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For me, this trip has been about constantly maintaining my mental, physical, and emotional stability. When I first thought about applying to Duke Engage Costa Rica, I never considered the possibility that “planting trees” was going to be a hard task. But after my first day of planting trees along a sloped, slippery, vegetated hillside at La Finca de Maikol Cruz, I realized that this experience was going to be nothing like how I imagined it. From that day on, I was constantly wet from rain or sweat, swatting away bugs, regardless of whether or not I used repellent, and sore from walking up and down the seemingly endless hills in Monteverde. Our program director Debra Hamilton told us during Duke Engage Academy that “there are no flat surfaces in Monteverde,” and it only took me the first day to realize she was not exaggerating.



Walking everywhere, digging holes and working through a sprained ankle have been difficult physical challenges. Similarly, being constantly surrounded by bugs, the lack of reliable internet, and being so far from home have been stressful emotionally. Perhaps the biggest challenge for me was when we went to the lowlands in Manzanillo near the Gulf of Nicoya. There, the extreme heat and humidity left me constantly sweating, the sheer number of mosquitos, beetles, and spiders was overwhelming, and I was struggling with homesickness. I will say, however, that the food we were served at La Ensenada might have been worth all the annoyances I faced. Despite these challenges and violated expectations, I haven’t regretted signing up for this trip at all. In fact, I can only view this experience as a valuable one. I’ve made so many new friends since I have been here in Monteverde, and I’ve strengthened some of the friendships I had already established during my freshman year.



I’ve also learned so much about reforestation and the dedication, research, and thought that goes into it. I never knew there was a systematic process for planting trees: marking and digging the holes, moving the trees, and cutting the plastic bags around it. Not to mention the many experiments and research projects meant to determine how effective the efforts have been. I’m grateful that I’m forced to converse, understand, and use Spanish in every setting, which has vastly improved my Spanish abilities. I’ve also learned the value of community and generosity while planting trees. Because of the planting we do for ranchers and farmers on their land (as many as 300-400 trees at a time), they always find ways to repay us with whatever means they have. Usually, they prepare meals, drinks, and sweets for us. This simple act of reciprocity has taught me that not everything has to have a monetary value. Overall, having been in Costa Rica for a month, I believe that this trip will be an experience I can never forget.