Vistas of possibility bloom for botany graduand

09 December 2003

Budding botanist: Graduand Amanda Luxande (botany department) spent a semester abroad in Coast Rica earlier this year.

Costa Rica is perhaps a bit off the beaten track when it comes to semester-abroad studies, but for final-year botany student Amanda Luxande it was a stint that has her planning a return to this tiny Central America country and its vibrant people.

Luxande graduates this week with a BSc (botany and zoology).

When the news of her acceptance onto the programme came from Professor William Bond, the Stellenbosch-born and -schooled student's first thought was not of floral biomes and ecosystems, but: "I'll have to get shots!"

The semester-abroad programme is part of the American-based Organisation for Tropical Studies' international teaching series.

Luxande's co-traveller was second-year botany student Mosibodi Whitehead. "There were only three South Africans on the programme. The rest were American," she said.

Next year the OTS plans to start a teaching facility at the Kruger National Park.

As Costa Ricans are Spanish speakers, the first course was on Spanish language and culture. The remaining three course were more academic: environmental policy and the tropics; science methodology and statistics; and an introduction to tropical biology.

Luxande was billeted to a host family, an essential part of her "language and culture" learning. Though she speaks four languages (Xhosa, Zulu, English and Afrikaans), she found Spanish a mouthful at times. "Fortunately, many of the American students could translate."

The group moved around the country, visiting the various ecosystems. "We learnt a load of stuff," Luxande commented, referring to the intensity of the programme. (She received equivalent credits for her course.) The Costa Ricans were fascinated to meet Africans. "When they heard we were from South Africa, they kept referring to Nelson Mandela and soccer."

She enthuses about the benefits of being a student abroad. "It's unique. You learn things that you will take with you for the rest of your life. And there are more opportunities than you ever thought possible."

Presently, Luxande is ensconced at the National Botanical Institute on the slopes alongside Kirstenbosch for the next three months, working on a national conservation assessment project.

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