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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Great Things Never Came From Comfort Zones

If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done.
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Someone once said, “Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.” It’s easier said than done, right? We like to feel safe, and venturing out means having to cut away at your safety net. No one wants to do that. But we have to.

How many New Year's resolutions have you not followed through with because it pushed you past your comfort zone? How many opportunities have you let slip by and justified it with some mediocre excuse that you’ll do it next week, next month, next year?

It’s hard to not judge your own life in today’s world of social media. Suddenly, we’re expected to have professional grade photos of ourselves and our lives living our best versions. We question everything we post and analyze it from all angles about how it may be perceived. Our feeds are flooded with what we think are unrealistic expectations of what our lives should look like - but that’s just it.

Your life could look like that.

We choose to be chronic complainers rather than doers because honestly, it’s just easier to stay home and watch a series on Netflix you’ve already seen three times rather than booking that trip you’re always thinking about taking but never actually do.

But, nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy.

The minute we stop making excuses for ourselves is the moment where we actually get to see what we’re made of.

The summer I turned 20, something struck from within me. I had this urgency to do something I’ve never done before. I have always preached about how one day I’m going to travel. I’m going to see new places, experience new cultures, and meet new people. And one day, an opportunity came knocking. So quite honestly, I decided that it was now or never, and I booked a trip to Ireland, London, and Paris.

For a homebody like myself, this took quite a bit of courage. Not only was I spending my young life’s savings on a 16-day excursion, but it would also be the first time traveling without parental guidance. It was me and my friend, and that was it. Two 20-somethings taking on the uncertainty together. We wouldn’t have someone with us to figure out the hiccups as they came along. It was completely up to us.

But my God, the things we learned when we leaped out of our comfort zones.

Our comfort stems from our need for familiarity. Well, drop me in France and about all of that is taken away. My ability to communicate for myself was stripped clean. My phone, which is basically my safe haven of comfort, was utterly useless. Was it scary? Yes. Did I learn more about myself on that trip than I had in all 19 years combined? Yes. Did I gain some pretty cool stories to tell? Yes.

And, all because I stepped out of my comfort zone.

Now, do you have to be like me and spontaneously book a trip to some far-off place to prove a point? Absolutely not! Start small. Push yourself. Take that class that interests you but you don’t know if you’ll be any good at. When someone asks you out on a date, say yes. Hell, go to the movies… alone. Do SOMETHING!

If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. The way I see it, when we are presented an opportunity, we are faced with two options. We can either take a leap of faith, or we can wonder what could have been.

Just for one minute out of your day, put your insecurities to the side. Be fearless in the face of adversities for just a second, and I promise good things will come of it.

And if you still don’t believe me, take it from my friend, Mark Twain.

“Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Cover Image Credit: Allison Ziegler

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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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