Gracias: the word I uttered 500 times every day. Mucho gusto: the response I heard 500 times every day. These two phrases are the closest to my heart of all the phrases in the Spanish language. They might be simple, but they have the power to change a person’s life and, in this case, the person was me.
As I set out on my 2010 spring break trip to Costa Rica with my high school Spanish class, I didn’t foresee the effect the trip would have on me. While we traveled through this new and exciting country, we spent a great deal of time on buses, driving from town to town. There was so much to see: coffee farms, waterfalls, volcanoes, and, most important to me, people. Our group had the opportunity to visit with many locals while we explored the streets of small towns. I felt the need to say “gracias” every time I left, because they were so kind and helpful, and they always responded with “mucho gusto”. They all wore smiles on their faces but behind them stood the shacks and barred up concrete houses in which they lived. This struck me as ironic. By American standards, one would expect bitterness and misery due to their poverty, but they were exactly the opposite. The strongest example of this irony came from our tour guide, Carlos.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Carlos, more than any other Costa Rican we met, ensured that our experience was memorable and authentic, from teaching us salsa dancing to making us a traditional Costa Rican dish. I can still see him walking down a dirt road with his tattered suitcase and worn tennis shoes. As he turned to go into his little house, with bars on the broken windows, he flashed a big, toothy grin at our group, with eyes that looked back into the past and ahead to the future. This image reminds me not only of my good fortune to live where I do, but also that not everything in life revolves around materialistic things. More important are the people that surround us and the way we choose to view our lives and ourselves.
Ending this adventure was bittersweet. I grew as a person, gaining independence and perspective. When I said “gracias”, the locals responded, “mucho gusto” with big smiles, teaching me to always look for the silver lining in the world. This experience didn’t end as the beautiful landscape of Costa Rica disappeared from my plane window; it continues to change the way I view myself and the future. This experience forever altered my trajectory for college and career, inspiring me to build international relations into my study of business. I saw first hand that possessions aren’t necessary to love the job that I do and I appreciate more than ever the educational opportunities available to me. For this, I would like to say “gracias” to Carlos and the rest of those I met in that small, Central American country. Pura Vida.
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