by Jill Robinson and Greenheart Travel‘s Costa Rica Scholarship Winners
Their journey to Costa Rica began in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, but the expectations and anxieties had been racing through their minds long before the July 17 departure. Center for Cultural Interchange/Greenheart Travel High school scholarship winners: Braulio, Fernando, Nitza and Luzmaria were on their way to a country they had never visited, to stay with host families they have never met and to learn more about themselves and the environment then they could imagine possible in a ten-day trip.
“ ‘Getting to Costa Rica’ is the best way to describe our first day,” 16-year-old Fernando Arce from St. Laurence High School wrote in his journal. “Today I really got to know Braulio, Nitza, Luzmaria and Adra (student leader) a lot more. The whole day consisted of actually getting to Costa Rica, which I thought was good, because it gave us more time to socialize. We shared stories about school, friends, family, trips we have taken and even played a couple card games.”
As their journey began, the four students had the challenge of getting to know one another. Coming from different schools and neighborhoods in the Chicago area, the shyness disappeared in time for the final leg of their flight from Atlanta. What they did have in common was their excitement for travel and for the life-changing adventures they were going to have during their volunteer efforts. Touching down in San Jose, Costa Rica, the thick humidity in the air signaled they had arrived. Welcoming them was Alvaro from Proyecto Asis, who offered up some quick facts and a warm smile as they headed to their accommodations for the night.
“Arriving at San Jose brought me such great warmth,” Luzmaria Guzman, 17 yrs., from Fenwick Friars High School wrote. “The airport is just an airport, cold and all business. Stepping off my plane was so pleasant. I could just smell the fresh humidity caused by the rain. Alvaro is so friendly! He welcomed us like family.”
They were now in unfamiliar territory. The scenery zipping past their windows began to awaken the realization that they were a long way from home.
“It first hit me when we were driving in the car with Alvaro that I was in Costa Rica,” wrote Fernando. “Seeing the houses and the small stores made me realize that things were a lot different. I definitely think that this trip will help me grow stronger and make me really appreciate what I have in Chicago.”
With a heightened awareness that comes with finding yourself in a new place, 16-year-old Braulio Fernandez from Phillips Exeter Academy said it was the smell of the air that struck his senses.
“I haven’t spent too much time here in Costa Rica, but I can immediately tell you that it’s different from the States, or even Mexico for that matter,” Braulio wrote. “First is the air. After getting off the plane with popped ears, I could make out the smell of charcoal in the air. I thought that perhaps it was just at the airport, but the smell remains even at the small hotel we’re at. Naturally, I can’t smell it anymore after an hour, but it’s unique. It reminds me of the smell before a cook-out; so it’s a good thing… What I’d say is my favorite part so far is the humidity. I’m sure I won’t like it once the temperature rises, but right now it feels nice. It’s about 70 – 75 degrees and humid, making it feel great. I’ve never felt cool humidity like this anywhere. It’s actually a nice break from the Chicago heat. ( I know that sounds weird).”
Settling in for the first night, the four of them re-capped the day’s events, brains buzzing with what was in store for them for the next week and a half. They would meet their host families, and see one of many projects they would volunteer their time. There was a coffee plantation to tour and and a culture to understand. Always in the back of their mind the unknown of how they would meet the challenges presented each day.
“I expect that Costa Rica will have a lot of insects which can turn into an anxiety,” Nitza Solis, 18 yrs. from Fenwick Friars High School wrote. “However, I think Costa Rican culture embraces all living creatures even if that means critters with many legs that annoy and “terrorize” your comfort zone. I am nervous about meeting my new host family and jumping into everything at once. In my prior experience, I had time to open up, but here I’ll be jumping into a family for 10 days.
I expect that the country will be beautiful and the weather humid. I expect many adventures and trying new activities, but some of the best moments in life come unexpected, so I’m looking forward to just that… Once I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, it hit me that I was actually going to be a part of this awesome experience. I think when I return I will look at the world from a new perspective. It will open my eyes to the nature, fragility and beauty of the world.”