Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Letter From a Tri-Country Student

Dear CRROBS Community,

I’m an alumnus of the Tri-Country Semester program, Spring of ’02. I was 17 when I left high school a semester early to go to Costa Rica- I remember taking my English final on the plane to Miami and mailing it in San Jose- and I had never been camping before. Heck, I’d never even been on a particularly long hike. I considered my Spanish to be fantastic (I’d gotten all A’s in class, right?) and my outdoor skills to be inborn. After all, I’d grown up surrounded my nature, by the rugged weather of New England and by self-described “hippies.” I was golden.

Two weeks later, the only attribute that I was thankful for was pride, since it was the one thing preventing me from quitting. I was physically unprepared, exhausted, covered in infected blisters and weird bacterial infestations, and my Spanish skills had been reduced to “Me siento mal(I feel bad)." Admittedly, I was quite a pathetic sight. But damned if I was going to be the girl who quit.

I could write a lot more on the subject than anyone would have the patience to read, so rather than recount countless anecdotes, I’m going to refer to an excerpt from the letter I wrote to myself on my solo. My group had our solos at Rudy’s finca near the top of Cerro de la Muerte, a place that seemed to me at the time as idyllic as any I’d ever seen. The writing style of a future English major is by nature affected, so please forgive.

“Dear Julia,

The long anticipated spiritual enlightenment you were ready to experience on your 48 hour Outward Bound solo is obstinately refusing to occur. You’ve been studiously planning your future and critiquing your character, and naughtily playing celebrity name games (although you did connect Queen Elizabeth to Tom Cruise in 6 steps) but epiphany does not seem to be a destined activity for these two days. Yesterday, for the 9 or so hours you spent awake, you skirted around boredom by doing yoga, gradually applying every layer of clothing you own, and admiring your tent. (Which is quite nice, though perhaps a little floppy.) Thinking enlightenment could possibly be found by communing with nature, you cavorted around naked for about half an hour, until a rustling in the bushes interrupted you. (Carlos or Mark doing their daily patrol or an errant chicken, I’ll never know, but someone got an eyeful.) No luck. Today you are fasting... maybe that will open up your third eye? Doubtful.

When you read this letter 6 or so months from now, I wonder how you’ll look back on this trip. I have a fairly fresh viewpoint right now... I remember the misery, the tears, the wretched heat and bitter cold. Will you remember that? I hope instead you’ll remember swimming in the ocean, making tortillas, talking with the children, reaching the top of Cerro de la Muerte, reaching the Pacific. And whether spiritual enlightenment is in the cards or not doesn’t seem to really matter. Maybe you’re just not the type. The most enlightening aspect of this entire experience seems to be the mere affirmation of life, the fact that you fought against discomfort, pain and fear and your sheltered upbringing to come out the other end triumphant.”

These days, my life has brought me about as far from the hills of CR as possible. I live in a major city, I do marketing for an environmental nonprofit, I commute, I contribute to a 401k... all said and done I’m a fairly typical member of society, a Weekend Warrior at best who owns a three season tent mostly out of optimism. But though I never reached the state of enlightenment I struggled for on my solo, the lessons I learned during those three months have surfaced, in subtle and obvious ways, countless times throughout my life. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to recount my experience in writing, as it’s easy to forget both the struggles and pleasures I encountered those 7 years ago, and the profound effect they’ve had on every aspect of the person I’ve become.

Pura vida!



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