Costa Rica Is My Home Away From Home

Costa Rica Is My Home Away From Home

This ecological wonderland has carved a special place in my heart.

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In January, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to go on a study abroad research trip to Costa Rica. Costa Rica in Spanish is literally "rich coast," and that name is so fitting. The vast amount of diversity and culture I was able to experience while abroad was simply flabbergasting. It was truly an amazing and rewarding experience.

Map of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country in Central America, nestled between Panama and Nicaragua. Its capital and largest city is San Jose, with a population of a whopping 333,000. Costa Rica is known for being both the happiest and greenest country on Earth.

My trip was associated with a Biology course that included field research as a component. Over the course of our trip, we stayed at four places: The Goldring-Gund Marine Biology Station in Playa Grande, Cloudbridge Nature Reserve in San Gerardo, Poor Man's Paradise on the Osa Peninsula, and Heredia, right outside of San Jose.

Journey to Costa Rica

On a frigid January morning, my family and I began the 2 1/2 hour drive to Louisville's airport. Though this would be one of the shorter flights I've been on, I was still filled with apprehension. After a quick flight to Atlanta, my classmates and I soon were off on our journey to Liberia. The highlight of the flight was an extremely drunk man whose repetition of the phrase, "We're going Costa, we're going Rica," only served to increase my excitement for the new place I was about to explore.

Upon landing, I was struck by how rural and undeveloped the airport and surrounding area were. Our first destination, Playa Grande, was nearly an hour away by bus, and that ride gave me my first glimpse into the lives of rural Costa Ricans. Each town we passed through began very spread out and gradually centralized as we reached the town center. These communities were very obviously centered on education and religion, as almost every town had each in the middle.

Olivia Hawkins A church in a Costa Rican Village

Goldring-Gund Marine Biology Station

Goldring-Gund is a small block building nestled right on the beachfront of Playa Grande in Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas. The station itself is dedicated to the research and conservation of sea turtles. Because of drastically declining numbers, sea turtles are a precious commodity that needs protection. We didn't arrive until late that afternoon, but as soon as we arrived, we were assigned teams to patrol with later that night. I was assigned a beach patrol team. Our goal was to search for nesting sea turtles and fresh nests across local beaches to collect data or move the nest if it is uninhabitable.

Olivia Hawkins Sea Turtle Hatchlings

That night, in spite of the sheer exhaustion we all suffered from, we trekked out to the beach. Our bags arrived later than we did, so I was stuck traversing the beach in clunky hiking boots (to the dismay of my ankles). The stars were brighter than I had ever seen, and a cool breeze left us all at a comfortable temperature. My team leader, Jose, a local, was friendly and happy to teach us about the area. For hours, we walked miles up and down the beaches, nothing of note having happened.

We were walking along, talking and laughing under the skies of Playa Ventanas when suddenly Jose shushed us. He pointed excitedly at what looked like tire tracks. I followed the line of the tracks up until I laid my eyes on a massive creature—a leatherback sea turtle.

Jackson Chumbler Nesting Leatherback Sea Turtle

Suddenly, we were all set into motion. We recorded specifics, such as time and location. These were pretty hands off. However, when a sea turtle is found about to nest, close-up and personal measurements are needed. Jose tasked me with counting the eggs. To do this, I laid down on the sand at the back of the turtle, holding one flipper back, and placed a thermometer prior to the laying of the eggs. As the egg laying began, I had to get pretty close into the nest to count every egg that was laid. After what seemed like forever, the turtle stopped laying eggs, and I was able to get up from the ground. I was covered in sand and cloacal fluid, but I was exhilarated.

Afterward, physical measurements were taken, as well as observation of any markings of scars and whether or not it had been tagged. I was awestruck by the sheer mass of this creature. Though I had cared about ocean conservation before, getting to see this majestic animal right before my eyes gave me a brand new perspective.

Wendy Cecil My friend Alexa and I on the beach of Playa Grande

The rest of the days at Playa Grande were far less eventful and more laidback. My friends and I got to fully take in the beauty of Playa Grande and Playa Ventanas, as well as explore the local community a bit.

Olivia Hawkins Playa Ventanas

My experience in Playa Grande was a magical start to a trip of a lifetime.

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Top 50 Things You'll Hear A Southern Say

Y'all.
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For those of you who may need a little help understanding the slang of a southern, I made a list of the top 50 phrases and sayings, along with their translations.

1. Bless your heart.

My favorite saying. It is an empathetic phrase that is usually uttered when the speaker believes the recipient to be sweet, but misguided or stupid. It can also be used if the speaker believes the recipient needs to grow up and deal with it, when the speaker says it in a sarcastic tone.

2. Barking up the wrong tree.

Means being misguided or mistaken.

3. Aren't you precious?

Mostly this saying is used in a sarcastic tone in response to someone being offensive.

4. Britches.

Pants or underpants.

An example would be, "Your britches are too short, you can't wear those".

5. Coke.

Regardless if it's Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, or another carbonated beverage, it's called Coke here in the South.

6. Fixin' to.

Simply means that you are about to do something.

7. Get the short end of the stick.

This phrase means that you basically got an unfair deal or cheated out of something.

8. Give Me Some Sugar.

Simply means give me a kiss.

9. Hissy Fit.

A hissy fit is a grown-up version of a temper tantrum that is as bad as one that a toddler would throw.

10. Hold Your Horses.

Be patient.

11. Holler.

When you say "holler" you are basically letting the other person know something.

Example: Holler at me when you are ready to get something to eat.

12. If the creek don't rise.

This saying simply means that if nothing bad happens, everything will go as planned.

13. You're as slow as molasses in the wintertime.

This phrase means that you are being EXTRA slow.

14. Muddin'.

Off-road four-wheeler riding with the intentions of getting mud everywhere and possibly losing control.

15. Skat Cat.

A phrase that can be used instead of saying "God bless you" when you sneeze.

16. There's Not A Pot Too Crooked That A Lid Won't Fit.

There is someone for everyone.

17. Pitcher.

We mostly mean a plastic container that holds sweet tea, not the position of a guy on the baseball team.

18. Reckon.

When you say "I reckon", you believe that something is true.

19. Hoot With The Owls, Soar With The Eagles.

This simple phrase means that if you are going to stay up all night, you should be able to get early in the morning.

20. Too Big For Your Britches.

Simply means that you take yourself too seriously.

21. Stompin' Grounds.

Your hometown or where you grew up.

22. Back In The Day.

Back in the day could be a month ago, a year ago, or 20 years ago.

23. You're A Spitting Image Of (Insert Family Member).

Yes, I know I'm a spitting image of my mother. "Spitting image" simply means that you look just like someone.

24. "Darlin, Sugar, Sweetheart"

These words are simply terms of endearment.

25. Buggy.

A buggy is a cart/basket at the grocery store.

Example: Who wants to push the buggy?

26. Quit Crying Or I Will Give You Something To Cry About.

This phrase simply means to quit crying and if you didn't then more than likely you got a spanking,

27. Where You Raised In A Barn?

If you are from the South, you have probably been asked this more than once, especially when you left a door open.

28. Close The Door. You Are Letting All The Good Air Out.

This southern heat is nothing to play with. It simply means to keep the door closed so the air (or heat if its winter) stays inside.

29. You Are Going To Make Me Lose My Religion.

When you say this phrase to someone, it more than likely means that person has done something to irritate you or made you mad. Thank goodness Jesus saves.

Example: You are going to make me lose my religion.

30. You Look Like A Chicken With Your Head Cut Off.

This is said when you are running around like a crazy person. It can be said if you are looking for something that you are searching for or if you are just really busy.

31. Y'all.

The southern way to say "you all".

32. You Can't Carry A Tune In A Bucket.

If you've ever been told this, it means that you can't sing.

33. Have Their Feathers Ruffled.

You normally have your "feathers ruffled" when you are pouting.

34. Two Peas In A Pod.

When you and someone else are "two peas in a pod", it means that either you almost always together or that you two are almost identical in the way you think and do things.

35. Well Butter My Butt And Call Me A Biscuit.

This saying can be used when you are surprised or excited.

36. Don't Let The Door Hit Ya Where The Good Lord Split Ya.

When someone say this they typically mean to get out and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

37. You're As Good As Gold.

When you are "as good as gold", it means that you are well-behaved and obedient.

38. It's Raining Cats And Dogs Out There.

This simply means that the rain is really coming down hard. It's not actually raining cats and dogs, people.

39. I'm Full As A Tick.

This phrase means that you ate too much food.

40. I'm Sweating More Than A Sinner In Church.

When someone says this, it means that they are really hot and sweating A LOT.

41. Pot Calling The Kettle Black.

This phrase is used when one person is guilty of the very same thing of which they accuse another person.

42. There's More Than One Way To Skin A Cat.

It means that there is anyways more than one way to fix something.

43. Shut Yo' Mouth.

Means to be quiet or hush up.

44. Whatever Floats Your Boat.

This saying means to do whatever you want to do.

45. Slap Yo' Momma.

This phrase means that something is good.

Example: This BBQ is slap yo' momma good.

46. She's Like A Bull In A China Shop.

When you tell someone this phrase, you are telling them that they are clumsy or careless in the way that they move.

47. Cuttin' A Rug.

Cuttin' a rug is used to describe dancing.

Example: Let's go cut a rug tonight.

48. Clicker.

A clicker is another name for a TV remote.

49. Slow Your Roll.

This also means to be patient.

50. You're A Hot Mess.

When you tell someone that they are a "hot mess", you are simply telling them that they don't have it together.

Cover Image Credit: silhouetteamerica.com

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My Future Is Unpredictable And That's Totally Alright

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations.

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For six months, I had plans to study abroad in the Dominican Republic during the fall semester of junior year. Filling out what seemed like endless applications and paperwork, searching for travel ideas on Pinterest, and writing a class research paper on the DR's relationship with its neighboring island, Haiti, I was prepared to live and learn about Dominican culture hands-on.

Then on the Thursday before Finals Week last spring, I read my email. My study abroad program in the DR had gotten canceled. In the span of 30 seconds, my future had taken a new course. Less than a week later, I was submitting papers to study abroad in a new country where another adventure awaited: Ecuador.

If there's anything I've learned in the past year, it's that life is unpredictable and we can't control it. The future is unknown. But-

Who wants to know exactly what's going to happen in the next few years? I mean, I believe it's good to have a direction, but you don't have to have the entire journey pinpointed straight to the core. You meet people, you get inspired, you see things, you have experiences. And you go from there. (Though, I totally respect people who have clear ambitions and stick with them their entire lives.)

Where I was a year ago was a completely different path than where I find myself today. Last summer, I worked four different internships/jobs in the span of three months. A year ago, I would never have guessed my following summer unfolding with an immersion trip to India, a solo adventure to Taiwan & Hong Kong, and becoming a certified yoga instructor. A year ago, I hadn't met half of my best friends. A year ago, I hadn't seen poverty in a third-world country. A year ago, I wasn't even sure I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.

Just because I don't know what the future holds doesn't mean I can't set goals. I have a destination, an idea of where I'm headed and where I want to go. While abroad in Ecuador, I want to learn about sustainable development and coffee production as well as enhance my Spanish skills.

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations. I know the format of the program. I'll be taking classes and living with a host family and then doing an internship at a farm. Otherwise, I have no idea what's going to happen. And that's what I'm looking forward to the most. The spontaneity. The unexpected. As one of my good friends would say whenever he doesn't have formal weekend plans, "I'm improvising." And you know the one rule of improv: Always say yes.

¡Hasta pronto, Ecuador!

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