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I’m back in Washington, D.C. after the ACE in Costa Rica program. I wasn’t emotional leaving like I had been after four brief days in the Bribri indigenous territory of the Talamanca region, but I felt like I returned to D.C. as a person who wasn’t as easily persuaded by the ease and comfort of dense city living of an urban jungle.

It felt weird to cross well-paved streets with crisp sidewalks and perfectly timed lights. It felt strange to throw toilet paper into a toilet that looked excessively full of water. I went to sleep in a room I had left thinking was in a loud downtown apartment and was now ringing with stale silence.

The last few days in Gandoca felt the most relaxed. We had all developed a rhythm between meals, volunteer work, and “pura vida” time (relaxing time). In some ways, I felt I had gotten too comfortable—no longer pushing myself at every opportunity—but in another way I felt embraced in a new home.

The Costa Rican staff were welcoming, familiar, and I wish I had a thousand more days to be adopted into their family. On 4th of July, we had the most patriotic celebration I’ve had in years. American flags were placed delicately in tropical floral arrangements, a USA banner replaced the dusty Ohio State baseball cap previously watching over us every meal, and a large American flag cake took center stage. Between the games, the cards, the salsa, and the laughter, the lines between us as transient tourists and the Costa Rican staff blurred more than I ever imagined would happen.

Leaving felt less like a hard goodbye, and more like an open invitation to their home and them to mine.

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