Written by Shannon M. Lee
Prior to our 10 day adventure, navigating the world of environmentalism and Costa Rican culture, the 2014 Costa Rica Program participants were casual acquaintances—students who just saw each other for 1.5 hours a week. Through our weekly classes, we learned about cultural competency, how to become more environmentally friendly, and the Costa Rican culture. The 10 weeks of preparation for the 10 days we would spend in Costa Rica quickly flew by and many of us were in shock that our time had come to actually apply what we learned. Leaving Irvine, we left the “old” self and entered an entirely new culture.
Although we prepared immensely for this trip and knew a tad bit about what to expect in terms of scheduling, the 2014 Costa Rica Program participants learned far more than what we planned on, in terms of researching, growing closer as a group, and becoming more connected to the culture of Costa Rica. From learning about the composting toilet and its benefits, to our homestays in rural Mastatal, to learning how La Cangreja National Park was established, to becoming one with our environment, we were very fortunate to take part in this program. Ultimately, we were able to feel a reality that often becomes overshadowed by our day-to-day lifestyle in America.
While in Costa Rica, I felt like I was at the right place at the right time, standing before the sunrise at 5:20 AM or laying upon a log at night to see the stars. All of my struggles from winter quarter vanished because I had found a stability in nature that no one could take away from me. And best of all, I knew the other participants were experiencing the same warm feeling I felt within each of the 10 days. When the last day of Spring Break arrived, I knew it was time for me to physically leave Costa Rica, and I was sad. However, when I found out that we would have to stay in Panama for one night and arrive at LAX on Monday afternoon, the feeling was bittersweet. Although I did not want this adventure to end, reality struck me and, I knew I was already conforming to my previous mindset—of scheduling, planning, going to school… My mind was wrapped around my responsibilities that I would have when I stepped back on US territory. Even though our journey would continue another night in Panama, and I should have been excited. I wanted to go back to the states because I didn’t want to be behind in lectures and my old life. Our airlines ended up giving us hotel stay at the Hard Rock Hotel. Moments after we entered the hotel, many of us were in awe at the cleanness of the hotel, the grandiose food at the buffet, and fell in love with the view of the New York styled buildings rising high above the ground. Watching my fellow participants adapt back to an American lifestyle scared me. I knew I would have to face my old life, but it came way too quickly. And knowing consciously that I was adapting back to this reality scared me even more. I didn’t want to go back to my old life; instead I wanted to relive what I had in Costa Rica.
Natural selection chooses the best to survive and reproduce. In order to be naturally selected, one must be adaptable. It is exactly four days and forty-two minutes since we arrived at Mesa Court from our Costa Rica journey. I know I am adapting back to the person I was before this trip, but I am fighting hard to keep the adaptation that I gained in Costa Rica. Each day that goes by, I search through the 30,000 students and faculty at this school to spot the 20 people I really I want to see. Each day that goes by, I see the unnecessary luxuries that this culture has and reminisce. Each day that goes by, I can recall the vivid pictures of the sunrise in the morning and the bright stars shining at night. Each day that goes by, I might say that I do not want to be here, but it is here where my love for Costa Rica and my experiences must be shared in hopes of enlightening others of the reality that I saw and will continue to see here because I have my memories. We, the 2014 Costa Rica Program, have grown so much in terms of our knowledge of the environment as well personal development. Although our trip only lasted 10 days, it will continue on in our memories about our perceptions of self, because now we are different from who we were.