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.

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