Buck-i-Serv and the OAC Costa Rica trip January 2016

 

With the money I received from STEP, I went on a ten day backpacking and service trip in Costa Rica. The first half of the trip focused on hiking and getting to know the local people by staying in homestays. We also participated in service activities along the way such as painting a school in Uvita, Costa Rica.

While I had been on service trips prior to my time in Costa Rica, this was the first time I participated without knowing anyone. I was really nervous going into it but established strong connections right away due to the format of the trip. It made me realize that going out on my own in other areas of my life is very doable and I should dive in to other opportunities. It also showed me that the best way to connect with others—even through a language barrier—is through face to face contact. We were without phones and most technology which allowed us to be present and in tune with one another throughout the entire trip.

I became more confident and ready to try new things after my backpacking experience in Costa Rica and I felt my worldview shift as well. I have traveled in Central America before, but never been immersed in a culture like I was in Costa Rica. We stayed with families who were a part of a network of households that gave student groups like ours places to stay while they traveled. Because of this, we were lucky enough to get to know several families along the way, each of which shared their culture and language with us. We learned how to make cheese, how to harvest sugar, where the best parts of the river to swim were, and even how to slaughter a chicken. I think I had assumptions about the trip and the region before I went but having the opportunity to get to know the local people and live with them showed me just how valuable sharing different cultures with each other is.

There were several aspects during my trip that allowed me to feel a positive shift in my life. There were moments that challenged me both physically and mentally on my trip to Costa Rica. The main elements that contributed to the importance of my trip were going out of my comfort zone socially, on adventure excursions, and having the opportunity to immerse myself in the Costa Rican culture.

A major challenge for me before ever leaving for Costa Rica was coming into a new group of people without knowing anyone at all. There were a few people who knew each other a little bit, but mostly we all signed up for the trip by ourselves. We had meetings before to learn about the trip and get to know one another, but nothing can really prepare you for ten days with strangers. While I was nervous to introduce myself and was pretty quiet at first, I quickly opened up because of our trip. During the hiking duration of our trip, everyone bonded very quickly because of the unique circumstances we were under. It taught me not to be afraid to go out on a limb and be more outgoing in other parts of my life and I definitely noticed a change in myself when I returned home. I noticed that I was more talkative during my day to day life at home like in class or meeting people at work. Costa Rica made me a more confident and outgoing person overall.

Beyond meeting new people, the adventure aspect of the trip as well as learning about the local culture made me more confident. We backpacked, went repelling, rafting, showered in a river, and did so many other things I would have never had the opportunity to do at home. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was essential to making the most of this trip, and I would not know how much I love most of those things without my time in Costa Rica. A lot of our time was spent interacting and living with local families as well. We stayed with our guides’ friends and families who opened their homes, fed us, and taught us things like harvesting sugar and making cheese. It was awesome to get to know people from Costa Rica as closely as another trip would not have allowed us to do so. The hospitality and importance of family was truly amazing to see and definitely contributed to the shift I felt after the trip of feeling more confident and accepted.

Trying to describe what my trip to Costa Rica meant to me is next to impossible in four paragraphs. To try and sum it up I vividly remember a moment of reflection I had on our longest hike of 8 miles. We stopped and took a break and I had been thinking about my previous year, one that had not been easy (part of the reason I wanted to go on this trip in the first place). I looked around at the mountains and lush green jungle surrounding me and felt so small, but in such a way where it was comforting. I felt at peace and really happy and confident in my decision to spend the first part of 2016 off the grid in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Without the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with the funds from STEP I would not have made the strides I did to become a more confident, happier person.

After returning from Costa Rica my future goals of law school and working in a nonprofit one day were solidified for me. I had a lot of time while hiking to reflect on what I want to do with school and knew I was on the right path as an English major.

A real example of this is when I was awarded a trip to New York City to a Human Rights conference and film festival through the department of English. We often get emails detailing opportunities for students to apply to and I never applied because I thought I would not get them anyway. Shortly after returning home for Costa Rica, I realized I had nothing to lose and applied for the trip to New York. Without the confidence and “Why not?” mentality I gained in Costa Rica I would have never applied and been able to go to an eye opening conference, film festival, and site see all for no cost to me. My backpacking trip in Costa Rica has opened up other educational opportunities for me because of a newfound level of self-assuredness in my goals.

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Guatemala Winter Break 2016

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In the winter of the 2015-2016 school year, I had the opportunity to travel with BUCK-I-SERV to the city of Antigua, Guatemala with 10 other OSU students.  BUCK-I-SERV partners with two non-profit organizations, HANDS and Constru Casa, to bring students in to build houses for families living in poverty in Guatemala.  There are a few areas of consideration before a family can be approved for housing such as proof of income, willingness to work, current living conditions, and other various factors.  On this particular trip, my peers and I constructed a home on the outskirts of Antigua for a single mother of two and three additional family members.  In 36 hours, with help from three masons and the mother’s son, our group constructed over half of the house.  We learned how to lay foundation, mix cement, and literally build a house from the ground up!

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Immersing myself in the city of Antigua has allowed me to learn parts of the culture I never thought I would know.  Living in the city gave me the opportunity to brush up on my Spanish skills.  I learned several new Spanish words each day and by the time I came home I would find myself speaking Spanish with family and friends.  I even go to Hebrew, a language I have been studying most of my life, class and struggle differentiating between the two.  Not only did I learn some of the Spanish language on my trip, but I also learned a lot about the food from Guatemala.  Each day our host mother, Elvira, would make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  We would eat fresh fruit and delicious Guatemalan meals such as Tostadas and a group favorite, “chicken heaven.”  I made an effort to learn about each dish and even came home with a few recipes!  One heartbreaking thing I learned from being in Antigua was how different life can look outside of America.  On the outskirts of Antigua, where my group and I volunteered, we passed homes made from bamboo posts and tin roofs.  The water running to each home was not clean and we had to buy water from the grocery store to drink.  In America, I take for granted having a roof over my head, access to clean water, and an overall safe environment.  Traveling to Guatemala opened my eyes to the disparity between the United States and third world countries.  Each time I reach for the faucet handle I can’t help but think of Guatemala.

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Studying Arts Management and Hebrew has introduced me to the non-profit world and allowed me to dive into a culture outside of the United States.  However, participating in this trip has allowed me to have firsthand experience with both of those topics.  I have always known that I wanted to spend my life travelling and helping others, but this trip has truly solidified those feelings and helped me set a goal for the future.  I have already scheduled another volunteer trip abroad and cannot wait to immerse myself in another culture while helping those less fortunate than myself.

This trip has had an incredible personal impact on me.  My group and I worked each day from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon.  Although the work was quite strenuous and required a great amount of physical labor, my group and I remained optimistic and gave it our all each and every day throughout the week.  I remember one of my peers to be exceedingly motivated.  This individual’s desire to work hard instantly rubbed off on to me and drove me to push myself every day.  My group’s (seemingly) endless amount positivity and perseverance not only impacted my experience on the trip, but has made an extremely significant impact on my life today.  I have come back to America with a more positive and motivated outlook on life.  Instead of questioning myself and my surroundings, I have become more confident and motivated to succeed.

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It is very difficult for me to pick my favorite part of this trip, but I would have to say that it was bonding with the people of Antigua.  No matter where I was in the city, I could’ve been in the market, working on the house with the masons, or simply staying in with the host family, I always felt a part of the community.  When going out to the markets or on the streets of Antigua, my peers and I felt like we were home.  Everyone opened their shop doors to us and no one made us feel out place.  When working with the masons, I would struggle a lot with the language barrier.  However, instead of getting angry about not understanding each other, we would laugh together and use our bodies as a tool of expression.  With my host family, Elvira and Enrique, I would stay in after dinner and help them clean up just to hear their stories.  They taught me about love, loss, and how each person who stays in their house becomes a part of their family.  I truly felt at home in Antigua.  The people there are genuine and full of love and that was no doubt my favorite part.

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