Memories are a sneaky thing. They creep out, slowly and quietly, so you don’t even know they’ve gone. Time eats away at them, until they are only sweet remembrances. There are so many things I wish I could hold onto and remember from my travels, but already, my experiences and new friends seem so far away.
Still, I am happy to note subtle but lasting differences in my lifestyle and outlook that result from my trip to Costa Rica. It’s funny, because oftentimes my friends ask me how long my trip lasted, and it feels like almost a lie to say it was just a short ten days. The many things I’ve seen, done, and learned make it seem to me like my trip was so much longer.
I don’t want to use a cliche and say my trip was life-changing, but at least in the scope of conservation, it was. Before my trip, I never was one to think much about the environment. Naturally, growing up in a not-as-affluent household, I was conscious about turning off the lights/water and recycling, but these weren’t priorities in my head; I did them without thinking. But seeing the level of care all the volunteers at the Reserva put into doing these simple things, and more importantly directly seeing the wildlife and nature that would be harmed as a result of not conserving truly made me much more conscious about my actions.
One of the most valuable things I learned was during one of my interviews, after I confessed to not knowing much or caring much about conservation: without conservation, many of the people I care about and want to learn about would disappear, and their livelihoods destroyed. This really put things into perspective for me, and I’m beginning to understand how everything is interrelated. This means even the smallest of actions, like forgetting to take a reusable bag to the grocery store, could have a tenfold impact.
Back in the US, I find myself triple-checking to make sure all the lights are off when I’m not using them, limiting the water I use in the shower, picking up trash I see in my neighborhood, and being really aware about how much meat I eat or where I dispose my trash. One challenge is that the recycling bin in my city only goes out once every two weeks, so my family and I often find that there is just not enough space to recycle everything we’d like to, so I’m hoping we can find a solution to that. All in all, I now have a newfound appreciation for nature and for conservation, which bleeds into many practices and perspectives throughout my daily life.
Although I’ve never thought much about it, I’m very fortunate to live where I do in Connecticut – there are many protected forests and state parks and local organizations such as land trusts and conservation committees. In the future, I hope to expand upon this project and get involved with conservation groups in my area. Last but not least, I want to keep in mind that “we vote with our money,” meaning whatever we buy, we support. This means we support the system that enables the products we use, further highlighting the necessity of choosing consciously.
My perspective toward Costa Rica, Spanish, and travel in general were also radically altered. Before my trip, I completed pre-departure assignments and researched Costa Rica, but Costa Rica was just another place on the map. I had known that Costa Rica would have rich biodiversity, but knowing that and seeing the mangroves and capuchin monkeys for myself were two completely different things. Similarly, I had known that rice and beans were a staple of the diet, but didn’t really know until I had tasted it for myself. Now, I can personally attest to the beautiful starry nights and friendly locals, people and places that are more than mere names to me.
It was also a really amazing opportunity to take my Spanish beyond the classroom and see the looks of surprise when people in Costa Rica heard me speaking their language! I learned the value of knowing a language – it’s not as easy to remind yourself when you’re in a classroom, just learning grammatical conventions or completing worksheets. I met a lot of volunteers who had learned Spanish in school but had never really absorbed it; these same kids left Costa Rica with renewed passion to improve their Spanish. This is a lesson to me that all learning is valuable and useful – we just need to remember that in our daily lives.
I find that I miss many of the little moments most – talking to Gaby and cooking with her in the kitchen, playing soccer on the beach, learning Spanish slang, playing mafia during thunderstorms, walking along the beach at midnight. In hindsight, I am so incredibly thankful for my documentation project, which forced me to get out of my comfort zone and talk to everyone – researchers, locals, fellow volunteers. I gained so many insights and enjoyed my trip more than I could even have imagined. I just wish I could’ve taken more pictures with the people there, and not just of them!
It is bittersweet to be back home, but I’m blessed to have received this opportunity. Costa Rica~ You are so dearly missed. Signing off for the last time…! Thank you to everyone who’s made this time so special.