Getting ready

I arranged a second planning meeting following my whirlwind 4 night visit last March where I toured several opportunities but they were not quite ideal for the program I had in mind. Particularly because I intend to lead annual programs to Costa Rica and as is my want to push the edge of possibilities each time. I look for specific experiences that challenge students to different edges of their capabilities.That visit was like being served a tasty morsel of a meal at a high end restaurant that left me wanting more because of the promise from the taste in my mouth.

This time I decided to double the length of stay and envision more deeply an itinerary worthy of the commitment this program has taken. I worked with CEA Costa Rica representatives Maggie Banchs, Natalia Cascante who helped me create a strong first test run during this visit. They connected and set me up with Marcos Pitti owner of Carpe Chape (guide service) and he will help me to figure out the program outline. Anyone who works closely with me knows I prefer to set unrealistic goals first and then scale back. Without that mindset I would not be preparing to lead my fifth study abroad program in a third country on different continent. To dream big about a program and make it a reality you need people to help you do that and make a commitment to creating an opportunity that benefits students.

My boss Dr Kelly Tappenden got behind the program as soon as she arrived as a new head of department, our departmental academic advisers Kerrie Collado and Rachel Najdzin communicated and showed students, and the UIC Study Abroad office team of Chris Deegan and Irina Krymova helped me sort the academic and recruitment process.Behind the scenes Ahmed Refky and Eric Shuller from CEA helped shape the connections and opportunities. In my experience, I could not have run successful and in some cases life transforming experiences for students without the help of these people, and all the folks in Ireland and Spain who I worked with their. All of them added value to this opportunity as do colleagues like Vered Arbel and Michelle Adams who promote the program through their courses on a day to day basis. I am saying this because if a faculty member is concerned that they have to do everything themselves they don’t.

As the faculty leader it’s my program so I provide the intellectual leadership and vision but it’s our program because in the end it is crowd shaped. We co-create and that’s before the students participate, once they join the program receives the fuel that makes it go and then we find out if the learning engine we built works like we intended it might or even better, it exceeds our expectations.

Embedded program

This will be the first ever embedded program ever run at UIC. It is important because this model provides the opportunity for students to have a shorter powerful international experience at a lower financial cost dealing with a topic they self-select to engage with,with closer faculty relationship and set of challenges which develop professional and personal skills for the workplace and graduate studies. I hope this pioneering example gives faculty from all UIC colleges the courage and opportunity to lead their own amazing and fruitful experiences for students in their field of study. An embedded study means students complete most of their studies in Chicago and complete their studies based on an international experience. What’s not to like about this opportunity?

I am adventurous person.People that know me know I wake up with my motor running and I turn it off when I go to sleep. I like to try new things and pioneer in my own way and not in competition with anyone else which I often find boring, dissatisfying and without meaning. I look at my work and compare it to my last work that way I can get better based on my own standards. What has this to do with study abroad programming? Quite a bit, I brought my interest in nature and my studies and clinical experience, research and teaching to this program unlike any program I have taught at UIC. It is the first time I have had the opportunity to engage students at the intersection of physical activity, mental health and nature where the evidence shows individuals feel better, have less anxiety, connect with themselves more deeply and the sense of chaos some individuals experience in daily life gently dissolves. I have studied this intersection in my own time for ten years through reading books, scientific papers, watching documentaries,talking to psychologists and counselors, learning new skills and going out and trying these things myself. I tested things in Barcelona over three years and they were very good tests but Costa Rica is a different proposition which is unique on our planet and that’s special. Perhaps this opportunity is a once in a lifetime moment to try something new with students and help them experience the course like a ripple in a lake and see how far it goes in their studies and personal lives.


I did not add the 12 hour travel days either end of the itinerary. I recommend flying Southwest Airlines to Costa Rica from Chicago Midway, why? I like the ease of Midway, positive attitude of Southwest staff, air crew and flight attendants, the way they do business and the price. I have flown with Southwest for 20 years. I took one of the first flights from Chicago to Orlando with them after the 9/11 attack. There were about 6 of us on the flight. Southwest was amazing that day and that’s why no matter what happened while flying with them since then I remember that day. Anyway, you make up your own mind about who you fly with to arrive in Costa Rica.

Here’s the schedule for the week. The middle portion of the visit looks like this. It’s a full on test beginning and ending with local mountain hikes. Days start early because the sun rises early and it’s dark very quickly so Marcos and I have to get going!

Day 1

Date: 13 de Deciembre

Destination: San Jose walking exploration & heat acclimation (Hot!)

Day 2

Date: 14 de Diciembre 

Destination: Pico Blanco, Escazú

Departure time from thehotel:  8am

Day 2

Date: 15 de Diciembre 

Destino: Cerro Cabeza de Vaca, Cartago


Departure Time from the hotel: 8:00 am

Day 3

Date: 16 de Diciembre 

Destination: Reserva Biológica Carara/Parque Nacional Carara, Puntarenas

Departure time from the hotel: 8:00 am

Day 4

Date:17 de Diciembre 

Destination: El Encanto, en Puntarenas

Departure time from the hotel: 8:00 am

Day 5

Date: 18 de Diciembre

Open day to reflect, review and recreate

Day 6

Date: 19 de Diciembre

Meeting with CEA representatives to settle program and finalize 2019 program