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Towards the end of the Exeter ESSO course students completed a writing exercise of writing a letter to themselves as if they were preparing to go to Costa Rica, but knowing what they now know after have been there.  One student Calais shares her letter to herself in this blog entry.  Thank you Calais!


Dear Calais,

Get ready. Get excited. Get nervous, invigorated. Giggle with anticipation. I know you are exhausted from your recent college road trip, even exhausted by Exeter before that, but wake up.

You are about to meet amazing people. These people will radically differ in culture, speech, and history from everyone you have previously met, yet somehow they will be familiar. Some of the citizen of Quebrada de Nando will remind you of friends from elementary school, others will resemble students from your mother’s classroom or men you have seen in movies.

You will meet Sylvia the soccer star. She will shock you on the field when she takes off in relentless pursuit of the ball, kicks her legs up high to catch it in midair and head butts it without flinching.  When Alejandro punts the ball Sylvia will stop it with her body, the smack against her shoulder resonating so loudly the Americans and Costa Ricans on the field give a collective gasp. Sylvia, will cuss out Ale but soon resume the game as we all cheer her name. You know Sylvia would go pro in the states, and wonder if she will get that kind of chance here, if the English you are teaching her will somehow help.

You will meet Estevanna. Try to meet her before the last day! But don’t worry if you miss the chance because even if you only know her a day you will remember her forever. Don’t be afraid to come up to her because even though you don’t know Spanish, if you teach her Miss Mary Mack she will smile, if you bring her to the dance floor you will pick up the beat together, and if you tickle her she will get you right back. In fact, she will follow you around the soccer field with mischievous eyes and small hands waiting for another tickle fight. After the soccer game is over you will need to catch your breath from running hard and crying out in triumph and defeat, yes in Costa Rica you will love soccer. When Estevanna comes with you to get a drink of water follow your impulse to splash her. The water and laughter will be a relief.  She will grab your hand and hold it, swinging. Squeeze, squeeze, squelch. Our hands will make a gross, wet squelching sound together and we will hold them up to our ears and giggle. She will present you, at the start and end of your friendship, a little sew-on patch decorated with a yin-yang and hearts. You will wish that you had something to give to her but nothing would express how special she is to you.

Say more to your host mom! Yes, Maddie, the Spanish speaker sharing your host house, will be shy but force her to translate, she wants to communicate as much as you do. In fact, learn some Spanish beforehand. Key phrases you will be dying to say are:

“Can I help you?” “Can you teach me, please?” “Look, I’ll teach you!” “I love your town” “You are so kind” and “Soccer (or painting or dancing) was so much fun.”

Each attempt at Spanish will be greeted with a smile, even if it is wrong. They have true pride in their culture and language. If you do not learn these phrases your host mom may feel distant because of the language barrier but you will share moments of mutual gratitude like when she pours you a cool glass of Fresca after a hot day of volunteering, when she smiles wide when you point to the stereo and say, “Musica muy bueno,” or when she laughs out loud when Maddie beats you in the game BS and you add a giant pile of cards to your hand.

For the next half of the trip you will miss the first half because of the children you bonded with, the music and dances you learned and adults that cared for you. In next half of the trip you will continue to learn but in the entirely different setting: the Cirenas campus. There, everything you thought you knew about the merits of technology, the economy of Costa Rica, the effect you have on the environment and the number of shorts you should have brought on the trip, will be challenged.

Cirenas campus is an eco-palace. Sure, it looks like a cluster of terra cotta-tiled houses like those you have seen in Tucson, Arizona but it is entirely run on solar power and well water, rests on a huge plot of reclaimed land and includes compost bins, bio-diverse gardens and a tree-friendly tree house.  When you first see a dishwasher after less than a week on this campus, you will gasp at the wastefulness it represents, forgetting entirely that you have a dishwasher at home.  On hikes, around the gardens, on horseback or just walking down to the beach or back from a tourist shop you will be learning. Owen, Tucker and Annett’s knowledge when put together can answer any question that pops into your mind on the topics of solar energy, plastic consumption as if effects the ocean, and the economy, animals, plants, and people of Costa Rica.

In the second half of the trip you will surf for the first time and love it, ride a horse for the second time and be petrified, and get so close with the group that getting on the plane will feel like leaving home, not coming home. Meeting these people so dedicated to saving the environment, so adventurous and hilarious and knowledgeable will actually shape what you want to do with the rest of your life. Get ready to re-write your bucket list, Calais. Get ready to change your major. Get ready.