Magic in Costa Rica
Meet Amber, a CCS volunteer in Costa Rica. We're pleased to share her memorable experience with us in Guanacaste!
My service trip to Costa Rica through CCS was hands down the best week of my life. For me to fully explain how this trip impacted me, I would have to publish a book. But here’s some insight on the trip that changed everything got me. With 12 of my fellow IUPUI honors students, we enrolled in a study abroad service learning course. The purpose of our class was to gain a better understanding of the culture and society in Costa Rica while using cross-cultural communication skills in professional interactions. Little did we know that we were going to gain that and much much more.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Daniel, our program leader, who would soon come to feel like part of our family. On the hour bus ride to our home base, he told us all about the people of Costa Rica, where we were staying, and what to expect. I was shocked by his incredibly personable charisma; I was even more in awe when I discovered myself that everyone in Costa Rica has a similar friendly open-hearted persona.
The service element of our trip was completed at both Cartagena and Tempate Elementary Schools. This allowed our group to finally have the chance to go beyond the textbook and get an in-depth understanding of the current education system in Costa Rica. We taught grades K-6 a variety of English lessons, conducted dental exams for all students and taught the importance of good hygiene and dental practices. Working at these schools opened my mind and heart to so many new experiences and perspectives. My first-day teaching I was initially a little nervous due to my lack of Spanish speaking skills, but it’s amazing how quickly language barriers will break down when your heart is in the right place. Even without extensive knowledge of the Spanish language, I was able to form connections with the students that I will never forget. We bonded over teaching each other new words and laughing at the way we acted it out. Teaching grades K-6 allowed me to meet a lot of the students at these schools. I fell in love with meeting new people; hearing about their families and telling them about mine, and the look of wonder on their faces when I told them I took an airplane to get to Costa Rica! Words cannot describe the feeling of getting to see how excited the students were to learn English from us. One day we walked in and our students started chanting ENG-LISH, ENG-LISH, ENG-LISH all together, at that moment I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Never in my life have I felt like I was making more of an impact than while I was teaching in Costa Rica. Every student got a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a free dental exam, which made my heart so full because it was some of the first times that these kids have ever even seen a dentist. The students I met were the kindest I’ve had the chance to meet, I felt so incredibly lucky to be in the presence of their shine.
This trip made me realize how often I take for granted resources, people, and life in general. I had the opportunity to meet so many amazing new friends thanks to the two student exchanges we had planned with local universities. This allowed me to practice my Spanish skills, help them with their English skills, and make friends that I still keep in touch with. We ended up bonded so well with a group of students, they joined us on our service all week! The opportunity to communicate with students my own age was what I enjoyed the most about this trip. I became so close with the friends that I had made; I am already making plans to go back and visit them! Everyone I met in Costa Rica was happy, genuine, & kind in the purest way, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
CCS had the most incredible cultural excursions planned for us. I got to see exactly why Costa Rica is famous for their eco-tourism, including a tour of Diria Coffee Plantation, visiting two of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to, surfing in the Pacific Ocean, hiking the rainforest surrounding Miravalles Volcano, and taking a natural volcanic mud bath followed by a dip in natural hot and cold springs.
On our last night, the friends we had made at the University came to visit us. It was so fun talking with the friends we had spent our week with, comparing our lifestyles, and sharing our life experiences. When the time came for them to finally leave, I didn’t have the right words to explain that a piece of my heart would always be with them in Costa Rica. But the tears streaming down our faces said the unspoken words none of us knew how to communicate.
I grew as a person more from this experience than any other. I’ve learned how to adapt to situations, be more resourceful, flexible (even under a lot of stress), and to enjoy life for what I have. I had no idea how hard it would be adjusting to being back in the United States. Being back in my country, I have a completely different perspective of the world. My attitude and feelings towards my country, culture, and society are so different now. Being immersed in an entirely new culture made me realize there is so much out there in the world for me to see and be inspired by. I would encourage everyone and anyone to step outside your comfort zone, do something bigger than yourself, and do service work abroad! Although I was the one serving the community, I gained more from this experience than I could ever give back.
I truly fell in love with the lifestyle I had adapted to in Costa Rica. I thought I would be happy to have AC, hot water, and my own bed again; but having all those things brought me little enjoyment compared to what I experienced in Costa Rica. From the moment I got home I missed the slow-paced lifestyle that allows for a deep appreciation of life, rich culture, and kindness found everywhere in Costa Rica. I can’t wait to go back later this year. Until then... ¡Pura Vida! ♥️