When I was 16, I found out about a program through Girl Scouts where I could travel to Costa Rica and save sea turtles. As an animal lover and activist, I was sold. It seemed like the perfect way to travel, meet new people, speak Spanish, and help the earth. Thankfully there I applied for my trip and worked hard to save money, and finally I got my acceptance email! Shortly after Christmas of that year, I boarded my plane to Costa Rica.
After arriving in Costa Rica, I met my 26 fellow Girl Scouts. We all bonded very quickly for being such a large group, and with people from all over the country, we had lots of stories to share. On the next day, we made the six hour drive from San Jose to Ostional where we stayed in the local community center. We lived as a community where we ate, worked, played, and slept. In addition to our own little community, we worked and interacted with locals too. We picked up trash along the main road and helped to clean up the beaches and collect turtle eggs with the locals as well. It was a great opportunity to practice my, at the time, limited Spanish.
That bring me into the most important part: sea turtles. Along with helping to collect the eggs, we did nightly beach patrols to count the turtle activity on the beach. We recorded our findings, which were then used to track the turtles’ movement and population growth or lack thereof. Working (and playing!) with the sea turtles was an interesting experience to say the least. Being surounded by turtles throughout the morning and then swimming later on, knowing that in just a few hours night will fall and the turtles will return, was powerful. It provokes understanding of nature and the world around you. During most nights patroling, we ended up in deep, existential conversations, but one night I found myself reflecting on my day, my week, my life. I looked up at the stars and suddenly felt so insignificant. With no light pollution, the stars shined brilliantly. After watching them for a while I came to the realization that I am just as significant as those stars, and so is everyone else I come into contact with. Moments like this make one realize how travel changes you positively.
After a week of turtle-time, group bonding, community service, and swimming, we returned to San Jose where we started the next portion with a few days of adventuring. We visited a basilica, hiked a volcano, and went zip-lining, to name a few. After such a powerful week, it was great to focus solely on fun. One of my greatest take aways from my time in Costa Rica was being appreciative of the moment you’re in, and letting things happen as they come. Work when work needs to be done, take a break when you need a break, eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, make time for play, love the people you’re with, smile often and enjoy the moment.
What moments abroad have changed you? Share in the comments below!