Remember when you were a kid and life was simple? There were only two possibilities for what you would do with your day: You were either in class or having fun, at work or at play, at school or on holiday.
As you grow up, things become more complicated. Pesky things like housework, taxes and bills can cloud the horizon. You could spend entire classes staring out the window at school when you were growing up, but employers generally do not consider that to be an appropriate transferable skill.
But growing up is not all bad. One realization that comes with age is that learning can actually be fun. That is not to say that everyone will want to spend their holidays at university – but some people will. Especially when the campus is in the beautiful setting of San Luis, near the popular tourist destination of Monteverde in north-central Costa Rica.
In 2001, the University of Georgia (UGA) bought a working farm in the upper SanLuisValley. The site is now an official campus, offering courses for students in a wide range of disciplines.
However, this is not the exclusive preserve of academics. The campus also has strong links to the community and welcomes visitors as well as students and researchers. The young, highly motivated and friendly staff ensure that everyone has a great time while learning something new.
Fabricio Camacho, 28, from Heredia, north of the capital, has been general manager of the 62-hectare (153-acre) campus for more than three years and is deeply passionate about the place.
Because the place is a working university campus, students and academics are naturally his first priority. During a recent Tico Times visit, five research projects were under way at the site, and the regular schedule of courses and study programs means there are usually several dozen students around.
However, one of Camacho’s favorite phrases is “Diversity creates stability.” So, space permitting, tourists are also more than welcome, either to stay overnight or to take part in activities during the day.
While this may be a university, the accommodation available to visitors bears no comparison to the halls of residence you might expect. The rooms, which can sleep up to four people, are large, light and airy, and the buildings, built with wood from sustainable sources, are set right in the middle of nature.
Visitors are able to really get involved with the academic side of the operation. Those interested can attend lectures, use the library or speak to resident academics from a wide range of disciplines, ranging from biology and anthropology to psychology and painting.
They can even volunteer to help out on research projects.
Alternatively, visitors are welcome to simply hang out with the resident staff and students and enjoy a chat in the central student union building, play table tennis or table football in the games area, or join in a real match on the soccer pitch.
Camacho says he wants to ensure that UGA Costa Rica practices what it preaches, and that the staff is committed to becoming a model for sustainability. The school has earned three out of five leaves on the Costa Rican Tourism Institute’s sustainable tourism scale.
As part of that effort, approximately a third of its food is produced on site, including plantains, lettuce, onions, peppers, corn and coffee. A further 20 percent comes from local farms, which receive advice and information from the institution on how to improve productivity and sustainability. The campus also contributes to the local community by providing employment, helping to teach English and improving area roads.
The site recycles a large portion of its waste, sets and monitors monthly targets for water and electricity use, uses biodegradable soaps and has its own carbonoffset scheme. Further ecofriendly measures, such as a biological wastewater treatment plant and renewable energy production, are also in the pipeline.
Camacho says the campus’s “biggest asset is the forest.” In fact, because the site covers a wide range of elevations, it is in many ways more diverse than the famed Monteverde and Santa Elena reserves nearby, with cloud forest at the top end of the site stretching down to dry forest near the bottom. Visitors will see a wide range of insects, butterflies, birds and animals throughout the site.
In addition, there is a botanical garden and a medicine garden containing 80 species of medicinal plants and herbs. One of the resident naturalists will happily show you around, introducing you to delicacies such as the candyleaf plant of the genus Stevia, which tastes as sweet as sugar, or a tree whose sap is a natural toothpaste.
Admittedly, before visiting the UGA campus, going to a university would never have topped my list of great vacation ideas. But the institution exuded energy and enthusiasm, and the natural setting was absolutely beautiful.
I learned something. And I had fun. I must be growing up.
Getting There, Rates, Info
The UGA Costa Rica campus is in San Luis, approximately 20 minutes’ drive from the town of Santa Elena. Accommodation costs $91 per person per night, including all food, several activities and hikes.
For more information, visit www.uga.edu/costarica or call 2645-8049.