by Linden Girardeaux, Grade 11

Twenty students boarded a plane to Costa Rica, embarking on a journey of self-discovery through community and service. My self-discovery started with spending time with the indigenous Bribri community of Yorkin. We provided service by constructing bridges out of natural resources that we collected from the land’s dense forests. The four days were full of weaving hojas (leaves), carrying lumber, planting trees and hammering.

Along with manual skills, I learned so many valuable lessons which leave a lifelong impact. The time spent with the Bribri people enabled me to experience what life is like in an environment where people don’t have access to the same things we do back home. I was reminded that we are so privileged and often take things for granted, such as potable running water and electricity. Along with actively practising gratitude, another important value to the Bribri is being connected to nature. They heavily rely on natural resources for their well-being so they are more environmentally conscious. Saying my goodbyes to the Bribri was hard. I had grown so close with the community members that it was like saying goodbye to family. It was difficult to express how grateful I was for their generosity.

After days of hard work, it was time for well-deserved rest exploring the bustling cities of Costa Rica, shopping, exhilarating ziplining, visiting a sloth conservation, taking nature walks and spending time on the pristine beach. It was also a time for us to reflect on all the things we had learned from our experience in the rainforest. For many of us, being immersed in the Indigenous community remained the highlight of our trip.

Getting to know 19 other SMUS students and our chaperones of all different ages and backgrounds was what I cherished most from my trip. Spending two weeks with people I hadn’t previously interacted with was so memorable. I enjoyed not having WiFi access for a large part of the trip as I don’t think we would have grown so close or interacted the same way if we did. We created our own community and supported each other through challenges and through successes. I made lifelong friends and made strong relationships with teachers who I know I can trust and rely on for anything. I wish I could relive my time with them, as I can truly say I was so lucky to have spent this time with such amazing people who I miss sharing meals with every day.

I set some goals for myself when I returned home. I started practising gratitude every day; writing a few things that I am appreciative for every night. I am also taking more responsibility for my actions and how they impact the environment. I am now making conscious efforts to take time each day to disconnect whenever I am around people to just live in the moment and cherish every interaction I have, whether it's big or small. This trip has inspired me to become a better person every day by being more mindful of the impact I have on the environment and others. It has also affirmed my passion for working with people and how this will be my driving force in my decisions in the future.

Photos courtesy of Dave Hlannon and Tiffany Webber