Telling Professor Ravi de Costa that he has his head in the clouds is no insult; it’s simply fact.
de Costa, the associate dean of research for the Faculty of Environmental Studies; a handful of colleagues; and 53 York students will be spending time in May and June at York’s Eco-Campus, Las Nubes, located in a Costa Rican cloud forest, for the Faculty’s inaugural Semester Abroad program.
“Through Faculty fundraising over the past five or 10 years, we were able to purchase some land adjacent to the 120 hectares of rainforest given to us by Dr. Woody Fisher 20 years ago,” de Costa said. “We opened a new building there last year, and the director of the Las Nubes program and I applied for an Academic Initiative Fund grant so we could use the facility to expand our teaching program and provide students with some valuable international experience.”
The Summer Abroad program offers six intense 4000-level courses at Las Nubes from May 10 to June 24. The offerings are varied:
- Environmental Arts and Food Sovereignty;
- Conservation and Development;
- Globalization and Indigenous Peoples;
- Natural History;
- Environment and Health; and
- Protected Area Management.
Each course lasts about two weeks, with written assignments due afterward. Students are welcome to take one course or many, allowing them to earn “a good chunk of credits in a condensed period,” de Costa said. “The selection is designed to give students flexibility and choice along with their international experiences. The courses will be very hands-on and experiential and we’ll make sure the students have a rich experience.”
Adding to the richness will be the accommodations. Students will be housed in homestays with local farming families.
“Often, these families have children the same age as the students or younger, so it offers them good points of connection,” de Costa said. “Many of our students have been to the Caribbean before, but we’ll be far from the tourist areas. This region focuses on growing coffee, sugar cane and pineapple. It will give the students a very different picture of life in the tropics.”
Now that the semester abroad program is up and running, de Costa is having active discussions with other programs and faculties about offering courses at Las Nubes, too. He urges interested faculty to get in touch.
“Now that we’ve opened the centre, it’s important to make the most of it,” he said. “It offers a great opportunity for student across the university to travel and to learn from York professors at a York University campus.”
He envisions workshops, research and campus retreats happening on the site. The campus is also intended to be a community space, so the local population can access it as much as possible.
The campus is also a financial boon to the area and de Costa expects the activities at Las Nubes to inject about $100,000 into the local economy this year, something that will increase as the program grows.
“I am excited about the potential of Las Nubes and the possibilities,” de Costa said.
By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus