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From Rainforest to the Rockies: COVID's Turn of Events

A change of travel plans

Back in 2020, high school sophomore Kirstyn couldn't wait to trade her New Jersey high school textbooks for a Costa Rican field journal. Months of preparing for a trip to Pacuare Reserve with her school's environmental science program had her excited for jungle-lined beaches, moonlit turtle censuses, and if she was lucky, sightings of the elusive agami heron.

Perhaps the mention of the infamous year 2020 lead you to correctly assume Kirstyn's EPI course was canceled due to the global pandemic.

The trip cancellation was a devastating blow on top of an already challenging year of online school and social isolation. That being said, news of her school offering another EPI course once travel became safe again was welcomed with eager enthusiasm. Having a new EPI trip to look forward to meant a lot more than a journey out of town. This trip meant reconnecting with people in person, escaping the confines of Zoom school, and exploring a novel ecosystem.

The new EPI trip sounded great to Kirstyn, with the one caveat being her Costa Rican turtles and beaches were going to be subbed for bison and the geothermal features of Yellowstone.

"I was so nervous about my Yellowstone trip, I almost didn't want to do it. I'm an outdoors person, but I didn't have much camping experience at the time. I liked that we were going to be staying in bunkhouses in Costa Rica, so the idea of camping for a week straight in Yellowstone was pretty intimidating."

Kirstyn not only braved the week of tent camping, but had the trip of a lifetime.

"Yellowstone was AMAZING! The instructors were so helpful in making me feel safe at camp, especially when it came to bear safety and how to take proper precautions. I wanted to sign up for another course as soon as I got home."

And sign up for another course she did!

Round two: Data collecting and exploration in Maui, Hawaii

In July 2022, Kirstyn and several of her best friends from her Yellowstone trip set off for more experiential environmental education. For EPI round two, Kirstyn would be camping, collecting data, and exploring on the white sand beaches of Maui, Hawaii.

“The Yellowstone and Hawaii courses were similar in their structure, like doing service projects, helping wildlife researchers, and having super awesome instructors. Other than that, they were so different! I’m so happy I got to do both trips and be a part of an organization that helps so many animals and people.”

College ready!

While Kirstyn may have missed out on the Costa Rica course, her Yellowstone and Hawaii courses were anything but a disappointment. Now in her senior year of high school, Kirstyn is beginning her college application process with clear motive and direction. Largely due to her EPI trips, she wants to pursue a degree under the umbrella of ecology and environmental studies!

Kirstyn’s patience through the pandemic sure paid off! We are so happy she joined us for two courses, and can’t wait to see her professional conservation career take off!

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