Costa Rica GVI Trip

For two weeks in May, I had the opportunity to travel to Quepos, Costa Rica with GVI. GVI runs service-oriented programs throughout the world which have a focus on community development. In Quepos, I had the opportunity to work with children of the community who are disadvantaged. I assisted with an educational program five days a week for school-aged children that focuses on teaching life skills, emotional development, and empowerment along with conversational English.

I was very nervous to go on the trip before I left for a few reasons. I didn’t know anyone on the trip, I speak barely any Spanish, and I didn’t really know what I would be doing while in Costa Rica. However, once I arrived, I knew I was in safe hands. I met people in which I never would have met if I did not go on this trip. They were from all around the world, and I was able to converse with them about global issues and differences between our countries. I even taught them a little bit about basketball and Lebron James, to which my surprise, no one knew about him.

I became close with members of the community even with the very little Spanish that I did speak. I was able to still interact with them and learn about their lives, even when we could barely communicate. It was all about the subtleties that made such a big difference. I learned how to cook from Eneyda, a Nicaraguan immigrant who traveled with all 12 of her children for a better life in Costa Rica. Though she did not know English, I learned a lot from her by working in her kitchen and through translation done by others. Her life story was inspiring to me, and I will still think about her even though I have left.

Working on the childcare project required a lot of patience from my end, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Throughout my two weeks there, I saw change within the children we were working with. Although it was such a small amount of time to see change, I was moved by the way the children wanted to learn from us. They were accepting of the fact that we were much different from them, and they wanted to take part in all of the activities we had planned for them. In particular, one of our students, Saray, was always so eager to answer questions we would ask of her. She was always prepared for the next question, and I was inspired by her work ethic and ability to relate to us and her peers.

By working with these individuals, I saw a transformation within myself that I am very grateful to have experienced. I am now able to appreciate the smaller things in life, to only use what is necessary, and to be thankful for all opportunities that I have been given. To even have the opportunity of receiving a college education is something that I am incredibly thankful for, and I am now inspired to use my college education for the good of larger groups. I found that I can use it to educate others. I also found that I was able to use what I had learned in my college classes and relate it to things I was seeing in Quepos. I also learned how easy it is to relate to someone who may not seem the same as you, regardless of race, first language, or geographic region. We can all relate to something, and it is important to not keep biases with you as you interact with new people.

I am empowered to continue on with various service and volunteer opportunities throughout my life. With the career goal of being a dentist, I hope to work in areas such as Quepos to serve underserved areas which may need help with dental issues. I hope to be able to work in areas such as these and around the world to make a difference in people’s lives. It is important, however, to view these people at the same level as myself and not as though I am only there to help or fix the current situation.

This trip also gave me the urge to travel more. I am inspired to see more of our amazing world after seeing all the beautiful sights that Costa Rica has to offer. Though it may seem daunting before, being able to immerse yourself in a culture must different than what you are used to is a great source of being able to find yourself and experience a transformation. I am excited to see where my future career goals take me, and I hope they are able to take me back to Costa Rica.

In the middle is Eneyda, the woman I learned how to cook from.

This is a picture from the childcare project, with Sarah sitting up in the middle.

Costa Rica Buck-I-SERV/OAC Spring Break 2018

Jana Owen


Community Service-Costa Rica Spring Break 2018


  1. For my STEP project I went to Costa Rica through Buck-I-SERV/OAC. During the trip we did community service in the town of Brujo, Costa Rica and also did adventure activities.

During my time in Costa Rica, I learned a lot about myself and the world. There were many activities that we did during the trip that I had never experienced before. This included propelling and duckying. Both of these activities, especially propelling, are potentially very dangerous and all around thrilling and scary. I am typically a little afraid of heights and almost decided to not take part in the propelling. However, I knew I would have regretted that decision. I learned how to challenge my fears and try new things.

My view of the world also changed. The main question we were asked in Costa Rica and one that we were asking ourselves was, were the people living in a town with a population of 150 with little electricity and no amenities actually living in poverty or paradise. Originally, I think we all would have said poverty, but after spending 10 days there and learning about the simplicity and bliss that filled their lives, we all said paradise.


I think the biggest thing I learned from my trip to Costa Rica was appreciating the simple things in life and not worrying about things you cannot control. This related back to the poverty vs. paradise debate. Life in Costa Rica is very simplistic, something that I had very rarely experienced before. I experienced many things during the trip and spoke with many people all which led to my decision of paradise.

We stayed with various families in the small town of Brujo. These families did not have electric stoves, wifi, and other various amenities that we take for granted every day. I lived without my cellphone for 10 days, something I have not done since I got a phone. I learned to prioritize face to face relationship over texting conversations. I did not have social media for 10 days. I paid more attention to the things going on around me and not what people on my phone were doing. This taught me to live in the moment and take the whole experience in.

Not only was living without basic amenities an experience, but also conversing with the families we stayed with, especially in Spanish. I am conversational in Spanish and learning how to speak it with native speakers was such an amazing experience. The family I stayed with was able to tell me what they did for fun and how they spent most of their time outdoors. They all said that they prefer the Costa Rican lifestyle versus the lifestyle in the United States. They all seemed genuinely happy and happy to have us learn about their culture.

  1. This transformation has taught me to live my life to the fullest, appreciate the little things in life, and “not sweat the small stuff.” I now appreciate the many amenities in my life that I did not have in Costa Rica (such as screens on windows to keep bugs out of my house) but also to live more simply and not worry about the things that I do not have. I used to worry about stressful things in life that I ultimately could not control. Now I try and focus more on the things that happen in my life and how I handle them. I believe that Costa Rica has made me a more well-rounded person.

Palatki Heritage Site Service and Grand Canyon Adventures

Emily Hyslop

I participated in a service learning STEP Project.
Description of STEP Signature Project
My STEP Signature Project entailed embarking on a Buck-I-Serv trip to Arizona. We traveled to the Palatki Heritage Site in Coconino National Forest and as a team, worked on building a trail/trail preservation to keep the archaeological sites accessible. Before we left, we cleaned up trash out of a Boulder Beach campsite in Nevada, helping preserve our earth and environment that allowed us to enjoy our activities that comprised the rest of the trip. In between these two acts of service, we challenged ourselves with a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon and experienced adventure at the bottom of the canyon with white water rafting along the Colorado River.
How My Understanding of Myself, My Assumptions, and My Views of the World Changed or Transformed
My biggest moment of transformation was probably the humility I came to embody for a number of reasons. Perhaps one of the more important reasons was the sheer difficulty of building the trail as we did, and coming to a deep respect for those that put their work and effort into preserving our trails and environments so that we can explore the world around us and learn from it. Another instance of humility came while standing among the archaeological ruins. Our society today is just one of many different predecessors that managed to learn and grow and create lifestyles that we can hardly imagine. And in our age of destruction, their simplicity never ceased to awe me, and made me wonder about other ways that we can continue to conserve our national parks and environment, as well as the history that comes along with them. The last large moment of humility came from standing as one tiny human among the vastness of nature in a variety of instances. Among red rocks that loomed so tall, the Grand Canoyon which stretched as far as the eye could see and dipped and diverted in a complicated yet sophisticated pattern only nature could conceive, in the Colorado River as the walls of the canyon skyrocketed upwards in beautiful arrays of rock and stone, I was met with the same sense of humility. I was one human surrounded by vastness I had never felt or seen before. And in these moments, I was met with the desire to explore, to learn, and to apply myself more readily to the world around me – because that world is pretty awesome.
As a girl who had not really left Ohio all that often until college, I am comfortable with the small and familiar. I had never really been exposed to the wonders that lie outside of the Ohio border, and it wasn’t until recently that I began to feel this yearning to begin to explore and feel things beyond what my Ohio environment had provided me. And although I was excited for this trip, I also harbored a few nerves about delving into experiences completely outside of my comfort zone. By engaging in these activities and exposing myself to sights, sounds, physical exertion, and a group of people I had never experienced before, I pushed my own limits in a way that really opened up many doors for me and thoroughly expanded my horizons. I became more comfortable with being uncomfortable and that’s a feeling I don’t want to lose. I still have a lot to learn in this life, and this trip illuminated for me that I am capable and willing to take on challenges that might seem insurmountable at first or situations that are unlike anything I have done in the past. In a way, by embarking on this small, 12 day journey, I was introduced to the fact that not only do I desire to learn and expand myself more, but I am more than capable of doing so in creative and wonderful ways.
Events, Interactions, Relationships, or Activities that Led to Transformations Above/How They Affected Me
Going in order, initiating this cascade of realizations and new understandings, building the trail created a new sense of camaraderie among my peers and I as we worked towards a common goal that demanded a lot of physical activity. In the first days of our trip, still getting to know each other, we found a binding sense of friendship by participating in this activity. We looked out for each other, swapped out jobs so everyone gained a sense of each aspect of the work, kept up with each other down to hydration and sunscreen. It was incredible how comfortable we became with each other in such a short amount of time. Doing this was fantastic and having each other as a team to enjoy our time in Arizona made the trip so worthwhile. Together we learned from each other and contributed individually to the whole period of learning and exploration. Also, working on this trail provided me with an inside view of just how grueling it can be to do manual work to preserve our trails and environment. As a whole, this gave me an entirely new sense of appreciation for the trails that have been laid out before me so that I can enjoy and explore our world. It definitely is not easy.
Following this service, backpacking in the Grand Canyon presented a whole new set of wonders, but also fears and hesitations. It is hard physical work, and your mind must always be alert because the trails are steep and sometimes narrow. But being within the canyon and looking out over it at the top provided me with sensations and views I had never yet experienced. Also, it became incredibly fulfilling to backpack. The work paid off with phenomenal views and a sense of accomplishment, and honestly humbled me by illuminating how much I take for granted in the front country – where I have water and food and shelter readily accessible to me. Each night in the Grand Canyon provided an opportunity to not only learn the basics of backpacking but apply myself as we hunted down water and prepared food and camp each night. Obviously, it wasn’t luxurious in the sense that we have come to define luxury as comfort and immense resources, but it offered a slice of peace and satisfaction that I don’t always feel in my day to day life. Pushing myself this far outside of my comfort zone really illuminated to me how much I crave these experiences and how much I am capable of if I put all into it. It was a wonderful experience.
Heading down to the bottom of the canyon to complete white water rafting afforded a whole other set of views and challenges, but an adventure of a life time. You feel so small at the bottom of the canyon that you cannot help but marvel at how beautiful the world around you is. I was purely in the moment here – no phone, no distractions. And had time to reflect on how unique my experiences until that point had been, and how much I had learned about our Buck-I-Serv team, the outdoors, and myself. I could feel my reservations about taking chances and exploring the unknown leaving me and I was left with a renewed motivation to create a life that I will remember and reflect gratefully upon for myself. Again, I was humbled by how much of a “bubble” I have lived in, and how much was out ahead of me to learn and experience. Nothing like night skies unlike anything I’ve seen, pure blue-green waters among canyon walls, and the willingness to embrace new challenges to open my mind up a bit.
Value of the Change or Transformation to My Life/Future
In the most literal sense, I have been toying with the idea of moving out West for grad school, but was nervous about picking up and moving off when my whole live has been lived comfortably in Ohio. I had liked to pride myself with a desire to explore, but was not sure on the degree with which I would act upon this desire. This trip and things my mind had been enlightened with has proven to me that there is nothing to fear about making such a move. Looking ahead and expanding my horizons is exhilarating, a great learning opportunity, and fulfilling in ways that I couldn’t have imagined until completing this trip.
This trip also illuminated for me a profound passion for conserving the environment in order to preserve the beauty that lies around us. As a student on a pre-health track, I had been primarily involving myself in service directly related to healthcare. This trip was a chance to explore something new and did not disappoint. I have a newfound desire to apply myself in ways that don’t directly relate to healthcare, and as a result, I feel more wholesome and well-rounded and have a focus for other things I would like to involve myself in.
Overall, as deep and overarching as this seems for one trip, I feel more ready and willing to take on challenges that I might not feel so comfortable with. With this trip, I have learned that the payout can be wonderful and that I have so much I want to learn and experience – so I shouldn’t be afraid to immerse myself in experiences and opportunities that don’t adhere to things I have done previously. In a responsible way, it is wholesome and fulfilling to take chances and exposing myself to a variety of new ideas, thought processes, and people gives me new perspectives that I wouldn’t have gained otherwise. There really are no words to accurately capture how useful and beneficial this is, and how much having a more open mind can be a positive in any work or social environment. Personally and professionally, I can benefit innumerably from a willingness to learn and experience things outside of my comfort zone. It makes me more receptive to others, their thoughts, their opinions, and the knowledge that they can confer to me. I believe it can make me a better team member, a better cooperator, and even a better leader – ready to take initiative not only for myself but for a team as well. Learning never stops and this is an important concept applied to all aspects of life – and a concept this trip exemplified greatly for me.




Service at Palatki & Adventure in The Grand Canyon

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


My Buck-i-Serv group did trail work at the Palatki Heritage site in Sedona, AZ. This involved laying down material to make a trail more accessible to visitors of the site. Following this, we spent 3 days backpacking and 4 days rafting in the Grand Canyon.



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


During the trip I gained a much better appreciation for the work people do to maintain and create trails for parks around the country. From now on when I see a trail at any park I will have a lot more respect for whomever took the time to make it. I also learned more about the importance of preserving ancient historical monuments. The Palatki heritage site contains many markings that are thousands of years old and could easily have been wiped out by one careless person. Which would deprive everyone from the chance to learn from them. I will definitely be mindful of what I do around historical monuments from now on in order to preserve them for future generations. During the backpacking portion of the trip I learned a lot about what I actually need to survive. Not what I thought I needed or what would make me comfortable, but what you absolutely need. I learned that I can get by with only minimal supplies fairly easily. I didn’t miss most of the first world comforts because I was so excited to be exploring the canyon. Finally, I learned a lot about teamwork both from the trail work and from out time out on the river during the rafting portion. Working with a team is crucial to getting big tasks done in a safe and timely manner.



  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?


The trail work we did at Palatki and the trash cleanup we did at Lake Mead were the main things that gave me a good appreciation for the work people do in parks. It took sixteen people quite a bit of work just to lay down a quarter mile of trail and there are thousands of miles of trail just in the local area. Despite the difficult work, it was a great way to quickly make friends with everyone else on the trip. When you are working together for one goal, people will soon start helping each other out with the different jobs and everyone will be sympathetic to anyone who is struggling with the work. It was great to see how quickly everyone came together even though we had only met the day before. While we were gathering rocks for part of the trail maintenance, we found a bark scorpion hiding in the pile. As long as we kept our distance and didn’t do anything to bother it, then it didn’t have any interest in us at all. After a few minutes it wandered away from the pile and there were no issues. This is a very different experience from what you hear about in stories. People play up wildlife to be far more dangerous than they are because many of the people injured were purposely getting in the way of the animals.


The backpacking portion of the trip was a different kind of challenge. We had to carry in our own water to store for later because there is no access to water when we were not next to the river. Backpack space was limited, so we had to make room for the water by leaving behind less essential item, such as multiple changes of clothes or shoes. There was also no cell phone service in the canyon and it was nice to see how unnecessary most of the stuff we do with a phone is. The weather was very hot and during the day there was never a chance to cool down. So I quickly learned to focus on drinking water and applying sunscreen regularly. Because things would only get worse in the desert if I became dehydrated or had to deal with sunburn. Eventually all of this simplicity lead to a pretty regular daily routine of worrying about keeping my strength up and worrying about how we were going to prepare the next meal. It was a very different experience from the busy day-to-day lives we normally experience at school.


On the river we had to work in a group of eight to listen to the leader’s instructions for paddling. This was crucial when we were running the rapids because working together is the only way to get through them safely. There are dangerous features scattered throughout a rapid that could easily flip the raft and send us all into the river if we weren’t careful. When we first started paddling, most of us were out of sync with each other and slow to respond to the leader’s commands. But after a couple hours we were all able to follow the people in the front of the raft and learned how to control the raft smoothly and efficiently. People stopped being concerned about what was the most comfortable position and started putting in a lot of effort to make sure we were steering the raft around obstacles. Overall, everything we did during this Buck-i-Serv trip taught me about dedication, teamwork, and simplicity.



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


All of this change is significant to my future plans because I want to pursue a career in medicine. I am positive that I will need to be able to work well in a team as a doctor because medicine is not a one person job. Collaboration is key and in order to succeed I will need to be able to do so. I also think that the ability to thrive without first-world comforts will be a useful point of reflection later down the line. If I ever start to feel annoyed that something isn’t working quite like I want it to, then I can remind myself that I really don’t need that random item to be happy. I can get by with only the bare minimum and I am glad that I proved that to myself during this trip. Finally, the newfound respect for trail work and historic monuments will be something I carry with myself for the rest of my life. It is always valuable to know what kind of work went into making or preserving something you enjoy. So being able to appreciate that effort will help me to go through life as a more grateful person day to day. Because nothing in life is free and it is important to acknowledge those who worked for the things you enjoy.

Costa Rica: In Partnership with the Outdoor Adventure Center

Service Learning and Community Service

I traveled with a group of Ohio State students to Costa Rica over Spring Break through the Outdoor Adventure Center and Buck-i-SERV. Our service project consisted of building a chain-link fence for a community center in the town of Brujo, Costa Rica, and following that we explored the wilderness and participated in adventure activities and bonding exercises.

One of the biggest things that I took away from this journey was my view of those living in “poverty.” We had a lot of group discussions about whether or not the people we encountered were living in “poverty” or “paradise.” While the locals in Costa Rica didn’t have air conditioning, hot water, or even soap, they seemed happy and full of love. Their sense of community was extremely tight knit, and everyone was so welcoming and kind to us. After living in homestays for two nights, I realized that the things I had been so nervous about being without really didn’t matter that much. Cold showers always felt refreshing after a day of sweating in the Costa Rican sun, and the breeze let me feel comfortable while sleeping even without air conditioning. I was forced to go without social media for 10 days, and this allowed me to see that I am not as attached to my phone as I thought I was. I didn’t find myself wanting to browse Instagram or Twitter while I was away. The break from comparing my life to others was much needed and has helped me to be on my phone much less now in my everyday life. Sure, being in constant contact with friends and strangers around the world can be fun, but it definitely isn’t necessary and sometimes detracts from my experiences as a human. This trip allowed me to see that much more clearly.

Traveling to Costa Rica was the first time that I had ever been out of the country. This was a huge change, especially since it was such an immersive experience. We were in remote areas of Costa Rica, sometimes the wilderness, and I am not really a “nature” person. Sure I’ve gone hiking and fishing before, but usually for a couple of hours, not a whole week. The camping was intense (in-tents haha!) and the hikes up the mountain pushed me to my physical limits. Being flung from the comfort of my apartment in Columbus into such an extreme environment gave me so much self-confidence. It allowed me to see what my body and mind are capable of. The culture shock of a different part of the world I had never experienced before also stretched me to be extremely open minded. I tried so many new foods and experiences because I went in with the mindset of squeezing as much out of this trip as possible. I never once turned down an offer to do something wild or different, and that is something that I have integrated into my daily life. I say “yes” a lot more, and it has turned out great!

Some of the most important interactions that I had were during the home stays. We stayed with a family for two nights, and they barely spoke English. I, along with the other OSU student I was with, barely spoke Spanish. To say it was difficult to communicate would be an understatement. I am so thankful that our host had Google Translate, or it would’ve been even more challenging. Even with neither of us speaking the other’s native language, we stumbled through our first night, using charades and pointing to objects and asking “Como se dice…?” or “How do you say…?” We taught each other a lot! The couple that we stayed with was extremely kind and willing to learn, so while it was hard and frustrating at times, they were so wonderful to us and made us feel very welcome. Their son had so much life in him, and playing soccer with him every night pushed me even further. After a day of hard, physical labor, I really just wanted to eat dinner and go to sleep. But kicking a soccer ball around their yard for a couple hours made me feel like a kid again. It allowed me to see that sometimes, even when you’re tired, shutting down or turning in for the night does not always lend to your benefit. Pushing myself allowed me to experience more joy and fun than I was expecting.

The tour guides that took us around Costa Rica contributed greatly to my experience. Without their lively personalities and helping hands I honestly don’t know if I would’ve made it out alive! We went white water kayaking, and more than once I found myself flung out of the boat, floating down dangerous rapids on my back, and the physical support that they provided was incredible. Not only physical, but emotional support kept the whole group of us energized and happy throughout the trip. My body was pushed to physical limits I had never experienced before, but the moral support of everyone on the trip is what continually kept me going. If I was insecure about an activity or unsure if I would be able to do it, I could count on our group to cheer me on and give me the confidence to try whatever was making me nervous. This allowed me to see the true importance of having people in your life who exude positive energy and push you to be the best you can be. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true! Without them having my back the entire time, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip nearly as much as I did. And in return, the support that I gave them showed me how critical it is to give and take in friendships. If more people would give and accept support when it is needed, the world would be a better place.

The community service aspect of the trip also gave me a wider perspective of the world. Our project was building a fence around a community center in the town of Brujo, Costa Rica. The people there were so grateful for the work we put in. We were able to build a chain link fence in two days, and everyone was so kind throughout the process. We were taught how to dig the holes for the backbone of the fence, gather sand and gravel, and mix and pour concrete to hold the fence in place. As some of the students in our group were able to speak Spanish, we were able to communicate well with Alberto who ran the project. This entire process emphasized the importance of helping others whenever you are able to. It doesn’t hurt to offer help, and you never know when someone could really use it!

This trip has given me such a different perspective on the way the world works. Helping others is the most important thing, and with the transformative properties of my trip to Costa Rica, I can see that so clearly. This will infiltrate into my personal life as I am considering going into the Peace Corps after graduation. I was never sure if it would be the right thing to do, but after living for a week in what I thought to be “hard” conditions, I think I would get so much out of it. But even if I do not end up going into the Peach Corps, my career as a biomedical engineer will always be focused on helping others. Creating and altering the best and most accessible healthcare for those in need has a whole new meaning after seeing the way that those in different parts of the world live and act. I can’t wait to use the skills that I gathered from my trip to Costa Rica to truly make a difference in the world.