Discovering a True Life Passion
It was a cool, cloudless night, with a slight breeze coming off of the tropical ocean. We all sat gathered around a fire, drinking pineapple and papaya juices, after a long day of work. I was next to my host father’s niece, and we were deep in conversation (to the extent that my broken Spanish would allow) about what I wanted to do in the future after school. I still remember the exact moment it hit me, sitting there on that beach, realizing the path I wanted to take with the rest of my life… but I think I’m getting a little ahead of myself, let me backtrack.
I was a 19-year-old college student studying Conservation Biology at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY when I first heard about my club’s community service trip to Costa Rica. The trip was organized through Sustainable Horizon / Educational Travel Adventures, an organization that sends college and high school students abroad to stay with host families and partake in small projects that tackled various ecological and community development issues. I already received the opportunity to go to Costa Rica once during high school with my Spanish class, and I was dying to head back. Although I knew that this trip was going to be different from the typical vacation that I was used to, I was ready and excited to take the chance and explore something completely new.
Now, up until this point, I had no idea what the future would hold for me once I graduated and entered the “real world”. I just knew that I wanted to help conserve the planet in some way, but I thought that as a biologist, my options where already limited to studying a certain plant or animal species for the rest of my life. I felt stuck on a narrow, one-way track, before I even began.
Deciding to go on this trip completely changed all of this. Our program brought us to a host community on an island nestled in a small gulf off of the Costa Rican shoreline. Here, we would be building the first of thirteen bus stops around the island, with the goal of improving transportation and attracting an ecotourism market to the community. The host families we stayed with would most likely be considered impoverished by U.S. standards: their buildings were simple concrete and metal roofs, they didn’t have doors separating rooms, and when the power went out, the whole community was left in the dark for hours. However, the thing that truly amazed me was the culture and sense of place that they all shared. They relied so heavily on each other to live and be happy, and at the same time fostered such an astounding appreciation for their environment.
This was something that I had never really seen before. Sitting at the fire, thinking about my host niece’s question, I realized that I had found the right direction for my future academic and professional goals: I wanted to work with communities such as this in developing countries on conservation-related issues for the rest of my life.
The trip I took in Costa Rica was almost four years ago now. When I look back, I cannot believe how much has transpired in my life as a result of that trip. From that winter on, I traveled to Latin America at least once a year. Living in that community and doing the work we did sparked something in me, a passion for learning and experiencing our planet that could not be satisfied. It was like a fire growing, and the more I traveled and learn about the people and places that inhabit our world, the greater that fire burned. I began to really shape where I wanted my path in life to go, and I am SO happy and grateful that I took the chance and partook on that first trip to Costa Rica with Sustainable Horizon & Educational Travel Adventures.
People tend to say that changing the world is hard, if not impossible. I tend to disagree. Since that first adventure, countless times I have seen that same spark flicker to life in the eyes of other students who have gone on these trips. My favorite was when it happened to those who had never traveled abroad before up until this point. I would listen to them making future plans of adjusting their course work in school and traveling back down in the summer to reconnect with their host family, or visit a completely new place to learn something different. I would just smile, because I knew that they too had found their passion. It is a truly an amazing thing to watch, seeing the world change one individual at a time… and if it could happen for us, it could happen for anyone!