By Cally Hardwick
As we stood in the airport, I had no idea what I had got myself into. Twenty four Aggies sat anxiously waiting to board a plan to Costa Rica. Five hours later, we got into buses and began what could possible be the most exciting 15 days of my young life.
After traveling all day on twisting uphill bumpy roads, we finally arrived at the Texas A&M University Soltis Center for Learning and Research. It was wonderful! We filed into the bungalows to unpack, went down to the cafeteria for dinner, and called it a night. I do not think anyone really knew what the following day held.
“Breakfast 6:30 to 7:30, make sure you have water and whatever else you need in your backpack, and we are headed out at 8:00!” This became the norm of everyday life pretty quick for us. The first day we were at the center will always be very special to me. We got the opportunity to go on a hike through the rainforest that had a surprise ending. The long muddy journey was a little rough, but was very worth it!
The surprise ending: Two waterfalls. A picture can’t adequately do this sight justice!
The next day, after hiking to a local farm, we returned to the center, had class, cleaned up and headed into town for New Year’s Eve. It was really neat to be able to experience local culture first hand.
While sitting on the front steps of the church, I got the opportunity to play jump rope with two little girls. Even with our language barrier, I was able to communicate with them and have a really good time! I hope they always remember the New Year’s Eve that they jumped rope with the group of Americans!
Throughout our trip we visited several different agricultural operations. From small family-owned farms to larger corporate-scale companies, I learned so many things and have a greater appreciation for modern technology after visiting each one of them.
One morning we hiked to a local farm to help a family plant their bean crop. They had a field of coffee plants, but need to plant rows of beans between them so that the beans would put nitrogen in the soil for the coffee plant to utilize. 24 Aggies grabbed milk jugs that were cut in half and filled with seeds, sticks to poke holes in the soil where the beans would be planted, and hiked to the field to began working. We planted the entire field in just a few hours; a job that the owner said would have taken him and his son a couple of days. I walked away from this experience with a new found appreciation for farm equipment to say the least. Poking holes, bending over to place three bean seeds in, and continuing through the heat was definitely hard word, but the feeling of accomplishment and helping the family was well worth it.
We also go the chance to visit with several large-scale farm, two of which were organic operations. It was really interesting to learn about things such as biodiversity on farms. This practice means that every thing present on the land contributes in some way. Wither it be pigs used for turning over the soil like plows, animal waste as fertilizer, or specific plants planted so that others could benefit from what they deposited into the ground, everything effects at least one other aspect of the farm.
Now that we had explored the rainforest, hiked through the mountains, learned about many different Costa Rican agricultural practices, it was time to face some fears!
The first adventure led me the beginning of conquering my number one fear- Heights! We spent the day zip lining over the rainforest. It was amazing! The view of the top of the canopy looked like plush green carpet, and the volcano was unlike anything I have ever seen. There was also a large lake nearby that was really pretty as well.
The second day was when I would really tackle my fear head on. We went rappelling! The trip had a series of cliffs and waterfalls to rappell down, but the first was quite scary. I honestly thought I was about to start crying I was so scared as I looked over the edge and realized what I had got myself into. It was so much fun though! After my first trip down, I was walking right up to the edge, spinning around, and flying down the side of the cliffs. I am very grateful for this opportunity. I am very glad I tackled my fear and actually enjoyed it!
Costa Rica taught me many things. The love for Mother Nature was felt everywhere, and the respect they had for natural resources were really inspiring. As Americans, we generally take simple things like turning the water off when washing our hands or brushing our teeth and enjoying long showers for granted. To see not only a community, but also an entire country be “green” was amazing. I think that out of all of the things that my time studying abroad taught me, the lesson of giving back to Mother Nature, and only taking the very minimum was probably the greatest.
It’s amazing what you miss while traveling in a foreign country. Lack of wifi for communicating with friends back home, long hot showers, AIR CONDITIONING, and ice in your drink were all some of the things we missed while studying in Costa Rica. I cannot speak for everyone, but the experience I gained was life changing. I would definitely give up these things and much more to be able to experience my study abroad trip again.
About the author: Cally Hardwick is a senior in agricultural communications and journalism. She’ll graduate in May 2013 and hopes to start a career in public relations. She is a member of the Fighting Texas Aggie Rodeo Team and enjoys traveling and competing in both college and amateur rodeos around the state. She loves the world of agriculture and wants to give back to it in any way possible.