“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…”

-Mark Twain

I’m certain that I had read these words before I saw them painted on the wall. It was as if I was seeing them for the first time, though. Something clicked in that moment, and I felt as I had all week- something inside me was changing.

The first time I left the United States, I went to Cartago, Costa Rica. It was a somewhat spontaneous decision. I was sitting in my apartment one night, searching the internet for local volunteer opportunities, something to do on the weekends. I stumbled upon Cross-Cultural Solutions.

After an hour or so of reading their website, I had made a deposit on a trip and bought a plane ticket. If you knew me back then, you know how out of character this was for me. I overthink things. A lot. I also ask the advice of almost everyone I know. I didn’t do that this time. It seemed right.

I printed out information on Cartago and presented it to my loved ones, announcing my  plans to volunteer there. My best friend at the time thought that I was out of my mind and would be killed. I carried on anyway.

The week before I left I received my assignment. I was going to be working at a special education school. I was thrilled.

My time in Costa Rica was amazing. It changed who I am. I met the most wonderful people. My life has taken a different path since then, and I am very thankful for it.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country. I absolutely loved every second of it. I mean that. Even the hours spent painting dirty classrooms and moving furniture across the school campus. The children and parents made all of it worth it.

The kids put on skits for us while we were there. I remember walking into the auditorium the first day and the students came running over, hugging and kissing us. One little boy shook my hand, kissed my cheek and with a huge smile on his face, told me how happy he was to have me there.

The volunteer house is still one of my favorite places. It has an open corridor, so the winds blow through it. The walls are all painted with messages and murals from the previous volunteers.

In my free time I wandered around the house, devouring the walls. When I discovered the Mark Twain quote in the corner by the bathroom, I stopped in my tracks. It is such a simple message, but so true.

I fully believe everyone should take the time to travel and explore new places. Everyone should leave their comfort zone and see things that they’ve never seen before. It really does make a huge impact on who you are, if you will let it.

Since then, I’ve traveled as much as I can. I quit my job when I had enough money saved up, and I took off. I saw some new parts of the world. I had a great time. I will do it again when I am financially able to.

I would recommend volunteering abroad before any other kind of travel. My latest trip was to Peru, where I volunteered in Huaycan for 2 and a half months. Living and working in a place gives you such a different experience. It is so much more fulfilling.

My time in Peru was spent with the organization The Light and Leadership Initiative, which is run by Lara. She is fantastic. I found her through Ubelong. Cedric is great and informative. Check them out if you are interested in volunteering abroad.

My last day in Cartago was my big moment. I had been waiting all week for it- I got to leave my mark on the wall in the house. Some of my roommates were much more creative than me. Jerry left a thumbprint behind a sign above his bedroom door. Tarsha misspelled her message and had to redo it.

If you ever find yourself in the CCS house in Cartago and are walking through the back hallway, take a look at the wall and see if my painting is still there.