Costa Rica Student Reflection: Eileen Keating
Everyone might be nervous, but also quite excited,
Communication heightens the lessons that ignited.
Open expression about conservation hopes and fears,
Together with community partners, leadership, and peers.
Opportunities for improvement,
Uncertainty along the way,
Regardless of our viewpoint,
Inspiration from nature leads each day.
So, whether you look up towards the birds, or down at the seeds,
Mother Earth is all around us, telling us her needs.
Reading back through my journal sent me right back to Costa Rica. I feel so grateful to have gone on this journey with such an incredible group of people. Sometimes the social aspect of these trips can seem more daunting than any other uncertainty. You want to be with a group that inspires, challenges, discusses, but I worry about overpowering personalities, or not fitting into the popular opinion. Not only did our group meet all the basic expectations but exceeded them. It is invigorating to be around people from all walks of life, bonding over a common goal of conservation. This isn’t just through the other students, but our in-country partners and leaders, Hays, Marco and Chris. At home I often crave these conversations and feel sad that I do not live closer to my amazing classmates.
I am not someone who journals outside of these trips. This particular EE was a main driver for me joining this program, and in my very first journal entry before the trip I reflect on how I feel ecotourism is a main fighter in the future of conservation. A world where travel can benefit communities and the environment, while connecting people with nature. However, throughout the next several pages you can hear my heartbreak. Many of the topics discussed I could not fully take in until I was home, and I continued to journal to help unpack the days. Ultimately, I had to remove ecotourism from its unrealistic pedestal in my mind, and see it for what it is, a good compromise to a grave reality.
Conservation is a heavy topic, often feeling too big for one person to make a difference. It would be easy to feel negative or want to give up. A theme for me during this trip was “is this enough?” There were many aspects of this journey in Costa Rica that tried to break my spirit. There were even a few times I felt I needed to leave this program and almost left Costa Rica. I felt challenged in ways I did not anticipate. However, I am so glad that I stayed. I think that facing the reality of situations is imperative to creating positive change. True community-based conservation, like we saw at Turtle Station comes with highs and lows. Even amidst a group of fellow nature lovers, there was a variety of viewpoints on what conservation encompasses. Having a deep passion and drive for an issue can be consuming and being able to see that issue through a variety of perspectives is invaluable. At Turtle Station we had the pleasure of hearing from the biologist, Monica. She shared in some of our perspectives that there is still room for improvement with the ecotourism surrounding sea turtles, however, when asked “what can we do?”, she responded “spread your knowledge, for those of us who have the privilege to learn”.
The most influential conversations for me were with Brenada at the Bri-Bri village. Hearing her deep respect for tradition, culture and nature made me feel hopeful for the future of our planet. The “is this enough?” theme I felt throughout the trip was expressed through her words. We learned what one woman, with the support of her community, accomplished. It was not easy, and it did not happen quickly or without challenges, but she did not give up. She was able to create change and influence through her will and tenacity. She showed us that “this could be enough” but that we need to respect the resources we have left and live a life with less waste and more connection.
I love this photo of all of us (which I did not take, I am sorry for stealing someone’s photo). It is raining and we are desperate to spot a sloth but look how happy we all are! This really encompasses the ease and flexibility of the whole group.