Costa Rica 2018

Tyler and I with our host family

Our group outside the community center fence

Digging holes for fence posts

Name: Collin McCabe

Type of Project:

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

or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project


My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica. On this trip we stayed in a small village in the mountains called Brujo and built a fence for the community center. This involved digging holes, making concrete, and setting the fence poles.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your

view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP

Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or

transformation that took place.

 This experience showed me a lifestyle that is much simpler than I am used to here. The people in the town we stayed in were community-oriented and self-sustaining. They were happy with their lifestyle even though they lacked many of the luxuries we enjoy in the US. The most important thing in their lives were their family, which also made up most of their community. I also didn’t know what to expect from our host family, but through the time I spent with them and the conversations we had, made me realize that they weren’t at all different from us at all.

  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing

the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project

that led to this change/transformation.

During my STEP signature project I was challenged by being put in new situations and having to take steps personally to be as interactive as possible. For example, talking to the locals we were working with and with my host family was very difficult at first, but I wanted to get the most out of my time with them and I had taken Spanish classes, so I tried my hardest to speak comprehensive Spanish with them. It was very difficult at first, but I kept putting together sentences and getting used to being so wrong that they didn’t know what I was trying to say. Over the time we stayed with our host families I got better at using correct vocab and using different tenses that my host family could understand what I was saying. My sharp improvement in speaking Spanish and the benefit of being able to speak with the locals made me realize what I could do if I put that much effort into any new thing I wanted to learn.

I also learned the power of language as a barrier and as a tool that brings people closer. Our host father knew a few English words and phrases, but the rest of the family only spoke Spanish. The first night with the host family was difficult because I was still not confident in my Spanish and could not remember some words that would’ve been very helpful in conversation. There were times when me or the other member in my group (who stayed in the same house) would have liked to have said something to learn more about the family but didn’t know how to say it in Spanish, so we were left in uncomfortable silence. We would attempt to ask questions, which became difficult when asking about what certain things were called, and spend half an hour talking with the family to learn one word. Once I began to feel more confident in my Spanish I was able to be more engaged in the experience. For example, I could ask my host family questions such as if I could help them make breakfast the next morning, and they could give me instructions on how to fold an empanada.  I also was able to make closer connections to my host family and even discover some similarities in our lives. We spent some time one night teaching each other card games (ones that were easy enough to explain with limited Spanish) and discovered that my host mother also knew how to play the game of ‘Spoons’.  Doing something fun like playing cards even with people that didn’t speak my language allowed us to become closer as we shared something that bypasses language barriers, laughter.

My experience of seeing how a family lived in this town, in a different culture from mine, led me to understand the difference in challenges that people face in different places and how they overcome those challenges. Being in the mountains away from any major city makes it difficult for families to acquire food the way that we do, from a supermarket. Instead, they grow, raise or catch most of their food. Every house had a chicken coup with many chickens. Chicken was in many of our meals. My host father was also enjoyed fishing, so we had fresh fish. Every yard had at least a dozen fruit trees that were harvested for the fresh fruit, either to eat raw or make into a juice. Another difference in daily life was the houses. There was no air conditioning even though it was hot and humid every day and night, and the structure was not built to keep out insects.

The other side of my experience seeing the difference in lifestyle was how parts of their way of life in my opinion, was better than how I live in the U.S. For example, the house I stayed in wasn’t furnished for spending much time inside. There was a small TV, a very small table, and a couch in their living room. However, we were only inside the house after the sun went down because much of the time was spent outside, either kicking around the soccer ball or doing chores in the yard. The ability of the families to raise and kill their own chickens is cost effective and healthy compared to the mass produced meat sold at most grocery stores in the U.S., and the amount of fruit grown in their yard was plenty for a family. Also, although the houses were simply made, they looked very nice and had nice floor, with just what was needed inside. The water in the shower was not warm but living in a tropical country means it never gets cold enough to need a hot shower.  My experience in the town of a developing country changed my assumptions about what life is like in countries that are not ‘developed’, especially that we shouldn’t strive to make everywhere as developed as our own, because in many places, the people enjoy their lives in different ways, and at a different speed than in our society. Many of them, especially those in Costa Rica make life simple and enjoyable for themselves without worrying about weighing themselves down with material things. Pura Vida!

Our labor in building a fence for the town’s community center was more or less a way to give back for their generosity in inviting us into their town and homes. The long hours of mixing cement with shovels and digging out rocks from the ground to make holes followed by eating meals made by people I barely knew made me realize the impact that people have on each other just even from simple things like building a fence or welcoming a stranger into your home for a few days. None of those things would’ve had any lasting impact on me if I had just done them for myself, but because I was giving my time to someone and they were giving their time for me, I was able to experience their culture, making the world seem more friendly, knowing that all over the world people of different cultures are learning about each other’s lives and growing in understanding and compassion.


  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.


My growth in cultural awareness and my use of another language with native speakers will help me greatly with personal goals. I wish to help promote cultural acceptance as a person in anything I do. To do that I needed to have experience being immersed in someone else’s culture. I wish to also be a role model for my siblings so they can promote acceptance and help make the world a smaller place through education of different cultures.

I also wish to travel to many parts of the world. My experience speaking to native Spanish speakers will help me in the future communicate with limited language skills while I am abroad. I will also be more comfortable being other places where the primary language is not English.

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