After three-and-a-half months of adventures, new experiences, and exciting learning opportunities which became a new norm, we made it to the final week of our study away adventure. Following is the account of my final week in beautiful Costa Rica and the journey back to a life I’ve spent quite a time away from back here in the EE.UU. It was certainly a week filled with fun events and excitement. But also the bittersweet realization that I was to see my family back home again at the exchange of leaving my new Costa Rican family. All this in mind, here’s how the week went:
Monday looked to be another no-nonsense day in class discussing literature and novels, but the professor unfortunately fell ill, and had to cancel class for the day. This gave me time in the morning to work on…actually I’m not sure, but I remember being productive. At 11:00, we gathered together for our usual Monday meeting. We discussed the week ahead—with a tinge of sadness of it being the last one. After lunch, I took a solo trip to the lovely Parque Sabana outside San José. After walking around a bit to enjoy the beauty of the exquisite rainbow-colored trees growing there, I settled myself into a picnic table to write the majority of my plane letters to fellow SOL mates. It’s incredibly hard to string words together in such a way as to accurately do justice to the impact a person can have on your experience and life over four months of regular contact. I wrote several of the remaining notes before taking a bus back home…right in the heart of San José rush-hour (not my best idea). The rest of the evening went into helping Josué with a totem pole project for his class the next day.
Tuesday opened with us back in class as per usual. We also received the news that the final presentation we had been planning to have to give on Thursday was now being split between Thursday and…tomorrow. Therefore, half of us needed to prepare our projects a day earlier than planned—myself among them. This meant the afternoon found me frantically reading the remaining 45 pages of my increasingly-confusing novel. Next was planning out the concept for my project, and finally making that idea a reality. I chose to do a two-sided painting representing the two ‘mood halves’ of the novel. It took a fair bit of the evening to prepare (especially waiting on one side to dry to allow me to work on the other) but I was quite pleased with the outcome. That got me to around 10 p.m. A little more character mapping, and I was more than ready for bedtime.
We began a slew of presentations over our novels Wednesday morning. I feel that my presentation went rather well, but I was extremely grateful to the professor for helping me understand/explain more of the ending of the novel (which basically seems to digress into a slurry of dialogue and unrelated entrances and exits). Immediately after class, we marched our crew over to the Esperanza Park for our Earth Day festival. We partnered with several of the Tico families, the community kids, and those in our group, to put on what became quite an event. Amidst the garage sale, face-painting, tree planting, fútbol playing, mask-making, and running around in general, my group and I got to be part of the festival as costumed characters. I played Señor Basura (Mr. Trash), and had a magnificent time wandering through the park interacting and picking up trash with the kids while wearing a costume I had made the prior week from a little hot glue, and a whole lotta trash and recycling. Later on, our theatre troop staged a short show exemplifying the beauty to be found in nature and the way trash misplacement or irresponsible disposal can disrupt this. We also talked about the importance of recycling what is recyclable rather than simply throwing away, but that reducing consumption and reusing what we can are steps to take even before recycling. It was an absolutely amazing time, and it was so fun to see the SOL mates and our host Tico families coming together to create something like this. That afternoon, I made a trip to the store for some frozen chicken, and on my way back home, made a new friend in the panadería on our street. I spent the evening writing final plane letters and relaxing.
I was mentally preparing myself for the very long day to come Thursday. With an extra hour of Literature scheduled, I was slotted for 9 ½ hours of class once again…and not particularly looking forward to it. Fortunately, the presentations went smoothly and rather quickly—so we actually got out at the 3.5 hour mark, as opposed to the planned four. A lunch at the school with friends and a little down time at home got me ready to pick my backpack right back up and head to the final 5.5 hours of class. Amazingly, history of cinema class finished an hour early after our French film about rampant bike theft. I ran a quick errand to the store with Pranav to get food supplies for the next day, and discuss if I would get out of COM class early. I was rather convinced we wouldn’t…I was very wrong. Our professor decided to speak with each of us briefly about our final exams before having the final presentations given to only the other students who hadn’t presented. This meant I was only there for 30 minutes—which was great! My 9.5 hours-of-class day had shrunk to a mere 6 hours; definitely a great way for the last day of class in Costa Rica to go. I went home to enjoy an early dinner before going to dance the night away with friends at Tipico Latino. When we finally got in around 1:00, I got to chat a bit with Megan in England—an excellent close to the day.
It was a short night for me, as we had to meet Friday morning at 6:00 a.m. to drive to the ‘secret location’ of our final ceremony. I caught somewhat less than 40 winks on the ride there before we arrived at our destination: Guayabo National Park and Monument. The site used to be a thriving indigenous city somewhere around 1000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. at which point, the inhabitants seem to have mysteriously disappeared. Before exploring the ruins themselves, we took time to find a quiet clearing and share a moment of reflection on the semester and our closing thoughts and gratitude. The emotions were definitely running high, but the hug fest afterwards really put the power of the moment over the top. We’ve spent so many days during the semester joking amongst ourselves that we only have ‘three months left to go to this place’ or ‘seven weeks left to try this food’ but getting up to our final day together in Costa Rica put that joke behind us and impressed on us the reality of what this moment meant. Next was our tour of the amazing site and the ruins there, before we boarded the bus to head home. We gotback to Heredia later than planned, so it was basically time to start cooking as soon as we got there. I made a chicken and vegetable stir-fry with angel hair pasta to take over to our final farewell dinner (the idea being that we cooked for our Tico families to thank them for the semester and all the meals they had cooked for us.) After a delicious meal, we passed out plane letters, sang a few songs of closing together, and said farewell to the first round of people taking flights home. It was definitely a moment filled with many tears, hugs, and hopeful ‘see you soon’s. After this, it was back home to pack for me and he decision of what to leave behind rather than try to fly home with. (Several of the art works I’ve done this semester now have a permanent home in Costa Rica).
I was scheduled for a 3:30 a.m. pick-up from my house by the SOL van, and I decided that rather than try to drag myself out of bed so early, it was easier to just not sleep. Once I finished packing, I had one last cup of coffee in the house, and did some creative writing to finish the night. When the van arrived, Karla came down to see me off, and with a hug and ‘nos vemos’ I said good bye to my Mamá Tica. We made a few more pick-ups, then headed to the (busier than I would have expected) airport. Our director saw us off, and we walked inside to pay exit taxes and prepare for leaving Costa Rica. Our flight ended up being delayed by an hour-and-a-half so the two other SOL mates on my flight and I got to pass some extra time with the other students also heading out that morning. It really struck that we were leaving as the group size dwindled and students walked off toward their gates. When we finally boarded our plane to Dallas, the all-nighter kicked in and I was able to sleep quite a bit of the flight. Landing in Dallas meant going through customs—which was incredibly streamlined for the number of people to get through. At this point, it was time to say farewell to the Minnesota friends I had been traveling with and part ways as we headed for our own gates. It was then that I really officially felt done with the SOL program…but excited to now be an alumnus. I found my gate before heading out to find a late lunch at one of the nearby restaurants. On my flight in, I read the plane letters each of us had written for each other and we incredibly encouraged to see the impact and memories of my time in this group. Landing in Missouri was surreal and wonderful, and as soon as I got into the terminal, I saw the waiting faces of my family to welcome me home. It was a wonderful moment indeed to be back with them all. We drove home swapping stories, and I was very ready for bed by the time we arrived.
Sunday was a very slow day, as I slept in until nearly 2:00 p.m., then we did souvenirs, spent more time together, prepared a family dinner, and rounded out the night with a little Nerf. It was nice to have such a relaxing day of re-acclimation and to solidify being home.
These past months have been such a beautiful and life-enriching experience. I am so incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to take this semester abroad, and to all the people who were part of making it a reality. Thank you also to all those who have texted, called, messaged, e-mailed, and otherwise interacted with and encouraged me this semester. And of course, thank you to those of you (yes, you) who have been reading these blogs and making it so worth-while to write them. This is the last entry of this particular chain of writings, but you can be sure that the chapter of one adventure closing just means my hands are free to open the cover of a new adventure. I will think back on this trip and its impact for years to come, as I look expectantly ahead for what is to follow. Until the next adventure, take care, keep learning, and nos vemos. ¡Chao!