Inspiration in Rancho Mastatal

26105980855_3df8a7f455_oGrowing up in a suburban community in Southern California, I had always believed that destroying nature was a consequence of our standard of living.

It was our third day in Costa Rica, by then we had already seen a tremendous amount of biodiversity on the car ride up to Mastatal, learned about different plants that grew well in Costa Rica in Siempre Verde, and even helped out on the farm. Those experiences all inspired me to one day return to Costa Rica to experience the beauty of Costa Rica, but our visit to Rancho Mastatal inspired me to come back to Mastatal not just for tourism but to actually pick up a new way of life.

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What Have I Cotton Myself Into?

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Do you ever really know something without experiencing it first?

That is the question that continued to appear in my mind as I went through challenging, yet thought-provoking experiences. After flying all night and spending the day driving up and down beautiful mountain ranges on bumpy dirt roads, I still had no idea what was in store for me during my time in Costa Rica. I knew we would be staying on a farm, but what does that mean? Will we be living among the farm animals and fruit trees? Where would we sleep? How will I survive with so little sleep?

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Beyond the Language Barrier

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“And they don’t speak any English”, our tour guides said to us as we were being assigned to homestay families. I was frightened to say the least.

This was going to be the first time during the trip that I would be separated from the rest of the team, and I spoke almost no Spanish. Luckily, I was partnered up with Lupe, one of the student coordinators, who could speak Spanish. But I was still worried about being unable to connect with my homestay family. I didn’t want to bother Lupe by asking him to translate for me every time I wanted to communicate. On the other hand, I didn’t want to just remain silent and lose the opportunity to connect with the locals and immerse myself in Costa Rican culture. Continue reading

Shifting Perspectives: A story about two girls and their detour to Costa Rica

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The back of my throat was on fire as I tried to catch my breath and hold back my tears. My trembling hands held the quickly, scribbled note reading “it’s going to be ok”. The plane had left us and the panic was bubbling up to the surface, I looked at Claire and we both stared at each other in shock. My feelings of guilt, uncertainty, and fear were mirrored in her eyes. Here we were alone in the Mexico City Airport – just two foreigners with mediocre Spanish speaking skills, low funds, and limited knowledge in international travel. Needless to say, things weren’t looking too good for us. Despite the odds, we survived to tell the tale. So if you ever find yourself in this situation, here are some guidelines for survival.

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Truth or Dare: A Challenge by Choice

Marcos cuts a piece of sugar cane off for daring participant Danny.

Have you ever tried a food you’ve never had before or have you ever raced against a friend to see who was the fastest? Have you ever talked to a stranger or asked a random question in class? Have you have felt a bit of nervousness going into something and decided to do it anyway?

If so, then you have been challenged whether it was by yourself or by someone else. Whether or not you have chosen to partake in it and complete it was your choice and these choices are a part of who you are. Continue reading

The Bittersweet Truth

Cacao beans with grinding stones.

I wish someone had been more honest with me. Have you ever believed in something to be so true that you could almost taste it? As a child, your life was as sweet as the chocolate melting on your fingertips on a hot summer morning… But growing up, you come to realize that it really isn’t like that. Life is bitter and so is real chocolate. Continue reading

Travel Tips for the Wallflower

A father and son enjoy shaved ice on the warm Saturday morning in the park.Our recent trip to Costa Rica was, well,… AMAZING to say the least. We laughed, we learned, we explored, but we were also challenged. We were challenged to be vulnerable and to really put ourselves out there.  Now, I wouldn’t necessarily label myself as a “wallflower,” but I’m definitely one who enjoys observing more than participating, and enjoys listening rather than talking.  That being said, when we first arrived in Costa Rica I was immediately faced with my first challenge of the trip.

My first real challenge happened in a park in the center of town. Many locals were sitting on the benches and enjoying their Saturday morning talking to each other, playing board games, people watching etc. It’s definitely not something you see often here in California. It was such a relaxing environment to be around and it felt like no one had any worries. Not only that, but there was a music festival happening as well. A live band came to play in the park where a rather large crowd of people gathered around to listen, dance, and enjoy the music. It was beautiful. I loved watching everything that was happening around me, but that was just it: I loved watching. I loved seeing the vibrant colors everywhere, listening to the music playing with laughter in the background. Continue reading

The First Costa Rica Night Fair

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Outreach is an important part of the Costa Rica Program and one of the ways we share our learning with the campus community is through a collaboration with UCI Dining & Hospitality. This year that collaboration led to our first ever Costa Rica Night Fair and small lunch promotion.

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Homestay Away from Home

Participants Danny, Erick and Guia with host Jimmy

Being dropped off was like the first day of Kindergarten, except we were college kids in a foreign country! It felt odd at first. Not because we were placed in the homes of complete strangers in a foreign country, but because by this point, we had already done a lot throughout the day and the week as a whole team that it felt weird to split up and experience similar, yet different situations.

Our Costa Rica trip came to a close only recently, but those ten days feel so close and so far away at the same time. I can vividly remember everything, but still feel the need to refer back to my journal to remind myself of how I felt at those exact moments. Continue reading