by Nicole Hoagland — Costa Rica Tropical Ecology Study Abroad Participant
There was a lot to gain while on the Tropical Ecology trip to Costa Rica. From the beginning to the end God spoke to me the whole time assuring me that I was in the right place at the right time. I felt like there were some things he wanted to show me. This trip left me feeling more in tune with who I am and also a different outlook on life. The language barrier between the people of Costa Rica and myself was very evident, but the beautiful thing about it was that I created unforgettable relationships with them. This lead me to reflect on the quote, “A warm smile is a universal language we all speak” by William Arthur Ward. Nothing was phony about the love experienced on this journey.
On the trip I was most impressed with the metaphors that came to mind when studying the ecology. For instance, there was a species called the stranger fig. This tree would grow extremely high and sometimes block the other trees around it from getting sun light. At first it seemed a little weary, but the instructor explained that the tree puts out beautiful and tasty fruits for the other species around it to enjoy. The other species would then get rid of the seeds in a new location and increasing the odds of a newly developed strangler fig. This made me look at life in a reassuring way. In a world where being anti-social and bitter is starting to be the norm, it was reassuring to study this tree. This made me realize that putting out something beautiful into the world and letting others use it will increase my productivity. Putting out positive would attract others to me making them want a part of that happiness.
I thought it was beautiful to be able to gain a message out of something that may be overlooked often times. I think being in nature allows us to realize things that we do not always get to realize or see in action. Living in New Jersey, life can get busy, but Costa Rica allowed me to step away from all of the ruckus. The Costa Rican people seemed so much happier and their lives were simpler. In the beginning, the tour guide explained to us that they live by the term Pura Vida, meaning pure living. It was not until I saw all the locals screaming Pura Vida while cliff jumping into a beautiful river that I realize a people could be so in tune with who they are. This shocked me because that happiness is lacked in the area that I live in where video games and technology strip us from real life interactions.
Outside of the beautiful culture the Costa Rican’s care for the Earth was truly admirable. Almost every hotel we went to explained to throw all toilet paper in the garbage instead of flushing it down the toilet. It may sound like a TMI (too much information) topic, but that may be because American’s would rather have their water systems contaminated. The Costa Ricans only flush biodegradables keeping their water systems natural. More than it may have shocked me to do this, it showed me the extent as to what they will do to show their land that they appreciate it. This showed me that there are some people who actually believe life does not start and end with mankind and that the world is to be shared with many other species.
All in all, I received a great gift from this experience. I learned to look at the deeper picture behind everything. I learned to stay true to myself and maybe bring some of that happiness back to those around me. I want that happiness to be contagious and spread through the states again. This experience reminded me to always put out something beautiful despite what is going on around me. As I left the tour guides and in tears, I realized a smile is truly a language we all speak despite language barriers and that no one can get in the way of the lessons God wants us to gain.