If they told me that I would have a host brother who would teach my more about Pokémon than I knew at that age, I would have brushed up before I arrived to Monteverde. If they told me that I would have a host father who knew more about local edible plants than I did about the origins of my McDonald’s take-out, I would have been skeptical. If they told me I would have a mama tica, abuela tica, hermana tica that would welcome me into their home as if I were their own, I would have prepared myself better for the goodbyes. Yet, these feelings do not even scratch the surface about how I feel about my professors and friends, my study abroad family.
Now it is time to look ahead, to plan where I am going after I land in PHL. Obviously, the next stop is naturally my home in Bensalem, PA. I cannot forget my family who sacrificed luxuries for me to have educational opportunities like I did in Costa Rica. I will start my work in my evolutionary biology lab for the summer in about a week and begin to live on campus again. I will not see my work, my studies, in the same light as I did before this semester. I will be working to conserve the biodiversity of Haiti through frog speciation, and learning the underlying issues of the developing world has shed new light on the importance of preserving cultural, biological, and economic diversity. What I have learned is not to narrow my passion for ecology, but rather to include all facets of sustainability—from environmental to social justice.
I have learned to be more patient with myself and others. Life in Monteverde, though focused around tourism, was slower that it is in Philadelphia. There was a revelation at some point when I remembered that I was a college sophomore but had the language skills of a three-year-old, and learning to cope with language barriers gives me more self-understanding for the future (and perhaps some lower standards). Sitting at the dinner and waiting to be offered dessert rather than assuming and taking has given me some table manners and definitely a lot of self-discipline. Lacking internet for weeks a time has given me new appreciation for living in the moment, living a bit more unplugged. In the future, I see myself going more unplugged in my daily life. It sounds hypocritical as I sit here posting this blog, but no, I really did not need to see what I missing on campus every hour of every day. In the future, I will be giving myself more time without the constant stimulation of technology.
More than anything, I have learned to celebrate differences—differences in lifestyle, in food, in language, in housing. It is safe to say that I am far from done traveling. In the back of my mind, there will always be the reminder I learned on “sustainable tourism day:” there is no such thing as an invisible traveler. Where I spend my dollars or colones or euros buys into a system that is encouraged by consumerism, consuming culture and leaving impressions of what Americans like to do and buy. If I could, in my travels, close the culture gap and make meaningful contributions by staying in locally-owned lodges or eating local food rather than buying into Western comfort, I can enjoy my times abroad with the knowledge that I am promoting personal, sustainable tourism and intercultural connections.