It all started with a 3am bus ride to DFW airport. Despite our early morning exhaustion, there was a buzz of excitement going around the group as we anticipated the incredible experiences that awaited us in Costa Rica. So, we checked our bags, hopped on a plane, and not before long we were in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Our first cultural experience occurred when the 10-15 minute shuttle from the airport to the hotel was actually 10-15 Costa Rican (or, Pura Vida) minutes, which was closer to half an hour. Being student-athletes that are used to very strict schedules, this new reality was definitely an adjustment. Then came the rice & beans. Little did we know during dinner that first night, we would be eating rice & beans at every single meal (breakfast, lunch, & dinner) for the next 8 days. This was yet another adjustment we hadn’t anticipated but quickly adapted to and became a very memorable part of our experience.
The next morning, we loaded our things and set out for our community in Los Nubes. Our four-hour bus ride took us to the northern region of Costa Rica, near the border with Nicaragua. Despite the long journey, this bus ride became a great opportunity to talk and connect with other members of our group, take a nap, and appreciate the country’s beautiful landscape.
Upon our arrival in Los Nubes, the community immediately greeted us with a welcome ceremony they had rehearsed just for us. This included music, dances, skits, and introductions. In seeing the openness, generosity, and positivity of this community, the tone for our week had been set and we knew working with this community would be easy.
We began our work at 6am every day, usually not finishing until about 4pm. This was to make as much use of the day light, as the sun was rising around 5am in the morning and setting at 6pm in the afternoon. It was rigorous and taxing work, but the satisfaction of seeing parts of the court become completed and knowing who we were doing it for gave us the strength and the motivation to put aside our desire for rest and work harder to accomplish the thing we had committed ourselves to doing.
Every afternoon the local kids would come from all parts of the community to participate in our daily soccer match. Our teams were mixed with members of our group, locals, boys, girls, Spanish speakers, and non-Spanish speakers— this was an all-inclusive game and just one of many genuine interactions we had daily with this community. We attempted our best Spanish and they would attempt their best English. Eagerly, they would come up to us bringing fresh mangoes from their yard, teaching us local dances, opening their homes for us to visit, and many other occurrences that happened during the week. A true bond was being formed in the community, and it was obvious that beyond the court, our presence truly meant the world to these people.
By the last day of working on the court, the neighboring school and many of the community members came to help us complete the court. Allan, our Courts for Kids representative told us that in all his time he had never seen such engagement and involvement from a community in the project. We had truly become one with this community, and together we finished the court.
Beyond having an impact in the community, there was also a great change in ourselves. Although each person’s experiences and realizations were different, we did all share a couple of things. Especially being student-athletes, all of us often find ourselves going from one task to the next and remaining in this cycle without much thought or appreciation for the things we are accomplishing. In Costa Rica, we had a lot of time to reflect on how this experience was causing us to constantly be pushing our boundaries by trying new things and how much self-growth resulted from it. Without our normal daily distractions, we had the opportunity to really be present with our tasks and enjoy the moments we were sharing, unwillingly to forget and move on from this profound experience when we got back home.
We are all extremely grateful to have participated in such a trip. Many of us wish to go back to Los Nubes someday and revisit all the people and places that made this experience so unforgettable. -Gabriel, student
“The most difficult part of going home will be to find another opportunity to provide service to a new community, like this one. The seed has been planted and I will continue to do this as long as I can.”- Sara
“What I understand more clearly now is that life is not always about what it is that you achieve, but also about the people you are with and the shared experiences you have.” – Patrick
“… they call this Pura Vida. I will adopt this life style and try to use it in the USA. It made me enjoy life more.” – Annabelle
“The most difficult part of going home is leaving the place I made a big impact on. It is also leaving a place that had a tremendous impact on me.” – Connor
“The whole community jumping in on the last day made me forget pain and soreness and just finish the job while having fun. The inauguration, even though super rainy, made it all worth it, seeing everyone together playing together on the court.” – Tom
“My family and especially me didn’t believe I would be able to handle living in a place that wasn’t like what I was used to. With this trip I was able to remember why I am studying what I am studying and remembered why helping people was my calling. I learned I can adapt to environments and push through knowing the greater goal ta hand.” – Sofia