When I think of the term “human experience,” I think of the documentary The Human Experience. The film follows two brothers who travel to three various parts of the world and live with three different groups, living with New York City homeless people in the middle of winter, disabled and abused orphans in Peru, and Leper African villagers. The whole focus of the film is the self-exploration for happiness even in the midst of unfortunate conditions, and that there is always a beauty that can be found between the conversations humans can have with one another.
When I found out about this study abroad, I was immediately sold on the white-water rafting the program initially marketed and I didn’t even bother researching the extra activities on the trip’s itinerary. I also needed an extra 3-credits for the fall semester, and with the adventure that I had pictured with this trip, I thought, “Why not?” (Update: 10/10 would recommend white-water rafting)
While reviewing the trip’s itinerary a week before arrival, I was surprised to see that we would be engaging and living with a local family. In all honesty, I initially thought of the visit as a waste of time. This was my first time visiting Costa Rica and I wanted all the available time to do even more sight-seeing. In addition to the local family stay, we would also be volunteering our time for the community we would be staying at.
Arriving in Pueblo Nuevo, our class immediately separated into teams that would either paint the community church’s floor or digging soil nearby. I wanted to put my painting skills to test.
While painitng, I noticed a group of 3 boys running around the church and peaking their heads behind the gates. They seemed very interested to meet our class and they wanted to make sure that their presence would be known in our work space. Out of the 3 boys, 2 of them, which were brothers, stood out to me as they playfully interrupted our class’ work space.
Estevan and his younger brother Andy were members of the community that both lived with their single mother and were even neighbors with their grandparents. After getting to know their names in the middle of painting, I asked them simple questions in order to get to know them a little bit better.
“What’s your favorite color? Do you like soccer? Who’s your favorite soccer team?”
I eventually found out that my roommates and I would be staying with their grandparents that night and the boys were thrilled to hear that. Estevan and Andy saw this as an opportunity to have older brothers to play around with for the rest of the day.
Already exhausted from volunteering, I knew, having younger brothers myself, that these boys would wipe the floor with me by the end of the night. After volunteering, our class played kickball with some of the local kids and later cooled down in a nearby creek (my face says it all).
Heading back to the houses we would be staying at, Estevan and Andy’s mom took me and my roommates to her parents’ house and introduced us to them. By that time, I had figured out that our hosts for the night did not know a word of English and my Spanish speaking ability isn’t the best. One goal I had in mind for this trip was to speak as much Spanish as I could and improve on my speaking ability. I saw this as a challenge to help reach my goal by simply engaging in conversation with this family.
I learned about the family’s history in Pueblo Nuevo, their views on the community, what they liked about Costa Rica, and their culture. Becoming more comfortable with our hosts, the boys were super excited to show us their backyard and the farm that their grandparents had. After having a delicious dinner that the grandmother prepared, the boys started jumping all over us, requesting piggy back rides and more, and even played with the various Snapchat filters on my phone. They even gave me and my roommates the greatest nicknames of “Dante Elephante,” “Michael Jordan,” and “Jorge de La Selva”. Keep in my mind that our names our Dante, Michael, and Josh. At that moment, they reminded me so much of my own brothers and their playful innocence. These boys were so happy to be with a group of people that they’ve never met before that they looked up to as older brothers. They were so sad to leave to their mom’s house later that night, knowing that they couldn’t spend the night with us. I couldn’t believe how close these boys got to us in a matter of hours with little conversation.
In The Human Experience, the two brothers end their journey by reconciling their severed relationship with their father. Realizing the conversations they had with these three groups, they learned that pain will always be there, but they learn to forgive their father to proceed in having a healthier relationship. I had a similar experience with Estevan and Andy.
Seeing the joy and innocence in their eyes playing with us reminded me a lot of my relationship with my younger brothers. I’m an out of state student and I normally see my siblings twice a year at most. This winter break, I couldn’t make the time to fly down and see them and I know they’re sad to hear that I won’t be seeing them this holiday season. I realized that the same joy these boys saw in us is the same joy my brothers have when they see me, yet I pay so little attention to that. Knowing that I brought some happiness to these boys’ lives lets me know I can do the same with my own brothers.
Leaving Pueblo Nuevo the following day, I could see that the community was grateful for our work and I knew a small part of me would be left behind there with Estevan and Andy. Before leaving, I managed to give Estevan my FIU hat to keep as a reminder of the short time we had. After saying our goodbyes to the community members, Andy managed to run alongside our tour bus as we drove off to our next destination. It was a picture-perfect moment, symbolizing how much happiness we were able to bring with the bonding experiences our class had there.