Neotropical Companion Response: Worries Academic and Practical

This topic submitted by Katie King ( at 10:39 PM on 6/30/06.

The class gets ready to board Bahamas Air on San Salvador, Bahamas. See other beautiful phenomena from the Bahamas.

Tropical Field Courses -Western Program-Miami University

(I'm sorry I forgot to submit this with my journal; when I realized I was supposed to do that, I'd already sent in my journal. Also, I know a lot of this essay sounds silly now--I thought about revising it after we were back home, but I left it like this as I guess it shows what I was really thinking before the trip [which was apparently really random and out there]. Thanks again for an amazing experience!)

Reading The Neotropical Companion inspired several trains of thought in me, some little more than surprise at what I was reading and others that were fairly tangential.
One thing I was very surprised to discover was how much of the rainforest is not completely understood. There are certainly many species, but I was surprised to hear how many are unknown (I was also surprised to discover just how many species there are there). Also, though I have, in all my science classes, been constantly admonished that nothing is “certain”—even universally accepted ideas are still theories—there seemed to be several ideas about explaining the rainforest’s diversity.
Most of The Neotropical Companion was interesting and educational to me, serving mainly to get me excited for the trip to Costa Rica. However, the appendix, for the first time, got me somewhat worried. Most of the book is about what one will see in the neotropics from the scientific perspective behind it all. It explains why animals and plants in the rainforest are like they are, discusses their evolution, and explains how they live. I suppose, in that sense, it was academic, albeit in a very vivid sense. The appendix, though, changed that. Suddenly, the place I was going was characterized as having what seemed like countless dangerous animals. Even if there were, as the chapters elaborated, ways to avoid or decrease that danger, I was still worried.
As time has passed, though, my fear has decreased. I think this is probably for two reasons. One is that most of the book was not about why one should be worried, and so as time passed the book’s predominant content returned to being what I most remembered about the book. I think that, since the book ended on the discussion of the dangers, the dangers were what my immediate post-book thoughts were focused on; as time moved on, the time between finishing the regular chapters and finishing the appendix became so relatively minimal that it no longer influenced what I remembered. The other main reason for my fear decreasing is, I think, that my excitement has overcome it. There is so much to see there, as the rest of the book explained, that I keep thinking about all the things I want to see and forgetting about anything I might be afraid of.
The book, after I got over being scared, had one primary effect on me: it seems like the beginning of a transition from my years of learning academically to learning in a field experience—a more real, hands-on experience. Most textbooks are mainly theoretical, which I generally love. In fact, for me, theory seems a lot safer than applying learning in practice. Theory is much simpler; situations can be simplified so that causes and effects are very clear. The many unknown things about the neotropics make it clear that this simplicity will not exist during the field course. This lack of simplicity will be good for me, I am sure, since, beyond college, I will not again be dealing in pure theory. Also, actually getting to see what I am learning about will be exciting and unlike what I experience in regular classes. I am nervous, though, about being able to learn things during the course. I am so used to “learning” meaning “remembering what I read in a book” that I do not know if I will be any good at “learning” when it means “reaching conclusions based on real observations.”
Basically, The Neotropical Companion has made me very excited to see Costa Rica. As time has passed, I have gotten over my fears about dangers, but I have replaced them with fears about how much I will actually be able to contribute to the course. Nevertheless, I cannot wait to go—even if I will have to get used to not petting dogs and am still a bit worried about botflies.

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