QERC Spring Semester

 Student Handbook        





MISSION        5

VISION        5


QERC Director        5

QERC Field Station Managers        5

QERC Housekeeping and Cooking Staff        5




RECYCLING:        8





GENERAL        11

DINING AREA        11



LAUNDRY        12



SNACK BAR AREA        13

COMEDOR        14


CHECK OUT        14










TAXIS        20



BUS STATIONS        22

ON THE BUS        22

BEACH SAFETY        22





PHASES        31




TRAVEL MAP        35

SAN JOSE TAXI        35

TRAIL MAP        36


Welcome to the QERC Spring Program!  To succeed in any situation, it is important to know your responsibilities and what is expected of you.  Additionally, it is important to have available the resources necessary to meet these expectations.

We look forward to a semester that will provide a lasting experience for you, positive benefits for the San Gerardo de Dota community, and a solid foundation for your future academic and professional goals.  

This handbook is meant to be your guide so that you may have the best possible experience this semester. If something is unclear, please ask the field station managers or visiting faculty members.         

Nothing in this handbook may be interpreted as a binding contract between the student and the participating universities.


What you gain from the next 16 weeks will depend on what you invest in it yourself.

We guarantee that you will be presented with the opportunity to test yourself, to pursue meaningful research, develop Spanish language skills, and to contribute to the San Gerardo de Dota community while earning both academic credits and positive memories.


During the QERC Semester Program we will pursue the following objectives.


The mission of the Quetzal Education Research Center is to promote biodiversity, conservation, and sustainability in global and local communities through a Christ-centered approach.         


The Quetzal Education Research Center brings students and researchers from around the world, including the host country, to engage into dialogue and research focused on the tropical cloud forest and its floral and faunal community for the purpose of sustainability.  QERC works to integrate local farmers with research scientists, educators, and students from around the world in the effort to merge good conservation practice and economic viability in the local community.


QERC Director

Dr. Jeff Griffitts

SNU Biology: Quetzal Education Research Center

Telephone: (405) 491-6640

Email: jefgriff@mail.snu.edu 

QERC Field Station Managers

Carson and McCall Calloway

Quetzal Education Research Center

Cartago, Costa Rica

Telephone: (+506) 2740-1010 / (+506) 8866-0282

Carson’s Email: ccalloway@mail.snu.edu 
McCall’s Email:

QERC Housekeeping and Cooking Staff
Nancy Rayo Amado


John Bechtold
Biblical Theology and Global Stewardship
Ph.D. (In Dissertation), Theology, Philosophy, and Cultural Theory, University of Denver

Dr. John Cossel
Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Herpetology
Professor and Biology Department Chair, Northwest Nazarene University
D.A., Biology, Idaho State University

Dr. Dave Cummings
Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Microbiology (Taught alternating semesters, will teach in 2018)
Professor, Point Loma Nazarene University
Ph.D., Microbiology, University of Idaho

Dr. Jeff Griffitts
Tropical Medicine and Tropical Ecology and Sustainability
Professor and Biology Department Chair, Southern Nazarene University
Ph.D., Pathology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

David Hille
Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Ornithology
Ph.D. (In Dissertation), University of Oklahoma

Dr. Bruce Hoagland
Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Biogeography
Professor of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, University of Oklahoma
Plant Ecologist and Coordinator, Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory

Ph.D., Plant Ecology, University of Oklahoma

Dr. David Hoekman
Tropical Field Research
Professor, Southern Nazarene University
Ph.D., Ecology, Notre Dame

Dr. Mike Mooring
Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Mammalogy (Taught alternating semesters, will teach in 2019)
Tenured Professor, Point Loma Nazarene University
Ph.D., Animal Behavior, University of California, Davis

Dr. Dennis Williams
Latin American History and Culture
Vice Provost and Professor, Southern Nazarene University
Ph.D., History, Texas Tech University


In 1982, the idea of the Quetzal Education Research Center emerged out of the relationship between Southern Nazarene University professor Dr. Leo Finkenbinder and landowner/cattleman Efrain Chacón. Efrain and his wife, Caridad pioneered the settling of the Savegre Valley in 1952. At the time, Efrain was known across Costa Rica and across Europe as a leader in raising prized Holstein cattle.

After visiting the valley and seeing the immense biological study opportunities in the montane cloud forest, the seed for the research center was planted in the mind of Dr. Finkenbinder. Dr. Finkenbinder began to bring students down to the valley regularly. Through their letters with the members of the Chacón family, and growing opportunities to host fishermen in the valley, in 1983, the family sold off the prized cattle as they began to dedicate themselves to conserving the ecological prize in their own backyard. They vowed not to cut down another tree. When Efrain tells the story, he often comments how glad he is that he had only an axe when clearing pastureland for the cattle, and not a chainsaw.

This was the beginning of the family’s investment into “eco-tourism” industry which now includes: The Savegre Hotel Natural Reserve and Spa, Batsu Bird Watching Garden, apple and avocado production, trout farming, and succulent plant sales. Each year, thousands of visitors come from around the world.

Dr. Finkenbinder and his wife Zana’s early visits to the Savegre Valley were fraught with challenges: their stays in the valley were Spartan, with limited housing facilities and lab space, and to make the trip into the city, they had to first hike 6 miles out of the valley and then hitchhike their way in. As the frequency of their visits increased, the need for a more permanent solution emerged.

Through Dr. Leo Finkenbinder’s close relationship with the Chacón family and shared interest in environmental research and sustainability, their partnership led to the completion of construction of a small laboratory in 1996 and a larger educational and research facility in May 2001.

Upon completion of the facility in 2001, students have been invited to participate in research and education opportunities presented by QERC.  Areas of research and education have included the study of the local quetzal population dynamics and migration, stream dynamics, mycology, mammal predator/prey relationship, and larger aspects of a tropical ecosystem.  

This participation has developed into a comprehensive semester program targeting the implementation, methodology, and findings of tropical biome research. The QERC semester program is designed to holistically engage students in work and programmed experiences that will provide them with the opportunities to develop knowledge and skills in the areas of field research, ecological principles, environmental ethics from a Christian worldview, and in the development of a culture-orientated perspective.  In this manner students cultivate and demonstrate applicable approaches to issues of environment and conservation within their geographical and political contexts and the contemporary global challenges facing them.         

It is expected by all involved that the relationship between QERC, participating students, visiting faculty, and the larger San Gerardo de Dota community will continue to provide opportunities to develop transformational discernment as they work through the practical implications of the broad ideal of ecological sustainability.


The Quetzal Education Research Center prioritizes the principles of sustainability.  As students in our semester program you are invited to promote and sustain the environmental integrity of your new home. 


QERC recycles Paper/Cardboard, Plastic, Aseptic Packaging, Aluminum, Tin, and Glass.  All recyclable materials are to be thrown away in the designated bins. Please make sure that recycled items are cleaned before placing them in the bins.


In an effort to better conserve energy, all hot water at the field station is generated by solar power.  However, since QERC does still depend on traditional forms of electricity we rely predominantly on skylights and large windows for light during the day and a reasonable use of lights during the evenings.  If working during the day, please use lighting only as necessary.

All water at QERC comes directly from mountain-valley streams.  The water is treated through two filtration systems before moving into direct QERC plumbing.  While this is indeed a sustainable way to access water, we still discourage excessive use due to the long-term environmental consequences of soil over-saturation, bio-waste, and erosion.  When using water at the field station, please be conscious of your consumption when showering (please take 5-7 minute showers), washing dishes, or using bathroom sinks. Of course, drink plenty of water.


5 January – 12 January

Orientation and Tropical Field Research Introduction
Dr. Jeff Griffitts, Dr. David Hoekman, Carson and McCall Calloway

15 January – 19 January

Catalina Retana

20 January – 25 January

Latin American History and Culture
Homestays in San Gerardo de Dota
Dr. Dennis Williams

26 January – 29 January

San Jose Orientation
Dr. Dennis Williams and Carson and McCall Calloway

1 February

Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Coffee Farming
CoopeDota – Santa Maria de Dota

5 February – 14 February

Carson and McCall Calloway

19 February – 25 February

Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Herpetology
Dr. John Cossel

23 February – 25 February

Hacienda Baru
Dr. John Cossel and Professor David Hille

23 February – 2 March

Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Ornithology
Professor David Hille
Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Biogeography
Professor Bruce Hoagland

5 March – 14 March

Biome Tour (La Selva, Arenal Volcano, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, Tamarindo Estuary, and Palo Verde)
Dr. Bruce Hoagland

15 March – 16 March

Tropical Field Research
Students to work on their projects

19 March – 23 March

Spring Break

26 March – 30 March

Biblical Theology and Global Stewardship
Professor John Bechtold

2 April – 6 April

Tropical Ecology and Sustainability – Microbiology
Dr. Dave Cummings

9 April – 13 April

Tropical Medicine
Dr. Jeff Griffitts

9 April

Boruca Visit

16 April – 20 April

Tropical Field Research Final Papers

21 April

Community Research Presentations

23 April – 24 April


26 April – 28 April

Semester Debrief
Carson and McCall Calloway

28 April




6:00 a.m.

Individual Morning Routine and Breakfast on Your Own

8:00 a.m.

Class Lecture / Field Research

12:00 p.m.


1:00 p.m.

Class Lecture / Field Research

4:00 p.m.

Personal time

6:00 p.m.


7:00 p.m.

Personal time/ Weekly Group Meeting        





These are our expectations.







Please remember that this is a research facility with many uses. It is quite possible to have guests or visitors drop by at any given time to use or tour our facilities; therefore, we must keep things orderly.



SNACK BAR AREA                                




To prevent very worried professors, field station managers, and unnecessary searches in the forest, please check out on the clipboards located at the reception or by the shoe cubby when the following apply:





It is everyone's responsibility to work safely and watch out for others. Aim to prevent accidents before they happen.

Students are responsible for their own personal care needs and products including, but not limited to, insect repellent, sunscreen, lip balm, tylenol, anti-acid tablets, moleskin and any other type of prescription or over-the-counter drugs.


Any student who becomes ill or injured while participating in the QERC semester program must notify the field station managers, staff, or visiting faculty immediately.

We strongly encourage communication regarding any illness that you may feel so that it can be promptly addressed. Please communicate openly and frequently with McCall and Carson.

Non-life-threatening injuries will be treated by appointment at either Centro Medicas Pinares (Call Dr. Luis Calvo for appointments at 2271-2835) or Clinica Biblica (Call 2522-1000 for appointments). Centro Medicas Pinares is located in Curridibat. There, the QERC-recommended physician is Dr. Luis Calvo.  He speaks English and is very familiar with treating study abroad students. Clinica Biblica is located downtown San Jose, which you will be visiting during orientation.  Please let Carson or McCall know if you need an appointment.

In the event of injury, every reasonable effort will be made to contact a parent or legal guardian at the phone numbers provided on the student’s medical information form.  In the event a student requires emergency treatment, this consent authorizes participating members, faculty, and staff of Quetzal Education Research Center to seek appropriate care. It is a helpful for to memorize your Passport and Social Security number, as it will be helpful on the paperwork.

A First-Aid kit is available at reception.  Notify the field station manager or visiting faculty if needing first-aid attention.  The supplies to the first-aid kit are reviewed regularly; however, if you find that something is low, notify the field station managers to refill it.  

Sunburn: San Gerardo’s high elevations and sunny climate can lead to high UV exposure when working and studying outdoors. Thus, the use of personal sun protection while in the field is strongly encouraged. Students are encouraged to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, long sleeves and long pants whenever possible to protect themselves from the sun. Students are also encouraged to use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day on exposed skin and lip balm with SPF 15 or higher.

Skin Irritation/Rashes: You are living in a different climate than you are probably used to. Please be sure to thoroughly dry off after bathing or swimming and allow sufficient time for your clothes, shoes and other items to dry if they are wet. We also recommend showering immediately after hiking.

Upset Stomach: With a change in diet, we recommend eating lightly the first week you’re here while your stomach adjusts. It’s probably best to avoid excessive dairy products. Water is generally potable, especially in the city, although there are some areas in the countryside where it is not. Always ask. The water at QERC is safe to drink.

An upset stomach or diarrhea can leave you feeling miserable. If left untreated, it can lead to exhaustion and dehydration, too. A special diet known as the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce (or apples), and Toast) is an effective way to treat both.

Diarrhea: There are two types of diarrhea infections: viral and bacterial. A viral infection will pass within a day or two; something like Pepto Bismol can really help. It is very common to get diarrhea while your stomach becomes accustomed to the change in food. You should always drink as much liquid as you lose, as dehydration is a danger with diarrhea. Stay away from greasy foods. Strong lemonade, limeade, or teas with honey are good for diarrhea. If it lasts for more than two days, talk to the managers.

Constipation: Being constipated means your bowel movements are tough or happen less often than normal. Almost everyone goes through it at some point. The normal length of time between bowel movements varies widely from person to person. Some people have them three times a day. Others have them just a few times a week. Going longer than 3 or more days without one, though, is usually too long. After 3 days, your poop gets harder and more difficult to pass. It can happen when there are changes to what you eat or your activities, not enough water or fiber in your diet, eating a lot of dairy products, not being active, resisting the urge to poop, stress, and other more serious factors. Let Carson or McCall know if you’re feeling constipated and take these steps: Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day, try warm liquids, especially in the morning, add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, exercise most days of the week. When you move your body, the muscles in your intestines are more active, too. You can try taking a laxative, too.


QERC semester program participants will be in close contact with Latin Americans throughout the semester. It is important to remember that we are guests in their country as well as ambassadors for Christ; our behavior should reflect that. It is we, not they, who must be flexible and willing, in many instances, to do things a different way. We must be sensitive to their cultural and social mores and respect their way of doing things. Strive to develop an attitude of acceptance and understanding and be flexible, patient, and slow to criticize. Learning to see and do things in a different way is a crucial aspect of this program. We will be asking you to observe moral/ethical norms and standards observed by Latin American Christians in the different environments in which you will be studying. Their mores may require you to alter your normal activities. Students are expected to follow biblical principles concerning Christian conduct, including a willingness to subordinate one’s own prerogatives for the benefit of the community and an earnest endeavor to avoid all expressions of racial and sexual discrimination.


The Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) is sponsored and operated by Southern Nazarene University (SNU).  The policies regarding lifestyle choices while attending QERC are consistent with those of SNU.  

The areas of personal responsibility in the University Lifestyle Covenant are not regarded as moral absolutes, but they are responsibilities of all members of the Quetzal Education Research Center.  These guidelines help us live together in a Christ-centered, wisdom community and are intended to strike an important balance between individual autonomy and community responsibility.  These guidelines embody such foundational Christian principles as self-control, avoidance of harmful practices, and sensitivity to the heritage and practices of others.  The University requires members of its community to abstain from tobacco, alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs, gambling, social dancing, and attendance at establishments or activities at which such behaviors are the focus.

While we understand that not every person holds the same convictions, we expect members of our community to understand why we have these guidelines.  We expect individual integrity and cooperative efforts.  We hope all members of our community will discuss and evaluate the University standards during their time at QERC.

From the SNU student handbook, QERC acknowledges and supports the following lifestyle covenant:


Violations of QERC PROCEDURES, UNIVERSITY LIFESTYLE COVENANT, and any behavior that constitutes a violation or threat to the safety and well-being of students of the QERC program and its members, or the community at large, will result in discipline that may range from warnings to termination of enrollment.

Be advised that the Quetzal Education Research Center may disclose information concerning a student’s program participation, including any information concerning performance, attendance, discipline, participation, and suspected drug or alcohol use or other criminal activity, to a student’s home university, parents, or legal guardians.

Upon receipt of a complaint about, or notice of such a violation of conduct, the QERC Field Station Manager(s) will provide the student will notice of the complaint or alleged violation and give an opportunity for the student to be heard. Following this, the Field Station Manager(s) will attempt to communicate, consult and coordinate with the Director of QERC and the student life official at the student’s home institution. Following these discussions, the Director of QERC will make a decision with respect to the appropriate disciplinary response and will inform the students and the senior student life official at the home campus of that decision. The Director of QERC’s decision will be final unless the student chooses to make a verbal appeal to the SNU Provost.



Traffic is probably the most dangerous thing you will encounter in San José. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, in fact, they have no rights at all. DO NOT RISK IT!


We strongly recommend taking a taxi after dark in San José. Taxis in San José are inexpensive and safer than taking the bus or walking after dark. The cost of a taxi is much cheaper than replacing items that could be stolen or risking your personal safety.

ONLY USE OFFICIAL TAXIS. Official taxis are painted red and have a yellow triangle on the door. These taxis are licensed with the government. They are safer, and give honest fares.

Overall, we have found the majority of taxi drivers to be honest and respectful of both staff and students. We have noted exceptions here, not the rule.


The rate of robberies in Costa Rica is not necessarily any higher than any other countries. However, you most likely stick out as an obvious foreigner and tourist, which is not necessarily true in your home country. It’s possible that you will be robbed during your time in Costa Rica. It could happen to almost anyone.

There are several ways robberies can occur.

If any of these things happen JUST GIVE UP YOUR STUFF! Don’t try to put up a fight.


In almost all cases when someone is robbed or assaulted, the assailant tries to open up a space with the victim. Most commonly, this is done by asking for directions, the time, a cigarette… anything that gives them the opportunity to stop you and gets you within range for them to attack. Avoid getting into this type of situation. If someone tries to stop you, simply keep walking out of their range. You can answer in passing, “No se” or “No hablo Español”. In all encounters with people you don’t trust, remember to keep enough distance between you and the other person so that you remain out of arms reach.

It’s quite likely that this won’t happen to you while you’re in Costa Rica or Nicaragua. However, we want to provide you with the tools and strategies to both avoid these kinds of situations and to react appropriately should it happen.



If you have your ticket, plan on arriving about half an hour before your scheduled departure time. As there are several bus stations in San José, be sure to confirm that you are in the right location.

At the station, keep your bags in front of you. Keep an eye and a hand on all your belongings all of the time. Use a money belt or keep your money and/or valuable items hidden on your body.

As a piece of advice, confirm that you are on the correct bus when you board. Sometimes, at the same bus station, there are two destinations with the same name, yet completely different geographical locations.


We suggest that you don’t travel with more than you can fit inside the main cabin of the bus with you, meaning, don’t put your stuff under the bus. If you do have to put your bags underneath the bus, you have to remember to keep an eye out the window at each stop to ensure that someone doesn’t walk away with your bag. Try to get a window seat on the side that your bags are located.

In the overhead storage area on the bus, try to put your things across the aisle and up a seat so that you can best keep an eye on your bag. We also suggest tying them or clipping them to the post. Don’t put your bag underneath your seat unless you loop it around your foot. It’s simple for someone behind you to cut it open or pull it out from behind.

If you plan to sleep, just keep your bag on your lap. Make sure that your money and valuables are on your person at all times.

Keep your passport copy handy because police often stop the bus to ensure that all passengers are in the country legally.


Never swim alone.

Every year, more than 100 people drown at Costa Rican beaches, mostly foreigners. Usually, this happens at beaches that are known for bad rip tides or strong surf. However, a normally safe beach could also be dangerous if a storm has just occurred in the ocean. Rip tides are not easily detected and can quickly sweep even the best swimmers out to sea. There is a list of safety conditions at popular beaches at the end of the book, however, also check with the folks at your hotel or on the beach about the current ocean conditions. Also, check for signs at the beach and act accordingly.

If you do get stuck in a rip tide, remember the following steps.

People caught in rip tides usually panic, the try to swim against the current to get back to shore. This causes them to use too much energy and makes it impossible for even the strongest swimmer to continue swimming. Prevention is best. Avoid beaches with rip tides.







Playa Panama

Playa del Coco

Playa Brasilito

Playa Conchal

Playa Ocotal

Sugar Beach

Playa Hermosa

Playa Carillo

Playa Samara/Cangrejal

Playa Potrero

Playa Tamarindo

Playa Nosara

Playa Garza


There are occasional currents. Do not swim too deep.

The beach in town is great for swimming, but Playa Grande outside the town is dangerous.

Playa Ostional

Mal Pais

Playa Flamingo

Playa Doña Ana


Playa Uvita / Ballena Golfito (Osa Peninsula)

Manuel Antonio
The beach in the park is okay, but the beach in town is dangerous. Do not swim.

Puerto Jiminez
Osa Peninsula; Watch the tides, do not go in deep.

Playa Jaco

Playa Hermosa

Playa Matapalo

Playa Dominical

Playa Pavones (Osa)

Playa Zancudo (Osa)


SAFETI On-line Newsletter
Volume 1, Number 2, Spring 2000 - Summer 2000

By Nancy Newport, RN, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor, Consultant to Peace Corps
Fairfax, Virginia
(703) 352-9005


It has been my experience over the years as a Consultant to the US Peace Corps that the issue of sexual harassment for women can become a major stress factor that can greatly affect the entire overseas experience.

The information included in these pages comes directly from the work I have done with hundreds of inspiring and courageous Peace Corps Volunteer females as well as my own personal experience as a 22 year old Peace Corps Volunteer in Brasil many years ago. I have listened to and experienced the struggles, fears, frustrations, dilemmas, as well as joys of being a female in a developing culture. I have learned a great deal from the experience and from the incredible women with whom I have had the privilege of counseling. My life and my clinical work have been immeasurably enriched by the experiences we have shared together.


We all want to be culturally sensitive, to get along, to be respectful, to fit in, to not offend. In training, cultural sensitivity is emphasized and highly valued. It can be the doorway through which a college student studying abroad gains entry to and acceptance with the community abroad.

It is very important that the cultural sensitivity training provided never requires that you submit to behaviors that invade your personal boundaries and that feel unsafe or even uncomfortable to you. If it feels inappropriate or makes you uneasy, get yourself out of the situation. Never sacrifice yourself or your sense of safety for the sake of cultural sensitivity.


Personal boundaries are the personal space around us, physically and emotionally, that serves to preserve our physical and emotional integrity. When someone gets "too close", an alarm sounds inside. We need to listen for, respect, and respond to that alarm. We also need to respect the personal boundaries of each other. These areas can be very confusing for students for several reasons:

Reason One: The issue of personal boundaries tends to be confusing for people. Some of us were raised in families with broad rigid boundaries, lots of secrets, locked doors, distance from people, and perhaps even distance from our own emotions. Others of us were raised in families with loose boundaries, or inconsistent boundaries where people did not consistently allow personal respect or require privacy, where frequently no one knocked on bedroom doors before entering, where people shared common space and little personal space was available. And some of us (a very few) were raised with more of a balance of closeness, respect, and honoring of privacy and personal space.

Reason Two: Social conditioning in college has influenced boundary understandings by increasing tolerance for loose, fluid boundaries. Many college students have been acclimated to a very loose boundaried college culture. Students may "crash" in each other’s dorm or apartment...males and females may share sleeping space for convenience without sexual expectations. They may have become accustomed to, and therefore have a high tolerance for loose personal boundaries.

Reason Three: We "assume" every one has the same understanding about personal boundaries as we do. Now enter another country and find the whole issue of boundaries and personal space is highly influenced by cultural norms and very different from what you are accustomed to. And the amount of personal space has a certain meaning in one culture and a different meaning in another culture. Like learning a foreign language, customs and personal boundaries in a new culture are not to be "assumed" to be known, but must be learned for your safety.


In some cultures, allowing a man to enter your house is symbolic of letting him enter your body. Many men have told women that they "assumed" she wanted sex just because she allowed entry into her house. Staying outside on the porch is a safer way to receive male guests. Where is the best place to entertain men in a safe way without misunderstandings where you live in the US? Where will the best place be to entertain men in a safe way without misunderstandings where you live/study abroad?


American women are accustomed to the concept of male friendship. It has a meaning that may not translate in the new culture. Being seen with a man, talking with a man, going out with a man may have a different "meaning" in the culture than a female student may intend. What does it mean in the culture you are in? Is that your intention? If no, change your behaviors to send the message you intend.


Strokes are the measure of the exchange of communication between people. When interacting with others, we are constantly exchanging numbers of strokes. When we are communicating with peers, we tend to exchange a comparable number of strokes, a balanced exchange. In communication with those in authority however, the exchange may tend to not be balanced. The employee, for example, may tend to deliver more strokes than he/she receives from the boss. With friends, coworkers, spouse, children, authority figures, parents, strangers, strokes are delivered in varying amounts of balance or imbalance. Notice how this plays out in your life. Normally we are not aware of this measure of exchange as it operates at an unconscious level.

So it is, that when someone is being approached by a stranger or unwelcome individual, the amount of strokes should be kept to a minimum. In Latin culture, for instance, a man may sit next to a female student on a bus and begin an uninvited conversation with "Oh, baby. I love you." There is a tendency on some women’s part to give a lecture on love to that individual ("How can you love me? You don’t know me.", etc.)—providing a lot of strokes. Remember it’s the number of strokes that are important, not the quality or content (negative or positive). This woman is then surprised to discover that the man continues and even escalates the harassment rather than moving away. It is more effective to:

Confrontations of any type serve to encourage harassers who want attention, even negative attention will do. It’s important to know about the power of strokes. When people come at you with strokes that you don’t want, don’t give away any strokes in return. Don’t offer explanations. Get up and move, say no, but do not equalize the number of strokes exchanged as it may only escalate into getting you into more trouble.

Notice how strokes play out in your life. Notice the relationships where strokes are not equal—where someone is giving you far more strokes than you are giving out, and notice how it feels inside. Does it make you uncomfortable? This is true in all kinds of relationships, and can be used to help identify predators.

Harassment behavior and language varies from one culture to another. How do men harass women in the culture in which you are visiting? How do national women in that culture deal with it? Notice their effectiveness and use their response as a model.


Passive, Assertive, Aggressive Table


Actions speak louder than words. Make sure your body language is congruent with your words. If you say no with a smile on your face or in a weak, unconvincing voice, the words lose their force and power. Say no firmly and swiftly and follow that up with removing yourself from the situation and getting assistance if needed to back you up.


Use the broken record technique when faced with a situation when someone will not take no for an answer. Do not be coerced into backing down from your position by the persistence of the person insisting. Just because they did not accept your "no" does not mean you now need to come up with another reason or excuse. Keep saying the same answer over and over again, without developing a new reason or excuse each time the other person doesn’t accept it. You don’t have to be creative. Stick to your answer and just don’t budge.

"Would you like to go to the movies with me?"
"No, thank you. I can’t go."
"Oh, come on. It’s just a movie."
"No, thank you. I can’t go."
"I’ll get you home early. I’ll be a perfect gentleman."
"No, thank you. I can’t go."
"Oh, you’re too good for me, is that it?"
"No, thank you. I can’t go."
"Oh, you can’t go?"
"No, thank you. I can’t go."


Continuum of Trust

Trust needs to be earned. Many people have the mistaken notion that people should be trusted until proven otherwise. Actually, it is prudent to stay in a neutral position about a person, neither trusting nor distrusting them at first. Gather information from this person that will help you determine the trustworthiness of the person. In a new culture, watch for clues and cues from people who know the person and figure out how trusted he/she is by the community.


Harassing behavior is annoying at best and threatening and dangerous at worst. All students should seek assistance if harassment towards them becomes out of control and /or causes increased anxiety and anger. Many students reach a point, after which time they can no longer can tolerate the catcalls on the street with the same humor they had when they arrived in country. For some, the irritation escalates to anger and retaliation. Some students have acted out toward men on the street (yelling at them, insulting them, throwing things, hitting them) out of exasperation. This aggressive behavior is dangerous. It is a warning sign that needs to be addressed for your protection. It is very understandable that the harassment has "gotten to you," but exhibiting aggressive behavior back can put you at risk. This "burn out" is a signal that it’s time to take a break. Get out of town. Take a vacation. Go talk to your teachers, staff, and/or counselor. Do some stress relieving exercises that work for you. Talk to someone. Do something different!


In the wild, when an animal is either separated from the herd, is weak, young, injured, or otherwise vulnerable, it is likely that a predator will spot the animal, consider it prey and attack.

It is essential to your safety that you never allow yourself to be vulnerable to attack, that you avoid behaviors that can make you prey. You may have the right to walk down the beach at 2:00 in the morning, but if you do, you are making yourself prey to a waiting predator.

You may want to go to a bar or a party and have some fun, let off some steam, kick back and have a good time but if you drink alcohol or use any mood altering substance, you are now potential prey. It’s as if you said to the strangers/acquaintances around you, "I’m going to relinquish control of myself/my body now. I put myself in your hands." Being at the effect of substances of any kind sets us up to be vulnerable to the attack of a predator.

It’s not fair. Of course, it’s not. But it’s true—and staying in control of yourself can save your life. Being awake and aware allows you to pick up on warning signs that alert you that something is wrong. In the book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin deBecker describes the "gut feeling", the intuitive sense, that something is not right—that some danger may be present—as the gift of fear. Fear alerts us if we are awake and aware and respectful of the feelings we get. We must not override our sense of fear by saying to ourselves, "I don’t know what I’m worried about, I’m sure nothing’s wrong here", instead of paying attention to that little voice in our gut that says, "I don’t know what’s going on here, but something’s up". It is really, really important to pay attention to our intuition, that little sense of knowing that something is amiss here, and not to dismiss it or deny it.

In his book, deBecker describes seven (7) ways that predators manipulate people to become prey. Learn all of these strategies so that you will not fall prey to them yourself. The tactics are:


If in a situation there is someone giving you more attention that you want, or is finding excuses to touch you, this can be potentially dangerous to your safety. For example, a guy comes up to a woman and gently brushes his shoulder up against her, flipping her hair off her shoulder, grazing her hand. She’s thinking, "This is creeping me out, but I’m sure I’m overreacting, I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything." This is where danger begins. He is thinking, "How much will she tolerate and allow? How long can I get away with this without her calling me on it? How far can I go?"


Uninvited, seemingly "unintentional" touching (brushing up against a woman’s leg or arm, touching her hair)

Escalated touch:

If not acknowledged and objected to, the touch will escalate (hand on thigh, hand on arm, sitting very close)

Forced sense of indebtedness:

Creating a sense of indebtedness (buying an unsolicited drink or meal for example) and then expecting her attention in return (a dance, to walk her home, to spend time with her)


While some men are harassed, women experience the majority of sexual harassment and sexual assault. If you are a female student, this reality undoubtedly frustrates and angers you to have to be so very aware of your safety. If you are a male student, it likely dismays and angers you that women are ever treated disrespectfully.

There are steps to take to minimize risk in while travelling abroad and maximize fun and a rich cultural experience. It is important for women to:

Do not try to behave like you would in the States. You are here to experience a different way of life, one that allows you to assimilate into your village, to "join" the community, to have a full, rich cultural experience. Enjoy it. You are not giving up yourself—you, indeed, are expanding on your choices as a female. This article has been created as an invitation to you to be awake and aware and to acknowledge the realities of potential safety issues around you. To live your life as if this isn’t so is to deny yourself adequate protection. Treat yourself well.

Nancy Newport is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fairfax, Virginia. She has been a counseling consultant to the Peace Corps since 1992 and has a specialty in treating trauma, especially sexual and physical assault. Ms. Newport conducts the Peace Corps Medical Officer Training on sexual harassment and assault treatment. She is certified in Clinical Hypnotherapy, NLP and EMDR and uses these modalities extensively in her trauma work. Ms. Newport is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Brasil). Her website is:http://www.nancynewport.com.


  1.  You are a newcomer.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  2. Things may seem illogical, but there is often a rational for those on the inside, with their own history and worldview.
  3. Remember that since you are learning to navigate this new setting, as a new cultural child you may lose some of your earned independence back home.
  4. Like most things new in life, there are cycles of mystery and delight as well as of frustration and dislike.  
  5. It is ok to have to step back to your comfort or familiar zone to renew your strength from time to time.  JUST DON’T STAY THERE OR YOU’LL MISS OUT.
  6. Embrace ambiguity and uncertainty
  7. Be real about your personal non-negotiable values.  Also understand that people in this culture may value them differently; push yourself to understand where they are coming from.
  8. Remember you may be considered just as strange as those you are considering strange.
  9. Laugh at yourself a lot, give yourself grace and space.  
  10. Love can go a long way.

Being in a new cultural environment makes it more difficult to read situations. Always trust you gut instincts and be aware that you may not be able to read cultural cues as you would in a familiar environment, even if you speak the language.

The idea of “political correctness” does not necessarily apply in Costa Rica or other Latin American countries as it does in other areas. Latina culture is known to be formal and machista and the degree caries depending on the country, region, social class and family.

You will have an easier time at first if you are conservative with your behavior speech, dress, gestures, etc. You can loosen up later on once you have a feel for what is appropriate. This does not mean that you have to deny who you are, rather it is a temporary adjustment to your surroundings.


Culture shock is described as the feelings one experiences after leaving their familiar, home culture to live in another cultural or social environment. Even the most open-minded and travelled individuals are not immune to culture shock. Culture shock has three to five phases, depending on which source you read.


The Honeymoon Phase 
This is a fun time. Everything is great, exciting, and new. You love the differences, meeting new people, tasting new foods, seeing different architecture, doing new things, working in your new job. Like any new experience, there’s a feeling of euphoria when you first arrive to a new country and you’re in awe of the differences you see and experience. During this stage, you still feel close to everything familiar back home. This phase can last days, weeks, or months.

The Honeymoon is Over Phase
During this phase, you're noticing differences, even slight differences, and typically not in a good way. You don't like people's attitudes; you have had enough of the food and just want mom or dad's home cooking. Life is too fast/slow, things are so much "better" at home, they celebrate the wrong holidays, and so forth. You will find that you cannot communicate and are bombarded with unfamiliar surroundings, unreadable social signals, and an unrelenting barrage of new sounds. During this phase, a person often feels anxious, angry, sad, and/or irritable.

The Negotiation Phase
Essentially, during this phase you decide whether you will succumb to negativity or negotiate past it to make the most of your experience. If you're successful, you regain your sense of perspective, balance, and humor, and move on to the next phase.

The All is Well, or Everything is OK Phase
You feel more at home with the differences in the new culture.
You finally begin to feel like yourself again. You learn to integrate your own beliefs with those of the new culture. You may start to replace old values with newly discovered ones, or perhaps you will begin to find ways to exist within both cultures. You will now have a routine, feel more settled and feel more confident in dealing with the new culture. Depending on how big a change a person has experienced, the person may feel as if the culture isn't in fact new, but that they belong, or the person may not exactly feel part of the culture, but they're comfortable enough with it to enjoy the differences and challenges. The person doesn't have to be in love with the new country (as in the honeymoon phase), but they can navigate it without unwarranted anxiety, negativity, and criticism.

*What are some emotions that would go along with this stage? (Confidence, happiness, relief, appreciation, understanding, relaxed…)
*How would your actions show that you are in this stage? (Using  Spanish, playing soccer, integrating with families…)

The Reverse Culture Shock Phase
Sure enough, this can happen! Once a person has become accustomed to the way things are done in a different country, that person can go through the same series of culture shock phases when they return home. We’ll talk about this stage more in depth at the end of the semester.


Learn as much as you can. This means the good, the bad, and the simply different — from time zones, to what side of the street people drive on, to climate/temperature, to foods, political system, culture, customs and religion(s), to "Can you drink the water?".

Be open-minded and willing to learning. Ask questions. If you are going to a place where people speak a different language, consider taking a few courses in that language.

Maintain a sense of humor. (Perhaps the most important!)

Don't withdraw! Travel within the country, and visit cultural events and locations, such as museums or historic sites.

Build new friendships. Associate with positive people.

Bring a few touches of home with you, such as photos of your favorite locations and family members, etc. Your host families will be interested in hearing about your family as well!

Keep in touch some with people at home by Skype, email, phone, postcards — whatever. This can give you some comfort while away, and it will help you to minimize reverse culture shock when you get back home.

Adapted from: https://www.hziegler.com/articles/culture-shock.html


“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller

A key aspect of survival is the maintenance of sanity. Don’t go crazy.

QERC is set aside, so it’s very easy to isolate yourself.


Ways to engage with the community:


Orientation occurs during your first weeks in Costa Rica.  You will participate in activities which are a combination of discussions, scavenger hunts, community gatherings, and traveling in and out of San José.

The purpose of orientation is:


These are the places that we’ll be traveling during the semester. If you’d like a digital copy, let McCall know.


This is what an official taxi in San Jose looks like.

Note the red color, and official red triangle posted on the door.

Image result for san jose taxi


Trails in San Gerardo closest to QERC.