Sarah is an alum of our Service Costa Rica program and wrote about the experience for her college essay, where she helped the local community and discovered her independence. This fall she’ll be attending Boston College studying biology (pre-med track). 

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At 7am I began walking. I had just started working at Shaws, the local grocery store two miles up the street, the only place that was hiring fourteen-year-olds. My parents were busy, unable to spare time to give me a ride, but I didn’t mind; I had always done things solo. Yet this sense of independence left a piece of me incomplete. Emotionally and intellectually unsatisfied, I found myself stuck wanting to make an impact but not knowing how.

In the previous months, my young, yet mature mind navigated the programs that allowed students to volunteer abroad. My heart set on a program that valued relationships and communal understanding, something independence could not satisfy. My eyes lit up as I stared at my computer screen, energy rushing through my body. I scrolled further to discover more about the service when I reached the price, the light in my eyes dimming just slightly. However, I was not completely discouraged, knowing my inner drive would pursue any challenge. I would commit myself to a job that would eventually allow me this opportunity.

That summer, each day was similar to the previous; I left my house one hour before each shift, and walked along the sidewalk of my secluded town.

Years passed until finally, my morning did not start with a 7am hike, but instead a flight out of the country to Central America.

My stomach fluttered in Costa Rica, alongside a small group of students from around the world. We made our way onto the van where we would set off on a long car ride, shoulder-to-shoulder, after landing at the airport. We sat in silence, set apart by our differences in native language, unsure how to approach one another.

Maria and I raced with wheelbarrows, hitting potholes in the grass that would soon be transformed into a communal soccer field. The tools held inside, jumping in excitement for the day ahead. My smile turned to face the others dragging their shovels and letting their heads fall limp in the humid air.

“Come on, it’s field work day!” I cried.

Everyone knew it was my favorite, the days spent sweating in the blazing July sun, digging weeds that seemed to cover the entire area, and replanting fresh patches of grass, their roots soon to be embedded in the soil. From one person to the next, we passed rolls of grass until the final person laid the patch on the dirt. I remained self-driven in my contributions, but the whole soccer field was a result of everyone.

Weeks flew by after painting, repairing community centers, and holding English classes for local children. My group and I skipped across the dirt road, down toward the soccer field, this time without tools. Beside us followed children, their expressions mirroring our own. Other locals began flooding in, the sound of their motorbikes breaking in the dirt becoming familiar.

We kicked and scored, laughed and fell. A big game of soccer closed out the time we committed to the village that now felt like a second home. Occasionally one of the kids would yell, “Tree!” or “Grass!” giggling as they recalled the English class I hosted the day before. We were one; we were a family webbed together by our shared values, a connection we would hold tight and never let go of, and an understanding we couldn’t forget.

As I made my way home, a silent relief overcame me. My mind once searching for purpose, lacking the piece I now cling to, as if impossible to live without, finally felt fulfilled. I held the picture we last took at the soccer field, the entire community piled together, arms around one another. I thought of the girl making her way up the sidewalk, lost in uncertainty and untouched potential, who now stood before a world of opportunity.

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