Growing up in NYC is something I’m grateful for because it has allowed me to be around a diverse group of people most of whom are accepting of others differences. There is always a mix of people where not one person is the same. In a way, it became like a comforting bubble of sorts sledding me away from feeling different. What surprised me about myself is that I felt a bit intimidated by my fellow group travelers. Based on how they looked. I felt different and stood out were in NYC I blended in. I worried if I could make friends which is surprising because I can get along and befriend people easily. But, now looking back I find myself-silly for worrying about this. Because everyone was great and I will always cherish the memories I made with my fellow travel companions. We shared our dreams and goals in Costa Rica under the starry night during our midnight turtle walks on the beach. Another thing that surprised me about myself is that I wasn’t that scared of bugs/insects. (We co-existed together). I was mesmerized by the beauty Costa Rica had to offer. What surprised me about Costa Rica is how eco-friendly it is (from their sewer system to their trash recycling.

Global travel has always been an interest for me. Now that I have experienced it first hand it has made me all the more eager to search for my next adventure. Since the Costa Rica trip was based on Wildlife Conservation it has also made me more open to traveling not just to experience the culture but also helping out and giving back.

I definitely 100% agree with the Everyday Ambassador blog post, “Why Build Bridges, Not Walls?” idea of building bridges. It is all the more important if not urgent for more bridges to be built in this time of crisis based on current events. People have long been building walls around their hearts and minds, and in doing so hurting society as a whole. I even fell into this mind set of building walls subconsciously when I felt intimidated by how different my fellow companions were compared to me. Popping my bubble of security that I have had all my life growing up in New York City and putting up a Wall of defense. But, this “wall” collapsed with the shine of friendship and instead formulated a bridge of happiness, adventure and a lifetime of memories.Walls have no place in today’s world. People have come too far to take steps back into a period of separation. Although there is separation, it is not to the same extent since there is hope to close the gap between this separation. I hope to climb any walls that I may build today, tomorrow or in the future.

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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.

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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. read more →

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Less than 24 hours remain before I am on a flight to Costa Rica. Although there is a part of me that is quite nervous, I still am excited to leave and embark on a new adventure. My mom is very stressed out and probably more nervous than I am. I am ready to visit a place I have never been and to meet new people. I have many things still to do to prepare for this trip since I have had a very busy week and not much time to get all my stuff together. During this last day I have been packing, running errands and finishing up any work I have before departing. I am also going out to dinner with my mom tonight as a farewell.

I am most excited to be in Costa Rica and go to the beach as well as meet all the locals and eat new foods. I am also very excited to meet all the other travels since we are all the same age and are all from different areas. It is interesting to see how different people are from other areas of the country and going international is even more exciting. I am nervous to speak Spanish in the country because I have a terrible accent and my Spanish is not the best.

Even though I began this journey later than the other scholars, I did have a lot of work to makeup and I had to balance it with  my everyday duties. I am ready to leave and take a break from work and daily chores and have time for adventure. I will not take this trip for granted and cannot wait to be in Costa Rica by tomorrow night.

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I am probably the worst packer on the planet. I wait until last minute and always overpack or under pack. This time with this trip I am hoping that I can bring everything I need and not over do it. So far this is what my suitcase consists of:

-toiletries

-flashlight

-work gloves

-sunscreen and hand sanitizer

-towels

-tennis shoes

-sandals

-swim suits

-shorts

-comfortable tops

-one dress

-wind breaker

-jackets

-pajamas

-camera

-chargers

-a book

 

This is what I have so far but I am not quite finished. I need to still add some items and double check I have everything. I am scared to leave the rest of my house and life behind but I know it will all be worth the adventure. I cannot wait to be in Costa Rica although I wish I could bring my mom with me.

While in this new setting I will be myself completely when meeting new people and just act as I do in every new setting. I will dress a little more casual than I typically would and keep it simple. My style is usually more flashy and I love to dress up but for this trip I will show more of a laid-back and sporty side of myself. Although I won’t be dressing as I typically would I feel that my personality will show others who I am.

 

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I got home from my trip at 2 am this morning. After 10 days away from home and family, everything’s a little bit strange, both familiar and different, and already there’s a lot I miss about Costa Rica and its friendly, relaxed people. Before I get into reflections about my trip, I wanted to update everyone about what my trip was like. During the trip, it was a little hard to blog because the wifi connection was unstable at times, but I did write a brief overview of each day in my journal.

Day 1: Impressions and expectations. 7/14/17
“The blanket of cotton-candy clouds that has smiled upon us from the morning is replaced now with a dense blue-gray. The earth below, speckled with red-roofed homes, waits in anticipation for the sweet July rain. Petrichor, teasing.” -Sights from the airplane.
Not much done today; arrived at SJO airport (in Alajuela) around 2 pm and got to know my roomie Juliet a little (SoCal buds!). We then ate some super rico casado tipico at Bosco’s with group leader Rachel, and 5 of us travelers hung out while waiting for the group flight to arrive. At Hotel Pacande, we had fun eating pizza (cut into meters, which was surprising) and playing “psychiatrist” with country director Esteban.

Day 2: 7/15/17
After a light, healthy breakfast at the hotel, the whole group piled into a bus and our driver Ricardo drove us to RPT. During the 5.5 hour drive, we chatted with new friends, ate mamones chinos (similar to lychees), looked at sunbathing crocodiles, and enjoyed gorgeous views and heavy rain. Once at the Reserva, we saw capuchin monkeys and walked through a jungle to the nearby Playa Tortuga, which was absolutely breathtaking and so peaceful. Untouched and unparalleled. Pura vida!

Day 3: 7/16/17
Pretty relaxing day at the Reserva. Oscar gave us a brief run-down about the work researchers do, and we visited the hatchery (where sea turtle eggs are) and went to the beach to receive instructions about sea turtle monitoring, which we’d do each night. Later, researcher Adrian talked to us about birds and sharks. Finally, from 7-9, I went on a beach walk to search for turtles with a group of 4 and our guide Deivi.

Day 4: 7/17/17
Morning croc monitoring on the Terraba River, where we spotted 11 crocs and even got to measure some tracks they left behind on a small mudbank. Later, I went with Adrian to collect data from a small shark sample (baby hammerheads). I learned that it is important to collect data about all animals, even dead ones like the sharks, because the data shows the status of the population (size, sex, etc), which affects other wildlife in the ecosystem. During free time, we went to Playa Tortuga to play a competitive game of soccer during a heavy downpour (score: 3-2). Finally, I accompanied Jorge and a small group to another turtle walk from 9-11.

Day 5: 7/18/17
Today we visited the local store and I bought helado y yucachitas, so good. I went on a short mammal walk with Adrian in the afternoon, then a longer reptile walk with Oscar at night. We saw more capuchin monkeys, a small snake, frogs, and agoutis. I also went on the latest turtle walk from 12:30-3:30 with guide Bryan. It was the most beautiful starry night and we took pictures of the Milky Way, saw bioluminscent plankton, and learned Costa Rican slang like mae and tuanis.

Day 6: 7/19/17
In the morning, the group learned about RPT’s Blue Flag environmental education initiative, then participated in a beach clean up. It was a pretty free day since it was our last at the Reserva, and everyone played ping pong and card games (there was a particularly intense game of Sabotage). At night, we had a fiesta de despedidas (goodbye party) with a lot of food, music, and dancing. Although reluctant to join at first, I ended up having a lot of fun. At 10 pm, the party abruptly ended when we heard that Javier, one of the guides, had found an olive ridley sea turtle on the beach! Everyone, still in their pretty party dresses and clothes, ran to the beach through a chest-deep river (high tide) and saw the turtle and her 109 eggs. I stayed until 1 am on my last turtle walk with Bryan and a couple others.

Day 7: 7/20/17
Bittersweet day. Breakfast, last minute clean up, and goodbyes with some of the most dedicated and informed people I met at the Reserva. Throughout spontaneous dance lessons, interviews for my documentation project, and cooking with Gaby, Landy, and Em in the kitchen, I was able to quickly adjust to the Reserva, which became a very special home to me. So much to miss. After our drive down to La Cusinga Eco lodge, we swam in the waterhole and played mafia as the thunder rolled over the Pacific coast.

Day 8: 7/21/17
Busy day on the beach. We hiked to the reef at 5 am, learned how to surf (more like attempted to) with Uvita 360 (at Marino Ballena National Park), and swam at a small secret beach. Beautiful all around. Missing my friends over at RPT.

Day 9: 7/22/17
During our drive back to Alajuela, we stopped at a soda to eat lunch and went souvenir shopping at El Jardin. Back at Hotel Pacande, we went grocery shopping and shoe shopping, then had a delicious dinner of quesadilla especial at Bosco’s. Late at night, a couple of us got together to talk and reflect on our experiences, share snacks, and watch movies. I went to sleep around midnight, full of thoughts.

Day 10: 7/23/17
3 am wake up for the airport. I couldn’t help but cry as I said goodbye to Rachel and some of the new friends I’d made. It’s been such a wild ride. More updates to come. read more →