Jessica’s Journey

Hey Everyone!!
As most of you know, I spent the month of January in Costa Rica; volunteering at the orphanages, immersing myself in their culture, and having some fun exploring the island on my free time. I was traveling with the non profit organization, Cross Cultural Solutions who organize service trips for students all over the world. My sister gave me a journal for Christmas just a few weeks before I left so that I could do something that I always loved to do growing up; creative writing. A saying that I found before I left on my trip was “trust the journey”. Such a simple phrase that I could somehow apply to every aspect of my life. Before I left I was absolutely terrified. And when I told people that they looked at me like I was crazy. Why should I be nervous about spending 4 weeks in this beautiful, tropical country? Truth is, the past few years I have hid behind my anxiety and used it as an excuse to never push myself out of my comfort zone or to motivate myself to become a better person. For what some people may interpret as a little vacation, this was so much more than that to me. This was the first mature, independent decision I have made for myself in over two years. I could not be any more grateful for my parents first of all, the two people that supported me all the way to the security check line in the airport at 3:30am five weeks ago. But seeing the support from all of my friends and family was overwhelming; and I thank you all for that. So without further ado, these are the journal entries that document my travels to the incredible country of Costa Rica…Enjoy!! XOXO, Jess
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January 3, 2015

It’s almost midnight and I should probably be sleeping right now considering I have to leave my house in 3 hours. It still doesn’t feel real that I’m going to be living in Costa Rica for the next four weeks. Besides a felt mini meltdowns, I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until I’m on the plane in a few hours. The giant suitcase containing 80% of my belongings is sitting in the corner like an elephant in the room. Whether I like it or not, I am growing up and things are changing. I’m learning to try and accept these changes and turn them into something positive. This last month has been the biggest surge of personal growth, maturity and motivation that I’ve had in years. Mom was crying tonight, telling me how proud she is of me. And even though I hate people getting emotional around me, it felt good to hear her say that. And I’m proud of me too! I’m going to trust the journey and I can’t wait to see where this one takes me!

January 4, 2015

So it turns out I never fell asleep last night and only slept for 45 minutes on the plane to Miami this morning. Drop off went pretty well. I didn’t cry but mom did. Her and dad watching me until I was through security. As much as I fight them for independence, I’m going to miss them a lot. The plane took off at 6am so we got to see the sunrise at 7am. It felt weird to be on a plane again, since I haven’t been on one in four years. During takeoff and landing I had my eyes closed, white knuckling the arm rests and thinking “Oh god, I’m turning into my mother”. The majority of the flight was over open ocean but the clouds were incredible. Although the view was breathtaking, I miss Marblehead. Im very anxious to meet everyone and show them pictures of my hometown.

Touching down in Miami was incredible. It was 80 degrees and sunny! 15,000 feet in the air and all I could see was blue water and palm trees. The only thing separating me from the start of my adventure is the 2 hour flight I just boarded to San Jose. My nerves have definitely settled down now that I am so close. And I’m not gonna lie, I felt pretty cool walking through the airport pretending that I knew what I was doing. (Key work “pretending”) Well, I’m about to take off! Wish me luck!

As we were descending into Costa Rica there were these insane clouds that were absolutely beautiful! We drove from the airport in San Jose to Cartago. I felt like I was in a Mario Cart video game. People were running across the street and swerving around passing cars, all while going at an extremely quick speed. One of the first things I noticed was all the color. Turquiose, red, orange, yellow, blue. And there was grafiti everywhere! It seemed as though most of the stores were closed but I assume because it was Sunday. Kids were running around in bare feet kicking a beat up soccer ball, and looking so happy doing just that. It really put things in perspective and makes you appreciate everything at home. I’m going to be honest, I am already very homesick. I don’t want to tell me parents and worry them but it is very scary being so far away. Hopefully this is something I can adjust to within the next few days. It’s only the first night and I need to be open minded Although I am teary tonight I am hopeful things will turn around very quickly for the better…


I talked to my mom tonight which felt good. Even with our fair share of fights, she is who I am missing the most right now. I sat and read alone in the living room and took a shower which made me feel better. We don’t start our volunteer work tomorrow so in the morning we are touring the city of Cartago. I can’t wait to take a bunch of pictures! Well, I should probably get some sleep considering I’ve been awake for 48 hours…Goodnight!

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January 5, 2015

This morning we walked around the city of Cartago for a few hours. Walking through the neighborhood that our house is in, I noticed that the homes are all covered with steel bars and barbed wire. This custom in Costa Rica shows a lot about the family living in the home. If the home looks well protected it shows stability in the house. We went to the Basilica which is a famous church in Cartago. It is decorated with these beautiful stained glass windows and tall painted ceilings. We got to sit in on a mass ceremony that really showed me how religious the people of Costa Rica are. They worship the Virgin Mary and to ask for a blessing or if you want to thank her, you would have to walk on your knees from the entrance of the church to the alter. Which is not a short distance! Around the back of the church there is a beautiful garden with a fountain in the middle. The water is holy water and the ticos (the Costa Rican natives) would drink the water in hopes of curing a disease, becoming fertile, ensuring safety, etc. We learned about this massive earthquake that happened in 1910 and got to see some of the ruins. We saw what was left of the first floor of one of the temples that had a beautiful garden inside.

We then went to the local farmer’s market and instantly all of my senses were on high alert. The colors, the smells, the sounds…it was like nothing I have ever experienced before. You watched the deli workers cut up the meat in front of you, the fruit was all picked that morning and there were people everywhere! There are also a lot of stray dogs and cats walking the streets and wandering into stores but no one seems to care. We ended at a garden in the district, San Rafael where there was a huge statue of the Virgin Mary standing in front of the church.

Tomorrow Molly (my roommate) and I start our volunteering at the orphanage. I’m super excited to meet the kids! Tonight all of us walked into town and went to the oldest bakery in Costa Rica! It has been there for almost 100 years! All of the people are really nice here. There is a group of 20 students coming in a few days so it will be fun to have some more people around. Well, I’m off to Spanish lessons…Buenos noches!

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January 6, 2015

I don’t even know where to begin because after going to the orphanage today I am at a loss for words. There was about 20 kids ranging from ages 4-17. It amazed me to see how happy these kids were after all they have been through. This was an orphanage for children who had been sexually and physical abused. I thought that I would work better with the younger kids since I work with that age group back home but I felt like I really connected with two of the 12 year old boys, Kevin and Giovanny. The biggest challenge was the language barrier which I was nervous about but all you need to do is laugh with them and make them feel loved. The small gesture of a smile goes such a long way. I got to practice my Spanish with the kids and some of the older kids could practice their English because they were learning it in school. They both made me these beautiful string bracelets that I hope to keep forever. Once the kids starting warming up to us, some of the older girls were asking us questions. When they found out I was only 18 they immediately latched onto me. They were so excited to have someone else to talk to who was their age. They wanted to play with my hair and paint my nails, and they loved hugs! The physical contact is so important for them. The older girls showed me some hand games consisting of claps and snaps. It was so crazy because I knew all of these hand games from middle school! They were so thrilled to see that we had something in common and we played them for almost an hour. I was talking to one of the older girls, Shirley, and we discovered that we both have the same favorite color; azul. (blue) Before I left she saw that I had a blue ribbon hair elastic around my wrist and took it off and put it around hers. She said “regalo para mi” meaning “gift to me”. Although that seems so small to some people, she was smiling like she was the happiest person in the world.

After we got back from the orphanage and had lunch we went to a Latin dance class. It was so much fun! We started by loosening up and just shaking our hips and laughing and then danced in pairs learning a few different dances, like the mamba and salsa. I’m pretty sure I was laughing the entire time. It felt so good to just let loose and also get in a really good workout. I really feel like I’m connecting with the other girls I am traveling with and I’m super excited to meet all of the new students coming on Saturday. (There is 20 of them!) I think we are going to the La Paz this Saturday which is a rainforest you hike up and can see these gorgeous waterfalls! I can’t wait to take pictures! That’s all for today, Adios!

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January 7, 2015

Today we went to a different orphanage called Pueblito. The second we got there I could already tell it was going to be a completely different atmosphere. Rather than having one house of 20 kids like Pani, this was set up sort of like summer camp. There are 16 houses with around 6 or 7 kids living in each house. We played outside for the majority of the morning, running around and playing soccer with the older kids. I immediately connected with this 15 year old girl named Maria. It shocked me to hear that because Maria’s maturity level was more like a ten year old. Even with the donyas (the caretakers) giving them some structure, she grew up without being taught manners or right from wrong. We both loved to run so we raced each other and some of the older boys. She kept yelling “rapido” meaning “faster” and laughing the whole time.

After lunch we went to a volcano called Irazu where some scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed! There was an incredible view of the volcanos peak with these huge white clouds behind them. It was pretty windy because we were so high above sea level but the view was totally worth it. Once we got back home, Nicole, Helen, Victoria and I went out to walk around the city. We walked to the park in front of this church in San Rafael and sat on the benches and just talked about life. It’s so cool that I have already built such awesome friendships after only 3 days. It’s also cool to see how well I already know the city, although we did get a little lost coming back. I have Spanish class tonight and tomorrow we are learning how to make guacamole. Ciao!

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January 8, 2015

Today we went back to Pueblito to play with the kids. After stopping by a few of the houses we were walking across the courtyard and one of the 16 year old girls, Paula, called us over and told us to go to “casa de seis”. (House 6) We hadn’t had much luck during the first hour of the morning getting the kids in the other houses to interact with us so we were relieved that these kids were so excited to see us. We stayed there the rest of the morning painting and talking to the kids. Paula and I got along really well because we are so close in age and found out we like a lot of the same things. Seeing how much my Spanish speaking has progressed is really cool and it feels good to be able to communicate with the natives.

This afternoon Helen, Victoria, Nicole and I walked into the city to check out the farmer’s market. On the way there we stopped at a “Juice Bar” where we watched the women squeeze all the fruit fresh to make smoothies. On the way back we stopped at this place for lunch that sold pizza in the shape of a cone. Tonight we prepared our own dinner which was really fun. We made chicken and rice (arroz con pollo), guacamole, and salsa (gallo pinto). Everything was so delicious! I showered early tonight and I’m going to fall asleep early tonight. Hasta manana! (See you tomorrow)

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January 9, 2015

This morning at the orphanage we stayed outside for the majority of the time making bracelets and painting which the kids loved! We also helped the orphanage director, Emilia, with lesson plans to start teaching the kids next week. A lot of the crafts are similar to the ones I make with my one and two year olds at my job back home. Although these children are older, they never learned any fine motor skills while growing up. I’m really interested to see how well the kids do in a classroom setting. Walking into the orphanage every morning and getting bombarded with hugs is a feeling so rewarding I can’t even put it into words. This afternoon was the warmest it has been all week so we all laid out on the front patio to tan.

Sorry mom, you’re not gonna like this one but god, am I sunburned. We only laid out for about 45 minutes but afterwards we all looked like lobsters. Although it feels like Massachusetts summer sun it is so much stronger since we’re so much closer to the equator. Tonight was Helen, Victoria and Nicole’s last night here which is sad. One tiny detail I forgot to mention was all of the handprints on the walls. They are everywhere and everyone who has ever volunteered here in the past 10 years has made a painted handprint before they left. So tonight they all got to make theirs.  On Sunday the new students are arriving and Molly and I will be getting four new roommates; Jenna, Jessica, Riordan and Ansley. I am nervous to see what this group will be like but hopefully we become fast friends. Tomorrow we get to sleep in a little bit later because we aren’t leaving until 9am to go to the La Paz waterfalls. Late afternoon I went on a run through Cartago and the views I saw definitely beat the treadmills at the YMCA gym. I ran by fields of cows and horses and looking at the most beautiful mountainous skyline. With the clouds and sun shining through them it was so perfect that it looked like it was photoshopped into the background.

Seeing the girls go home has made me a little homesick knowing I still have three weeks left here but I’m going to Skype with my family tomorrow night which I am really looking forward to. The wifi is down tonight so I am unable to talk to anyone but I’ll probably end up falling asleep earlier than usual which won’t be such a bad thing. Goodnight!

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January 10, 2015

Today we went to La Paz waterfalls and it was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. We first walked through the animal sanctuaries and got to see some gorgeous creatures. Toucans, parrots, butterflies, hummingbirds and jaguars. We also got to walk through a coffee plantation and sample the coffee from beans picked from the tree. Afterwards we hiked a little ways to the waterfalls. We saw about three or four different waterfalls and we could stand so close that if I reached out I could touch the water with my hand. Words and pictures can’t even begin to show how stunning this waterfall rainforest was. On our way back home we stopped at a strawberry farm and all got a huge basket of fresh strawberries that were so yummy! Fortunately I was able to connect to the wifi for a few minutes at the sanctuary to check in with my parents but the wifi at the home base has been down for almost 36 hours! I’m not gonna lie, I don’t even know what to do with myself without my phone for two days. (I know, pathetic right?) But, for the first time in months I actually picked up a book and have been reading it in my free time.

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January 11, 2015

Today was our first free day since we got here. It’s so weird that I’ve already been here for a week. I can’t tell if the time went by slowly or quickly. Anyways, this morning I woke up and my sunburn from last week looked like it was gone. The sun was out all morning an I wanted to take advantage of that so I laid out to tan. Not realizing that two hours had passed, I got up and looked in the mirror to see I was super burnt! Not just a little pink, I was fire engine red! I don’t think I have ever been so burnt. I am feeling better tonight but I’m still really red – sorry mom!

Tonight the group from Birmingham Southern College came. My roommates seem super nice and I am definitely happy to have some other kids my age here. That’s all for today, goodnight!