Here is an essay I had to write for college, it's a great review of how the trip made me feel and the impact it had on me...
This past summer, I spent a month traveling in Costa Rica with Global Works, a community service-based adventure program for high school students. I wanted to indulge myself, experience new things, improve my Spanish, and maybe do a little volunteer work. Luckily, I found much more than that. I have participated in other teen tours, but I never came away from a trip feeling like I did after this one.
While in Cuipilapa, a small village in the Guanacaste region, we worked every single day, from early light until dark, on the community center building. We cleaned and swept the floors, scraped rust from the fencing along the outside of the building, and sanded 40 tables and 65 chairs. We painted the entire inside and outside of the center. As we worked, the village children would gather around us, giggling while trying to communicate to us in the little English they knew, while we responded back in what we thought was our impeccable, surely unaccented Spanish. After a while, the children didn’t just watch. Seeing us hard at work influenced them to help, too, taking pride and ownership in fixing up their community. I had similar experiences during the other projects our group worked on, such as when we dug up wet mud in the rainforest to clear a 1.5-mile path to a breathtaking waterfall.
Although I spent hours working to improve the 3 different areas we visited in Costa Rica, I had the most transforming experience during my homestay with the Fonseca Family. The Fonseca Family has lived in their small village of 100 inhabitants for their entire lives. The Fonsecas felt themselves very fortunate because they were the only family with a TV, despite the fact that it only offered one channel! To me, their house felt like a mansion because of the things it was filled with: laughter, love for one another, and happiness. But what really floored me was how they welcomed me into their home and into their lives. They had no knowledge of my life at home, how much money or status my family may or may not have, what my reputation might be, what my school and town are like, or how good or bad my grades are. No idea, and they didn’t care. All they knew about me was what I brought from home – myself. I had my smile, my valiant efforts to speak their language, and my willingness to throw myself into their lives. At dinner, they constantly offered me food, wanting to be sure I had enough; at bedtime, they brought blanket upon blanket, to make sure I was comfortable. This sense of acceptance, purely for who I was on my own, without my friends, my family, and the trappings of my life at home, taught me that I didn’t need a warm shower, fancy clothes, or a flat screen TV. I only need myself, and people whom I care about and who care about me.
I have noticed that people in other countries seem to be happier than people in the US. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but while I was in Costa Rica, it was one of the happiest times of my life. Perhaps it was because I chose to engage rather than just pass through, connecting with people and having an impact on the community, rather than being a tourist or visitor. Perhaps it was the simple lifestyle, the ability to feel rich without having a lot of material things. Life occurs at a slower pace, friends and family spend time together rather than on their cell phones, and people choose to see the positive, rather than the negative, in others. Most likely, however, it was the experience of connecting with my own self, seeing what makes me happy, what I am capable of, and the kind of person I want to be.
On my last night with the Fonseca Family, we trudged through the rainforest, collecting our ingredients for that night’s dinner. We found vegetables of all kinds, sugar cane, and even medicines from fresh plants. As we prepared the meal, I found myself standing together with mother Rosa, rather than sitting outside with my friends. We shared just the occasional word or two, communicating in other ways, as we fried fresh banana chips and created a lasting masterpiece in my memory.
...to include all the amazing detail I had to combine a few things like the homestay and one of the rainforest trips, but it doesn't take away from the truly amazing experience I had, which I at least think is very apparent in this essay.