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CEA MOJO on Active Learning in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is arguable the happiest nation on earth, and who wouldn’t be happy with an abolished army, breathtaking backdrops, and jungles galore.  Costa Rica is a hotspot for tourists, whether you prefer a more adventurous route like zip-lining in a cloud rainforest or spending the day suspended in a treehouse spa overlooking an active volcano, but, after exploring this beautiful nation, I have come to find that there is more than meets the eye. 
What I have treasured most about my experience here hasn’t been from the beauty or the adventure, it’s been from the Ticos that I have spoken to, learned from, and become friends with, and that has been an adventure in itself.  When I decided to come here, I was asked numerous times by family and friends why I decided to study abroad in Costa Rica.  I hated answering that question because my answer was different every time, and I was basically convincing them while simultaneously convincing myself that it was a good decision. At the time there were plenty of reasons why I chose Costa Rica… the dialect is easier to learn from, there was plenty of adventurous sights, I felt that the CEA program had a great support system, I wanted to be somewhere in Latin America, etc. There was no telling what I actually was going to take from the experience.  I prepared as much as I could by reading up on the culture, brushing up on my Spanish, and researching places to visit, but there was truly no way I could have expected to learn this much.  
Within the first week of being Costa Rica, I found myself cradling a five-year-old Tica to sleep in my arms while her mother was receiving psychological treatment in order to help her leave her life of prostitution in San Jose behind for good.  At the time, I was volunteering by myself at an organization I stumbled upon, called Fundacion Rahab, which is a safe haven for women who want to get out of sexual exploitation within San Jose.  I have only read about how difficult it is for women to leave that “industry” once they are in it, and to have witnessed the strength of these women first hand was something I will take with me for the rest of my life. 
My time here has been full of revelations and moments of enlightenment into this world that we all live in, from learning about how saving turtles helps sustain the lives of Ticos in the small village of Ostional, to learning of political hardships between the government and it’s people in a country with no army.   Above all, I have learned the true meaning of a Pura Vida lifestyle. I have read so much about how beautifully perfect and happy this country is, and the incredible thing was to find out the truth behind that, and that there are hardships even in the happiest countries in the world. Recently there were laws passed that restricts Ticos freedom of speech and other secondary issues, which created a huge uproar.   There was a protest that was meant to be peaceful, but it turned violent from clashing with the police force.   A week later, the Ticos held another protest with thousands of people in order to prove that they could make it peaceful, which was in fact successful.  I used to think that Pura Vida meant to live without worrying or without harships, but I have come to understand that it’s just how they deal with those hardships that make all the difference.
These aspects that I have taken away from my study abroad experience didn’t just come from me sitting in classes all day, they came from interacting with Ticos, being curious, and asking questions.  I took an active part in my learning experience and put myself in unfamiliar situations to learn as much as I could.  It’s only by challenging ourselves that we grow intellectually, personally, and globally, and I will never forget my time here in Costa Rica for it strengthened my passions, taught me to ask the hard questions, and created lasting friendships that defy differences.  I will always remember my time here…
Until next time, Pura Vida.

Brynna Rao, a junior at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA, is the CEA MOJO in San Jose, Costa Rica.

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