Studying in Costa Rica During Reading Week

One of my main reasons for choosing York University was because of its wide variety of travel abroad opportunities. What can I say? I’m one of those people that believe traveling can change your life, so I was sold on those opportunities. This year, I was fortunate enough to take a course in Costa Rica and, since it is officially the end of the school year for me, I wanted to reflect on my first travel experience through York. 

As you may or may not have known, York has an eco campus: the Lillian Meighen Wright Centre, as part of its Las Nubes Project, in Costa Rica. I know, very cool. This project contributes to community engagement, research and education, and one of the ways in which it supports education is through several courses offered there. I took the reading week course entitled “Advanced Topics in Environment and Health” this semester because, although I am a psychology major, this seemed exactly like the kind of stuff that gets me excited.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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While the course was taught during reading week of the Winter semester, my first lesson came early and was unexpected. As someone who hopes to travel the world, I’d never actually considered the details of planning a trip until I had to for this course. Although we were provided with guidelines and had a support system, everything seemed overwhelming in the beginning. Naturally, for me, I avoided all of it until the last minute and let’s just say, I do not recommend doing that, ever. 

There were my classmates, all prepared with their flights booked early and their travel essentials bought, and then there was me, visiting my doctor for my vaccine five days before I left and rebooking my return flight because I realized later that I booked the flight for August instead of February. It was, without a doubt, chaos for me, but because of my sloppiness in the beginning and the anxiety caused, I honed in on organizational skills I didn’t think I had and everything went uphill from there.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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At last, I had arrived and, while I can write paragraphs on the academic aspect of the course, I learned so much more. Firstly, the reconnection and appreciation of nature were serene. We spent a lot of time walking and our professor would often dedicate a few minutes to “forest-bathing,” a Japanese concept, and I remember almost crying once because of how at peace and light my body felt. I had become a bit too neurotic for my liking over the year and although I began meditating in December, my mind would rarely find any serenity, so I was overwhelmed with gratitude towards nature for the calm it provided me in those 10 days. I decided that when I got back to Canada, I would try to spend time in conservation parks and forests every week. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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When I got back, I was still at ease but it was almost like I was holding on to that peace. It didn’t seem feasible to cling to experiences in order to maintain a level of tranquility within myself. I then thought of the things that I did differently there that I can replicate besides “forest-bathing,” and I realized I could think of a few. Firstly, I had gratitude for every experience. I would look at the mountains every day and think of how grateful I am for their existence and the fact that I was able to experience their beauty. I was open and excited about everything. I would say yes to going everywhere — hikes, beaches, the suspension bridge, tiny waterfalls — because I wanted to immerse myself in all of it. And lastly, I was more present than I usually am. For instance, when communicating with my homestay family, it was useful to actively listen in order to pick up on non-verbal cues and, although our conversations involved a lot of Google Translate, I was truly listening to them and I can still remember what we talked about. 

I guess people are right when they say that in addition to the acknowledgment of our connection to nature, and by extension the world and all of its people, these practices contribute heavily to peace. Finding gratitude for your blessings every day, making an adventure out of your day where you are excited for it and open to what it might bring and being mindful of your present where more importance is placed on the current moment rather than the future are little things that we can do to feel peaceful and fulfilled.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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On the first day, while traveling on the mountains, my thoughts were, “this is absolutely beautiful but I can’t live here,” and within a span of 10 days it had changed to “this is absolutely beautiful; why do I have to leave?” But by incorporating those practices, it’s almost as if I had brought a part of Las Nubes with me. 

If you are interested in global health, research, environmental studies or any related area, I encourage you to look into this course. It will be memorable, not just because of things you will learn but also because of the wonderful classmates and the professor with whom you will share this enjoyable experience.