When the pandemic is over this is what you should do

To: College Students

From: Maya Feigenbaum (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To College Students, 

Thanks to the pandemic, I know right now isn’t exactly what you wanted or expected for your college experience. From missing out on sports to social distancing from friends and family, there are a lot of disappointments. But remember, this won’t last forever. When it does end, I want to encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities available to you, including travel.  

Right before the pandemic, I learned firsthand that when you visit unfamiliar places, you discover more than just the world around you. 

Amidst the most stressful year of my college career, my junior year, I decided to do something a little different. I’m the baby of my family and I’ve always been protected and sheltered. My extended family goes on a cruise together every other year – about 19 of us total. It’s great, but I wanted to try going on a trip by myself. During the fall semester last year, I received an email about traveling abroad to Costa Rica during the winter break. 

Immediately, I called my mom and said, “I am doing it.”

I didn’t know Spanish or any of the other 12 students who were going on the trip. It was scary, as I was entering a situation well outside of my comfort zone. 

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I learned firsthand that when you visit unfamiliar places, you discover more than just the world around you.

Right away, there were challenges. We had a layover in another city in Costa Rica before arriving in Santa Ana. At the airport, I didn’t know how to order a subway sandwich. Thankfully,  one of my classmates stepped in to help. 

Maya helped host a camp for kids in Costa Rica

When we landed in Santa Ana, we immediately met up with our host family. I was rooming with another girl, who also didn’t know Spanish very well. Our host mom didn’t know any English. 

At first, my roommate and I looked at each other like, “Oh no, what are we going to do?”

But when we got back to the house, our host mom’s daughter knew English, which helped. We also used a lot of google translate. Over the three weeks, we found ways to work around the language barrier. Quickly, I realized she was no different than my mom. Every single day, she would do our laundry, fold it and put it on our beds.

I kept telling her that we did not need our laundry done every day, but she insisted. 

During the second week of our trip, our program hosted a camp for kids in the community. It was their summertime. On our way to the camp, we saw the homes where many of these children lived. It wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before. The houses were very close together and the living conditions were not great.  

Once we arrived at the camp, some of the kids knew English better than others, as it was clear not all the children attended school. Even though I could barely communicate with some of the kids, we played games and did arts and crafts projects. Many of them became very attached to me. When I would bump into a child outside of camp, they would run up to me and hug me. On our last day with them, my heart broke as they chased our bus while we drove away.

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After the camp was over, toward the end of our trip, several people from my group decided they wanted to go ziplining.  Since I was a child, I never liked heights. But everyone on the trip was going and I thought I would regret not going with them. So, I decided to do it. 

It didn’t hit me until we were driving up the hill and we just kept going further and further uphill. When we finally got to the top, one-by-one, my classmates went down. Then, it was my turn. It wasn’t one long zipline but 12 consecutive ziplines all connected.

Maya went ziplining during her trip.

While I was so nervous, as soon as I went down the first one, I thought to myself,”This isn’t so bad.”

Suddenly, I wasn’t scared anymore, and I enjoyed the incredible view.  That moment was almost a metaphor for my entire trip to Costa Rica. 

While I was initially scared to go to Costa Rica, I had an amazing time. And in three weeks, I learned so many valuable lessons. 

The language barrier that initially worried me taught me that I can adapt and find my way even when I feel lost or out of place. 

Maya visited Costa Rica in January

I learned that even though people’s culture may be different, we are all connected as humans. A mom in Costa Rica loves and cares for her children just like a mom in the United States. 

Similarly, the campers showed me that playing games and having fun is a universal language, which all by itself can create meaningful and impactful relationships. 

The trip also changed my perspective, as I can now recognize how fortunate I am for the opportunities and resources available to me. 

Above all else, I learned not to be afraid of whatever it is that scares me – whether it be a trip, a zipline, or anything else. Thanks to going on this trip despite my fears,  I now know that I genuinely love to travel – not only because I get to discover more about the world and other people, but because it also gives me the chance to find out more about myself. 

This pandemic shall pass. When it does, get out of your comfort zone. You have got nothing to lose. 

Fun times are ahead, I promise.

Maya Feigenbaum
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