volunteers are protected from those threats.

No, a far more annoying danger (aside from falling coconuts - no I'm not kidding, as you will find out if you sign up to this program) is the insects. The long-sleeved clothing is required on forest surveys to add a little protection to your arms and legs, but you will want to bring more than they suggest, just to wear around the base at night. You may think it is too warm for this, but in the evening you will want the added protection against mosquitoes and other biting insects, regardless of the heat.

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

The average day tends to involve completing two surveys (although you get a day off on Saturdays). These surveys vary day-to-day, but the main ones are:

* Nest Check: checking known turtle nests for hatchlings.

* Jaguar Cameras: setting up or taking down cameras to try and get footage of Jaguars. Looking at the footage usually gives you a lot of videos of vultures with occasional highlights of Jaguars and other animals.

* Night Walk: walking along the beach at night time looking for nesting sea turtles.

* Forest Survey: My favourite survey, simply because you never know what you are going to see. This involves a walk along one of the trails through the forest, recording the species that you see.

*Canal Survey: row a canoe through the canals, recording every species of bird you can see.

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

It was really my first time overseas traveling by myself. I found that it did help to know that I was meeting people (even if I didn't know them at the time) who would make the arrangements from San Jose for the duration of the program. This meant I could just focus on completing the pre-arrival tasks and making sure I got to San Jose safely. I was, of course, worried about not being able to find my way once I got to San Jose, but as I had arranged for an airport pickup this helped that worry somewhat.

Once I had been in Costa Rica a month or two, I was far more confident traveling by myself within the country and did so several times during my stay there (I was in Costa Rica for six months total). In the future, I feel I am far more confident in my ability to travel alone to a foreign country and would be able to make my way around once I was there.