Ariel stood atop the waterfall and peered down at the sparkling pool of water below her. This is why she was here ─ to push herself. Surrounded by the bright colours, unique sounds and natural beauty of Costa Rica’s lush rainforest, she took a deep breath, soaked in the moment, closed her eyes and jumped. This was the tipping point.
Like a kid who jumped off the diving board for the first time, she popped up out of the water feeling overcome with excitement and emotion. She was also in disbelief. She couldn’t help but think, “Did I just do that? I can’t believe I just did that. I never do things like that.” And for someone with a fear of heights, it certainly was a bit unexpected. But something was different, and it wasn’t until this moment, looking back up at the waterfall, that she realized what had happened. She was no longer the same person.
All of this was actually quite ironic. Ariel hadn’t wanted to go to Costa Rica, and not because she didn’t enjoy travelling. In fact, she was pretty well-travelled. She was a senior in high school and had already been to England, France, Israel and Italy. But each of these trips had been with her parents, and this one would not be.
She was a self-proclaimed quiet kid; she wasn’t that outgoing and, for the most part, everything she did was done with her parents close by. Plus, out of the group of students travelling from her school, none of them were close friends of hers. But she was heading off to Florida Atlantic University that following September and her parents strongly recommended that she take the opportunity to travel abroad without them ─ to try new things, meet new people, immerse herself in a new culture, and gain a stronger sense of independence. Their exact words were, “It’ll be good for you.”
Ariel wasn’t buying it though…She knew first-hand how awesome travelling the world could be, and that no one should take it for granted, but this trip wasn’t what she was used to. It was outside of her comfort zone. But she would heed to her parent’s advice and travel with her school to Costa Rica.
As you’d expect, the beginning of her trip was mostly experienced through the lens of her camera. She was not one to immediately interact with students she didn’t know. But what she didn’t realize – and many students don’t – is that almost everyone on her trip was in the same situation. Trips like this place every student in an unfamiliar setting, one that lacks the day-to-day uniformity that they’re accustomed to. Naturally it forces them to open up and connect with people in a new way.
Little by little, Ariel joined the other students in conversation – sharing stories, jokes and interests. And within a couple days she was travelling through one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a brand new “family” of friends.
“It was a nerve-racking feeling for me. But then you see everyone welcoming and encouraging one another. I have very few photos from the second half of my trip. At that point I wasn’t even thinking about pulling my camera out. We were too busy enjoying each other’s company and everything the trip had to offer.”
Just as her parents had hoped, the trip opened up a world of opportunity – creating new relationships, perspectives and independence. It showed her how to discover and explore her own interests and confidently create her own path. And on top of that, Ariel became good friends with a few of the students that she met in Costa Rica. Trading texts and Snapchats, they now share stories about being away at college and are talking about someday visiting each other in their home state.
This fall, Ariel’s English Creative Writing professor asked the class to write about something they’re emotionally connected to. She decided to write a short non-fiction story about her trip to Costa Rica. The story drew upon her experience of being away from home, meeting new people and travelling through Costa Rica. At the end of the story, she realizes that what she gained the most from her travels was not anything that she physically saw or experienced, but was instead the ability to self-identify her strengths and potential. Weeks later, Ariel found out that her teacher was quite impressed with the story and had submitted her to the Honor Society for Creative Writing, for which she was selected.
Now an English major in college, Ariel has her heart set on following her passion to write and travel. And looking back on her trip, she’ll tell you that if life offers you the opportunity to explore the world, jump at it; even if you are afraid of heights.