Studying abroad with the CIEE Monteverde Tropical Ecology and Conservation program was truthfully one of the best decisions I ever made. I deliberated long and hard over several different semester long programs, but ultimately chose this one because of the price, the focus on seeing many diverse ecosystems, and the educational topics.
First of all, I would like to emphasize the quality of teaching on this program; all of the professors and TAs were extremely knowledgeable and passionate about ecology, conservation, animal and plant diversity, how people interact with their environment, etc. The director of the program is an American who has lived in Monteverde for decades, and the remaining professors and TA's are all native Costa Ricans. This provides a unique local perspective. Having been in Costa Rica for all or most of their lives, the teaching staff can give firsthand anecdotes about how climate change is affecting the cloud forests in Monteverde. All of the staff, especially the TAs are very helpful and caring-- they will gladly help you with any physical or emotional troubles you may have during the program.
Next, this program approaches learning from a hands-on perspective. We learned about different plant and animal species, while looking at those species in their natural habitats. We also devoted several days to field ecology techniques: in Tirimbina, we marked and recaptured leaf-cutting ants, in Bocas del Toro, we did point-counts of fish while snorkeling, in Corcovado, we measured tree above ground biomass, etc. Spanish class occurs in Monteverde and is an immersion program, meaning the Spanish class is all in Spanish. They will place you in the correct level and put you in a small interactive class. At first, I was very nervous since I hadn't taken much Spanish, but my professor was endlessly helpful, kind, and funny, and Spanish class ended up being very fun and engaging. The Humans in the Tropics course takes students to different places to learn how people affect their environment. We visited many places including coffee farms, a pig farm, wind turbines, and tree plantations. The Tropical Ecology and Species Diversity courses have a strong focus on reading and comprehending scientific papers, which is useful for anyone going into scientific fields. I also cannot stress how valuable the independent research projects are in giving students the opportunity to design and carry out their own research (with guidance from professors and TAs) and then draw conclusions, write a scientific paper, and present their work. I worked with Lesson's Motmots, which helped me to get another internship with bird research this past summer.
This program includes two field trips, one on the Pacific coast and one on the Atlantic coast. These trips take you to many different ecosystems, from coral reefs, to dry forests, to rainforests. These were, for me, the most rewarding part of the program. Here's a very brief list of some of the amazing experiences we had on the field trips: we saw a wild puma in Corcovado National Park, hiked a very remote part of the Children's Eternal Rainforest and stayed in a small lodging there, snorkeled in coral reefs in Bocas del Toro, Panama, had many sing-alongs around campfires, saw a massive leatherback turtle at Pacuare National Park, and swam in beautiful waterfalls.
The housing in this program includes two longer stays at the Monteverde Biological Station, a month long stay with a Costa Rican host family, a few short stays in hotels and hostels, and some time camping. The Biological Station gives you a space to hang out with friends, and be a few steps away from a beautiful cloud forest that you can hike at your leisure. The food there is very tasty and eating meals with the other students and the staff is enjoyable. The month with a Tico family is also incredible. I got to practice my Spanish and spend time with locals. My mamatica even invited me to a family party, where I had a blast! Students in this program will get to know the places and people in rural Monteverde well.
Because this program allows a good amount of independence, you will also have multitudes of opportunities to do what you want in Costa Rica and Monteverde. I spent much of my time birding, went to local restaurants and bars, went zip-lining, bungee jumping, and even participated in a 10k in the cloud forest! The other students I met on this program were tirelessly interesting and wonderfully motivated. I have truly made fifteen new friends for life. It must be emphasized, however, that this program is A LOT of work, and you will have to spend a lot of time studying and writing, but it is certainly worth it. Be prepared to work hard, but play hard too.