What surprised me most about my trip to Costa Rica was how welcoming and friendly the people were. They were so willing to care for me and the rest of my group. In a country that is so different from what I am used to, this friendliness was much appreciated. I am so thankful that the people of San Gerardo made my first real international travel experience  such a good one. They definitely implanted the travel bug into me. I am already planning a trip to Greece and Italy with some of my friends for next summer. I learned that, in order to really understand a country’s culture and people, you must go beyond just the touristy things. Of course, staying at the beach and souvenir shopping the last couple days was fun, but I really learned about the culture and about myself when I was in the small village, fully immersed in the Costa Rican lifestyle.

Being that my final project is a documentary, I am having difficulty cutting and editing the clips. Transitioning from one topic to another smoothly is more difficult than I had initially imagined. There are many technical difficulties that I have come across. However, for the most part, the project is coming together nicely, and I am pleased with my footage. I do wish, however, that I had taken a video tour of my host family’s house. I only have a few pictures of the bedroom I stayed in. I think an entire video would better portray the lifestyle.

My project’s topic has changed drastically. In Costa Rica, I was inspired by my sister Rosibel’s story. I decided to focus my entire project around her instead of using the more broad and general theme that I planned to implement. read more →

At the end of each day, everyone on the trip announced their highs and lows of the day. Not once was their a low that outweighed the abundance of incredible highs we all experienced. My lows were trivial little things, like the lack of hot water. But my highs were life changing. Some of my personal favorite highs include seeing and swimming in the most beautiful waterfall, becoming so close with my host family, and being accepted into the tight knit community of San Gerardo.

On one of the first days of the trip, we went on a long hike. I have never been hiking before, and being from Long Island, mountains are not something I see everyday. I do not know what exactly I expected, but I do know that I could never have imagined something as beautiful as the waterfall that was waiting for us at the end of our hike. We all stood in silence and awe as we stared at the breathtaking beauty that nature had created. The sounds of animals and insects overlapping the sound of the water rushing down the waterfall all created a harmonious symphony, creating a feeling of pure joy. It was by far the most beautiful site I have ever seen.

By the end of the trip, I felt a real connection with Rosibel and Mariellos. They welcomed me into their home, treating me with love and kindness. In the beginning of the trip, the other participants and I called our host family members, host mom or host dad or host sister and etc. However, as we developed stronger bonds with our families, we quickly dropped the “host,” in their titles. Rosibel became my real sister, and Mariellos became my real mom. For 10 days, I felt nothing but love from my family. And I could not be more grateful of that.

The village of San Gerardo is very small and very tight knit. I am honored to have been accepted so smoothly into their loving community. It was evident how accepting the community was at the moment we arrived in San Gerardo. The people waited for us on the soccer field, not one person was without a smile on his/her face. They looked so happy and excited. Besides just our host families, the community as a whole was completely accepting of us. They were eager to make us feel at home. We were invited to join the teenagers in their nightly soccer matches, and although our skills were not quite up to par, they continued to pass us the ball and encourage us to participate. Little things like this really made me feel at home.

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From the second I stepped off the airplane in Costa Rica, I knew my trip would be an experience I would never forget. And I was not wrong. The people I met, the experiences I shared, and the adventures I embarked upon were nothing short of truly amazing. As I walked along the palm tree lined airport road, their was something substantially different in the air – and it wasn’t just the humidity. It was a certain feeling, almost a premonition; I knew something great was going to come out of my 10 days in this beautiful country.

Our first stop in Costa Rica was at a little breakfast buffet style restaurant. After an entire day of traveling without a proper meal, I was starving and more than excited to have my first Costa Rican meal experience. However, it did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. This was the moment in which I realized how difficult communication really would be – not being able to speak Spanish was a real hindrance. Being unable to ask what was what and what things were made of, I just pointed at random things and watched nervously as the server filled my plate. The foods I had for breakfast that day were very hit or miss – the cheese enchilada was a hit, the obscure bean-banana dish was a miss.

A couple days into the trip, we made our way to the village of San Gerardo, where our host families were. I stayed with Rosibel and Mariellos Gonzales. Rosibel is a 17 year old girl, just like me. She speaks English relatively well. I was very thankful to be in a house with an English speaker. I was even more thankful to be in a house with Rosi. Being with a girl my age really allowed me to put things in perspective. Rosi’s 17; I’m 17. We should be doing the same things, living similar lives. But Rosi’s life is very different than mine. Rosi has cystic fibrosis, a chronic illness that requires immense medical attention. Her hospital bills are extremely expensive. So much so that Rosi can no longer afford to attend school. Hearing Rosi tell me this was truly heart breaking. Here I am, complaining about all the homework I have and taking school for granted when just a plane ride away, Rosi is sitting at home fantasizing about being in a classroom. If I could bring one thing back home with me, it would be Rosi. She deserves to have the opportunity to go to school and pursue a career. She told me her ultimate dream is to become a Spanish teacher in the United States. I wish I could bring her home with me so she could make that dream a reality. read more →

In less than 8 hours, I will be boarding my plane and beginning my journey to Costa Rica. I have a feeling I forgot to pack something, although that is unlikely because I have checked and rechecked the packing list so many times. I think this feeling is just a reflection of the nerves and anxiety that have periodically taken over me. In the past 24 hours, my emotions have been bouncing back and forth, from excited to nervous and then to excited again. I am excited; I have been preparing for this trip since the beginning of summer, and now the time has finally come! I am nervous; I wonder if it will be easy to make new friends and connect with the other kids on the trip. Overall, I think my excitement outweighs my nerves, especially as the trip gets closer and closer.

Yesterday, I spent the day with my friends and the evening with my family. My friends and I went to my favorite pizzeria, where I ordered my favorite grilled chicken and broccoli slice. I have a huge pizza addiction, and in order to survive without it for ten days, my pizza lunch yesterday was necessary. Seeing my friends before I left was also necessary. Keeping up to date with what’s going on in my hometown and talking to my friends might be hard while I’m in Costa Rica. Although, the lack of communication might be difficult to handle at first, I think it will allow me to focus on the things going on around me. In the evening, I had dinner with my family. I rolled my eyes as my mom and dad lectured me with a million different safety precautions. But, I know that my parents were being reasonable, and I will keep what they said in mind.

I can’t wait to be in Costa Rica. Through my Wandering Scholar Project, I have learned so much about the country. It only feels right to finally be physically visiting it! read more →

I admit, I’m an over packer; it’s just an innate quality that I have embarrassingly limited control over. Once, during a 3 day school trip to Washington DC, I managed to pack 4 pairs of pajama pants – quadruple the necessary amount. Needless to say, packing for my Costa Rica trip has been difficult. I was tempted to pack up my laptop, kindle, iPod speakers, and a million other gadgets, but I somehow convinced myself against it. Avoiding use of these electronics for 10 days will be good for me. Instead of wasting precious time reading on my kindle or checking Facebook on my laptop, I can absorb every second I have in Costa Rica. This truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I intend on taking full advantage of it.

However, there are a couple things that I cannot dare to part with. Most importantly, my Costa Rica bracelet. When my sister was my age, she embarked on a journey similar to mine; she went on a service trip to Costa Rica. Along with riveting tales of her adventure, she brought me a bracelet. To a young fifth grader, this bracelet represented everything my sister had learned and gained in Costa Rica, and I longed to gain this very same experience. Now, this desire has become a reality. I am also bringing pictures of my friends and family. This not only serves to help me when I feel homesick, but more importantly, it allows me to show my host family what my life is like. They are accepting me into their homes and lives for more than a week, the least I can do is give them a glimpse of mine.

Speaking of homesickness, I know that I will miss my friends very much. In fact, if I could pack them up and put them in my suitcase, I would! The travel bug must be contagious because it has spread through out my friend group at lightning speed. We are already planning a trip to Greece and Italy for next summer! My friends bring out a certain confidence in me that I usually do not exhibit.

However, I hope to channel this inner confidence in Costa Rica, regardless of the fact that I won’t have my friends by my side. Having this confidence will help me make friends with the other kids on the trip and help me connect with my host family and other locals. I want to learn as much about the culture and the people of Costa Rica as possible. In order to do so, I cannot be shy or introverted.

Overall, I think I have done a good job with packing. I can’t believe I’m leaving for Costa Rica tomorrow! My emotions are switching off between pure excitement and extreme anxiety and everything in between. I can’t wait! read more →