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CULP Costa Rica

October 06, 2010 | Cadet Colin Trundle

As I was walking down the hallway one day, I noticed a sign posted on the wall advertising ROTC’s Cultural and Language Program. Among awarding cadets for taking critical languages, it offered the possibility of traveling to foreign countries in order to become immersed in foreign cultures. As the program offered me an opportunity to travel to a foreign country free of charge, I decided to apply. The application process was extremely simple. It consisted of a PDF form which asked for only basic information such a GPA and APFT scores. Moreover, I had to give a short, yet well thought out statement as to why I should participate in the program. I submitted the application and applied for a passport. By January, I was notified that I was accepted into the program and was chosen to visit Thailand. I was more than ecstatic.

As a result, I began to prepare for my travels. Unfortunately, a month before I was scheduled to depart, I was told that the trip was cancelled due to a civil war that was forming in the capital city of Bangkok. Obviously, I was sorely disappointed. However, a week later, I received an e-mail stating that I would be sent to Costa Rica instead. Consequently, I was told I would be departing for West Point Military Academy (the gathering point for all ROTC travelers) in approximately three weeks! Needless to say, I had little time to prepare!!

By July, I was on a plane to West Point! During a layover stop in Detroit, I had the opportunity to meet with several fellow cadets who were making the trip with me. By that evening we met up and were assigned a dormitory like room in Perishing Barracks. Overall West Point was an exciting place to visit. We had an opportunity to tour the entire school. Moreover, we were able to practice battle simulations and basic rifle and machine gun marksmanship! Later that week, we visited New York City where we toured, among other places, Ellis Island, the Statute of Liberty, the Intrepid exhibit, and Times Square. While New York City was exciting, I was ready to visit Costa Rica!

That Sunday, we drove to JFK Airport in New York City, boarded a plane, and flew to Costa Rica! When I arrived, the culture shock was immense. This was the first time that I ever needed to use a language different than English in order to function. Once departing customs, we boarded a bus and traveled to the City of Cartago where we moved into our new “home.” The facility, managed by an organization called “Cross-Cultural Solutions” not only served as a place to stay, but coordinated our volunteer efforts in the community. For the first week, we worked in a nursing/retirement home for indigent elderly. We did landscaping jobs, worked with the elderly and even begun work on a new concrete walkway through a garden. The work was immensely gratifying and helped to install in us, the true meaning of service to your community. By that weekend, we traveled to the city of Arenal, located near Nicaragua. There, we toured La Fortuna Volcano – one of the most active in the world, we went zip lining through the rain forest, and we went to the hot springs – where we enjoyed Costa Rican hospitality!

By the next week, we continued to work at the nursing home – we even finished the walkway! For several more days, we worked in an elementary school located in the most impoverished part of town. There, we painted the walls, performed landscaping, and cleaned windows. To see the finished results, was immensely rewarding. For that weekend, we traveled to the town of Puerto Viejo situated on the Atlantic Coast near Panama.  Throughout the entire weekend, we relaxed on the beach and enjoyed life!

On our final week, most of us worked renovating a community center near the school. This facility was deeply impoverished and was utilized mostly by Nicaraguan immigrants. Throughout the week, we created a new driveway and garden. The work was extremely difficult!!!! However, we accomplished our mission by the end of the week and the community center was thus able to better serve the community. Ultimately, by the time we had to go home, I was extremely sad as I had made numerous friends in places I had worked. Moreover, even today, I still miss the local culture and customs experienced in those three weeks! In the end, I experienced a trip of a life time in Costa Rica and would recommend to anyone participating in the ROTC program to apply!

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