by Hannah Nevitt, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad Participant
A dear friend of mine recently asked me if I had found my “place” yet. A local hangout, a restaurant, or a place where everybody knows my name. A place that makes me feel that I am not so far away from home…
One of my favorite films about transitioning to life in a new country is called, “Under the Tuscan Sun.” In this film, “Frances,” a divorcee moves to Tuscany on a whim, buys an old villa, and spends her days remodeling her new home while she remodels different aspects of her life. During this ordeal she also finds inspiration through the foreigners and locals she meets in her new town.
My favorite inspirations from the film is when she states the importance of “finding your place, and making it your own.” Here in Costa Rica, I have tried to do the same. The “Galleria Estudio de Arte” in La Fortuna is a shop run by local artists specializing in mosaics, paintings, and souvenir crafts. As I was walking around one day I stumbled across it and started chatting with the artists that worked there.
Being an artist, it was great to interact with them, as well as practice my Spanish! Since then I have been coming every Sunday to paint or teach different art techniques with ceramics. Sundays have become one of my favorite days! We meet up, work on art projects, talk about life, or share a bottle of wine in the park near the volcano.
It has become my special place, the place where everybody knows my name. Another reason this place has become so special to me is because of all the people I have met; artists and travelers alike. Backpackers, newlyweds, and adventure seekers all come into the studio looking for handmade crafts or friendly conversation. It is always a great opportunity for us to sit around, share coffee, and learn about each other’s lives. Just this past weekend I met travelers from Spain, France, Italy, Belgium and Hungary!
The woman from Hungary I was especially honored to chat with. Her name was “Katherine” and I immediately recognized her accent and asked her where she was from. She was born in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, but fled to the U.S. after the holocaust. We ended up talking for about an hour or so, while she spoke to us about the holocaust, losing her siblings and her husband in Auschwitz (a concentration camp), and how she managed to escape to the U.S. with her young son.
I was entranced and moved by her story. It reminded me of the importance of taking time to interact with people, even perfect strangers. There is great wisdom and learning opportunities in these moments. And to think, very soon there may not be many holocaust survivors left to chat with about their experiences.
As she got up to leave, this dainty, elderly woman with kind eyes, smiled and we shook hands. It is these kinds of interactions that become embedded into your heart while traveling.