Many people claim that the time spent in long, hot showers leads to self-reflection and grand realizations; until my own epiphany in a shower, I would have scoffed at any idea like that. However, my shower was not characterized by boundless, hot water flow but rather by a rushed, icy rinse in a dirty stall. In fact, I was showering in La Cruz, Costa Rica when I came to my powerful realization.
My three weeklong service trip in Costa Rica was an eye-opening experience for me, but not for the reasons you may think. At first, I was very nervous about going to a foreign country without knowing anyone, and I was even more worried about adhering to a strict diet of rice and beans. I arrived at the airport on the first day to find a tall, flamboyant African American boy wearing his red Global Leadership Adventure shirt, flailing his arms and joining me at the gate. This was Damion, and he, along with 31 other students, opened my eyes to the diverse world in which I live and yet am so unacquainted.
I grew on this service trip because of the people I met and what I learned from each person. The students on the trip came from different parts of North America, from Massachusetts, to Florida, to California, and even Canada. I noticed subtle differences between people who lived within the same state; I found that my life is completely different than the other students who live just a town away from me. Unlike most of the Massachusetts students, I live a small town and go to an all-girls Catholic school. Many Jewish, Protestant and Muslim students were interested in my Catholic faith. Moreover, I didn’t expect to find solace in strangers. When listening to Damion talk about his personal problems, the passing of his mother has helped me understand and cope with the recent passing of one of my own friends. This experience made me feel more spiritually and emotionally connected to another.
Individually, each person offered something unique in the group. Yair, from Sonoma, California, shared his passion for soccer. Sarah, from Moorestown, New Jersey, showed off her knowledge of U.S. history, and always included a random historical fact in conversation that was guaranteed to make everyone smile. Jack, from Minnetonka, Minnesota, shared his love for fishing and country music, which earned him the nickname “country bear.” Rocky, from Oakland, California, impressed everyone with his photographic skills, and never failed to set the mood with his music and speakers.
So, what was my epiphany in the filthy Costa Rican shower stall? I came to realize that my life has been largely isolated from any kind cultural diversity that is so pervasive in the urban areas of Massachusetts and throughout the country. Through sharing their varying lifestyles, religious practices, music tastes, or dialects, the students helped me appreciate that a person’s individuality enriches the uniqueness of another. By stepping out of my comfort zone and spending time with people who don’t look or talk like me, I realized that I encountered as much cultural diversity within my student group as I did in the surrounding Costa Rican community.