Community. This is a word I had used in the context of groups with similar beliefs, physical characteristics, experiences, etc. before these past three weeks with ACE. But I have come to learn community is so much more than such surface level attributes. Throughout my time with ACE and as a part of the Gandoca family, the locals taught me the depth of what makes up a community and the connection it takes to give a community strength. It has been so influential seeing how intensely the community members love each other, but more importantly how they come to love and show gratitude towards us participants.
Before this experience, I was told that I was going to feel welcomed right for the start and that I will become a part of the family. I wasn’t completely sure of this, and I was uncertain of the strength of a relationship I would have the ability to form with a group I had never been exposed to before, but it turned out that “feeling welcomed” was an understatement. The community members carried so much joy and always had a smile on their face. They were so open to sharing their past experiences and who they are as people. Not only were they open to us, but they also loved hearing about our lives at home, and their willingness to do so helped build a connection that will last a lifetime and form a memorable trip that will be unforgettable. Each member of the community in Costa Rica showed so much gratitude towards us, even during times I did not feel as if I deserved it. I think this is an aspect of their culture that helped them develop such a strong community within themselves.
“It was very neat that us group of student-athletes were able to grow together and push each other in all areas of our lives. We all started our journey with Spanish at different times in our lives, but a very interesting aspect of the trip was growing together in the language.”
– Kelsey Zampa, Duke Softball
Throughout all of the activities we completed, we did our best to help make a difference, but during the time it did not seem like we were doing enough. On the other hand, the community members worked countless hours spreading their knowledge and giving us confidence that our actions are bringing a change to conservation in the area. At the end of each day, they set time aside to give us thanks during a time it seemed that they deserved an even greater amount of gratitude for the work they put both in us and the program.
I am unconditionally thankful for all they taught us and the experiences they shared with us (including the AMAZING family recipes they were willing to share), and I will forever cherish the stories we had the opportunity to listen to. Not only did the selflessness of the community allow me to feel comfortable and as if I belonged, but it also brought each of us student-athletes together. The warmth of the community allowed us to form a deep bond together and form our own sense of community we are able to bring back with us to the United States. The environment we had the opportunity to live in the last three weeks nurtured and set the foundation for meaningful relationships I hope to further develop.
I am grateful for this program and the locals for exposing me to amazing people I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet and grow with otherwise. It was very neat that us group of student-athletes were able to grow together and push each other in all areas of our lives. We all started our journey with Spanish at different times in our lives, but a very interesting aspect of the trip was growing together in the language. The community members were very helpful in this journey, and it was amazing to have had the opportunity to learn in such a rich environment. We had many laughs and jokes surrounded with misinterpretations and this made the trip so special and helped build an even stronger bond within our new community.
“Soccer truly brought the community together, and it was very cool to have the opportunity to see all the community members come together for the cause of having fun.”
– Kelsey Zampa, Duke Softball
An experience that allowed me to see the strength of their community firsthand took place on the soccer field. I did not have very much experience with soccer, and I was a bit hesitant playing with a group who grew up with the sport, but as soon as I saw the passion and joy they played with, I couldn’t help but try myself. It was eye-opening to see a group play with such intensity, yet with such respect for one another and to be able to celebrate following the tournament no matter the outcome. There was no judgment towards one another, and everyone played with everything they had no matter their level of talent. Soccer truly brought the community together, and it was very cool to have the opportunity to see all the community members come together for the cause of having fun.
To wrap this up a bit, I have been reflecting on what my absolute favorite moment has been on the program, and I have come up with a couple answers, but none of them felt quite right. There had been many projects and trips I deeply enjoyed such as gardening, hiking, and beach clean, but I couldn’t find which stood out the most. After some more pondering, I fully believe that there isn’t a single moment that I would categorize as my favorite, but it’s all the moments in-between that created the core memories I will hold onto forever. These “in-between” moments include the late night singing and dancing, one-on-one deep conversations, learning to make a hammock, watching the stars on beach patrol, the boat ride back from our long hike, family meals, our little Spanish jokes, and most of all: the first sip of each fruit juice drink. These are the moments where there was so much unexpected joy and the moments that I will miss the most from this experience. I want to end this by saying although I did my best to put into words how this trip made me feel, no words show the impact Gandoca had on my life or the gratitude I have for the people I got to spend my time there with.