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Offered through the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation (Ceiba), this spring semester program in Ecuador is co-sponsored by UW-Madison. The Tropical Conservation Semester is an intensive, adventure-learning experience providing training in the ecology and natural history of the tropics, practical experience in conservation and scientific research, and immersion in Latin American culture. This program is ideal for third and fourth year undergraduates in biological, environmental, political or social fields with an interest in international conservation. From day one we involve students in Ceiba's ongoing conservation projects in Ecuador, including reserves that participants will visit and a variety of programs to which students can contribute throughout (and beyond) the semester.
During the program, participants hike through rough, broken, or very muddy terrain (sometimes under very rainy or otherwise challenging conditions) to see some of the most remote and pristine ecosystems left on earth. Therefore, good physical condition and a sense of humor are essential.
Students travel with faculty to a variety of field sites including three weeks in the Amazon rainforest and three weeks in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Participants explore Ceiba Foundation conservation projects in the cloud forest of the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve and the coastal dry forest of the Lalo Loor Reserve.
The terrestrial ecology course culminates in a three-week stay at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station. This research station is situated in the center of one of the world's "diversity hotspots" and is now indisputably the most biologically diverse place on the planet. The area boasts ten species of monkeys (which are regularly seen on hikes through the forest), over 500 species of birds, and over 50 species of frogs. Jaguar, ocelot and tapir sightings are not uncommon and participants routinely observe pink river dolphins, capybara, peccaries, sloths, and other large mammals.
Marine biology study takes place on Ecuador's Pacific coast and in the Galapagos Island archipelago where students spend eight days on a live-aboard cruise of the islands studying marine organisms and the islands' unique flora and fauna, sometimes snorkeling two to three times per day. The final two weeks of the marine course are spent at the USFQ campus and research station on the island of San Cristobal where participants live with local host families and conduct marine research projects to conclude the course program.
Internships are arranged by each student during the early part of the semester, and can take place anywhere in the country. Many students choose to return to Ceiba program sites such as the cloud forest or coastal dry forest, while others prefer opportunities with organizations working in the Amazon, the high Andes, or other regions of this rich country.
Getting to Your Program
Students will need to make their own travel arrangements to Ecuador and must arrive before the first day of the program.
A student visa is required. U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for at least six months beyond the end of the program. Ceiba will provide you with visa information.
OrientationRequired orientation sessions held before departure at UW-Madison help students prepare for studying abroad. Topics covered include academic, financial, administrative, cultural, and site-specific issues. Students will also participate in an orientation program in Ecuador.
HousingStudents stay with an Ecuadorian host family while in Quito and the Galapagos. While conducting field research, students stay at accommodations provided at the field research sites. The program fee includes all lodging, most meals, and travel to field sites within Ecuador.
Excursions and Activities
Students travel with faculty to a variety of field sites including three weeks in the Amazon rainforest and three weeks in the Galapagos. Participants explore Ceiba conservation projects in the cloud forest of the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve and the coastal dry forest of the Lalo Loor Reserve.
You will be enrolled in the UW System required health insurance through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI) and the cost of the insurance coverage is included in program fees.
Dr. Joe Meisel, Ph.D. in Zoology, and Dr. Catherine Woodward, Ph.D. in Botany.
Returned Student Network
to see testimonials from students abroad or to contact a returned student.
"I wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country on a program that incorporated environmental studies. This was the perfect fit!"
"This program was so amazing- words can't describe. The professors were awesome and this semester was a life-changing experience for me."
"I had one of the best experiences in my life on this program- I would do it again in a second. Bettering the world, learning in an outdoor classroom, spending time with wonderful people, it doesn't get much better!"
"Adventure learning at its best! Greatest four months of my life."
Students take classes for the first month of the semester at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). While at USFQ, students take intensive Spanish language classes as well as introductory classes on the ecology of Ecuador. The Spanish course helps students acquire the Spanish language skills that are necessary to build relationships with their Quito and Galapagos host families, and effectively communicate during fieldwork projects and internship placements. All other courses are taught by ecologists with over thirty years of experience in the tropics.
Students spend over half of the semester at field sites studying ecology and conservation in some of the richest ecosystems on earth: the Galapagos, the Andes, and the Amazon. Participants in the program enroll in the following sequence of courses, earning sixteen credits for the semester: Spanish Language(three credits), Conservation Biology (three credits), Tropical Ecology I: Terrestrial Ecosystems (four credits), Tropical Ecology II: Marine Ecosystems (four credits), Conservation Internship (two credits).
During the last month of the semester, students select one of several internship or research opportunities with an Ecuadorian conservation or development organization. Past internships have included reforestation, environmental education, sea turtle monitoring, organic farming, and primate research. These internships allow students to apply knowledge and language skills obtained during coursework and provide them with first-hand experience in international sustainable development and conservation.
Program Web Page(s)
Blog by Emily, a former Ceiba student
Use the links below to see a list of courses that students have taken on this program before and the UW equivalents. Note: this list only includes pre-approved courses for your program and may not be an exhaustive list of courses or departments. You will get instructions on the course equivalent process after acceptance.
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