It was a regular day at school and I was wondering why I was called down to the computer room at 1:30. As I looked around I noticed there were about thirty students in the room. All thirty of us were in our junior year and we all were either half or full hispanic/latino. I looked up to the front of the room and saw a young man, he cleared his voice and then he started talking, “What a wonderful opportunity… community service… travel in the US to California or Hawaii or even travelling abroad to other countries; Ecuador, Australia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Africa, or Europe! The trip is completely paid for!” were the snippets I remember he mentioned that day. I was immediately excited, my heart was leaping out of my chest, and I was already committed to going on this trip. I always loved travelling and the idea of it.
I was definitely going to do it, and I was determined to be selected as one of the few students to go in this trip. A few months passed and I got a “Congratulations” email stating I'd be going to Costa Rica for 2 weeks from July 22nd until August 4th. In that moment I was the happiest girl in the world, the first person I told was my mom and she was very proud of me. All of the selected students on scholarship were given an opportunity to go to a student social to talk to other accepted people and the alumni for advice. There I met Lizette, a girl from another school that also got accepted by Trip of a Lifetime to go on the same trip as me. After a few weeks, all the students would go the city with a parent or guardian for all the details/needed information, forms to fill out, and security and contact information for the trips.
Traveling day came along, I was both excited and nervous to meet the other students. I had already met Lizette at the student social so I knew I had one guaranteed friend. We were told to meet at an entrance at 5am sharp and I was there, along with my mom who was by my side every step of the way until she could go no further. A Rein Teen Tour counselor wearing a bright orange t shirt helped me check my luggage and checked my name on a list. I met up where the other students were standing and introduced myself to a few people. After standing around for a while, one of the counselors said that we’d be leaving our parents in 5 minutes and that it was the time to start saying your goodbyes. My mom gave me a long hug and was telling me how proud she was of me, how happy she was for me, how she’d miss me, and that she expected a phone call every day and then kissed me on the forehead. We continued hugging, I knew that after everything, I wouldn't have gotten there without her, I was so grateful in that moment, and we said our goodbyes.
Everything seemed to be going well, people were being nice, saying hello, talking about hobbies, pets, and their houses. I was making friends and having a good time, there was nothing for me to be worried about. I continued introducing myself to other people I hadn't met. The only thing that was actually difficult was trying to remember everyone's names. With time remembering names was no longer tricky. My main friend group throughout the trip was Bree, Clarissa, Estie, Lizette, Bella, and Jacob. I was able to make friends quite quickly.
After the plane ride we all got on a large bus to get to the Los Lagos Hotel. I sat next to Bree on the bus ride, we talked for a long while, watched movies, listened to music, made jokes, and slept. Our tour group met up in a large room to introduce ourselves, lay out the rules, get our room keys, and find out who our roommates were for the week.
As I entered my room with Lizette (my roommate for the 1st week), I was pleasantly surprised to see how pretty and clean it was. We were both so happy we were rooming together, we’d talk all the time and when we had “Los Lagos time” we’d go out together to the hot springs pools and hang out with our friend group. Jake would bring his waterproof speaker and we’d dance to hispanic songs in a private pool (we didn't want to disturb others with our music). We were living the best time of our lives.
Monday was our first day of community service. We went in a van and our driver for the two weeks was Cesar. Our van was combined with two different groups of community service from the same trip. Most students in my van were going to the orphanage for community service. Our first day at the school (July 23rd) there was a large celebration because of the annexation of Guanacaste from Panama, the true celebration day is July 25th. The girls performed traditional dances wearing typical dresses of Costa Rica, there were informative presentations on the meaning of the holiday and cultural symbols, traditional jokes introduced by “BOMBA!” were made by the children, and there was food! The first day was very fun being around with the children dressed in the traditional clothes of their beautiful country. Only Lizette, Zach, Alex, Hakeem (our counselor), and I went to the elementary school for the first week. For the first week of community service we were joined by the group Costa Rica #1.
I have always enjoyed giving back to my community and I was even happier having the opportunity to help in Costa Rica. It was completely different to the community service I was accustomed to do. In sleepy hollow I would help at the library storing movies and shelving books, at the arts camp I would monitor the children and help instruct the art projects to the children, and at the soup kitchen I would serve food to the people in need. While in Costa Rica at the elementary school, I would be sanding the walls to make it a smooth and cleaner surface, paint the walls and bathrooms, and trim the walls with different paint. Whenever we had a break, we would play games with the kids that had gym class at the elementary school. We would play soccer and frisbee and I was impressed by the skills the kids had.
What I loved was the result of two weeks of hard work, there was a wonderful school with beautifully re-painted walls, bathrooms, and floors. I made friends with some of the little girls that want to school there. It warmed my heart to see how happy they were. I worked hard because I knew how important this was to the children, to the adults that worked there, to the counselors, and even to myself. I could tell they greatly appreciated our help. We were directly told of what a beautiful job we did with the painting at the school.
For the two weeks of the trip I was the main translator for almost any situation I was in. At the elementary school I would translate between the counselors and the vice principal or the adults in the office. As well as being the translator at restaurants, hotels, and for our day/night activities. One of my favorite times translating was for our salsa dancing class. The salsa instructor knew very little English and I was in charge of translating that evening. I had a lot of fun introducing each dance we'd be doing. Towards the end of the trip the counselors all told me what a great help I was translating everything and how they would’ve all been lost without me. I never expected such a reaction of gratitude from the counselors but I was glad to know I helped.
The activities we did throughout the 2 weeks were: hiking to a waterfall, swimming in a waterfall, going on day and night hikes, learning how to salsa dance, white water rafting, navigating a calm river, stand up paddle-boarding, surfing, ziplining, belaying down a waterfall, and visiting animal shelters. Going to Tamarindo for the weekend was one of my favorite times of the trip because there we went to the beach everyday. I love swimming, especially in the ocean, to me it is very calming and it makes me feel so free. All of these activities were so much fun and being surrounded by my friends when doing these activities made it 10 times better.
I was completely starstruck by the country because I had never expected something so beautiful. I remember saying one day that it “smelled so green” there and it was a feeling of liberty and peace I had never felt before in my life. I enjoyed every moment and got lost in the beauty of the country. It warmed my heart that I was able to make a good change in this world by helping beautify the elementary school. I think I appreciated it much more than anyone else because it truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity and an unforgettable experience. I made lifelong friends along this trip, explored places I never dreamt of, had life-changing experiences, worked hard, and had the greatest time of my life in Costa Rica!