Skip to main content

Learning that I was highly allergic to the fungi that grow in both the soil and leaves of Costa Rica wasn’t quite the type of “new experience” I envisioned receiving when I first applied to join the DukeEngage program in Costa Rica. And yet, there is certainly something to be said of the unparalleled novelty of these new circumstances. Between attending a farmers market entirely in Spanish, milking a cow (vaca) at the crack of dawn, experiencing a Spanish Catholic mass, walking through the incredibly biodiverse cloud forest, and doing meaningful environmental work, I’ve never had the opportunity to have so many new experiences.





In just the two weeks that I have been here, my worldview has been truly realigned. Not only by these unique experiences, but also by deeper personal changes I’ve had to contend with. Thanks to the ol’ “could go into shock” fungal allergy, I’m unable to do the very work that this program is centered around. It’s not something as dramatic as losing my purpose in life, but with the admittedly demoralizing nature of my allergy, I did have to deal with the erosion of what I felt was my use in the program. For several days, I grappled with the fact that I may be obsolete, deadweight to the program that just soaks up money and resources without any useful output. I think I’m generally an easy-going and laid back guy, but when our program director told me in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t do the field work that I had come here to do, I almost started crying (almost, because cool, laid back guys are too cool to actually cry).


This experience, while frustrating, has also been an incredible gift. It has served to develop a skill that I have strived for but oftentimes fallen short of attaining: adaptability. For much of my life, I’ve struggled with accepting change, with being fluid in the face of new circumstances beyond my control. I can wholeheartedly say that there are few circumstances more beyond my control than my immune system attacking itself over some mushrooms. In these circumstances, I’ve been able to find peace in the chaotic nature of the world – it’s not a new revelation exactly, but it is a deeper one. Along with this greater understanding, I’ve also gained a new role in the program, taking on research and statistical jobs that DO NOT have the potential to kill me. Woohoo! In the same way that I’ve gained an emotional fulfillment, I’ve also gained a physical fulfillment by being able to continue working to benefit this program.




As I conclude this blog post, I’m left with a sense of hope and security knowing that, in the small amount of time I’ve been in this amazing country, I’ve gained insight that would have normally taken months, or perhaps even years, to discover. The value of a new and challenging environment, compared to the static and relatively unchanging nature of my home, cannot be overstated.