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.