By Carlo Castillo
This May, I was fortunate enough to embark on a study abroad trip to Costa Rica. The topic of the trip was environmental sustainability and the itinerary featured trips to national parks, nature preserves, a wind farm, and coffee plantations. The trip highlighted Costa Rica’s extraordinary biodiversity and progressive environmental attitude.
As my first independent experience abroad and first time in Latin America, the study abroad certainly expanded my horizons. I feel that I have a more positive view of the world, having experienced the richness of Costa Rica’s landscape and wildlife as well as the hospitality of its people. My worldview was also expanded by interacting with many different people. I learned that the motto of Costa Rica is Pura Vida, which translates to “pure life”. This expresses an outlook on life encouraging people to appreciate the moment and try new things. I was certainly affected by this, and I’m more conscious of the need to maintain a good work-life balance and make the most of my opportunities in college.
The most striking aspect of Costa Rica would have to be the amazing wildlife. Never before have I seen such variety of flora and fauna. We saw sloths, caimans, monkeys, tree frogs, armadillos, crocodiles, and birds in abundance. Though only 0.03% of the world’s landmass, Costa Rica contains 6% of its species. The experiences of the study abroad brought this fact to life and the opportunity to see the wildlife in person was unforgettable. It truly opened my eyes to the richness of life on this planet, and emphasized how we must strive to protect this gift for future generations. Seeing how the people of Costa Rica embraced the environment as a part of their heritage was inspiring, and I hope that more countries follow their example.
Having the opportunity to travel with a tour group also pushed my boundaries. I traveled with a very diverse group of students and became friends with my local guide and bus driver. It could be challenging at times to be with students who were much different than myself, but I learned a lot about accepting differences and being comfortable in my own skin. I ended up meeting people from all sorts of backgrounds at Ohio State, and I learned to find common ground. I also really loved interacting with our local guide and driver. It helped make the trip an authentic experience and I picked up a lot of local slang and customs. Our guides were also really wonderful people, and showed how the human spirit can transcend cultures and borders.
The motto of Pura Vida also had a big impact on me. I saw how the people lived side by side with such rich natural heritage. The wildlife and landscape wasn’t just there to be preserved, but genuinely enjoyed by the common people. The riches of the country were accessible for all to appreciate, and I got the sense that Costa Ricans took full advantage of that. Locals were present whenever we went places, and admission rates were often lowered for them. We also saw many schoolchildren taking field trips, emphasizing how important environmental education was.
These changes I experienced have had a big impact on who I am as a person. The lessons I learned are definitely applicable in many areas of my life. Through my interactions with others, I learned it’s important to be accepting of differences always treat people with respect. During my interactions with locals, I learned that the richest of spirits and the kindest of souls are often found among the common people. The Costa Rican outlook of Pura Vida has also challenged me to be more appreciative of the present. I can often get so caught up in studying that I forget to appreciate all that Columbus and Ohio State have to offer. I’ve definitely been inspired to make the most of my time as a student, especially outside the classroom.