My Future Is Unpredictable And That's Totally Alright

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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8 Of The Most Insta-Worthy Spots In The Tampa Area

Just in case your social media game needs a little pick-me-up.
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Whether you were born and raised here or you're just visiting, Tampa is one of the coolest cities in the country. It's not nearly as lively as somewhere like New York City, but still maintains an entertaining night life and countless activities throughout the area. For the people who like the idea of a big city lifestyle but also enjoy the small-town feel, Tampa is the place for you. As a Tampa native, I've got quite the list of places where you just can't help but take a picture.

1. Oxford Exchange

Not only can you get a quality cup of coffee or tea, you can also spend some time scouring through the quirky trinkets and books that are on display throughout the restaurant. Breakfast and Lunch are both 10/10 here. When you're done eating and exploring, make sure you have someone take a picture of you in front of the white brick entrance for your latest Facebook profile pic.

2. Riverwalk

A new addition to downtown, the Tampa Riverwalk is the perfect place to walk your dog, go for a run, make your boyfriend take 100+ pictures of you, etc. The 2.5 mile walkway extends through downtown’s most popular museums, restaurants, and parks and is a beautiful sight both day and night.

3. Hyde Park Village

Just a few minutes outside of downtown, Hyde Park is the perfect place to grab a drink and stroll around with friends. Home to many unique bars and restaurants, the village is unlike any other spot in the city. There are also tons of shops, and they offer free parking!

4. SoHo

For all you 21 and ups, South Howard (better known as SoHo) is the main nightlife scene in Tampa. There are multiple bars and restaurants, and you're more than guaranteed to have a great time.

5. The Dali Museum

Located just outside of Tampa in downtown St. Pete, the Salvador Dali museum is an art museum dedicated to the great work of Salvador Dalí. It houses the largest collection of Dalí's work, apart from Europe. You're guaranteed to get a few unique pictures here while also seeing some pretty amazing things.

6. The Tampa Theatre

Snap a picture or see a show! The Tampa Theatre is sort of a hidden gem downtown. The theatre has been open since 1926, and features everything from independent, to documentary films on a daily basis.

7. Bayshore Boulevard

Stretching 4.5 miles, Bayshore Blvd. is a waterfront path located just south of downtown. It is claimed to be the longest continuous sidewalk in the world, and is widely taken advantage of for exercise and recreation. The famous Gasparilla Parade also takes place on Bayshore, making it a memorable spot for most people in the area.

8. Historic Ybor City

Founded in the 1880s, Ybor City was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba and Spain. Workers in Ybor's cigar factories have rolled hundreds of millions of cigars annually. There are multiple restaurants, bars, and even a movie theatre. Ybor is the place to be if you want to appreciate some history while also finding the perfect brick wall backdrop for an insta post.

Cover Image Credit: TampaGov

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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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