I was eager to spend the summer going into my senior year with friends, but was urged by my parents to attend the Global Routes program in Costa Rica. I had the opportunity to fundraise to build a community center for a small town "El Roble" south of San Isidro. I knew this experience was going to be more rustic and rural than when I had been exposed to, but was suddenly motivated by the concept of helping a neighborhood in the middle of the jungle gain access to resources I was already accustomed to. After a week of getting acquainted with my fellow Global Routes volunteers, by helping to preserve the rainforest in Monteverde, (mixed in with fun activities, zip lining, hiking, hot springs etc), we reached the town we were organized to help. Everyone in my program was paired and set up to live with a host family. At the top of a steep dirt hill, 15 min walk from the main road in town, my new friend and I were assigned a room outside the main house with a queen sized bed draped in mosquito netting with Los Abuelos. I loved the expansive views of the greenest rolling hills of Costa Rica. Before we started our building project, I remember Los Abuelos prepared chicken soup fresh from the coop. Although an authentic experience, after watching this process, I excused myself from eating most of the meat during this trip.
The community of El Roble were so excited for us to help them, that they were saturated with builders and gave us a dual task to teach english and make art with the local kids. The town was very small, everyone knew each other well, there was a little pulperia where everyone socialized during soccer games. The food was so good, but the people were even better. Between getting to know each other activities within our global routes group, bonding with the locals, and helping El Roble build their center (making cement by hand), my understanding of community came to fruition. What I got out of the experience far exceeded my expectations. My Spanish improved significantly, my appreciation for a more simple way was recognized, and my interaction with new friends and foreigners has changed my approach to traveling and sense of community.
Leaving the town was extremely emotional for everyone. Our guides gave us regular updates about our families over the following years, and I still keep in touch with some friends made during this summer 19 years ago. It's exciting to know this program still provides the same experIence for teens today! I would recommend this program to anyone looking for a rewarding experience beyond the status quo.