Costa Rica

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. My STEP project was a BuckIserv trip to Costa Rica. On this trip we did service for a small town in Costa Rica, and various activities such as whitewater rafting, and surfing.
  2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? I have been out of the country before, but only to England and Canada, so this trip was the first time that I truly experienced a drastically different culture. It was cool to learn all about the similarities and differences between life in Costa Rica, and the US. I was surprised to see that even in the remote town that we visited, they still had cable, smartphones, and social media. I also thought a lot about traveling to different countries, and how the trip that you take can affect your perception of that country. I appreciated my trip to Costa Rica, but our experience might not have been representative of the way the whole country operates, due to the fact that we were in such a small, remote area. I would love to go back to a more established portion of Costa Rica and compare the cultures of the two areas.
  3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation. 

The fact that we stayed in such a remote area was definitely a big part of what made this a transformative experience. We had two guides, who grew up and lived in the area. Learning from someone who grew up there was really impactful. They were able to answer any and all questions that we had throughout the trip. I also enjoyed how we got to ask the homestay families questions at the end of each night. We truly got to learn about the culture straight from the source which was a cool experience. 

The people that were on the trip with me also made a really big impact on the success of the trip. In general, we all were ready for any challenge, and all got along really well. Both the faculty and student leader were very helpful in getting us all through the trip. Our leaders held daily reflections that really made us think about our experience, which helped to make the trip more impactful. 

The adventure aspects of the trip also made it transformative. The trip was definitely a lot more physical than I expected. I like to hike, and I am very active, but the physicality of the trip was a challenge. The hike that we did on the first day of the trip was very intense. It definitely gave me a perspective on how difficult backpacking actually is. I would love to do a true backpacking trip one day, and this gave me an idea of what really goes in to that. 

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans. 

I have always seen pictures and heard about service trips, but I have never experienced one. Now I have first hand experience, and know what it is like to travel abroad, and serve in the community. I also had the opportunity to try many things that were on my bucket list. One thing that I would have done differently if I could choose my STEP signature project again would be to choose a project where the service is more relevant to my educational and career goals. I hope to be a PA, so doing a service trip with a health care focus would have been a very cool experience. That being said, I still did get to experience my first service trip, which achieved my basic goals. 

Service and Community Learning- Buck-I-Serv in NOLA

For my STEP signature project, I went to New Orleans with a Buck-I-Serv team. While there, we stayed in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area that was particularly affected by Hurricane Katrina and was never given the opportunities to recover like their more affluent counterparts. Our goal was to work on the home that was being rebuilt for one of the victims of the hurricane. During our time, we learned a ton about craftsmanship and what it actually takes to build a house, but more about the human spirit. The residents of the Lower Ninth Ward are not bitter or angry that they were left behind during the rebuild of New Orleans, but rather hopeful for the future. They want to see changes that prevent this kind of tragedy in the future and are looking forward to seeing their homes and city restored to their former beauty.

Originally, I was worried that I would feel guilt for showing up in a city I didn’t know and not being able to contribute to its restoration. As a Public Health and Anthropology major, I understand the threat of volun-tourism and desperately wanted to avoid that. In the end, we did work that I was satisfied with and truly felt helped the family whose home we worked on.

Mary, the woman who owned the house that we worked on, was on site every day, arms open for hugs and hands ready for building. I learned that she was a retired hairdresser who was currently living across the river with her son while her home was being raised back on the ground that it had formerly stood. She explained that the effects of Hurricane Katrina could have been avoided, it just happened within the perfect storm. The damage was truly caused by the exact right conditions lining up to create horrible destruction. The organization that we worked within, was AMAZING. They operate out of a small house where the volunteers meet every day before heading to various sites. We baked Christmas cookies for every family that worked with them on a day that it was too rainy to work, which helped to solidify what an amazingly tight-knit community the Lower Ninth Ward is.

On-site, I helped to install eleven windows, three doors, and siding. While it is no easy task to not only learn how to use power tools on the job, but actually construct a house when you’ve never so much as built a bookshelf, it was so much fun. Our lead contractor- Darren, made us feel like we had always been a part of the team and like we were capable. His confidence in us reflected in our confidence in our work and led to us accomplishing so much during that week. Darren has kept in touch and sent us progress pictures as the house gets closer and closer to completion. Knowing that we had a part in that is truly amazing.

The change that I saw in myself, was a humbling towards what truly matters. The Lower Ninth Ward has so little and was given basically no help and I know that I would be angry. I am angry for them. But the people of the Lower Ninth Ward do not want anger and pity. They want change in policy that will stop something like the damage of Hurricane Katrina from happening again, and to move on with their lives. I learned the expanses of human grace, and my skills with a circular saw.

Moving forward, I can’t wait to apply what I have learned academically, as Hurricane Katrina and its effects on housing are definitely a public health issue and similar to ones that I may encounter professionally. I also will carry a demand for the best care in policy to ALL of my fellow humans as I move forward and hopefully find myself in a place to evoke changes in policy. I also feel a personal shift in my world view. Nothing is as bad as it seems so long as you maintain hope. 

Buck-I-Serv: Farm to Cup Honduras

Over the 2018-19 winter break, I traveled to Honduras through Buck-I-Serv. While this was a service trip, a big part of it was also learning about the culture (through things like food, dancing, and visiting markets) and their role in the coffee industry (through talking to local farmers and visiting processing locations).

Our first day there, we drove out into the mountains to begin building a house for a coffee picker named Jesus, who lived in poor conditions and had recently been in an accident rendering him unable to work. When we got there, there were already about 15 other people, many of them Hondurans, who were ready to work together to finish the project as fast as possible. It was explained to us that some of these people had houses built for them at one point and came to pass it on. This was important as it can give the new homeowner more pride and appreciation than when a group of foreigners comes in, does everything, and leaves. I realized how important it is to have that insight when helping others.

The next day the weather took a turn for the worse, so almost all our projects got canceled. I was really bummed, but the attitude of the other Hondurans was very different. Over the next few days, we spent time on smaller projects as needed, but the purpose shifted more toward learning as much about these people as we could.

The second day we visited a woman’s farm and she and her family taught us about the work they do on a daily basis. They let us pick the coffee, even after explaining how it had to be done in a specific way or it could ruin the rest of the crop. Additionally, they cooked all 12 of us visiting a full meal and we ate with the family. Another evening we gathered with a few local farmers. We asked them questions about their trade and what they want people to know back in the United States. They spoke about passion. Passion is necessary for them because the work is hard and not always profitable. It is difficult sometimes to find fair prices or workers. It was very eye-opening to see how often people can be taken advantage of in that sense. I want to pay more attention to things I am consuming, and now understand the value of fair trade on a whole new level.

From all of these interactions and experiences, what stood out the most was how welcoming everyone was. It made me really think about our own culture, and how we should attempt to move in that direction. Even at Ohio State, there are lots of students from foreign countries, and I wondered if there are things that make them feel welcomed like that. I personally know that I have not gone out of my way to be welcoming, because I assumed the international students would feel overwhelmed or uninterested. I made it a goal to put myself out there in the future. If I can carry this idea not only back to Ohio State, but also to my career or anywhere else I go, I believe I can make a greater impact and in turn be more successful.

Overall, this experience was one I will never forget, between the people I met, the things I saw, the food I tasted, and the knowledge of the world that I gained. I realize that few people have opportunities like this and that it is my responsibility to share what I have learned with those who have not.

Engineering Service Learning in Kpando, Ghana

My STEP signature project was going on a trip to Ghana to research the town of Kpando to learn about the current state of their food production and consumption and what could be improved. We spent 11 days in Ghana, interviewing dozens of people about farming, cooking, and their food consumption habits and issues, and produced a report that will be used by next year’s students to build prototypes to meet the challenges Ghanaians in Kpando face in terms of food production, storage, and consumption.

My view of the world changed dramatically while I was in Ghana. I got to learn firsthand what life is like for people in developing countries. What surprised me more than anything was how happy and friendly everyone was. These people have so much less than we do, yet everyone had a smile on their face and was quick to welcome us into their community and show us how they lived their lives. I also learned a lot about the economic systems at work in these communities and in developing countries, and I was amazed by the mix of ancient traditions and techniques and modernization brought on by huge corporations.

There were many interactions and events during our time in Ghana that led to these changes to my worldview, and changes to myself. First was becoming friends with the people of Kpando during our time there. One of our translators grew up in the children’s home run by the nonprofit we worked with, and we talked with him a lot not just about farming and food storage, but also about himself and what he wanted to do in life. His name was Junior, and he hoped to one day be a pilot. Getting to know people who are so different from you but still seeing what they have in common with you brings about a different level of understanding and compassion towards them and their communities, and it put a very different face on the monolithic idea of “Africa” that I, and many others, have.

On the other hand, we also witnessed how difficult things could be, and how many things we take for granted that they don’t have. We spent a day at a rice farm, learning how the grow and harvest the rice, and the farmers spent all day during the dry season bent over with a sickle cutting down stalks of rice. It was backbreaking labor, and a huge limiting factor in how much they could grow. Even worse, we visited many communities that were drinking from completely unclean water. Some communities had blood in their urine and didn’t even realize it was a problem because it was just how things always were. Doctors in the region were similarly stymied by lack of resources.

Finally, the relationship we built with the leader of the nonprofit redefined my notion of what it means to be a good person. Edem is basically the entire driving force behind UNiTED Projects, which he started from scratch for no purpose other than helping the people of Kpando. He was so selfless and quick to lend a hand to anyone, and his only goal was to make real, meaningful difference for the lives of the children in his children’s home, and for everyone in Kpando.

Seeing all the projects he has ongoing in the community was amazing, but I was also impressed by how humble he was. He was clearly an important and relatively wealthy member of the community, but he was not afraid to get his hands dirty and do the work himself. One day he invited a group of dancers and drummers to perform for us, and they wanted the dirt in the courtyard to be wetted down so that it wouldn’t be dusty. Instead of directing someone else to do it, Edem simply picked up a bucket and started spreading the water himself. Even after seeing all the amazing work he did for the community, this is one of the things that sticks with me the most. I admit that I was somewhat cynical and kept waiting to see some sort of character flaw or shortcoming from him, because surely nobody could be that kind and generous, but I never saw anything but charity and humility from Edem. He is the kind of person I strive to be.

The changes in myself, in my opinion, make me a more understanding and open-minded person. Putting real faces and names on this region of the world made me feel so much closer to them and similar to them, and it will forever impact the way I act and view the world. I do feel like I accomplished my goal of doing something meaningful using the skills I have developed in my engineering program at Ohio State. Even though we did not build anything ourselves, there is no way we would have been able to build anything useful with the knowledge of Kpando we were able to obtain before the trip. The information we collected will enable the next team to actually do something good for the people of Kpando, and I am so proud that I could be a part of this process.

My STEP Project: Completing my Humanitarian Engineering Minor

Name: Thomas Hayden Clark


Type of Project: Service Learning/Community Service 


  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.


My STEP project involved the enrollment in the ENGR 5797.17S – ENGR Service in Ghana course, which was active over the Autumn Semester of 2019, with the service trip for the course taking place from Dec. 27th, 2018, to Jan 7th, 2019. The enrollment in this course allowed me to complete my minor in Humanitarian Engineering, which required an ENGR Service Learning Trip to finalize.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?


Humanitarian Engineering has been a passion for me since I enrolled at OSU, becoming a part of our Honors and Scholars program centered around the field (the Humanitarian Engineering Scholars), and joining our Engineers Without Borders Chapter. After graduating from the Humanitarian Scholars Program, having served as their president in my second year, I knew that humanitarian engineering was going to play a huge role in my life. I decided to complete my minor in humanitarian engineering as soon as possible, which required the enrollment and completion of an engineering service-learning trip.


After the completion of the course, and of my minor, I feel so relieved and thrilled that I was able to undergo this journey at OSU; this STEP project allowed me to achieve a personal goal that has been 3 years in the making, and has even helped land me an internship at a humanitarian engineering focused non-profit for the summer of 2019, thanks to my knowledge in the field and the connections I made during the trip. In no short term, STEP has given me an experience that would have never been possible anywhere else.


  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?


During my academic courses required for my humanitarian engineering minor, I completed Appropriate Technologies for Developing Countries (FABE 5200), taught by Dr. Greg Bixler. Dr. Bixler, in addition to being OSU faculty, is also the co-founder of the humanitarian engineering non-profit Design Outreach. Because of my previous interactions with Dr. Bixler, I was very excited to learn that he was the Resident Director of the ENGR Ghana Service Learning Trip.


Throughout the course of the semester, I learned that Dr. Bixler was looking for an intern for Design Outreach who had knowledge in the world of humanitarian engineering. Having that previous relationship with him, and being in his course that semester, I was able to discuss his internship opportunity with him during the course and during the trip to Ghana, where he could see my potential and expertise firsthand with the fieldwork.


Nearing the end of the trip, I was able to sit down with Dr. Bixler and he decided to take me as his intern for the summer of 2019 at Design Outreach! I am completely ecstatic and excited, and can not wait to put my skills to use during this term of employment with Design Outreach. Because of this trip, and STEP, I was not only able to finish my humanitarian engineering minor, but I was able to procure an internship with a non-profit in that very same field.


  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?


I have always hoped that I was able to turn my love for humanitarian engineering into something that would be viable as a career, and while that is still waiting to be seen, being able to intern at a company that specializes in humanitarian engineering is a sure step in the right direction. Regardless, the experience that I will have this summer will be nonetheless transformational, just as my STEP project was for my future career aspirations.

Buck-I-SERV and OAC Costa Rica: STEP Reflection

Name: Olivia Minnie

Type of Project: Service Learning and Community Service


My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-SERV and OAC trip to Costa Rica. On this trip, we hiked to a town called Brujo in order to complete a community service project. After the service project, where we helped to build the town’s community center, we rafted to the coast where we then surfed.

While in Costa Rica, I learned a great deal about myself, particularly about my physical and mental abilities. I have hiked in the past, but have never participated in activities that required such great physical exertion. On the second day in Costa Rica, our group completed our longest hike, around 12 km, much of which was uphill and in direct sunlight. Up until this day, the hike was the part of the trip that I was most nervous about. However, I began the day with a positive outlook and felt pretty good at the beginning of the hike. Once we got to the part of the hike that was called the “Gringo Killer” by locals, I realized that it was going to be a difficult day. There were multiple times where I thought that I literally could not go any further. I was, however, able to complete the hike. Looking back at this experience, I can now truly appreciate it. I learned that my body is capable of so much more than I give it credit for, and learned to love the feeling of pushing myself physically every day.

Up until my trip to Costa Rica, most of my abroad experience has been in Germany and other European countries. I have never been anywhere like Costa Rica, and have certainly not experienced any country in a way that I did on this trip. For the majority of our trip, we stayed in very remote and rural areas, with our longest stay being in the town of Brujo. By experiencing the country in this way, I was able to learn about a way of life that I was previously unfamiliar with. Many of the homes we stayed in did not have electricity or hot water. Some of the homes were built in a way where large portions of the house were open to the outside. This was so interesting and different from any homes I have lived in before. I came to realize, coming from a privileged lifestyle, the way that the Costa Ricans that I came into contact with lived was no better or worse than the way a typical American lives. Instead, it was just different.

From the moment our trip began, I loved the lifestyle that we experienced in Costa Rica. I would wake up every day no later than 6 AM. I don’t consider myself to be a morning person, but on this trip it was so easy and felt so good to wake up at this time. I would often wake up to the sounds of farm animals outside and the heat of the day beginning. We would eat a delicious breakfast and begin our very active day. Every day was spent discovering new things about the land we were on and the people we were meeting. This meant, that by the end of the day we were all exhausted and I would go to bed by 8:30 or 9 PM. I felt so incredibly stress free and calm as this way of living was such a great contrast to the life I lead typically. I learned about how good it feels to have a truly productive and fulfilling day, and how this impacts my mental wellbeing.

We got to know our Costa Rican guides and their families very well throughout the trip. As we learned more about them and their lives, we learned that if it weren’t for tourism and groups like ours going to Costa Rica, they would have to move their families to the big cities. While this may not seem like a huge deal, the guides’ family was huge and all very close. Many of the people living in Brujo were related to each other in one way or another. I’m sure it would be very difficult for some individuals to move away from their extended family and into the city. Along with this, they all absolutely loved living in the more remote and rural areas we visited. Multiple people I spoke with said they wouldn’t have it any other way, and much preferred their lives in Brujo than in the city. I realized how important tourism can be in a country like Costa Rica, and not just to the very populated areas. Using Authentico Adventures, enriched everyone’s experiences involved. By having a career in tourism, many are able to continue living the life they love. Along with this, I feel so grateful to have experienced Costa Rica the way I did, through this company. I know if I would have gone to Costa Rica on vacation to the typical destinations people go to, I would have never been able to see the areas I did, meet the people I did, or fall in love with the country in the way I was able to.

Going on this trip to Costa Rica, certain aspects of my life were drastically transformed. While I have always planned on having a career in the environment, I realized how much I love being outdoors and experiencing new places. This, in turn, has helped to shape my professional goals. For one, I would like to travel in my work and also would like to have a job that allows for a more active lifestyle, rather than one where I am constantly sitting behind a desk. I also gained so much insight into the way I want to live my life on a daily basis. I want to constantly be looking for new experiences and adventures and finding appreciation in everything I do. After being so used to feeling stressed and on-edge almost constantly, I learned about how my body and mind function in ideal conditions. An important realization in this, was also just the simple fact that I am capable of feeling calm and awake and positive all the time, given the right lifestyle. I realize this was one, 10-day trip and was not necessarily a good representation of “real life”, but I am confident I will be able to incorporate things I learned into my day and improve my life significantly.


Engineering Service Learning in Kpando, Ghana

For my STEP signature project, I participated in an Engineering-Service learning trip where I visited multiple communities around Kpando, Ghana in an attempt to elicit information about their water quality, usage, treatment, and storage practices. In order to do this, I partnered with several other students and interviewed many individuals from each community. This information recorded from these interviews was then compiled to prepare next year’s group in their efforts in installing a long-lasting solution in one of these communities.

This trip completely revolutionized both my life and my understanding of the world around us. Prior to going on this trip, I had never really seen the developing world in a first-hand perspective. I have only seen the portrayals made of it, such as those in videos posted by various charities and non-government organizations (NGOs). However, after having this first-hand experience, I have developed such a great appreciation for appropriate technology, humanitarian engineering, and development work. This project revealed how big of an impact one can have in a developing country with the right tools and mindset. I learned that appropriate technology, if implemented properly, can completely revolutionize the lifestyles and quality of life within a community. For example, often members of a developing community are reliant on an arduous method of accomplishing some task, such as obtaining water, which drains much of their time, money, or other such resources away.

Since such a method requires a lot of time to complete, certain members of the community or family, such as young women, have to stay home, sacrificing their education to help out. Therefore, by providing a less rigorous and time-consuming alternative to go about accomplishing that same task, more individuals are enabled to obtain their education or engage in some other activity that will ultimately result in further development of the community. As such, I have become very interested in developing appropriate solutions, and I now know I want to get more involved in development work.

The most significant contributors to this significant shift in my attitude towards development were interviews with community members, witnessing their lifestyles, and observing failed development projects. If nothing else, every community we visited seemed to have one thing in common: failed development projects. Broken and abandoned water pumps could be spotted in almost every community. In fact, if Kpando was at all representative of the success of all development projects around the world, you would come to the conclusion that hardly any projects succeed long term. Interviews with community members confirmed that their water pumps had only worked for a few years after installment. This is a huge problem, as the community becomes dependent on these solutions only for them to break down after minimal use.

Seeing all of these failed projects was astounding. How could so much money and aid be funneled into these countries, only for the community to benefit minimally? After interviewing the community members, we discovered exactly how this could be true. The community members all agreed that the non-government organizations (NGOs) which brought these technologies didn’t really interact with the communities at all. They didn’t do preliminary research to find what the community even considers to be their problems, whether they needed a solution, or whether they would even use it. Moreover, the NGOs don’t really teach the community members how to fix the device if it breaks down, where to get replacement parts, etc. Consequently, even if the community needs the device, no one knows how to fix it or who to contact that may know, so when the device inevitably breaks down, no one is prepared to repair it. As a result of these two factors, these projects typically fail, and the community is left dependent and unassisted.

Seeing this huge discrepancy between the high amount of aid received and the resulting low levels of development made me want to get more involved in development work. I want to help install more projects, ensuring that proper research and implementation is done for every device, so that these communities will actually develop and not become dependent on aid. Additionally, seeing the methods the community used to obtain their water endowed me with this change in focus. Many little kids and women were tasked with carrying extremely large quantities of water from streams or pumps over long distances back to their families. It was evident that this process was taking its toll on participating community members, so I am much more inclined to help bring long-term, easy access, potable drinking water to developing communities.

This change in my goals and perspective is extremely important, as it has completely changed my plans for the future. Throughout most of college, I thought I wanted to practice medicine in the U.S. throughout my entire career. However, after going through this transitional experience, I now realize I also have a strong interest in improving the quality of life of those in need abroad. Additionally, I am also now considering a humanitarian engineering minor to provide me with more knowledge and experience vital to these goals.



Buck-I- SERV and OAC: Costa Rica 2018


My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-SERV trip partnered with The Outdoor Adventure Center to Costa Rica. During the project we participated in three days of service at a community center in a town called Brujo. A few of the other days we had more adventurous experiences like hiking, white water rafting, caving, and surfing.

While completing my STEP Signature Project I was able to get a new view and perspective of the world. I was able to see how people in a different country live and how it was very different from me. This allowed me to have a new-found perspective on life and how important it is to live simply and that material items are not necessary for a happy life. I was also able to get a better understanding of myself through the service aspect of the trip and the times that we spent reflecting after activities.

My trip to Costa Rica was a once in a lifetime trip with many activities that I was able to participate in. The activity that really affected me the most was learning how to surf. The reason why I found the surfing to help me have a new view on the world was because sitting in the ocean with the surf board I had two views. The first view was facing the rest of the ocean and the other was looking at the beach with the palm trees and all the people. I was able to take these two views and see how beautiful Costa Rica is; the country itself, the people, the animals, and just everything that was in sight. With this view I was able to have a new appreciation for the world and nature around me.

During the hiking portion of our trip, I was able to discover the importance of living simply and not worrying about material things and only bringing the necessities. When we arrived, we were told to only pack what we needed for the next few days and were told to not pack too much because we would be carrying it all on our backs during the day long hike. The night before the hike I packed my backpack and I was forced to only bring my necessary items and leave what I didn’t need. This was a great experience for me because I was able to realize that I only need the necessary things in life. I learned that I need to live my life more simply and not hold onto material items.

During the ten days of this trip, I was able to form relationships with the other students as well as the leaders and families that lived in Costa Rica. I was able to get to know my fellow students more and what their goals are in life. I was also able to form a bond with the families that we stayed with and how they go through their daily lives. With my relationships that I formed I was able to learn so much more about people from OSU and outside of OSU. These new relationships helped me learn more about myself and have a better understanding of who I want to be in my life and what I would like to achieve.

I believe that this transformation and change of having a new respect for nature, as well as living a simpler life and having a better understanding of myself is valuable in m any ways. With these transformations, I can now go through my life more calmly and organized. It will help me in my personal life to become a better person which will then show in my professional goals and relationships that I have now and will also form. Costa Rica was a transformational experience for me and I am very appreciative of this country, the people that live there, and my fellow students that went on the trip with me.

Buck-I-Serv: Costa Rica Adventure

For my STEP project I went on a Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica over winter break of 2018. The event was sponsored by the outdoor adventure center (OAC) and combined service with adventure. For the service part we helped build a community center in Brujo, a small village in Costa Rica. For the adventure part we did a wide variety of activities including white water rafting, surfing, repelling, cave exploring, and hiking.
This service learning trip had a huge effect on my and really changed the way I viewed myself and the world around on me. Going into the trip I had not gotten the opportunity to travel much outside of the U.S. I had been to Canada a couple of times but had never felt like I had been immersed in another culture. This trip gave me the opportunity to do this. For most the trip we stayed in homestays which was a great opportunity to learn about the culture of Costa Rica and interact with the locals. I spoke very little Spanish so trying the communicate was a struggle of its own but I learned how important communication through body language and hand motions can be. I was amazed about how laid-back and stress-free people in Costa Rica were. We spent most of our trip in a very remote part of Costa Rica and saw first hand that without a lot of things we take for granted in America like hot showers, cell phone service, and internet that people were extremely happy and peaceful.
This caused me to look at myself and I realized that many of the things that cause me to stress out are unnecessary. I did not spend anytime during the trip on social media, didn’t check my email, didn’t worry about responding to texts and it felt like I was living unencumbered. Once I didn’t have access to those things I realized that they were often a drain that deterred me from having real experiences and making lasting memories. Costa Rica showed me that happiness can never be found from wealth or social status but comes from the way you live your life.
This trip stood out to me in part because of the wide variety of activities that we did and everyday during the trip was a new adventure. Throughout the entire trip we were with two local guides Ernesto and Manos. We got to know them very well during the trip and it was very interesting to hear their perspective as they both are from the rural area of Costa Rica where we spent the majority of the trip. One thing that stood out to me from talking to and spending time with our guides was how important family and community were to them. It seemed that they knew almost everyone we encountered in Brujo, the village where we did community service. Because of how remote the village was people really had to rely on each other and in turn become very close. While community is obviously important in America as well this experience showed me how location and culture can change the perception of the community.
The most challenging part of the of the trip but also one of the most rewarding was when we went on a 2-day whitewater rafting trip. Prior to the trip we were given the option to go in rafts with guides or go in inflatable canoes. I was feeling adventurous and decided to do a canoe. When were getting ready to begin there were more canoes than needed so some people had to go alone on the kayaks and volunteered to do so. At first, I did not think it would a big deal, but I did not realize how intense the rapids could get. I had never gone whitewater rafting before and we started out on some very difficult rapids. We began the trip and I struggled as I had to constantly maneuver around various rocks and it was very easy to make mistakes. I got stuck on rocks numerous times and probably flipped at least 6 or 7 times the first day. At first, I was kind of embarrassed, but I was having so much fun and realized that I was getting better and learning from my failures. By the second day I felt much more comfortable and the rapids were not as intense as the first day. This experience stood out because it reminded me that failure is essential to learning and that staying positive in the event of failure is essential. In college it very east to get frustrated and discouraged especially as classes get more difficult. This experienced just reinforced to me that I will face problems and failure continuously throughout college and life in general and instead of feeling bad about myself it is better to learn from my mistakes.
For the community service portion of the trip we were working on building a community center. This consisted of pouring and mixing concrete, plastering walls, and painting among other things. While we only worked for a couple of days at the community center by the end of the experience we had made considerable progress and could see how we helped the community. On the last day a couple people in the village thanked us for our service and I could tell that were genuinely happy that we were there. During the service part we also got the opportunity to stay with a local family for three days. Our group was divided in groups of 2 and each group stayed with a different family. Greg (another trip participant) and I stayed with a family with two little boys and they wore us out by the end of homestay. It took me back to when I was a little kid and had endless amounts of energy. Even though they did not speak English and we spoke little Spanish we were able to get to know them and understand what games they wanted us to play. It really showed me the human experience is universal and can transcend nationality and culture.
This transformational experience is significant because it can be applied to various aspects of my life and will be an experience I will never forget. One of the biggest things this trip did for me was give me an opportunity to destress and come back to college with a renewed motivation. It easy to get jaded and lose motivation but this trip gave me an opportunity to get outside of the typical college life and make lifelong memories. Another aspect of this trip is the personal connections I made both with the various people we meet in Costa Rica and with the other participants of the trip. I met so my amazing people on this trip and hope to continue to build these relationships.

Buck-I-SERV and OAC: Costa Rica

My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-SERV and Outdoor Adventure Center trip to Costa Rica. As a part of the service learning experience, the group helped with renovations on a local community center. Throughout the rest of the trip, we also had the opportunity to try a variety of outdoor sports.

I personally transformed in several ways through this experience. First, I was challenged to push myself out of my comfort zone. This trip offered me many new opportunities that I would have not been able to have otherwise. Second, I gained a better understanding of the culture and lifestyle of rural Costa Rica. I was not sure what to expect of the people or environment going into the trip. I left with a greater appreciation for Costa Rica that also caused me to reflect on life in the United States. Finally, I learned more about the importance of disconnecting from technology and choosing to have authentic relationships and experiences. We did not have access to our phones for the majority of the trip. This was a unique chance to simply spend time with one another and take in the beauty around us. Although I usually would claim I am less attached to technology, this trip proved that I can always use a break to think, relax, and take a moment without it.

My comfort zone was challenged in a variety of ways during the Costa Rica trip. I tried many activities that I had never attempted before, including surfing, rappelling, and hiking long distances. These activities were challenging – I struggled to stand up on my board, I scraped up both of my legs while slipping down the waterfall, and I wanted to stop countless times on our extended hikes. However, I always had to keep going and could find something to enjoy. Even when I struggled, or even just fell, I was still having the time of my life. I felt extremely proud of myself for trying my best and accomplishing small goals throughout. Outside of the physical aspects of the trip, my comfort zone was also stretched during our homestays. Our families spoke almost no English, so we had to converse only in Spanish. Although I have taken three semesters of Spanish at OSU, I was not confident on my speaking skills going into this trip. It was difficult to communicate with our families – my vocabulary and grammar knowledge have faded greatly. However, the experience of learning about each other, having conversations, and growing in understanding was extremely rewarding. I know I failed to communicate properly at times, which was hard at first, but being in this new environment encouraged me to continue to practice and form relationships in the ways I could.

I loved having the immersive opportunity to learn about Costa Rica outside of the resort towns that tourists usually visit. My expectations and the reality of the community we visited were different in many ways. For example, I was very unsure about the accommodations we would have – I was surprised that even in rural areas, families had electricity in their homes. This revealed some of the intrinsic biases I held coming into the trip. What struck me most about Brujo was the simple lifestyle that all the residents had. All our meals there were sourced from the community, and even came from our own backyard. I tried so many kinds of fresh fruit, and I was able to help milk a cow one morning that we eventually used for cheese. The families were not wasteful, reused many products, minimized trash, and composted. Coming back to Ohio and generating so much trash made me frustrated after witnessing their environmental priorities. The simplicity of our time in Brujo and in Costa Rica in general had me feeling extremely de-stressed and happy. I have since tried to simplify some parts of my own life, and I better recognize the importance of taking time for myself and using all the time I can in a day. I cannot generalize my time in Costa Rica to the entire country, but the time I had to learn about the lifestyle first-hand was invaluable to my understanding.

Having limited access to personal technology was empowering during the trip. One of the things I loved about this trip was how many meaningful relationships we developed. Although it took time, we got to know each other and the Costa Ricans we encountered, and we ultimately became friends. I think this was facilitated by our inability to be too focused on our worlds back home. These relationships made our service work more impactful. Ultimately, it was amazing to realize how much less I had to worry without my phone. Since coming back to the U.S., I have deleted some of my social media as a result. It is freeing in many ways, and I am more self-aware about how much time I waste on certain apps and technology. Technology is important to all our lives, but I better acknowledge that I was more reliant on it than I wanted to admit.

My trip to Costa Rica has many applications to my life in the United States. After I graduate, I plan to attend physician assistant school. This is a daunting task, but my Buck-I-SERV experience had increased my confidence to accomplish challenging things. I am less afraid of failure, and I feel more prepared to attempt new experiences and push my abilities. In addition, acclimating to using a different language and communicating across barriers has applications to future patients. Having already worked as a nurse aide, I know it can be challenging even in English to get a message across to vulnerable people. After my trip, I better appreciate the importance of persistent communication and the results it can bring. Outside of my future career, my transformative trip had made me a more well-rounded and renewed individual. I was reminded of the importance of meaningful service, and I hope to pursue it again in some capacity. Even in everyday life, I feel inspired to keep my mind open, reflect, and challenge myself.