Just like that, my time here in San Joaquin, Costa Rica came and went. Tomorrow is my last class day, Friday is our farewell dinner, and Saturday I am on a flight back to Texas. While the assignments for this course have ramped up a bit here at the end with our final presentations culminating tomorrow, this time writing has focused me in enough to give myself time to reflect on my experiences these past four weeks – the exact thing I want to discuss in my final post. The value of reflection. To reiterate, this post is me reflecting and simultaneously expressing the value of doing so – yes, at the same time.
My whole life I have been fortunate enough to go and do – I take almost yearly family vacations to the beach or the mountains. I have spent several summers dancing at ballet intensives in various states. I have traveled to California with friends. I have gone on mission to England and Mexico, and now I have come to Costa Rica to study abroad with the University of Texas at Austin. Wow. Honestly, that is BEYOND fortunate. Having had numerous traveling experiences under my belt, I always end up comparing – how the food was better here, things were cheaper there, I had more fun with those people; at this place I could not wait to get home. Of course that is natural. We all like different things and have different tastes. But, I always have to stop myself from letting my reflections end there. It is not about constantly moving on to the next bigger and better thing. The fact that this thing happened, that you got to experience something extraordinary in its own right is worth giving the time to appreciate. The good and the bad.
Now, easier said than done. My time here in Costa Rica has had ups and downs. I was excited seeing all the things that were so different from America – the colorful buildings, the dense greenery, the immense rice and beans cuisine. It was refreshing. It was new. It was Costa Rica. I also did things I knew I could not replicate in the states – zip-lined in the forest, white water rafted past huge waterfalls, laid on the beach for hours without any sounds of the city. But, it was not all rainbows and sunshine. I quickly began to know what it was like to be the odd one out. Costa Rica, especially San Joaquin, lacks diversity. White, blue-eyed females are a rarity here and it sparked intrigue by many locals. I was stared at almost everywhere I went, always standing out, never blending in. Rice and beans are also a big staple here. But a girl can only take so much rice and beans. And most people do not speak English, or at least not very much. One of the things I hate most is when I cannot communicate well with people, and here I always had to rely on someone in our group to help me (I am also stubbornly independent so that was not fun either). But the thing is, I could not have recreated this experience if I tried. I saw, felt, ate, smelled, enjoyed, and struggled with everything this country had to offer me. That is such a unique thing that should be never taken for granted.
What I also have implemented into my own life is not letting the experience end here. This is now a part of what makes you, you. The lessons you learned, the people you saw, the things you did are all a portion of who you now are. Do not just let those parts of you just be put on a shelf to never be seen again – carry your experience with you. It does not have to be everything you talk about all the time or what you share when you first meet someone, but let it continue to stir something in you that keeps you growing. Because otherwise, why are you here? Why are you going and doing?
Lastly, give thanks where thanks are due. Thank you to everyone who has given me the opportunities to pursue my goals and enjoy life. Also, big thank you to my family for their never ending emotional and financial support. I could not have had these amazing experiences I carry with me on my own dime. Thank you to Professor Karen Landolt who made this course one of the most worthwhile classes I have ever taken. And beyond that, being an amazingly caring, compassionate, and available mentor on this trip. Lastly, thank you to my classmates and now friends I was able to experience all of these crazy things with. Like I said before, experiences mean more when you have people to share them with. Thank you for being those people. And making me laugh. Until next time, Pura Vida!
This post was contributed by Bridget Caston, a 2019 Global Ambassador. Bridget is majoring in marketing and dance and is studying abroad on the Social and Cultural Entrepreneurship McCombs faculty-led program in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica.
Read more about Bridget’s experience abroad>>