Walking into a room with 32 American youth, I listened to the Costa Rican teacher as he spoke in fluent Spanish. Not even three years of Spanish classes could have prepared me for this moment. I was in a classroom teaching English at La Libertad, a school in a small town in San Dimas, Costa Rica. I was chosen for a leadership program called Summer Search that provides low-income students with year-long mentoring and two adventurous summer service trips. I was excited to be given such a valuable opportunity, but I was also afraid of being away from home and so out of my element.
However, seeing the enthusiasm of the kids on my first day as an English teacher melted away my anxiety and I could see how much I would be changed by them. The kids followed me around and I could see their faces light up every time I taught them a new English word. Their eagerness and enthusiasm to learn was infectious and encouraged me to teach them more. I transformed a simple childhood game of “Go Fish” using words instead of numbers to become the springboard for many English lessons. Every morning, I looked forward to the bright faces of the kids running up to the bus as we pulled up.
In Costa Rica, education is highly coveted. The children climbed muddy mountains, trekked through rivers, and even crossed country borders just to come to school even when it was not in session. Their never ending commitment and passion for learning made me see education in different ways.
Before this trip, I felt that my own poverty limited my opportunities, but here, in a place surrounded by poverty, the kids did not allow it to limit theirs. As I once saw myself as impoverished and disadvantaged, I no longer allow that aspect of my life to define me. Although my immigrant mother cannot provide me with educational support, she did, however, provide me with a different outlook on life that other people may not have experienced. She taught me to be independently driven, both in and outside the classroom.
Before travelling to Costa Rica, I thought that all learning came from within the classroom. Instead, the children taught me that learning depends on a person’s desire for knowledge. My desire to get out of poverty pushed me to study harder and challenge myself further. The children I encountered in Costa Rica reinforced this belief and showed me that education is not limited to the classroom, but can be found in everyday life. I am always learning as long as I am open to it. I am proud that I was able to help those in need in Costa Rica. Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, who do not have much, made me love what I was doing and appreciate what I have at home even more. I believe that as long as I have a thirst for knowledge and consistently push myself, I can excel under any circumstances.