Hola! My name is Rachel Eubanks and I’m the current photojournalism intern here at UGA Costa Rica. For the next six months, I’ll be the one creating and curating the posts you’ll find our social media accounts. If you have anything you’d like to share, just tag @ugacostarica!
This week, my camera malfunctioned. Normally, this situation would only bring me a moderate amount of anxiety (even though these little pieces of metal and glass we call cameras make up my livelihood). Typically my routine would go something like 1. text former photo professor 2. heed his advice and 3. take my baby to a local camera repair shop that could help me in a snap. But moving to Monteverde makes experiences like camera problems a bit more interesting. In my first two weeks of living at UGA Costa Rica, here are a few things that have changed in my daily routine:
Everyday tasks require more work, but the payoff feels more satisfying. Many small moments feel drastically different once you live in Costa Rica, especially here in the mountains of San Luis. Buying wool socks or candles for our humid casitas involves catching a ride twenty minutes into Santa Elena or taking the hour and a half walk up la trocha, the steep, gravel path that proves to be a challenge even for four wheel drives. But what some may see as inconveniences really become habits that simplify our lifestyles. Everything we really need we can find right here. And because I have fewer distractions than in my life back in the States, I have a better ability to focus — not only on my work as photo intern, but also on the joys of the company of those living here with me.
Hot gossip sounds nothing like what you’d expect. Most of the time when you hear people whisper with excitement, it’s about a sloth. Or a snake. Or an emerald toucanet. The priorities of researchers, naturalists and visitors to UGA Costa Rica feel vastly different than those of my circles back home, but I’m grateful to be able to focus more of my energy on learning and less on petty arguments and Instagram likes.
At a rural campus, sometimes you feel stuck. I can’t just hop in the car and drive to see my friends in Atlanta or set off on a spontaneous weekend trip. But I can take a thirty-minute walk down to the river over a suspension bridge, climbing up the falls to cool off. I can also grab some friends and pop into the heladería, or the local ice cream shop, while taking in an unmatched mountain view. If you stay long enough somewhere, it’s easy to feel stuck, but it’s up to each of us to adopt what I call an “attitude of gratitude” instead.
“Going out” takes on a pretty different meaning. Nope, no rooftop concert or karaoke for me tonight. We’re grabbing our headlamps and knee-high boots to search for frogs instead. The kinds of students who opt to study abroad in the mountains of Central America rather than the French Riviera often come here with an inclination to explore. The folks who visit UGACR, students and travelers alike, care more about the authenticity of their travel experiences than the luxuries of home. With this sense of adventure, travelers can more easily experience local culture, such as milking a cow on the campus farm in the morning, then sipping the milk during dinnertime with a mug of hot chocolate, or learning to dance merengue with a tico guide.
Just because you leave a place doesn’t mean you leave your problems. Most of the time, pura vida moves at a slower pace than life in the States, which comes as such a refreshing change. But the more time I have, the greater opportunities my mind has to wander, especially by dwelling on the past or worrying for my future. “What am I going to do after this? Why didn’t that friend say goodbye before I left? Don’t they care about me?” Part of me hoped that many of my internal struggles would fall away once I arrived in Central America. But instead of abandoning my problems, I simply have more time and mental space to work through them.
Sometimes I wonder what I am doing here. I know nothing of the natural world. I’ve only been camping a handful of times and the primary form of exercise I used to get was standing up at my service industry job (compared to the 30,000 steps I took today alone). At the end of each day here, I feel sore but happy. I feel overwhelmed with new information (about sustainability, environmental fragmentation, how to decipher different bird calls and classify types of macroinvertebrates) but I’m also excited to absorb even more. My advice for traveling and starting new experiences, no matter where they may be? Shoot for moments. When you focus on the individual moments of your trip rather than getting every detail just right, you can experience pure life.