For my STEP signature project, I flew to Costa Rica over winter break to complete my first Buck-I-SERV trip. During those ten days I volunteered in the small town of Brujo focusing on infrastructure development, specifically upgrading their community center. This transformational trip not only allowed me to give back to a community in need but allowed me to develop my own confidence and cultural awareness.

Since this was my first time leaving my home country, I was nervous about what I was going to encounter. All that nervous energy quickly dissipated though once I walked outside the airport and saw the beautiful Costa Rican landscape. I told myself right then and there that I would say “yes” to everything and absorb every experience this place had to offer. Within the first day, I started to befriend the group of 15 students that I came with on the trip with as well as my host family. This was pretty easy given the tight quarters (see pic below).

Being in a foreign land with strangers and without access to modern amenities (electric, wi-fi, etc.) really allowed me to appreciate the experiences and culture around me.  It’s amazing how close you can connect with others when there isn’t a LED screen glued to your face. Over the ten days I grew more confident in myself and my ability to make meaningful connections with others. I also took chances I never thought I would and learned more about a culture than I ever thought I could.

Our first night in the homestays was a very memorable experience. We were all split into groups of two and place in one of the 10 houses around the village. I was placed with Caitie, whom ended up becoming one of my best friends on the trip. We walked into the house and immediately realized communication was going to be hard. Our host family spoke no English and we spoke little Spanish. We spent the whole night trying to communicate in broken sentences, watching TV, and playing games with the younger kids in the house. I learned that connection can occur across many barriers, even across big ones like language. We also had one of the best meals of my life (pictured to the right). We learned that they are a self-sustaining community which means they grow/raised all their food. I thought this was very humbling in a way that they could only consume what they produce so they were a lot less wasteful.

Before we started volunteering, we all participated in our first adventure together (rappelling down a 100 ft. waterfall). I remember hiking up to the waterfall and instantly regretting my decision to say “yes.” It definitely put me outside my comfort zone since I have a fear of heights. However, once I saw the first group of people manage to get to the bottom, I decided I was going to keep my original promise and go for it. As I began to rappel over the waterfall I tumbled over the ledge and basically thought I was going to die. I continued down the waterfall (not like I had much of a choice at this point) and I slowly started to learn the ropes. This was a huge bonding experience for everyone. To all have completed this unique experience that was equally terrifying as it was exhilarating was a great way to start the trip.

Our service work on the Brujo Community Center though was by far the most impactful part of the trip. This three-day service experience allowed us to help the Brujo community create a place they can all hang out and host community events such as weddings. They have been in the process of building this center for a long 16 years due to lack of resources and funding. Everyone from the community came down and thanked us for our contributions and expressed how much this meant to the community. To know you have touched an entire community is a special feeling and made me want to continue finding service projects in the future.   

I value this trip so much because I will be graduating college in three short months and moving to New York City for my future job. I will forever treasure this experience because I know I can survive and even thrive in a new setting. I will use this experience to grow as a person, continue exploring my love for travel, and continue giving back to community across the world as much as I can.

Reflection of Buck-i-Serv Costa Rica partnered with OAC







What was this trip?

The Buck-i-Serv Costa Rica trip encompassed both service and adventure into one.  Throughout the duration of the trip we traveled around rural Costa Rica participating in various outdoor activities while serving the community we stayed in.  For our service project, we assisted in the construction of the local community center by providing helping hands and support.

How was my view on the world transformed?

I have been fortunate enough in my life to have the ability to travel to various countries before my experience in Costa Rica.  These countries though have been developed, first world countries and therefore drastically different than Central American countries.  I knew that my experience in this country would be different than others I have had in the past.  We were prompted prior to departure of some basics to expect and how to look outside our Americanized ‘goggles’ to make the most of our experience in Costa Rica.

I understood that the normal in the cities and towns were not the same as our ‘normal’.  The housing situations in the city were crowded and everyone had locked steel fences.  But as you go outside into more rural towns and communities you see that there was more space and green spaces in these areas.  The houses did not look like what you would expect, they were simple houses with tin roofs and open windows.  The more rural you got, the more open the houses were, with some not even having closed walls.  This observation made my perception of what normal was in other countries change.  There is not many, if any, places in the United States that would have such open homes that are exposed to the environment around them.  It was amazing to see how trusting and welcoming people are to the others in their communities.

How did the interactions and relationships built lead to my transformation?

This experience was like no other.  The activities, interactions, and relationships built with the community we served was not something that could be had by simply visiting a Costa Rican resort or tourist town.  I was able to experience authentic Costa Rica by engulfing myself in the rain-forest.  Our first adventure was taking a long, crowded bus ride through the national parks and mountains to get to our first home-stay. Each of our home-stays were with family of our tour guides.  These were people with families, jobs, and other obligations that took time out of their schedule to provide meals and housing for our group.  The hospitality and generosity of the people is what truly impacted my view and expectations of the trip.

The next few days that lead up to our service were adventurous and exciting days.  We were dropped off in the middle of rural Costa Rica in a small town where our tour guides lived.  The area was nothing like I have ever seen, huge green trees, colorful vegetation, and sky-blue waters.  For the following days we were unplugged from technology and electricity.  This experience really opened my eyes to what it is truly like to live without distractions.  All we had were each other to talk to and hang out with.  It is not until you are in this state that you realize how attached and reliant we are to electronics.  I have in the past had this same kind of experience on my Uncle’s farm in West Virginia but that was earlier in my life when I did not have much technology.  The whole group appreciated at the end of the trip the removal from our day to day stressors just by unplugging.

The activities and inability to speak Spanish really pushed me out of my comfort zone.  Our more strenuous activities, such as white water rafting and intense hiking for hours, pushed me to my physical limit and really showed me what I was capable of doing.  My inability to speak any Spanish besides basic greetings strained the potential of connection with many individuals throughout the trip that did not know any English.  These two parts aspects proved to me that it does not matter if there is a language barrier or if I think I am unable to keep up with the others physically, that I can still make the most out of the situations I am in.  I was lucky enough to have stayed with a host family during our service that spoke a little English, but I know that some of the other members of the trip were not as fortunate.  The children in my household did not speak English, but we were still able to play and communicate through other means.  I was honestly afraid going into my experience that I would be limited due to my lack of Spanish or physical abilities, but all of that did not matter in the end.  I was able to grow, learn some Spanish, push myself to my limit, and see that there is nothing to be afraid of when traveling or doing something new.

How was this significant to my life?

My travels to Costa Rica were second to none.  I was able to encompass my love for the outdoors and service into one experience.  This trip showed me that I can do the activities that I am sometimes to nervous to do without someone I trust.  I knew essentially no one going into this trip but I ended up making some great friends.  I have had experiences in the past with traveling with other students that did not turn out the way this one did.  I was able to say that I was able to connect with everyone on this trip, trip leaders and tour guides included.  I was able to experience something so authentic and natural with individuals that are passionate about some of the same things as me.  I will be able to take what I learned about community service and the impact I can make on the environment into my future career and life.  This was a valuable and unforgettable experience and I will truly treasure the memories I made forever.