Braden is a freshman studying Business at the University of Utah. He traveled to Costa Rica with the Bennion Center's Alternative Spring Break Program.
My adventures in Costa Rica were life-changing experiences! We did lots of fun things from flying 50 miles per hour through the canopy on a zip line, to exploring the cloud forest and continental divide. We took tours of farms and watched demonstrations on how to make soap and paper. We learned about international development and how micro-enterprise and ecotourism can aid development. But by far my favorite part was the service we were able to give to the people of Los Tornos! The people of this community were the nicest and hardest-working people I have met. They were fun and so excited to serve their community alongside us. This is the Salon Communal Los Tornos, or the community center in Los Tornos. As you can see, it is just a simple structure that is a bit run-down. This is where they hold community parties, quinceañeras, weddings, indoor soccer, and other sports when it is too rainy to play outside. The community center is literally the center of their community where everyone gathers to be together and have fun!
As a group we had the opportunity to go in and help the community to fix up and repaint their center. On the first day, they laid out all the paint (somewhere around 25 or 30 gallons) and then put us all to work! There was a ton of wall space but with our group of 30, plus the team of locals that were able to pull away from their every day tasks, we were able to get a first coat on the inside! The outside was a bit more difficult, however, because we needed to scrape off the moss and algae that had grown on it before we could paint.
The picture to the left shows the local children painting. The school was right by the community center and when the kids had a recess, many of them came over to help! They were all so friendly and energetic it brought the life to the party!
Every day, the local women would volunteer their whole mornings to cook us a snack and lunch! The food was very delicious and fresh. Our snack was generally fresh fruit, papaya, mango, piña, and melons! For lunch, we had their famous and delicious rice and beans then we got some kind of protein, usually chicken and sometimes fish and then we usually got a salad. Also, in Costa Rica they serve all their food with an amazing sauce called Salsa Lizano. This is a roasted green salsa that makes everything taste even more amazing! Something that I was able to do was help the ladies out in the kitchen. I love to cook, and being in there learning their methods and ingredients was a fun experience.
The last couple days we were able to finish painting the whole community center. All of us had a blast working together and with the locals to create a more inviting and fun place to be.
Something that was significant to me as we served the community was how giving the locals were. They truly are so nice and helpful and set a very good example to me! As if the good feelings of the service we gave were not enough, the last day we were in the country, the town threw a party for us!! It was a very interesting experience—much different from what you would get in the United States! As you can see from the picture, we were all sitting in the table that is in the shape of the U and then all the locals were in folding chairs on the other side of the room! It was their way of respecting us and telling us thank you! After we finished eating, everyone started dancing and just having a lot of fun! It was great to see how the community center had come together and to see our new friends, both from our group and from the community, one last time before we returned home to our busy lives!
Overall, this was such an amazing experience! I had the time of my life meeting new people and exploring one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen! I would recommend this to anyone that has a desire to go on a study abroad. It is over spring break so you don’t have to miss any school, and it is very affordable with scholarships, and its low cost! The people of the country are awesome and the instructors are very nice! It is also an eye-opening experience as you learn about international development and how different methods work for the people of developing countries. With the chance to give service, learn, explore, and eat the amazing food, this is an opportunity you don’t want to miss!