Over February vacation, a group of 18 students, including myself, went on a 10-day trip to Costa Rica. We left on Thursday morning and arrived in the late afternoon. Little did we know we would be spending about 5 ½ hours on a bus riding through the city of San Jose and up along a windy road in the mountains. The first day and a half was orientation and entrance into this experience. Then we spent 6 nights in a homestay in pairs of two, and 4 of those days we worked on our project: building a wall to prevent loss of land from the Catholic Church. Friday was our last day/morning with our families and the community. As sad as we were leaving, we all felt a sense of accomplishment and pride as we left the community knowing we made an impact. Then we spent two more days at Uvita beach surfing, seeing the sunset, and reflecting.
After reflecting on our experiences there, I decided to ask a few questions to some of the girls who went on the trip with me…
What surprised you about the culture?
Liz Lehane ‘20: “What surprised me about the culture was how laid back everything and everyone was. It is amazing and inspiring to lean back and go with the flow for once instead of having such a strict schedule to follow like we do.”
Kate Whitmore ‘20: “It surprised me how they were so happy with what they had. In America, we focus on always gaining and getting. There, they did not strive for more they were perfectly able to live happily with such a simple life. Everybody worked so well in conjunction with one another to make the community work.”
Ainslie Leitao ‘20: “I was very surprised to see that so many people were related within that one village.”
Tell me about your homestay family.
Melina Khan ‘20: “My Costa Rican parents are Marvin and Yanet. Marvin is a painter and Yanet is a housewife. They have four grown children and two grandchildren, Andrés and Amy. Andrés and Amy connected with all of the girls on the trip from soccer games to English classes. Marvin and Yanet were so beyond generous and hospitable that they truly made me feel like one of their own. I feel so lucky to be a part of their family forever.”
Meaghan Parsons ‘20: “I can confidently call my homestay family my second family in Costa Rica now. I had a mom named Andrea, a dad named Hugo, a 15-year-old brother named Hugo, a 12-year-old sister named Monica, A four-year-old sister named Tania, and a two-year-old brother named Sebastian. Having one of the larger families made for lots of fun after our workday. We would spend the nights learning how to cook Costa Rican meals with our mom, teaching English to our dad, or playing Uno with our siblings. I am immediately felt welcomed into their family and will cherish my experience with them forever.”
Tell me about the people you met.
Joanna Dwyer ‘20: “My homestay family was absolutely amazing. My parents Marvin and Jeanette were so welcoming and hospitable. I also got to meet their grandchildren Andres and Amy (who I called my brother and sister.) My family was so interested in learning about the American culture while also teaching me about Costa Rica so it was an amazing opportunity to learn about the community and actually experience it instead of just reading about it or looking online.”
Elizabeth Underhill ‘20: “Throughout the trip, I got the chance to bond with girls from NDA and meet amazing people in the community where our homestays were including Orlando, Alexander, Leo, etc. My homestay family was welcoming, super nice, and really challenged me with the language! I walked away from this trip feeling so grateful to meet the people I did and have the chance to bond with the girls I did!”
Sophie Jones ‘21: “The people I met were so genuinely happy, there was not one person who did not have a smile on their face. Everyday walking on our way to work or wherever we were going, we were greeted with a buenos días or a pura vida by anyone we passed. The people are all so hardworking and are great for everyone around them, they all take care of each other, to them they are all family.”
What is something that you learned from the service project?
Maeve Holland ‘21: “For the first time I truly experienced what hard work felt like. I also learned that patience is key during the service project.”
Sophie Jones ‘21: “One thing that I learned from the service project was that, as cheesy as this is, I learned that teamwork makes the dream work. Over the span of the service project we would all be hyping each other up and keeping each other’s positive energy up when any of else felt like it was getting hard.”
Why did you decide to go on this trip?
Meaghan Parsons ‘20: “I decided to go on the Costa Rica trip because as a senior I thought before I head to college, I should have some experience with travel. But more specifically I was very interested in giving back to the community while making connections and relationships with my host family and having the ability to practice my Spanish.”
Joanna Dwyer ‘20: “I decided to go on this trip for 2 main reasons. First, I wanted to experience a new culture in a different part of the world and see how other people lived. And second, I know that small actions can have a large impact, so I was excited for the chance to give back to a community in need and make a difference to others.”
What food did you like? Dislike?
Liz Lehane ‘20: “The food I liked was the fresh fruits, bananas, pineapple, and papaya. Although we had rice and beans for almost every meal, I thought rice and beans with plantains were delicious. I didn’t like tomate or the enchiladas.”
Kate Whitmore ‘20: “I loved the fresh fruit and vegetables! I didn’t like Gallo Pinto mostly because it was so frequently served. I also enjoyed the snacks and ice creams from the little supermercado!
Maeve Holland ‘21: “I really liked all their fresh fruits such as pineapple, watermelon, apples, etc. and I also liked the pancakes. I disliked the beans a little bit in Gallo pinto.”
What did you miss most while you were gone and why?
Meaghan Parsons ‘20: “While I was gone I didn’t get too homesick because I had such a great experience with my family in Costa Rica, and was able to keep myself busy from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. But while I was in Costa Rica, I probably missed my American mom most, because I would have loved her to meet my Costa Rican family and see the community we effected.”
Joanna Dwyer ‘20: “The thing I missed most while I was in Costa Rica would probably be my parents. I’m an only child so I’m so close with them so being completely disconnected from them for 10 days was hard for me.”
What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
Ainslie Leitao ‘20: “All the activity within the village made the adjustment much harder than I had expected. Seeing so many new people, new food, what looked like 100 horses, and loud music shocked me.”
Elizabeth Underhill ‘20: “The hardest thing to adjust to for me was the food at the homestay. Food in the Costa Rican culture is so different from the things we eat here so I definitely was challenged by the change in foods!!”
What is a funny or good memory that stands out?
Melina Khan ‘20: “My favorite memory was my surprise birthday party on the last night of the homestay. My parents planned for several of the girls as well as Adam and Alex to surprise me with a cake and celebration for my 18th birthday the next day! It was so thoughtful and kind and I felt so loved! I will never forget it!!”
Sophie Jones ‘21: “While reading this question there was one specific memory that came to my Mind. One day after work, I gave my little host Brother a thing of bubbles and his reaction was priceless. I will never forget the smile on his face as he tried to pop the bubbles and his family all joining in to play as well.”
Ainslie Leitao ‘20: “Overall just getting to my homestay family and their grandchildren. I formed very close relationships with the kids by playing outside with them for hours each night. It is definitely something I will never forget!”
What did you learn about yourself?
Melina Khan ‘20: “First and foremost, I learned that I am a lot more capable than I think I am. I also learned that I take life too seriously sometimes – I really learned a lot from the Pura Vida lifestyle. Pura Vida means go with the follow and don’t take advantage of life’s simple joys. This trip made me realize that it’s important to stop and enjoy the little things in life, and that life doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly chaotic all the time.”
Maeve Holland ‘21: “I learned that I know and understand much more Spanish than I thought. I underestimated what I was capable of.”
Describe the trip in 3 words.
Liz Lehane ‘20: “Inspiring, life-changing, teamwork”
Kate Whitmore ‘20: “Challenging, Incredible, Emotional”
Elizabeth Underhill ‘20: “Challenging, memorable, life-changing”