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Give Meaning to the Stamps in Your Passport: Travel Abroad with Purpose

By Laura Viselli, Wilfrid Laurier University Trip Leader, San Rafael de Coronado, Costa Rica

My shoulder relaxed, my fists unclenched, and a huge sigh of relief left my lips as I saw our group’s final piece of luggage descend from the luggage carousel in Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José. Trivial feeling? Perhaps. But after a full day of travelling with fourteen other students to a new country the feeling is indescribable. We walked through the terminal doors to be met by humid, hot air, honking car horns, and a symphony of voices which I soon realized was not the same Spanish that the minor on my degree led me to believe I knew. Then like a lit candle in a blackout, the face of our leader from our affiliate organization in Costa Rica, RJI, holding a sign with SOS written on it. We made it.

The next few weeks flew by at such a transformative speed it was only when I was back in Canada that I could pick my jaw up off the floor and recognize all that I had learnt. In May of 2014 I was the Trip Leader for SOS’s trip to San Rafael de Coronado in Costa Rica. Our project involved building an accessible washroom for ACOCONE, a school for members in the community with complex mental and physical disabilities.

Our work days were spent moving cinderblocks, digging trenches, cutting and shaping rebar, painting a mural, and mixing and pouring cement. To say we were tired at the end of the day would be an immense understatement. But not just from the physical work, which even the least active of the group, myself topping that list, thoroughly enjoyed, but from the emotional and awe-inducing spectacles we witnessed everyday.

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This includes, but is absolutely not limited to; joining in the on the school’s dance, music, and bisutería (jewellery making) classes, learning to cook with Doña Angela, having the school’s principal show us articles about the school and the projects the students had completed, having our leader from RJI, translate the personal stories of the employees and students of the school, going zip lining and rafting in Cahuita on our rest days, and basking in the welcoming environment that allowed us to get to know our fellow volunteers on such a personal level.

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Wanderlust, or the strong desire to travel, is so potent that many people place the number of stamps in their passports above the number of lives they can touch. My experience in Coronado taught me that you can satisfy your wanderlust but do so with purpose as I built relationships with those I met and worked with in Costa Rica and at SOS and RJI. These are relationships I will cherish and revisit for the rest of my life. So although we didn’t loose our luggage, we did loose whatever preconceived notions of travelling abroad we had before we left.

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