Union, Mountain View, and Ridgefield High School students in Quebrada Grande, Costa Rica

favorite group photo

What difference can ten days make?

Honestly, I thought that this trip would have been a wreck. Two of my closest friends backed out because of medical issues, so I was on my own.  What would I have done for over a week under the blazing sun of Guanacaste eating nothing but beans and rice? BY MYSELF?  This didn’t make me nervous, but I was afraid that I had payed $2000 to go do something that I wouldn’t enjoy, nor was I anticipating to learn anything from it. April 1st approached so quickly that I felt no real emotion about going to Costa Rica. I went with the flow, trying to make jokes along the way in order to gain fragile confidence in front of people I’d only seen twice before.

I looked out the airplane window at the familiar yellow lights of Portland slowly dimming behind dark clouds. When the last sparkle of home finally left my sight, I looked up at all of the teens in the back of a silent, crowded airplane. No one was comfortable enough to lay their heads on one another, and most only knew one or two other people. I tried to position my head on the cold glass and get some sleep.  We’re off to a great start.


Twelve hours and roughly 4000 miles later, I inhaled my first breath of warm Costa Rican air. I picked up my unnecessarily large duffle bag with wheels, traded in my USA currency for Colones, and stomached my realization that this was the furthest I’d ever been from home. At least the traveling was over, or so I thought.

Oh wait….  Exhausted from sitting, I dreaded the fact that we still had five and a half more hours on a bus.  During the bus ride we saw volcanoes, beaches, pastures, cities, resorts, and more. I couldn’t fall asleep like everyone else because I was too excited to see all the views. I decided that being tired later on was definitely worth it.  When signs pointing to “Quebrada Grande” appeared, the bus filled with chatter and apprehensive excitement. We passed by staring locals who were just as nervous and excited as we were. Finally seeing the town that I had been waiting to go to for five months was perhaps my first big sentimental experience of the trip. It finally hit me what I was about to do for the next week, and how isolated I was from my world back up in the United States. So far from home, yet so content with it.

The community band greeting the volunteers

The community band greeting the volunteers

We arrived, unpacked our stuff, and could finally relax in a little pink building that we called home for the next week. That night, the town’s band came marching through the street playing a loud, rhythm-based song. Many people gathered sitting on benches and on the curb to not only watch, but to dance. Our group eventually rushed into the street and had a giant dance party! We even got a lot of the locals to join in with us. Whether or not anyone was dancing, it was clear that everyone was enjoying themselves. American society seems to have shut off the importance of human connection and the sharing of bonds, trust, and good energy. We learned that from the people in Costa Rica, it is important to connect not just through words, but through your soul as well. That night in Quebrada Grande, our souls opened up to the world.

The area where we were building the court was still being prepared, so progress was slow. It was easy to get discouraged as well because we often felt like we weren’t really doing enough work. However, when we finally started pouring concrete (this was at the end of the second day of work), we began a chain of nonstop grinding every day. And at the end of those days we were filthy. Utterly filthy.


The court was divided into five long strips of concrete. After the first day of pouring, we only got a fraction of a strip done, and I was exhausted. Everyone was a little worried; it would have sucked to leave without finishing the court. We got a second concrete mixer and things picked up a little bit, but we still made slow progress. Finally, we realized that if we brought the mixers right above where we were pouring instead of wheelbarrowing the concrete, we could go a lot faster than before. Bucket after bucket and shovel after shovel, a flat strip of land was transformed into our finished product. Mo and I got the privilege of pouring the last bucket of sand, and cheers erupted soon after.

One aspect of our trip that kept us on our toes were the “challenges” that were distributed to us. The main purpose of these challenges was to push us out of our comfort zone, and to truly learn how uniquely different foreign cultures are to us. My challenge was to ask a local what they think of the United States. Steve helped me come up with the phrase in Spanish, and I made sure that I was next to Janet while asking the question to Esteban a local contractor for the court.

Peace Corps Volunteer Lauren Sanguinet, Saul, and the contractors

Peace Corps Volunteer Lauren Sanguinet, Saul, and the contractors

Esteban saw the U.S.A. as the “capital of the world”. He believed that people there, specifically the youth, have better advantages to do what they want with their life and can more easily contribute to a brighter future for themselves and for the rest of the world. This led him to speak about his concerns for the youth of his town because they didn’t appear to have ambitions or dreams for their own. Speaking to people of another culture shares understanding about their customs and ideals, but you often don’t realize how much you can learn about your own culture through this.

There were only five men in our group. The women of the group worked extremely hard, and it must have been exciting and inspiring for the women of Quebrada Grande to see people like Laura, Mo, Janet, and more putting their complete focus and strength into this project. For a community with strong patriarchal ties, we were ambassadors of showing that women are completely capable of doing everything that men are. We hopefully gave this inspiration to some of the local teens as well; you can do so much for the world when you have the ambition to.

beach picture

When we finished the court, we were surprised with a visit to the beach, Playa Hermosa. This was an amazing treat after so many days of working, but I felt some guilt because many people who lived in Quebrada Grande who worked just as hard as we did returned to their everyday lives. People like Manuela, who cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us everyday, and Noel and Esteban who contracted and directed the entire project did it with genuine smiles on their faces. They put so much effort into the jobs they had and were humble in what they did. The positivity and happiness that came with their dedication firmly displays their character and outlook on life. I realized how insignificant many of my problems seemed back in the states.


On the midnight flight back to Houston, things had shifted dramatically since when we first left Portland. Everyone was comfortably laying on each other, and there was a strong wave of trust and bond surrounding us. Before the trip, Janet and I had never even said words to each other, and now we were using our heads as pillows on an uncomfortable plane ride. When you commit yourself to an amazing experience and open up your souls alongside complete strangers, you won’t stay strangers for long. Together we learned about other cultures as well as our own, shared personal connections, inspired others, explored outside our comfort zones, and smashed the patriarchy. Together we grew as individuals and ignited a spark of determination and drive in each and every one of us. Together, we induced a small change in the world and a big change in our lives. “Together” is the magic of this trip.

What a difference ten days can make.

– Jackson Hughes, Mountain View HS Sophomore


“Wow!  Quebrada Grande is an amazing place that has impacted my life for the better and changed my view on the big world we live in.  Yes, we went to serve a community and help them, but I think I speak for everyone on the trip when I say that we gained and benefitted just as much, if not more than the community we served.” – Gabe Rodgers

community member high fiving group after the court is complete

community member high fiving group after the court is complete

“What I learned from the community was how incredibly hardworking and determined and open/friendly ticos are.  Their work ethic is incredible, as I see them work non-stop, with 100% until their mission was complete to just feed/take care of their family.  Also how open and accepting they were with strangers and foreigners; always saying hola (hi) and waving and smiling which is quite rare to witness in America.” – Addy Lee

celebrating the last bucket of cement

celebrating the last bucket of cement

“What I learned about myself… The important things like being culturally aware and taking my experiences to my home life.  I learned that this is what I want to be doing with my life… I understand that there is a giant world out there waiting for adventurous people like me to explore it.  I learned there is no wrong or right way to do things they are just different.  And that what I will be taking back home.” – Maddie Kearsey