Summer Abroad Spotlight: Morgan Collins '25 in Costa Rica

IMAGES: Morgan Collins getting ready to play a ball on the soccer pitch, Morgan posing with hands on hips in her socer uniform

Morgan Collins '25 is studying abroad in the rain forests of Costa Rica during the summer before her junior year on the women's soccer team. Learn more about Morgan, who will be chronicling her days in Central America. 


June 11, 2023 

My name is Morgan Collins and I am a rising junior at Brandeis University. I am from Littleton, Massachusetts, and I chose this school for my undergraduate studies because it is a challenging academic institution where I could continue to play soccer while pursuing a degree in science.

I have been playing soccer since the age of four, and it has always been one of my favorite hobbies. In my time at Brandeis University, I have continued to play soccer as a center-back.

I have been recognized with the 2022 New England Soccer Journal's Starting 11, the University Athletic Association All-Academic Award in 2022, and the College Sports Communicators Academic All-District Award in 2022.

Regardless of the challenges I faced on the field, I have always prioritized my studies and hope to attend graduate school in the future for research. I have chosen to study abroad this summer in Costa Rica through the program CIEE, where I will not only be taking classes but I will also be conducting my own research and exploring the rainforest ecosystem.

I decided to study abroad this summer as a way to continue studying and playing soccer during the academic year in addition to experiencing a new country, culture, and different landscape.

I worked this past winter and spring with the study abroad staff to decide which summer abroad program to apply to. I knew I wanted a program with an opportunity to pursue research, but I also wanted a different experience where I could explore and spend time in nature.

After applying and being accepted into this program, I have spent the past month preparing to spend the entire summer in a foreign country, up until my return a few days before preseason. I am excited to share my journey with you!

July 10, 2023

The trip to Costa Rica was very smooth and I even met other study abroad students in different programs on both my connecting flights! As soon as all of the students participating in the Council On International Educational Exchange's (CIEE) study abroad program arrived in Costa Rica, we left for la Estación Biologica, the research station in the middle of Monteverde's Cloud Forest.
The first few days were filled with exploring the private trails leading to the top of the mountain and getting to know our new classmates. Soon enough, we were immersed in the field as our classroom and learned all about different local plant and animal species as part of one of our classes. We then traveled to La Selva Biological Research Station and Reserve to conduct group research projects (my group looked at Bromeliads) as well as explore the lowland tropical rainforest's biodiversity. While we learned about ecosystem dynamics in the course Tropical Biology and Conservation, we have been learning about sustainable farming, agriculture, composting, water purification, and other sustainable practices on various day trips to new, forward-thinking farms and businesses in Costa Rica.
In addition, we have been learning Spanish, and we are currently transitioning to developing our own independent research projects. We also traveled to San Gerardo, a secluded biological station in the Children's Eternal Cloud Forest Reserve, to develop these ideas and explore another new ecosystem. 
Between traveling and researching, I have been able to run to and from the local town, Santa Elena, as well as explore the paths within the forest with trail running to stay in shape for the fall soccer season. As a small group of 12, we were able to travel to Tamarindo and spend the weekend exploring a tourist town and beach on our weekend off.
So far, I have been enjoying my time here exploring nature, better understanding tropical biodiversity, conservation efforts, and getting to know new, amazing people. I am most excited about my research project and can't wait to share more!

AUGUST 10, 2023
As I am almost done with my experience here in Costa Rica, I wanted to share what the last few weeks have been like and what I have left planned for the remaining week.
So far, I have learned so much about the culture and conservation efforts in Costa Rica. For the past few weeks, we took our final exams and have been conducting our own research projects in the field. I chose to investigate the effect of percent colonization of mycorrhizae on the above-ground and belowground biomass of two species of tree saplings (Quercus insignis-a species of oak and Palicourea padifolia-a species of coffee). Mycorrhizae are fungi that grow on the root system of plants and help them survive and grow. Similar to trees, mycorrhizae also sequester carbon from the earth's atmosphere (something that could potentially mitigate climate change). To conduct this research, I collected sapling samples from the forest and brought them to the lab. Here, I was able to stain root samples from each plant to visualize the mycorrhizae and calculate the percent colonization (Figure 1). I also measured the height of the samples and their above-ground (stem and leaves) and below-ground (roots) biomass by drying and weighing the samples. I conducted a detailed analysis of the data and made many findings, one of which is the difference in percent colonization between species (Figure 2). I am currently in the process of writing a research paper on this topic and am excited to finish and share the other findings when it is complete. 
Figure 1. Method of calculating the percent mycorrhizae colonization of a root sample. The individual mycorrhizae (dark blue spots) are circled in red for visualization at Estación Biológica, Costa Rica.
Figure 2. Relationship between percent colonization of mycorrhizae and sapling species at La Estación Biológica, Costa Rica. Palicourea padifolia (orange) had increased percent colonization with an average of 19% compared to Quercus insignis (blue) saplings with an average of 13%.
As my experience comes to a close, there are a few more exciting things I can look forward to. I have been streaming the Women's World Cup and zooming to watch with friends and family. We are traveling to Playa Herradura this weekend to relax on the beach before we edit our research for our final submissions and prepare presentations for the research symposium the next week. Then, my family is visiting and we are going to travel and sightsee before preseason.
This experience and immersive education style exploring nature while learning has taught me so much more than I could've imagined. Not only did I learn about ecology, biodiversity, ecotourism, agrofarming, and living with the land, but I also gained field research experience, a topic I wish to pursue in the future. Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse and beautiful locations I have ever visited and I am grateful I had this opportunity.