goodbyes and gratitude

Today I had to say goodbye to everyone at the school that I’ve worked with for the six weeks that I’ve been here. The students, the teachers, the speech therapists…It was a hard, emotional day, but it was a happy one, too. Even though it was sad to say goodbye, I felt so loved by these people that I have only known for a month and a half.

In the morning when I brought the kids in Marcela’s class back in from recess, I found that tables from other classrooms had been moved into her room and that all the classes in that hallway were going to have their snacks there together. I then realized that it was because the teachers had all planned to throw me a little going away party. They had made little sandwiches and fruit salad. They bought iced tea, ice cream, and jello. They thanked me for how I’d helped them while I was there. It was so sweet. Most of these women hardly know me, and yet they helped put together an adorable way to say goodbye and thank you. I felt tears coming on, but I manged to hold them back because there was still a lot to do, since all the kids were snacking in one room!

After lunch, I had to say goodbye to the students in Marcela’s class. I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t get to say a good goodbye to Alexa (the most adorable little rascal of a girl!), because sometimes she denies hugs and goodbye kisses to be ornrey. Lucky for me, when Marcela told her to give me a hug goodbye, she jumped into my arms and gave me a huge hug. That time I couldn’t stop the tears from coming.

One of the teaching assistants that I’ve worked with a lot walked by after Alexa left and told me not to cry, because it’s not “goodbye,” it’s just “see you later.” It reminded me of the last day of camp, when we say the same thing, or that we’re just hitting pause…But it was a little harder to accept this time, as tomorrow I’m going to be heading to another country. I’m determined to come back to Costa Rica though, and soon. So it is only a “see you later,” I will make it a “see you later!”

In the afternoon, Rebeca (whose classroom I was in the first day in the afternoon and various other days) came to find me while I was working with Silvia’s class and asked if I could come down to her room for a bit. So down I went, and when I got there all the kids (ages 10 to 13) were working on drawings, and then one by one they came to give them to me and give me a hug!! Then they brought out a cake that had “Gracias” written on it, and gave me a little card and a bright green polo shirt, like the brightly colored shirts the teachers and assistants wear. Before I left I got even more hugs from the kids.

When I got back to Silvia’s classroom, she asked what Rebeca wanted, and I told her. She responded, “Well we have a surprise for you, too!” and whipped some chocolate cupcakes out of nowhere. After almost everyone had finished eating (one of the boys was taking a very long time to lick all the icing off his cupcake!), she pulled something out of her bag. She thanked me for all the help I had given her, especially because she has been having knee problems and can’t run after the kids who escape often, and told me that she knew that I had an impact on her kids, too. Then she should me what she had pulled out of her bag. She had taken pictures of almost all of her kids one day at recess and printed the pictures out on one sheet that says, “Gracias Nicole!” Needless to say, my room is going to have lots of meaningful decorations this year.

I kept thanking all of them, and I hope they know that I wasn’t just thanking them for the cake. I couldn’t express myself very well because I was on the verge of tears, but I hope they understood that I was thanking them for the experience. For the things I learned from them and for their unending friendliness towards me. They were thanking me, but all I could think was that I was not the one who deserved thanks.

Leaving the school was so hard. By the time I left, I was just crying. I hugged Silvia and the teacher assistants that I have worked with the whole time I’ve been here. They all wished me well, hoped I had a safe trip, told me to make sure I write them (I have all of their email addresses), and that we’ll see each other again soon because I’m welcome back at the school whenever I come back to Costa Rica.

Just like that it was time to leave.

I really can’t believe that my time here is over. Early this morning before I got out of bed I was thinking about the first few days I was here after the trip to Arenal. I was scared. I remembered having to remind myself of why I had come to Costa Rica, and why I was working in an education school. I remembered that I had to tell myself to SWAG it, to give it my all even though I was scared and out of my comfort zone.

And all of a sudden I realized that I finally understood the FDR quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I’ve always thought it was a cool quote, but now it really resonates with me.

I had a lot of fears when I decided to come here. I was afraid of being homesick. I was afraid of working with special needs children. I was afraid of being lonely. I’m sure I was afraid of other things, I just don’t remember the little fears anymore.

It turns out that I had nothing to be afraid of, but can you imagine if I had let those fears get the best of me? What if I had let the fears left over from my experience in Spain keep me from coming here? I would have lost so many wonderful experiences. I would have missed out on meeting and getting to know so many fantastic people.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Now I know what that means. I know that fear is dangerous. I know that giving in to my fears will keep me from living life to its fullest. I’ve learned that I really have nothing to be afraid of.

Around thirteen hours from now my flight will take off from the San José airport and this experience in Costa Rica will be over. Although I’m so sad that the time has flown by so quickly and I’m leaving, I am also extremely grateful for the short period of time that I spent here.

Don’t worry Costa Rica, I’ll be back soon.

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“you must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Fear is a funny thing. Sometimes I fear things I have never experienced: for all of my childhood and adolescence I told myself I was afraid of flying, despite the fact that I had only flown once in my life and was only two years old so I don’t remember the experience at all. That kind of fear is big and intimidating, but only because I’m facing the unknown.  Sometimes I fear things that I have experienced: I’m still afraid of flying, even after multiple travels in planes. These are the fears that really get me. They seem so much stronger. They pack a bigger punch when you’re about to face the same thing that overwhelmed you the first time you experienced it. You want to shy away and avoid the possibility of getting hurt.

I am afraid to go to Costa Rica later this summer. And it’s not really for any qualities of the trip itself. Sure, I’m nervous about the experiences and challenges that await me there, but that’s not where this fear is based. I’m afraid to go to Costa Rica because of the crippling homesickness that I experienced when I studied abroad in Spain.  In 56 days, I’ll be boarding a plane that will take me to San José, and I’m terrified that I will experience the same homesickness that I did when I was in Spain.

Here’s the good news. The more I think about that fear, the more I realize just how unfounded it is. Yes, I was homesick when I was in Spain, and it wasn’t one of my favorite parts of my experience there. But because I was homesick I learned how to deal with those emotions. If I begin to feel homesick while I’m in Costa Rica I know how to cope.  I can find a favorite spot in the city to sit and journal, or go discover some tasty treats. Homesickness is a disease that can be cured, if you know the right remedies.

And so excitement is starting to overwhelm my fear. In two months, I’ll be working that Fernando Centeno Guell Center for Special Education in San José. There are three divisions of the center, one for the hearing/language impaired, one for the visually impaired, and one for the mentally impaired. I’ll have the opportunity to work alongside speech therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, and to interact with the students at the center, who range in age from 1 to 21 years old.

I’ll be living in a beautiful country for six weeks with a Costa Rican family. I’ll get to speak Spanish on a daily basis again. I’ll get to visit a volcano! I’m going to learn so much. And all because I’m facing the fears that I had of being abroad again, instead of running away from them.