My adventure in Costa Rica was the best experience of my life. But I have to be honest: I was extremely nervous. My original purpose for this trip was to show my parents that I could make it on my own at college and to show other kids with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (and other forms of autism) they could overcome social challenges and experience new things. I feel I accomplished both goals, but I also experienced a new culture and personal growth.
My parents drove me to the airport where I met ten of the fourteen students coming to Costa Rica with me. We flew to Costa Rica and stayed at our first hotel: Hotel Pancadé, where the last three participants of our group had already arrived. The group had kids from different places and different ages. There was even someone who was in college and was participating as a Junior Leader on the program. We had dinner that night and talked as a group. It was hard for me to open up and talk to people who I didn’t know.
The next day, we had our first surfing lesson. It was my first time and I had a rough start, but it got little easier thanks to the surf instructors named Axel and Jose. They were very patient with all of us and made me feel comfortable. Soon I wasn’t nervous and started to really enjoy myself. This helped me to be more open and appreciate my time in Costa Rica. The surfing was great and, believe it or not, so was the service part of the trip.
At home, someone cuts our lawn and I don’t do any yard work. Here, the group and I worked at Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, where we were able to help make the park nicer for visitors. There is so much work needed there, and there isn’t enough staff to take care of everything. We cleaned up the gate on the beach, removed debris and cleaned bathrooms. It took a lot of work, but we managed to get it done. I felt really good helping and I learned how to plant grass. Plus it felt awesome knowing the staff appreciated our help. We continued surfing and beach cleanup for four days, and on the fifth day we did some planting with another group of kids.
We made signs for the National Park. It was incredible to be helpful and I liked meeting the other group of students.
Usually at home, I don’t speak to people I don’t know. It’s difficult for me and makes me anxious. I’m able to get along this way in the United States because most people don’t offer random greetings unless in formal settings. I learned that in Costa Rican culture it is extremely rude to not say hello or offer a friendly greeting even to someone you don’t know. I would never want people to think I was rude, so I made sure to put my nervousness aside and say hello.
I felt nervous going on this trip and being in another country with people I didn’t know was a bit overwhelming, but it all went extremely well, and I enjoyed every moment of being in Costa Rica. I learned to always stay calm and not let my nerves or anxieties get in the way. I was able to help a community, learn to surf, and I also learned to dance salsa and merengue. One night, I even did Karaoke and I wasn’t nervous or anxious! I had a great time and I made some amazing friends. I’ve already told my parents I plan to do this again next year!
The Smithsonian Student Adventures 2017 Costa Rica 10 Day Surf & Service Program
Picture Credit: #MyWalkingTree17 @WalkingTreeTravel