York University's Las Nubes EcoCampus is a living, learning lab

The Las Nubes EcoCampus in Costa Rica is one of the most exciting destinations for York University students, allowing them to turn their lecture hall into an international learning experience.

Established through the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) with support from its donors, the Las Nubes EcoCampus offers courses with a community-based experiential approach that provide collaborative learning opportunities for students. The emphasis is on experiential education, building on long-standing relationships with diverse communities in Southern Costa Rica, including women’s organizations, agricultural co-operatives and producers, environmental protection and social justice groups, and Indigenous communities.

Students in the Las Nubes rainforest

Since the Semester Abroad program was established in 2017 by FES, students from all Faculties at the University have studied at the Las Nubes EcoCampus. FES courses conducted at the EcoCampus give students opportunities to explore the neighbouring neotropical ecosystems and learn from various local community groups, strengthening their understanding of course theories and concepts.

Students learn about community engagement while on location in Costa Rica

Fourth-year FES student Celeena Mohammed describes her experience as something she didn’t think she would get anywhere else. She went to the EcoCampus in Costa Rica to take a natural history course with FES Professor Leesa Fawcett. During the course, students learn to identify different species of plants and animals found in Costa Rica and the connections they make with their surroundings. “What was amazing about this course was that rather than just reading about a species, we actually got to go out into the field, identify and see them in their natural habitat,” said Mohammed.

One of the pillars of the Las Nubes EcoCampus and the research mandate of the Las Nubes Project is community engagement. For more than 20 years, the Las Nubes Project has worked hard to create a space in which local concerns and initiatives are heard and addressed. Mohammed shared her experience being immersed in the culture of local communities that settled in the area near the lush forests. “The homestays, which was one of my favourite parts, allowed us to be a part of the local community – to see how they live, talk to them about their experiences with the natural history of their environment,” she said. “And it was great to get authentic Costa Rican breakfast, lunch and dinner!”

Two York students pose in Costa Rica

FES students Celeena Mohammed (left) with Aliya Din

Fourth-year FES student Aliya Din also enjoyed the EcoCampus experience. “While we still had class and daily activities, the courses are designed to ensure there is down time – time to relax, unwind and just take everything in,” she said. "I was always down by the river swimming around the rough whitewater or taking pictures at the waterfall. Among the natural beauty and wildlife around the EcoCampus, indoors was pretty fun too! I got to know my classmates and some local community members very well, and liked looking up the species of insects I found in one of the many field guides. I love the EcoCampus and one day I will be back, whether it’s to visit, do my master’s – who knows? Pura vida (Costa Rican motto meaning pure life)!”

Costa Rican waterfall

Aliya Din stands by her favourite waterfall in Costa Rica

The experiences provided by the Las Nubes EcoCampus enable students to put the concepts they have learned into context. This, in turn, helps them become professionals who are capable of understanding, analyzing, and working in complex situations and environments.

Members of the York University community interested in learning more about Las Nubes can attend one of several upcoming FES events or information sessions. To learn more, visit lasnubes.fes.yorku.ca or facebook.com/LasNubesFES.

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