During a typical Thursday all school meeting, I tend to zone out. Eager for lunch, for movement, to catch up with the people I haven’t seen since Friday. But when Ms. Davis announced the Costa Rica trip, my head shot up from my shoulders. I had really only traveled once before, and never out of the United States. All I had to do to apply was write an essay answering why I wanted and deserved a spot on the Costa Rica trip. Well, that was easy enough. So I did.
For the past four years of my high school career, I’ve been plagued with the daunting question we all avoid; what do you want to do? More than anything, I want to travel. I could never really tell you why I knew I wanted to travel, until I went to Costa Rica.
Our group of sixteen from Kents Hill School boarded a plane in Boston and made our way to San Jose. I didn’t set many expectations, in fear of being let down. But, truth is, I think that this experience would have exceeded all of them. The first day, we met with local tour guides who led us around downtown, pointing out big landmarks and leading us through the Central Market. I felt out of place. I know you’re thinking “well, yeah, you’re a tourist.” Maybe because of my lack of traveling, but more likely because of my geographical status, I had never seen myself as a tourist before. I had never really felt this out-of-place, at least not like this.
The following days, we were immersed into Costa Rican culture in a myriad of ways. We ate at the local hotspots, we made art with members from an indigenous community, and we volunteered with young children from a town called Purral. The only words I knew in Spanish were “hola,” “gracias,” and “por favor.” And yet, without my knowing, I began to make connections. Not just with the people, but with the place. On the last day, we sat together and shared our favorite moments. I cried, finding myself overwhelmed with emotions. I had felt so disconnected on the first day, and I left feeling more secure than I ever had been.
In between, we went zip lining through the jungle. We saw sloths and monkeys and birds the colors of the rainbow. We saw 500-year old trees. We drank coffee from a Costa Rican farm. We swam in hot springs. We covered ourselves in dirt taking a mud bath, we laughed together, and we bonded. We started as a group of people who hardly knew each other, and I left with 15 new faces that are now friends. Instead of walking by these people on campus with only a friendly wave, I stop and talk to them, or shout “pura vida” to them as we cross paths.
I would never have thought that a place so far away could bring me home. Not in the literal sense, of course, but figuratively. Every moment was filled with awe, with meaningful conversations, with true appreciation and vulnerability. There was one moment when a few members of the trip and I were talking about ethical traveling, about going to a place not to see it, but to be immersed in it, to appreciate it and learn from it. That’s what this trip was for me. I went to see Costa Rica, and I left having been immersed in it, able to appreciate it and definitely having learned from it. Most of all, I learned a place can have an impact on you, just as you can have an impact on a place. And, as long as you tune into that, as long as you are present in your place in the world, you can grow. I will forever be thankful for this experience and the people I got to share it with. Pura Vida.