When I decided to attend Ohio State around this time four years ago, I had no idea what my undergraduate experience would have in store for me. Coming from the bubble that is Loveland, OH, it was important to me to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. I joined an amazing organization that has allowed me to serve as a leader for some of the largest campus events offered to students. I was initiated into a sorority that has shaped me into the woman I am today. I have gained lifelong friendships, and I have experienced relationships that have broke me, proving that I am stronger than I ever imagined.
Going into my senior year, my biggest fear was burning out. I didn’t want the stress of the lingering unknown to hinder me from living completely in the moment of my last year of college. On somewhat of a whim, I applied to participate in an international service trip to Costa Rica. The trip sounded like fun, and the idea of spending a week in a warm place during winter break was definitely appealing. Little did I know that this trip would impact the entirety of my senior year.
I spent the first week of 2016 serving a small community in the jungles of Costa Rica. They are a part of the indigenous Bri Bri tribe located in the southern part of the country near the boarder with Panama. The family we were with specifically lives together in a small area of land with their primary economic export being the cocoa bean. Their community is completely separate from modern civilization, making their lifestyle much more simplistic than the one we live in in the States. When we arrived, we found out they were facing one of the most difficult times of their lives: the leader of their family, Don Guillermo, was hospitalized with cancer.
Our service revolved around the dream of Don Guillermo: building a modernized chocolate factory in order to exponentially increase the production of cocoa coming from their community. We worked on a variety of projects around the chocolate factory, as well as down in the jungle clearing a path from the river to the community. Through this work as well as other downtime, we were constantly interacting with members of the community with the majority of our time spent with the kids.
The turning point and the most intense part of the trip came on the fourth day. We were gearing up to play games with the children when life altering news came: their great grandfather and the leader of the community had passed away. Having lost my own grandma to cancer, I could relate to the pain the entire community was feeling. However, I could not begin to wrap my head around what it must have felt like to lose the leader and the rock of their small community. It was after 20 minutes of us sitting in utter silence listening to the children crying off in the distance that the most touching moment of the trip occurred: one by one, each of the children that we had come to love filed back into the building we were in. They sat down next to us, and then we continued on with what we had originally planned to do.
It is impossible to put this Buck-I-SERV trip into words. The friendships I made and the things we experienced together are something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. It was the perfect motivation I needed going into my final semester of my undergraduate career. To my Buck-I-SERV family: thank you. Your friendships and memories are now some of my favorite from my college experience. My Ohio State experience would be vastly different if it wasn’t for all of you. I’m looking forward to spending this semester – my last semester – with all of you. Pura Vida!