I go to college only about 45 minutes from home. If I want to see my family, I can. So, when my first fall break came around I took the opportunity to go somewhere a little farther away for a change.

During freshman orientation, I heard that Villanova has "Service and Justice Experiences" over fall break through Campus Ministry. Figuring "why not?" I applied without putting too much thought into it. I told my mom I was applying, but that my chances of being chosen weren't great so I would probably be home for break anyway.

Luckily for me, only a few weeks later I received a cryptic, gif-infested email which informed me I was selected for a SJE, and I needed to go to the first meeting to learn the location of my endeavor and to "awkwardly bond while sitting around in a circle." When I attended that first meeting, I had little clue what a huge impact this trip would have on my first semester.

Just like that, I learned I was going on an international service trip to Costa Rica - and it was only a few weeks away!

I was the only freshman in the group, and am honestly still getting use to college as a whole. However, I just sort of jumped in feet first, and definitely didn't regret that decision!

Over fall break, myself and fourteen others ventured to Mastatal, Costa Rica in partnership with Ecoteach, an organization which provides students with hands-on conservation opportunities in the rainforest. We lived on a sustainable ranch called Rancho Mastatal, where we were able to learn about permaculture, natural building, fermentation and other practices integral to a sustainable lifestyle.

The bounty of knowledge and experiences I gained in just one week was incredible. The most impactful facet of the entire endeavor, however, was definitely the people.

There we several different groups of people I got to know throughout the experience, and each gave me a little more perspective into myself.

First, were the people of the ranch. Rancho Mastatal hosts a number of people from all over the world each year who wish to gain insight into what it means to live a permaculture lifestyle - one in which land and people coexist in a mutually-beneficial relationship. Some stay for a year, some for three months, and others dedicate their lives to this project. In doing so, they bestow a wealth of knowledge in each and every person who comes to volunteer. Each night before dinner, they all join hands and give thanks for each success of the day. These people are not indulgent, but rather endlessly give to their environment, yet they still take time each and every day to be thankful for the positives.

The people of Mastatal had much to teach as well. Mastatal is a small rural community in Costa Rica, just seven miles from the Pacific Coast. With only about a hundred and fifty inhabitants, the people of Mastatal have an extremely close bond, both with their environment and one another.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay with a host family for two days of my trip, getting an opportunity to practice my nonexistent Spanish skills and to immerse myself in the rich culture. The people of the community had a lot to teach, for I found they were content with everything they had and didn't need much to be happy.

At one point, our guides Marcos and Jenny were asked where their dream home would be, and they stated that they already live in it - a mindset that greatly reflects the people of the region.

Finally, the other Villanovans with whom I embarked on this journey had a lot to teach me as a well. As the only freshman, and the only person who was new to the college experience, I got a chance to glimpse the future, as well as make new friends I never would have met otherwise.

Thanks to my Service and Justice Experience, I was able to meet people who I know will continue to shape my college experience, both from near and from afar.