Organization for Tropical Studies: a Reiterated Dream

Every fall at the university I attend, this woman visited biology classes to give the same speech about the study abroad program she promoted as a director of enrollment management. Though I only briefly thought about going to Costa Rica on this particular study abroad, this year I appreciated this woman’s reappearance as I did the previous three falls. I suppose at this point I associate this woman, Patty Kustron, and her familiar speech with the passing of life’s trials over the years, so hearing her stirs nostalgia.

She works for Organization of Tropical Studies, or OTS, a field-based study abroad program founded through Duke University in 1963. The program offers courses year-round and summer research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students interested in global health, tropical biology or African ecology.

English: Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica....
Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Palm forest, Manicaria and Raphia swamps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Costa Rica programs are at La Selva field station, two hours from the nation’s capital, San Jose. South Africa programs are in Kruger National Park.

National Science Foundation funds stipends for students accepted into Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) or Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience (NAPIRE) summer internships. Internships are eight weeks and coordinators match students with experts based on research interests. Can you think about studying tapirs? I did. One of the reasons I briefly thought about going to Costa Rica with this program.

Kustron discussed this in all the biology core classes I have taken in the fall–so general ecology, cell biology and now evolutionary biology. She emphasized how the program offers a study abroad experience, career-building skills and independent projects, all in one accepted application form…well, the last part is my twist if I ever end up in her position.

“We teach students how to do research and how to ask the right questions,” Kustron said. That is a handy thing to be taught if you are someone like me who bumbles around trying to figure things out.

A semester program includes homestays and 16 credit hours in research skills, integration into the host nation’s culture, a relevant science course and an applied science course.  Summer courses are four credit hours.

Serengeti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Key fact of the discussion: elephants do not like hot sauce, but slowly acclimate and the sauce no longer deters them from stomping on whose-ever property they want. On a side note, many professors and graduate students I have known have traveled to Central America and unanimously agree howler monkeys are far less appealing when they howl at you at the same pre-dawn hour every day.

The university I attend is a member of OTS, which is why Kustron returns year after year. Students of member institutions are prioritized above students of nonmember institutions for program placement and offers reduced costs–the other, and main, reason I thought about this program–though financial aid is available for students unable to cover costs.

“Everyone who has wanted to go on our programs has gone to our programs,” Kustron said.

Students who earn credit will receive a Duke University transcript and transfer credit is transferred home institutions. Having Duke on your transcript is about as good as a golden star sticker on a primary school assignment.

I have not studied abroad, at least not through school. That was a personal decision that had nothing to do with the program, but I am a dreamer. Whenever nostalgia speaks to me, I go to the wonderful land of Hypothetical.

More information is available at the OTS website and the OTS Facebook page.


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