Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Academy for Global Scholars Daily Blog 2023

The Academy for Global Scholars (AGS) is a program for first-year, first-generation students that provides a unique opportunity for global engagement and individual growth. Participants join AGS by invitation and engage as a cohort in FYS 101 and a general education course, cultural programming, service activities and a study abroad experience. The Academy provides scholars with a sense of community and prepares them for the global workplace.

This year, the 2022–23 cohort of the Academy for Global Scholars is traveling to Costa Rica for their study abroad program! Follow along live on this page as, each day, students from the Academy reflect on their experiences in Costa Rica.

May 28, 2023 | La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Arrionna Cheatham pictured at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Arrionna Cheatham pictured at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Arrionna Cheatham, La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park: hello, my name is Arrionna Cheatham. I am nineteen years old. I am from Clarksville, Tennessee. I am studying sociology with a criminology concentration and political science with a law and courts concentration. I chose to be a part of the Academy for Global Scholars because I wanted to build friendships. I love to travel and wanted to experience a different culture.

On the last day of the trip we went to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and it was such an amazing experience. We saw a variety of different animals that included sloths, toucans, butterflies, snakes, frogs and monkeys.

My favorite animal I saw at the waterfall gardens was the sloth. We did not expect for the sloths to stop sleeping so it was shocking and very exciting to see the sloths wake up and also see them climb. I was surprised to learn that sloths only come out once a week so they can eat and use the bathroom.

The Academy for Global Scholars did an amazing job on trying to be sustainable. Throughout the year we learned about sustainability and how we could use our lessons to be more sustainable throughout the trip and in life. We had water bottles that we could use to refill our water bottles instead of using plastic bottles. I also used paper straws whenever possible to help the environment as well.

May 26, 2023 | Isla Tortuga

Alexa Powers (left) and Eliza Bettis (right) pictured on the beach in Costa Rica

Alexa Powers (left) and Eliza Bettis (right) pictured on the beach in Costa Rica

Eliza Bettis, Isla Tortuga: hello my name is Eliza Bettis. I’m from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I’m a biology major. I chose to be a part of AGS because I have never traveled outside of the country and I know that being a first-generation college student that would be something that otherwise would be difficult for me.

Today we went to Isla Tortuga. We had the opportunity to go snorkeling which was extremely fun. We got to see many different types of fish, sea urchins and one of the guides even got a starfish for us to hold. Snorkeling at Isla Tortuga was a great way to see a glimpse of the great amount of biodiversity that Costa Rica offers.

Alexa Powers, Isla Tortuga: my name is Alexa. I am a forensic anthropology major, from Lascassas, Tennessee. I chose to be in AGS because I wanted to find people like me to have a community of like minded folks.

Today, we went to Isla Tortuga or Turtle Island. We took a two hour yacht out to the island where we got to snorkel, banana boat and kayak/paddle board. We had a great time on the beach playing volleyball, relaxing, tanning, (or in my case, burning!)

This experience has been more than I could ever have imagined! The steps Costa Rica takes to preserve their country and still make tourism what it is, is incredible.

May 25, 2023 | Cloud Forest and Crocodile Tour

Peter Pham pictured during the Academy for Global Scholars program to Costa Rica

Peter Pham pictured during the Academy for Global Scholars program to Costa Rica

Peter Pham, Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve: hello, my name is Peter Pham and I am currently studying Psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I am a part of the Academy for Global Scholars mainly because it was available to me as a first-generation student, and while Costa Rica was not a priority in my mind, it was still an interesting prospect as I have never been outside of the United States in my life.

After finals had ended at the end of the year, I was hit with the Costa Rica trip, which I think has been a fantastic trip. While there are recognizable structures and stores such as KFC and Walmart, albeit all in Spanish (any degree of Spanish knowledge will be helpful), there were many different things with the culture that revolved around tourism.

One part of the trip was visiting the cloud forest, which is a mountainous tropical forest. The landscape received the name because of how vast the forest is, and due to the elevation of the mountain and different temperatures, clouds are often trapped around the top of the mountain. Because of this, there are hundreds of unique species of animals and plants that live only in this area.

While on this trek, we had a professional tour guide from the Tropical Science Center, where she was able to pinpoint camouflaged animals or living spaces of certain creatures. There was a female tarantula living in a miniature hole, bees that created a log-like structure as their hive, a venomous green snake in a tree, spider monkeys hanging between trees, hollow fig trees and a multitude of birds. The forest is famous for the quetzal bird with its colorful feathers and long tail, and the bell bird, which is a bird with a mustache that calls in a metallic-like sound.

I was deeply impressed with how there are measures taken with a card system that counts how many people are allowed in the forest up to a limit, which the trail only covers 2% of the entire forest.

While being on this trip, I think I overall enjoyed meeting all of the people here with their stories that encounter daily life or the wildlife here. I am glad I am here on this trip for the experience, and if anyone is able to match the criteria, go for it!

Deliyah Stephenson during the River Tarcoles crocodile tour in Costa Rica

Deliyah Stephenson during the River Tarcoles crocodile tour in Costa Rica

DeLiyah Stephenson, River Tarcoles Crocodile Tour: I am DeLiyah Stephenson and I am a first generation chemistry major at UT. I chose to be a part of AGS because I enjoy learning about cultural diversity around the world. I have always been an open minded person and have really enjoyed the things we have learned before and during this trip to Costa Rica.

Today we participated in a boat ride through the Tarcoles River in an attempt to see crocodiles. This tour is often run by a member of the Vargas family. There are estimated to be around 2,000 crocodiles at the mouth of the river. Tarcoles is actually home to the largest concentration of crocodiles per square kilometer in Central America. During a sunset tour, people often see sloths and monkeys. We saw many kinds of birds on this tour as part of the river is a mix of ocean, swamp and river.

I have absolutely loved our time here in Costa Rica. There have been so many different activities but one of my favorites was the crocodile tour on the Tarcoles River. We saw crocodiles, different birds native to Costa Rica and mangrove trees that are uncommon. It was very fun and interesting to be so close to animals of such a great size and learning more about them and how they live.

The thing that surprised me the most was that crocodiles can actually get up to 18 feet long. When I was younger, I would go on YouTube and watch gator boys or watch crocodile videos. The videos never give the animal justice about how truly big it is.

On the crocodile tour, we learned that it is now illegal to feed the crocodiles because some foods can be toxic to them and the bigger ones would fight resulting in many injuries and deaths. We also learned that the river is the most polluted river in Costa Rica. Not feeding the crocodiles forces them to learn to hunt and fend for themselves while keeping violence low amongst them. We do not want them to rely on humans to feed them and proceed to hurt each other to stay alive.

May 24, 2023 | Chocolate Tour

Sydney Ivory at Café Caburé in Monteverde

Sydney Ivory at Café Caburé in Monteverde

Sydney Ivory, Café Caburé Chocolate Restaurante and Chocolatería Tour: my name is Sydney Ivory and I am from Covington, Tennessee. I am studying accounting at UT.

I decided to join AGS to enhance my perspectives and experiences pertaining to the global world. I also wanted to find a group of like-minded yet diverse peers to navigate my first year with. Lastly, I wanted to study tourism, diverse cultures and ecology beyond the U.S.

This trip marks my first time in Costa Rica and my first time out of the country. Today, we visited Café Caburé in old Monteverde to learn all about chocolate. Our educator, Bob, spoke about the history and beginnings of chocolate. He informed us about the pioneers of chocolate as well as its geographical origin.

Later, we enjoyed learning about the cacao plant in his local garden before roasting, molding and tasting fresh, natural chocolate. This has been one of my favorite activities because Mr. Bob’s chocolate products were so delicious. Moreover, I was shocked to learn that extracting cacao butter from cacao seeds can take 16 hours or more.

While in Costa Rica, AGS is working toward sustainability by implementing beneficial tourism habits. For example, we are using reusable water bottles and backpacks. At Café Caburé, we practiced sustainability by using every part of the cacao seed. We found a purpose for the seeds, shells, cacao nibs and cacao butter.

Kayden Newman (pictured on the right) in the Monteverde cloud forest

Kayden Newman (pictured on the right) in the Monteverde cloud forest

Kayden Newman: my name is Kayden Newman, I am from Nashville TN and my hobbies are cheerleading, drawing and traveling. I’m getting my bachelor degree in architecture and my masters in landscape architecture. I chose AGS to broaden my experience abroad and see how architecture is different in other countries.

During our trip, we went to a very diverse area, from the San José city to the Monteverde mountains to the Punta Leona beach. We really saw each unique place that Costa Rica has to offer.

One activity that surprised me was how nice our homestay family in San José was. They were accepting and loving and treated us like their own children.

During the trip, I tried to be more sustainable by not using any plastic bottles, and reusing my own water bottle and keeping a log of how many times it’s been refilled. Also, buying goods at local markets and shops to help the Costa Rican economy, because tourism is essential to keep this country alive and well.

May 23, 2023 | Biological Reserve and Coffee Farm

Vance Sisson at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve observation deck

Vance Sisson at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve observation deck

Vance Sisson, Santa Elena Biological Reserve: I’m Vance Sisson and I’m a chemical engineering major. I chose to be a part of AGS because I was excited to learn about the values and culture of another country. I am particularly interested in how their values have informed their solutions to pressing environmental issues.

Today we went to a rainforest high in the mountains known as the Monteverde cloud forest. Here we learned about local plant life and saw different animals such as the howler monkey. The weather was abnormally clear so we could see miles in every direction from the observation deck. We were able to see the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal.

I was surprised to learn just how many plants and animals could occupy a single tree. A fig strangler in the Monteverde cloud forest can have as many as 800–1,000 different species living on and inside of it.

We saw a wind farm from the observation deck. It was located on a hill near Lake Arenal using the harsh mountain winds to produce energy. This is an example of how Costa Rica uses renewable energy resources for their electricity.

Advice I could give to a new student looking to travel abroad would be to keep an open mind. Listen and try to understand a culture’s values or behaviors before rejecting or judging. I recommend putting effort into learning about the culture, language and food before traveling. To support sustainability as a traveler, it is important to prepare by researching companies to support with your consumption.

Yanet Ramirez Perez (pictured on the right) at the Cafe Monteverde Coffee Farm and Roasters

Yanet Ramirez Perez (pictured on the right) at the Cafe Monteverde Coffee Farm and Roasters

Yanet Ramirez Perez, Cafe Monteverde Farm and Coffee Roasters Tour: my name is Yanet Ramirez Perez and I am a first-year nursing student with a minor in global development. I joined AGS because it was the first opportunity I was given to expand my intercultural knowledge and experience. I have always known I wanted to travel to other countries to help provide more equitable medical services to Spanish-speaking individuals, and this was the perfect opportunity to begin traveling.

Today we went to the Cafe Monteverde Coffee Farm and Roasters where we learned about all the different processes and techniques to roast and make coffee.

Something unexpected that happened was learning all the techniques and methods that are available and used for growing new coffee beans, from new coffee crops to fermentation.

This company offers fair trade goods and used as little fertilizers and inorganic compounds to produce coffee. Not only do they work to conserve natural forests and resources around the coffee farm, but they rely on solar power energy and other renewable resources in the region to support their machinery and production.

May 22, 2023 | Costa Rican Cooking Class

Sophie Roark prepares gallo pinto during a Costa Rican cooking class

Sophie Roark prepares gallo pinto during a Costa Rican cooking class

Sophie Roark, Costa Rican cooking class and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture: my name is Sophie Roark and I’m from Knoxville. I’m majoring in speech pathology. I chose to be a part of AGS because I wanted to connect with other first-generation students and be able to experience studying abroad.

Today we went to a cooking class where we cooked gallo pinto and casado. Gallo pinto is a dish of rice and beans and is considered the most popular food in Costa Rica. Casado is a dish of potatoes, pork, lettuce, pepper, onions and cilantro.

The surprise for me was how easy it is to make a tortilla. All you need is the corn flour mix (which you can purchase at any grocery store), water and some salt. You create it into a dough and roll it into a circle. You then put it on a pan and fry it!

The company works to be sustainable by using many reusable products. We used very minimal plastic and tried to create little waste. We were conscious of the water we were using and never let it run continuously.

In the afternoon we went to the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, which is an agency that connects its member states to achieve agricultural development and rural well being. We learned about the future of agriculture and the efforts being taken to promote growth.

One thing that surprised me was the technology being created for future agriculture. We learned about a robot that can water and plant seeds by itself. The IICA also provides many resources to teach children on ways to improve agriculture and explore new methods.

They are highly focused on sustainability to keep crops healthy. The IICA created a technology that keeps plants safe without needing to be outside. This method prevents crops from being destroyed during certain weather conditions. It eliminates waste and preserves plants for longer amount of times.

May 21, 2023 | Museums

Madison Meek at the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica

Madison Meek at the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica

Madison Meek, Museo Nacional de Costa Rica and city tour: my name is Madison Meek and my major is biology. I chose to apply for AGS because Costa Rica holds so much biodiversity that will give me experience for my major and also experience with a different culture and language for my future career goal, becoming a doctor.

Today we explored the city of San José which is the capital of Costa Rica. We took a bus around the city then walked to the national museum and around the city on foot to other areas.

One big surprise for me while touring was the fact that none of the buildings matched in style at all. Also, the bars on every house seems like the crime rate is high but in reality it’s a part of history as it was a style when the Spanish empire was in charge at the time.

I also learned while touring that Costa Rica takes extensive lengths to generate energy. For example they are currently using two volcanoes to generate heat and also have began making hydrogen buses to limit carbon emissions!

Gracie Jones stands poses in front of artwork at the Jade Museum in San José, Costa Rica

Gracie Jones poses in front of artwork at the Jade Museum in San José, Costa Rica

Gracie Jones, Jade Museum: my name is Gracie Jones and I am studying political science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I chose to join the Academy for Global Scholars to get involved with the school as well as broaden my cultural knowledge!

Today we explored the Jade Museum in San José, Costa Rica. The Jade Museum is dedicated to preserving the archaeological heritage of the region and it features the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts in the world dating all the way back to 500 B.C.

A pleasant surprise of the activity was how interactive the museum was. The Jade Museum featured a variety of puzzles and interactive games to learn about the history in a fun, engaging way.

While traveling, AGS works to be sustainable by walking whenever it is a viable option as well as reducing our plastic usage by using refillable water bottles and recycling all unavoidable plastics. Tourism is essential to Costa Rica’s economy but on the other hand it is one of the leading causes for environmental pollution, so we are taking every measure we can to assure that we leave Costa Rica just as beautiful as before so it can be enjoyed for many years to come.



Jason Moody (865-974-5752,