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The Unexpected and Invaluable Benefits of Service Travel
Mrs. Jessie Copeland

This blog is Part 1 of 2 about Independence's service trip to Costa Rica in June 2018.

Going to Costa Rica was one of those experiences that I always had on my bucket list, but never expected to check off. Even while we waited in the airport in the early morning hours to board the plane, part of my mind was still wondering, “Is this really happening?” But there I was, taking off from Philadelphia with 22 middle school girls and three other phenomenal Independence teachers, about to embark on an amazing journey. As a science enthusiast and educator, I have spent so much of my life experiencing the country through pictures, documentaries, and the stories recounted by my college professors. Stepping off the plane, I soon realized that I was entering an ecological wonderland, full of excitement and adventure.

Our travels took us to cloud forests, where we zip-lined, swam in a chilly waterfall, and tasted some of the most delicious coffee I have ever had. We went to the coast, where many of us swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time and saw our first sloths. We drove to Arenal Volcano, where we kayaked around the base and swam in natural hot springs. We took a boat excursion through mangrove forests, where we saw giant crocodiles and a multitude of birds. From start to finish, the environmental and biological diversity we experienced was beyond my wildest dreams!

While I appreciated the trip from a science perspective, the part of the entire experience that impacted me most was the people and the culture of Costa Rica. Our service experiences shoveling compost and mixing concrete with Green Communities will stick with me. Not because of the temporary aches and pains of hard, manual labor, but from the gratitude the community extended toward us at the end of the day. Our visit to the school in Puntarenas was life changing. Spending time with so many wonderful students just talking about la Copa Mundial, my crazy puppy, and my two silly sons back at home, I could feel the excitement just radiating from each student. They genuinely cared about what my life was like in Delaware, and they had no hesitations telling me about their lives in Costa Rica. The connections we made with the people at each location we visited were inspiring, and it was heartbreaking only spending such a limited amount of time with them.

I expected to go to Costa Rica and to be blown away by the ecology, but what I did not expect was to make such deep, emotional attachments with so many people in such a limited time.

These are the experiences that we can’t fabricate in a classroom. By going out into the world, we are able to expose our students to different cultures and customs, helping them to become impactful global citizens. While our journey was only eight days, I know that these memories and emotions will stick with me for a lifetime.

Jessie Copeland has taught middle school science at Independence since 2014.

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