“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton
Watching from the plane window as the sun began to sink below the rolling surface of the clouds was a surreal phenomenon. I told myself the last time that I was on a plane – when I was on route to Costa Rica – that I was embarking on the grandest adventure of my life. There are none compared to the stories I now possess, and I never imagined my experience would lead me in the directions that it did. Unforeseen trials and adventures were had by all – close friendships were made, but most of all there was a sense of fulfillment amongst my fifteen classmates aboard the returning vessel. Some cried of happiness, and some of sadness; some cried because the conclusion had registered, and others because the reintroduction to a reminisced life was like greeting an old friend. I, however, sat and watched the flaps while the wheels steadily projected from the bottom of this flying ship. Overwhelmed with the memories that I now possessed, I read the unfasten seatbelt sign above our heads, and unbuckled from the greatest ride of my life.
Some expected my group and I to have reverse culture shock upon our return to the United States, but I felt the adjustment to be a comfortable one. I was content to leave one adventure and resume the previous with new perspectives and experiences that would forever change my frame of mind. In a matter of hours, I regressed to English, familiar faces, and the familiar atmosphere of my university. At first, it seemed like another weekend adventure – like the ones that were so prevalent over the course of my past semester, but when I remained in this place I began to get restless. Many new assignments passed through my mind and I was welcomed again into my old, over scheduled life. The mechanization of life in the States compared to that of San Jose, and the paradises that I had visited, was the most challenging readjustment. Also, I missed the natural food that had graced my plate frequently in my host country. My body quickly felt the effects of the unnatural foods that are unavoidable in the States, and I have grown very health-conscious as a result.
By the time I became reacquainted with my schedule, and my upcoming tasks, I grew to greatly appreciate the communication that was always accessible to me. In both the United States and Costa Rica, I had the communication necessary to remain content in each respective location. Before departing for a new country for the first time, I was very scattered across my many passions. I am involved in a number of organizations, and loved seeing multiple groups of friends throughout my day. Costa Rica encouraged me to see another side of myself that is stronger than I previously believed. I was abroad with about thirteen students from my university, and the majority of them were introverted. This was one of the greatest blessings that this experience had to offer, because in addition to the friends that I made in Costa Rica – I decelerated to find a cohesive unit of students that truly supported each other throughout our four-month excursion. They taught me how to love and listen to others and I am truly thankful for the characteristics and kindness that each of them added to the group’s dynamic.
In Costa Rica, a common expression is, “Pura Vida,” which is translated to mean pure life. Altogether, I believe that is what I discovered while outside of the United States. I went abroad in search of a new culture. I sought complete immersion into language and lifestyle that were unlike my own. Costa Rica had plenty of differences, and surely enough to fulfill these desires. However, there was something even greater that I discovered. I found culture to look like a circle, in several facets of its existence there are cycles, rituals, and behaviors that make it rich. A circle is my chosen symbol because it is the essence of the whole. While searching for contrast, I discovered comparison. Culture, regardless of location can be whittled down to the same items that make us all inherently human. We have the need for stability, for love, and for community, etc., and it is fascinating to see the ways in which a different country can accomplish the same feat. When one becomes an ethnographer and sees an outwardly dissimilar world from within – it becomes visible that the individual is attempting to examine a similarity’s difference. Pure life, or pura vida, is what lies at the heart of society’s inner-workings, and this is how we identify with one another. Whether I am in Costa Rica, or in the United States, the hearts of people around me are not to be contrasted, but rather compared.
Immediately upon returning, my family and friends wanted to know what I had learned from the experience and the tales of my several adventures. This is hard because I am continuing to grow as a result of this experience, and this process is just beginning. With each new adventure comes an expansion of mind that will only continue to place into practice its newfound ideas. I am grateful for the family I have made, and the memories I have shared with so many in such a short period of time. So now I begin another adventure-