Taking charge and seizing opportunities

By: Kay Zagrodney, high school alumna High School Study Abroad, Wildlife Biology

In grammar school as the school year begins, the first essay prompt a student completes is to describe how he or she spent their summer vacation. Being a senior in high school, this classic fall assignment seemed too silly and unimportant. But the past summer has been most crucial to the person I am today. I spent three weeks in Costa Rica with a program called Broadreach in which I participated in a multi-sport ecological adventure that challenged my abilities. This summer I experienced firsthand how everybody in the world shares some common bond, and gained a true appreciation of the world around me. By taking chances and seizing every opportunity available to me, I realized these were the approaches I needed to take in life if I wanted to be truly satisfied with myself.

Each person in the world has his or her own unique attributes, but during the time spent this summer, with a variety of different people, I learned that we all possess strengths and weaknesses. Prior to this summer, I was the shy, somewhat reserved girl, who had friends but was not the social butterfly of the school. When I encountered the fourteen participants in the program, I was nervous at first that they would view me in this same way and I would have trouble finding similarities among us. Although they were from all walks of life, after three weeks, we formed inseparable bonds through our shared experiences. When we visited an orphanage of children who only spoke Spanish many of us were worried how we would communicate, as we spoke English and knew very little Spanish. Throughout the day I interacted with the kids using gestures and expressions as the language barrier became just a petty inconvenience. The realization that childhood games such as hide and seek are universal deepened my sense of connection to these children, as it triggered memories from my past. The essence of humanity between all people is never categorized by race, language, sex or any other classification humans can be placed in; we all share the common desire of human interaction.

I never truly understood how people could claim that one experience in their life made them truly appreciate the world around them, but after this summer I now understand what this means. Camping in the cloud forests enveloped by luscious green foliage and incredible mountains made me realize what this world offers, and how we take nature for granted in our everyday lives. Being immersed in the Costa Rican culture in the local towns contributed to my appreciation of not only the natural world, but also the world that we as humans have created. We isolate ourselves with the television and Internet to entertain ourselves with wishful experiences, but never end up truly living beyond the screen. Traveling may not be available for everyone, so my experience makes me realize how fortunate I have been in my life to gain this knowledge firsthand. Throughout the rest of my life I plan to deeper this appreciation of the world, as being in Costa Rica made me understand the its true importance in my life.

The opportunities presented in Costa Rica each day were both exciting and intimidating to me at the same time. Once that day was over, there was no repeating what I may have missed as we moved from kayaking one day to surfing the next. When looking down into the darkness of an underground cave we were climbing into, I realized that if I didn’t face my fear today, tomorrow I would regret the experiences I missed. Every day of the trip I felt I had overcome a personal wall that surrounded me, whether it was mastering class four whitewater or riding a horse for the first time without falling off. I understand now to truly seize the day; I must embrace the opportunities presented to me and overcome any self-doubt that I may have. Costa Rica will always have significant meaning in my life, as it was the place where I first learned to truly make my life my own.