Alexa Stickel

Expedition Leader, No Barriers Youth

Alexa was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and moved to Miami, Florida, when she was two years old. As a young girl, her travel experiences involved visiting family members in Switzerland and Spain. The travel bug didn’t hit her hard until she was 16 years old, when she set out on her first journey to Latin America. She went to Ecuador with a student travel organization, built a community center for a small village, and spent one month sleeping on the floor of a local family’s home with 11 other girls. The experience taught her the power of human connection across culture and language—she did not speak Spanish at the time, but quickly learned that communication isn’t always verbal, and experienced firsthand the strong, genuine bonds that can be forged between people of all ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic conditions. After being welcomed with such open arms into a foreign culture, she found any way she could to get to know more of the world: By the end of high school, she had visited the Bahamas, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Morocco, and Jamaica, promising to never leave a country without making a new friend.

But travel and meeting new people are not Alexa’s only passions: Ever since she can remember, she has loved animals and nature. In elementary school, she frequented the pond at her local public library to observe the Muscovy ducks and White ibis who gathered there, imagining she was Jane Goodall collecting behavioral data. In middle school, she graduated to watching Animal Planet constantly and used what she learned about pet behavior to train her own house cats to jump through hoops, stand on their hind legs, and come when called. Once in high school, and after getting back from Ecuador, Alexa had reaffirmed her belief in the goodness of people and made a commitment to helping others in need. She directed her energies toward community service—she taught a yoga class for toddlers of low-income families, was an American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Team Captain, raising over $10,000 to fund Breast Cancer research, and was the Urgent Action Coordinator of her high school’s Amnesty International Chapter. As a high school senior, she was fascinated by human behavior; she wanted to learn all about why people do what they do, so she chose to major in Psychology at the University of Florida.

During her time at the University of Florida, Alexa studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain, for three months, attending classes at the University of Barcelona and focusing on Spanish language acquisition. While studying in Spain, Alexa seized the opportunity to visit France, Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Italy, spent many a noche en vela, and — in keeping with her promise — met MANY new friends!

Half way through college, however, the direction of her career and her life changed drastically. Combining her long-standing love for nature and for travel, Alexa decided to enroll in a three-week long Tropical Ecology field course in Costa Rica. While exploring field stations throughout the country and executing her own research projects, she re-discovered the naturalist within her. The experience inspired her to pursue a career in the natural sciences, and she graduated from the university with a concentration in Animal Behavior and a minor in Zoology.

After graduation, Alexa was admitted to a 6-month-long internship as Resident Naturalist at the University of Georgia’s Costa Rica campus: one of the field stations she had visited as a student. She was intoxicated by the magic of the cloud forest—the mist, the exotic soundscape, the colorful birds, and green as far as the eye can see. Within her first two weeks living there, she was already asking her supervisor for extension of her internship.

By following her passions, opportunities began to present themselves. A few months into her internship, Alexa found work as a teaching assistant for the same Tropical Ecology course that originally brought her to Monteverde. She now works as a freelance naturalist guide and as a course coordinator for a nonprofit Costa Rican organization, overseeing students on study abroad courses that focus on Tropical Ecology and Conservation.

Once an enchanted student, she now calls the small farming community of San Luis de Monteverde home. She is fluent in Spanish and lives in a humble casita behind a dairy farm that backs up against the famous Monteverde cloud forest reserve. She gets her eggs from chickens who share her backyard, and when she needs a cup of milk she asks the neighbor – to borrow her cow! On her days off, she can be found bird-watching from her hammock, drinking coffee with her friends and neighbors, dancing salsa, cumbia, and merengue, and exploring cloud forest trails in search of birds, monkeys, and frogs.

One question Alexa is often asked by students: Do you ever get homesick? She responds, “How could I? I get visitors from the U.S. all the time!” During Spring and Fall, Baltimore orioles, summer tanagers, and a rainbow of warblers fly down from North America to pay their visits to the fruiting trees around Alexa’s casita, reminding her that home is just a few wing beats away.

Alexa is happiest showing and telling everything she knows about her beautiful, cloud forest home. She believes that knowledge truly is power, and feels fulfilled and rejuvenated every time she can inspire excitement about nature in someone else, of any age. In order to learn to protect the natural world, you have to learn to love it first!

TAGS

Expedition Leaders, Youth

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