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From Student to Instructor: Meet EPI Costa Rica Instructor Ana Beatriz Hernandez

What's the EPI experience like from an instructor's point of view, and just what does being an instructor entail? Learn more about the many roles instructors play and hear from EPI Costa Rica instructor Ana about her experience.

About Ana

Born and raised in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, Ana Beatriz Hernandez has been an EPI instructor since 2019. Fifteen years ago she went on course with EPI as a student, and the experience was influential in her choosing to study Biology and Environmental Interpretation at the University of Costa Rica. Now, she is thrilled to be back where it all began, working as an EPI instructor and sharing her passions for Biology and Conservation with the next generation of conservation leaders.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Before beginning the season, each EPI program site leads a week-long instructor training that prepares the group for courses and forges bonds between instructors, who will be working in close proximity for several months. What's the key to a successful instructor team? "We have to work with as much empathy, respect, and patience as possible," Ana says.

Instructors come from a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, brought together by a deep-rooted love for science, learning, and the natural world. With backgrounds in science-related studies and/or environmental education, they often come to EPI fresh off of adventures and fascinating fieldwork in other parts of the world. All carry outdoor Wilderness First Aid (WFA or higher), and CPR certifications.

Out on Course

As EPI participants know, courses are run by 2-3 instructors who, together, work around the clock for up to twelve days. While the experience is full of adventures, growth, and unforgettable moments, each course also has its challenges and setbacks. Managing groups of teenagers in remote locations and tackling travel logistics, group dynamics, and unpredictable weather conditions are just a few challenges instructors face on the job.

On the micro level, instructors work together to monitor and address any subtle shifts or changes in each participants' eating habits, behavior, and energy levels. Dietary restrictions, medications, allergies, and anxieties are all attended to with empathy and understanding.

What is it like to work so closely with other instructors in this sort of environment?

Ana leading a course with fellow instructor Iris Hidalgo

"Your co-instructor becomes your best friend and through the different courses, you start to recognize in them, a family. You have to talk about work, obviously, but then, you also get to know the other person in a much closer way. I met some of my current best friends through EPI!

Also, something I find quite magical is that Carlos Trejos, the person I consider my mentor as an EPI instructor, visited my high school with a cultural exchange group when I was 14 years old! Now as an adult, Carlos has taught me some of the most important things to keep in mind as an instructor."

Leaving a lasting impact

How has your career as a field instructor been rewarding?

"To be an EPI instructor has been the most rewarding job ever! To have the chance to see the student faces shine the first time they see a sea turtle, to be told phrases like, 'this is the first time I can be myself', to gain people's trust, and to have the privilege of them allowing you to guide them into the magical rainforest...the pride and the honor that involves is something that endures for a lifetime. EPI is not only contributing to nature's conservation and science education, but to changing lives, inspiring, and nurturing human beings."

"One of the most important things we have are connections, and even when you don't have the chance to meet most of the students again, you know that you have helped to plant wholesome memories in their hearts. A little piece of you is traveling back home with each one of them. Maybe the next time they are outdoors, planting a tree, caring about producing less waste, making conscious decisions as consumers they'll be reminded about EPI and, who knows, maybe when they raise their own children in the future, some of the learnings you shared together will pass through generations."

EPI alum Lauren Helmstetler fondly remembers the impact Ana had on her experience as a Costa Rica Sea Turtle Ecology course participant. "My instructor Ana made my experience in Costa Rica so incredible," she says. "She knows so much about the local wildlife and taught me a lot about the country. Her passion for science and love for the environment inspires me to keep pursuing my career in wildlife biology."

Can you share a favorite memory from your time as an instructor?

"It's difficult to choose one! But I'll say that I had to hold back tears one day when a girl started crying from happiness as she described how she felt when releasing sea turtle hatchlings into the sea."

Lessons learned

What have you learned from your experience as an instructor?

"I have learned that when you do your job with passion, it doesn't feel like work, it feels like a vocation! People feel that and people who can feel your confidence and respect are more engaged and learn better."

What are some of the challenges you have faced on course, and how did you overcome them?

"The most difficult challenge as an instructor was to be patient when the pandemic hit. I was very scared about losing a job I loved so much. Those stressful moments went away and now I happily enjoy my time with EPI. So, to summarize it, the most difficult challenge as an instructor was to be away from being an instructor."

How do you reset in between courses?

"Something people might not imagine about being an instructor is that even though the courses can be physically exhausting, it's easy to rejuvenate yourself and your spirit!"

How does Ana like to reset in between courses? When not in the field, she tutors students in biology and enjoys dancing, running, hiking, and socializing with friends.

There are a lot of similar jobs you could have based on your experience, education, and skillsets. Why do you choose to stick with EPI?

"It is evidence-based! I have seen EPI changing lives and impacting people in a real way. Once I was an EPI student and now, here I am, an instructor. And I'm not the only one! I have had the chance to know about the stories of different people who once were participants and today are still involved with EPI, Pacuare, or other environmental projects. I'm thankful to EPI for how it impacted my adolescence. In a difficult period of life, it came as very important guidance and opened the opportunity for self-discovery. I want to provide that to my students as a way to say to life, THANK YOU."

On behalf of EPI and the numerous students influenced by Ana's dedication, expertise, and wisdom, we extend our gratitude. If you're considering a career combining a passion for the outdoors, science, and education, watch out for future job openings as an instructor or staff member with us.

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