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  • Sara & Johel

A week in rural Costa Rica.

It was already made clear that GoTico! would be a special organization to intern for after Sara and Johel encouraged me to visit them in Costa Rica during my winter break not only to learn more about their business firsthand but also to experience the country as a young traveler for the first time. While my role as an intern will undoubtedly result in me writing good remarks about GoTico!, as a college student who is majoring in International Studies and wants to explore all pockets of the world, I can earnestly claim this was a formative and unforgettable experience.

In preparation for the week-long adventure, Sara went out of her way to reach out and ensure that I had everything in order well before my departure date. It genuinely felt similar to an old-time family friend or relative who I have not seen in years doing their best to see to it that I would arrive in the country safely. Considering this, I was unsure of what formalities I was to expect because as much as I was working for Sara and Johel, I would also be staying with them and their three (awesome) kids in their home and meeting various extended family members. Upon my arrival, I quickly realized that while in La Flor, I would be treated like family.

My first full day was filled with introductions to members of the host community, most of whom were Johel’s siblings and their children, a walk-through of the property including the Casitas while being extensively informed on the naturally grown produce and wildlife inhabiting the area, getting my hands dirty because Sara and Johel’s kids convinced me to do yard work with them (which was fun for someone who doesn’t do a lot of yard work), and becoming familiar with La Flor as a welcoming and beautiful remote area of Costa Rica.

My favorite part of that day and possibly the rest to follow, however, was waking up to the roosters (yes, I mean literal roosters calling) and walking out to the patio to sip my morning coffee while observing the most breathtaking view of the mountains and a rising sun directly in front of me. I cannot forget to mention, that as an avid fan of breakfast, I was also eager to eat whatever delicious first meal Johel made given his skills in the kitchen. My close-second most cherished part of each day was joining all the tias in their chit-chat while they watched their kids playing in the street in front of the setting sun. Something about this interaction, and as they patiently helped me converse and participate in their conversations in Spanish, made me feel so at home and welcomed into the community.

Coming from a hectic and busy college-student schedule that entails minimal sleep, constantly experiencing high-stress/anxiety-filled emotions, and little time for self-care, it was a complete 180° to visit Costa Rica. In this setting, I was able to detach from my daily stressors and experience a culture so rooted in its natural landscape.

Every day through each excursion, discovering spectacular views of various natural sites such as waterfalls and mountains, enjoying delicious home-cooked meals, and interacting with Ticos all helped me find my center. I was grounded by the activities I failed to cherish or take part in back home including appreciating nature, spending valuable time with loved ones (without the imposition of technological devices), and embracing a new culture through shared activities.

To be completely honest, returning to school for my second semester as a sophomore was made difficult by having to leave behind Costa Rica and the life that I lived there for a week. I quickly missed the view of the Cordillera de Talamanca, being eagerly invited into a La Flor resident’s home for a garden tour, sipping on coconuts with Tito Franco and Tita Lisa, observing an abundance of stars while having a bonfire with the neighborhood, tasting native fruit directly from its tree or plant, spotting wildlife toucans and iguanas directly overhead, and taking in the tropical sun which boosted my serotonin immensely compared to being in the midwestern winter climate. While an extensive list, this was only a glimpse of what my week in Costa Rica looked like and what I appreciated the most.

As mentioned before, as an intern for GoTico!, it is fair if you read through this while remaining suspicious of my intentions or the truth behind what I am saying. Yet I cannot get it across enough that my week-long stay connected me with two of the most passionate business leaders and overall-incredible individuals I have come across throughout my personal and professional life. While my days were filled with various adventures, most nights I would sit down with Sara and Johel to discuss business. During these discussions, their plans and goals centered around expanding GoTico!’s reach and its offerings to help individuals and families alike came across in an authentic manner. They genuinely hope to offer several opportunities for individuals wanting to experience a new culture and or holistic approaches to wellness. This comes across in their own story as to why they made the challenging move with three young kids to a completely different country and why they still stand so firmly behind what GoTico! represents even after the height of COVID-19 preventing many trips and services from happening.

Now, however, GoTico! recognizes that as COVID-19 cases and travel restrictions are on the decline, people are ready to travel, especially after many have experienced severe burnout and stress. I could consider myself someone from this group as I longed for a travel experience after a grueling year of online classes and hours on end spent in front of my laptop. As La Flor was my first pocket of the world waiting to be explored, I was reassured that there is heart and home to be found anywhere, and I did not have to look hard here to find it.

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