Students experience science, new culture in Costa Rica study abroad program

Instructor José G. Andino kneels in front of students (from left) Komal Kaur, Destini Coleman, Alex Remolina, Joel Ryan, Grace Burnside, and Emma Lin while visiting a waterfall in Costa Rica in August 2022.

A junior majoring in chemistry at Illinois, Alex Remolina wanted to study abroad but did not have time to fit that type of experience into his schedule during the academic year.

Then he discovered a study abroad program in the Department of Chemistry at Illinois that is based at the Center for Natural Products Research in San Jose, Costa Rica. It offered a great opportunity for Remolina to gain the experience he was looking for, but during the summer months.

“I wanted to be involved in this study abroad program because I was very interested in gaining more research experience along with being able to visit another country,” said Remolina, who participated in the Summer 2022 program. “This experience really helped me with my understanding of science by helping me gain understanding of research done around the world, along with job experience and possible job opportunities outside of college.”

Chemistry professor José G. Andino coordinates the program, Chem 492: Natural Products in Costa Rica, which begins with weekly meetings during the second eight weeks of the spring semester and continues in Costa Rica for two weeks in the summer. It’s open to undergraduate majors in chemistry, chemical engineering, molecular and cellular biology, integrative biology or other students who have completed Organic Chemistry I (Organic Chemistry II, recommended).

In Costa Rica, students get to work in an interdisciplinary environment and learn to communicate and collaborate with local students at CIPRONA, a research facility at the University of Costa Rica, where the study abroad students are incorporated into the center’s work, primarily learning methodologies for the collection and extraction of samples to be analyzed. Students will visit tropical rain forests in Costa Rica where scientists have access to species that carry molecules of interest due to the large diversity of biological species that inhabit that part of the world.

Remolina said he enjoyed meeting students from the University of Costa Rica and learning about different ways research is done in different labs.

“This program was very fun and a great experience that I would highly recommend to anyone interested,” he said.

Destini Coleman, a senior at Illinois majoring in integrative biology, also participated in the program last summer. She aspires to be an ecologist or environmental biologist and wanted to gain experience working with natural products. She participated in experiments that incorporated polymers and natural lemongrass.

“We extracted lemongrass oil from the plant,” she said. “I enjoyed collaborating with the international students the most.”

The study abroad program also has a cultural component, allowing students to discover Costa Rica’s culture, arts, cuisine, and natural richness.

Coleman said she enjoyed trying new foods, meeting new people and learning about Costa Rican culture and history. Her favorite place they visited was a national park.

“I enjoyed learning about the biodiversity and being among the plants,” she said.

Coleman said the experience changed her life.

“Studying in Costa Rica allowed me to push my academic boundaries. It taught me a lot about myself and how I work with others. I saw different people who shared similar stories from different parts of the world,” she said.

—Tracy Crane, Department of Chemistry

Three Costa Rica trip photos side by side; first shows students in their lab coats and PPE at the lab; second shows students at an overlook high above water; and third shows students around a table in an outdoor setting with palm trees in background.


Other opportunities for undergraduates to gain global experiences:

  • LAS Global Classrooms program helps students and faculty gain wider perspectives.
  • Explore other summer or fall semester or academic year study abroad program opportunities here.