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Three days into our DukeEngage experience in Costa Rica, biologist Mark Wainwright was guiding our group through the Cloud Forest Reserve. I’ll admit, at that point, I just wasn’t sold; dozens of questions raced through my mind.

Would I enjoy the group? Would I enjoy the work? How would I make it through two months in a foreign country? Would I get Dengue?

But as we continued our walk through the forest, those doubts slowly faded as I took in the beauty that surrounded us. Eventually, roughly halfway through the hike, Mark stopped the group and bent over to pick something up. He turned around and held up a large black millipede, its body and legs twisting and churning fruitlessly between Marks fingers. He proceeded to give us some fun facts on millipedes before asking if anyone else wanted to hold it.

Initially, I was revolted. Let that thing touch my body? No way.

But at that moment, I remembered something my dad told me before I got on my flight to San Jose: “Embrace the experience.”

I initially filed the words away with the dozens of other motivational phrases I had heard since I was accepted into the program, but they popped into my head at that moment. I thought to myself, “You can sit around and mope about bad Wi-Fi, or you can choose to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Thankfully, I chose the latter.

So, I volunteered to let that millipede crawl over my hand, and I’ll admit, it felt strange, but in a good way.

I decided to let that moment be indicative of how I would spend the next two months. I would take advantage of any new opportunity that would come my way, whether it was saying yes to a 9 AM hike despite being exhausted, or trying some new dish even if it looked unappetizing.

Many of the things I’ve tried since arriving in Costa Rica may seem ordinary to most, but they represent my new mindset. Whether it’s new foods like huevos rancheros, ceviche, starfruit, or gallo pinto, or activities that the old Jason would never do, like cooking or shopping for knick knacks, I’ve approached with an open mind.

I’ve now been in Costa Rica for over six weeks and I’m happy to say that none of my doubts came true. I’ve had the chance to do amazing work with a great group of people, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t contracted Dengue (knock on wood).

However, I won’t say this trip has been a breeze. It has been both mentally and physically exhausting, and being away from home for this long is never easy. I miss my friends and family, as well as the usual relaxation that comes with summer, and I have questioned myself numerous times ever since the plane touched down in San Jose.

Despite that, the challenges are part of what has made this trip so rewarding thus far, and I feel like this journey has changed the way I view myself, and the world. When asked about this trip, I won’t lie and say it was a walk in the park, but I will say that it was one of the best decisions of my life and one I would make again in a heartbeat.