Retrospectacular

¡Buenas!

I’ve been thinking a little bit about the imminent end of my time here. After tonight, I will only have three more full days in Costa Rica. It’s hard to remember all the things I’ve done. I was talking to some people from Wisconsin I met at a bus stop on the way back from Monteverde this Sunday, and they asked what I did over the weekend. The only thing I could think of was hiking through the cloud forest—a trip that lasted a total of about two hours. As far as my mind was concerned, I spent the other 46 hours doing nothing. I admit I was a little tired (it was a four hour bus ride), but I completely forgot I went bungee jumping, which was supposed to be the highlight of the weekend.

I guess it kind of shows that we (or I—maybe I shouldn’t speak for everyone) oftentimes don’t know what’s going to have the greatest impression on us until it happens. Quiero decir that while I enjoyed bungee, it was the unplanned hike in the rain that stuck with me—being immersed in a completely different world, running half the trail so that I could see everything and still catch the bus. It was incredible. I’m not sure whether the cloud forest made such an impression on me despite the bad planning, or because of it. Maybe it was the dung beetles I saw, and none of that had anything to do with it. They were pretty cool.

Dung beetles!
Dung beetles!

I’ll use those beautiful beetles to change the subject.

If I had one thing to say to somebody thinking about studying abroad, or just something I would like to tell everybody, it would be that deliberately experiencing new things is rarely a waste of time. That is assuming I have a limited time window to decide what to say, there’s a lot of things I’d like to say—but this is somewhere near the top.

It’s a fact that you will learn if you try something new. Even if the lesson learned is that you should never try that something again because you hated it, it sucked, or it just didn’t work and nobody ever told you that can’t make iced tea by sticking a tea bag in cold water, at least you will know after you try.

I try to subscribe to the attitude of trying new things because it’s rare for something to be so unpleasant that I completely regret it. That philosophy has been tried and tested during this trip, and so far I’m still pretty happy with it. I’ve tried lots of new food, salsa dancing, talking to new people, making jokes in Spanish—even if they don’t always work, and I tried writing a blog, among many other new things. I think I’ve learned a bit from every one of these, and I can’t think of anything I deliberately tried that I regretted. Even if I did regret something, I have a feeling that all of the new things I’ve tried and enjoyed would outweigh that negative. In truth, discovering my love for plátanos maduros (matured, fried plantains) could make up for several personal disasters alone.

Maybe once I’m old and have a smorgasbord of experience I’ll be content sticking to things I know I like. As a general rule until that time, to stick with the food analogy, if there’s something different on the menu and it’s cheap, I am going to eat it.

Then again, I was talking to an aspiring Ph.D. student who bungee jumped with me, and she makes a good point for doing things more than once. It was my first and her seventh time bungee jumping. She was just as scared as she was for the second through sixth times, and obviously still got a kick out of it.

There’s something to be said for sticking with what you know. Old things can still be exciting, even if bungee jumping isn’t the example (in fact it’s kind of a bad one—I don’t think jumping from heights with only a stretchy rope around the ankles is something that people habituate to easily). You can certainly still learn while doing things you’ve done before, I think you just have to pay attention and give more effort to do it. With novelty learning is everything but guaranteed.

Finally, I would tell that imaginary prospective study abroad student that, even if they don’t choose to leave the country, they should at least try something new.

The view over the canopy of the Santa Elena cloud forest reserve.
The view over the canopy of the Santa Elena cloud forest reserve.