ODSS students reflect on “life changing” trip to Costa Rica

March 2, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

“It was definitely the trip of a lifetime.”

Those were the words ringing around an Orangeville District Secondary School classroom on Tuesday afternoon as a number of recently-returned students relived their 10-day Costa Rican adventure with local media.

Flying into the Costa Rican capital of San Jose on Feb. 17, the group of 36 senior-level students and six teachers were completely blown away by the beauty of the Central American nation. With the sun shining and a nice breezy wind whipping against their faces as they left the airport, many recounted that they knew right away they were on the cusp of experiencing something special.

“Going down there, we obviously knew it was going to be a beautiful place, but it was so much more than I was expecting,” Grade 12 student Madysyn Curry told the Citizen. “The moment we got off the plane and out of the airport, you could see right away how special the country is. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

And while the group were impressed with the landscape and features that met their eyes in the capital, they were later afforded the opportunity to truly see everything Costa Rica had to offer, spending time in four “incredibly different” communities throughout the duration of their stay.

For the first three days of the trip, the gang spent their time volunteering at an animal sanctuary in the seaside community of Coastal Puntarenas. Grade 11 student Isabella Mauti told how the group helped to clean out enclosures at the facility for the endangered red macaw, among other things. A number of the students were so inspired by the work that was ongoing at Natuwa Santuario de Lapas that they decided to offer financial, as well as physical, aid to the facility.

“Spending as much time as we did at Natuwa really made me think about the fact that there are other people out in the world making a difference, and I think it’s important for us to help these people out,” said Grade 12 student Sarah Van Galen. “As a group, we decided we wanted to sponsor the animal sanctuary and help them out financially. It was a nice feeling.”

While most of the students enjoyed their time at the sanctuary, it was a lot of “sweaty, dirty work” according to one student.

“I was excited for the service aspect of the trip. When we got to the sanctuary, there was a lot of effort on our part to get in there and be a lot more physical than we perhaps even thought we would be, but it was definitely satisfying to see the end result,” Grade 11 student Honour Stahl said. “Being able to look back and see exactly how we impacted on the group there, it’s nice knowing you helped to make a difference and that your efforts were appreciated.”

A trip north into the Monteverde Cloud Forest ensued, with the group spending a significant amount of time “off the grid”, living without all the home comforts one student admitted to taking for granted here in Canada.

“That was super interesting – getting away and spending a couple of days without all the life luxuries we live with today,” Ms. Curry said. “That meant no cell phone, no electricity at all, no hot water… It was a unique experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry.”

For Grade 11 student Kieran Harwood-Jones, his holiday highlight came when the group visited a local Costa Rican school towards the end of the trip.

“We knew we were only going to be here for ten days and by the time day seven came around, we had done some of the volunteer work, we had done some sight-seeing and some socializing and relaxing, so it was time for us to experience something a little different,” Mr. Harwood-Jones said. “We went into this tiny Costa Rican school, which had 13 of the cutest students you’ve ever seen. We sang to them, we played outside with them, we organized a soccer game – it was incredible.”

With a smile firmly imprinted upon his face, Kieran opened up and told of a “special moment” he shared with a young boy while the group was playing around outside.

“We were playing this variation of hide and seek and this one little boy wanted to hop up on my back, so I let him and he immediately started shouting ‘caballo! Caballo!’, Which is Spanish for horse, so I started running around and neighing with him on my back and he was just so happy, so full of joy… I started crying while this young kid was having all of this fun, it was one of the cutest things ever,” Kieran said. “I’ve never seen a kid be that happy just to be with a stranger before. It was such a life changing moment for me. That’s something that is going to stick with me forever.”

And that seemed to be a common theme for the students, and indeed the staff, as trip organizer Susie Chamberlain told the Citizen she must have said the words “this is amazing” more than 100 times per day.

“I was not expecting as much diversity as we saw on this trip, as much beauty as we witnessed – it really was just amazing experience after amazing experience,” Ms. Chamberlain said. “Right at the end of the trip we traveled out to Lake Arenal for a kayaking tour, which was incredible, and then went back to San Jose to see the big volcano. A number of kids went on a hike to see an amazing freefalling waterfall. There were just so many amazing things, it’s difficult trying to sit down and discuss all of them. We don’t have enough time!”

The students though did their best to recount exactly what they would remember from the “incredibly journey” they shared.

“I feel like a lot of people in Orangeville, and a lot of people in Canada get trapped in this small town bubble. I personally know a lot of people that aren’t really interested in venturing out and seeing what’s out there and I’ve never really understood that,” Grade 12 student Rachel Hooker said. “I’ve been traveling before, but this trip specifically opened my eyes so much to the different lifestyles, cultures and scenery that’s out there in the world.”

She added, “All this trip has done is make me want to get out there and plan other trips – truly see the world and have the opportunity to help those that need it.”

According to Ms. Chamberlain, students will have the opportunity to do just that as she’s already planning a trip to Ecuador for the school in 2018.

“We really didn’t want this trip to end, so we decided pretty quickly that the only thing that was going to get us through to the end would be planning the next one, so we’re pretty set on the fact we’re going to Ecuador next year,” Ms. Chamberlain said. “I’ve already filled out all the paperwork and submitted it to the board, so hopefully we can start planning for next year right away.”

There will be a significant difference between the Costa Rica and proposed Ecuador trips though says Ms. Chamberlain, with next year’s adventure representing more of a traditional mission trip.

“The trip to Ecuador will be more focused on helping people. It’s going to be a project based trip where we go into one location and work pretty much the entire time on one particular build. There will be       opportunities to socialize and see the area, but there certainly won’t be the amount of traveling involved as there was on our Costa Rica trip,” Ms. Chamberlain said.

The threat of hard work wasn’t nearly enough to put the students off though, with practically all of those that would be eligible to attend next year’s trip hopeful they would be afforded the opportunity to do so. For those students that haven’t even considered the possibility of joining a trip like this, Grade 12 student Julia Turnbull had an important message of encouragement highlighting exactly why anyone with the opportunity to take part should jump at the chance to do so.

“There’s absolutely no reason not to put yourself out there and experience something like this. This trip to Costa Rica has been one of the most life changing experiences I’ve ever had, and probably ever will have, in my life. The things you see on these trips and the things you experience completely change you as a person,” Ms. Turnbull said. “They have a saying down in Costa Rica – Pura Vida, and I think that resonated with all us that took this trip.”

“Pura Vida translated directly to meaning pure life, but it goes way beyond that. You could see it in the people’s faces as they said it – pure joy and happiness. To me, Pura Vida means that we should all live life to the fullest, embrace it, cherish it… Do all that you can in the time that you have. That means going out and experiencing things like this. Without this trip, I wouldn’t know about Pura Vida, and I feel like my life is so much better now for knowing it.”

The rest of the group nodded along in agreement. If there’s one thing they’ve taken away from the trip, according to Ms. Chamberlain, it’s the need to live life to the absolute fullest.

“Pura Vida!” they all exclaimed

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