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Honors Students Spend Spring Break Volunteering in Costa Rica

Georgia Southern Students at the La Paz Waterfalls in Costa Rica

Georgia Southern Students at the La Paz Waterfalls in Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the destination for this year’s newest Honors alternate break trip. Led by Dr. Leticia McGrath, nine students traveled to La Carpio, Costa Rica during spring break to work with impoverished families on community restoration projects such as painting houses and planting gardens. In addition to community service, the students toured San Jose, Manuel Antonio National Park, and the Arenal Volcano and natural hot springs.

“It was amazing to witness how students were able to engage in a meaningful way in a community that is often ignored, where individuals are ‘invisible’ and not valued,” Dr. McGrath said about the inequality found in La Carpio. She added, “Despite the language barrier, or perhaps because of it, students reached beyond simple verbal communication and shared their common humanity, discovering that we all share the same basic need to be valued, to be visible.”

Students mixing cement for a home in La Carpio, Costa Rica

Students mixing cement for a home in La Carpio, Costa Rica

Students participated in community restoration projects, such as the installation of a cement floor: “I loved being able to work at La Carpio because it showed me a side of the world that I never would have known was there without this program,” said Bailey Kirk (Mathematics ‘17).  She added, “It really showed me what is out there and how a few hours of our time could have a huge impact on their lives.”

These changes impact the local Costa Rican culture in great ways. Simply altering a floor from dirt to concrete will impact the health of a family who has no running water, said McGrath.

For some, language was a barrier on the trip. “It was eye opening to not speak Spanish and to try to communicate with people who all knew what everyone else was saying. However, everyone I came into contact with was so generous, caring, and loving,” said Salena Neuwar (child and family development ‘16).

Yet many students drew comparisons between La Carpio and impoverished towns in the United States. “Seeing the La Carpio situation really made me think about how similar it is to some situations in the U.S. and it made me think deeply about how I can take what I learned in Costa Rica and apply here in the States,” said Derrick Herrin (Mechanical Engineering ‘16).

Students meet with Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation founder and director Gail Nystrom

Students meet with Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation founder and director Gail Nystrom

Like many honors students, Laina Latzsch (Biology ‘15) felt that the best part of the trip was experiencing another culture first hand. “I did not think that this trip would make such an impact on me, but it has truly changed my perspective. Of course, the volunteering was such a rewarding experience, but I also loved learning and living a new culture and language and getting to know my fellow honors students,” said Latzsch.

Xxavier Robertson (Film and Business ‘17) agrees with Latzsch. “This was an experience unlike any other. I have a deeper meaning of what it means to serve.”

Several students plan to return to Costa Rica and continue volunteering in the future. “The lessons learned on humility, racial discrimination, and other social issues such as poverty, teen pregnancy, and immigration, will prove valuable to the volunteers as they seek to serve others in our local community here in Statesboro and elsewhere,” McGrath said.

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