Experiencing and loving a new reality

Nicole Hovatter (bottom row, third from right) joins her 19 classmates from Moorestown Friends School holding certificates of completion given as a gift after their week of work at a primary school in Coope San Juan, Costa Rica.
Nicole Hovatter (bottom row, third from right) joins her 19 classmates from Moorestown Friends School holding certificates of completion given as a gift after their week of work at a primary school in Coope San Juan, Costa Rica.
Posted: July 22, 2012

My everyday life takes place in Moorestown, where I enjoy the luxury of attending a small private school. Over the course of 15 years, it has exposed me to some of the most wonderful opportunities imaginable. However, in March, in my junior year in high school, I experienced something that opened my eyes to an entirely new reality. I made the decision to travel with 19 of my classmates to Coope San Juan, Costa Rica, for a week of service, an opportunity offered by Moorestown Friends School. While staying in this relatively remote village, I experienced new cultures of food, language, and everyday life. I never imagined, however, that my outlook on life as I know it would shift to one of appreciation and simplicity.

I learned to speak Spanish in order to communicate with the young children during the soccer games we played together, a language I had never before studied nor spoken, and drank coffee for the first time!

I stayed with a Costa Rican family with whom I shared no common language, nor lifestyle. I was taught new ways to speak and new foods to eat, such as the fresh pineapple juices they prepared and the rice pilaf they served for dinner.

Most importantly, my classmates and I participated in a service project of repainting the local Coope San Juan primary school. I got to know the kids in the village on a personal level, and I learned their lifestyle of simplicity. I experienced whitewater rafting and zip-lining, and I was able to take a weeklong break from technology and the everyday hustle and bustle of my American lifestyle. Facebook, my cellphone, television — none of it mattered.

Suddenly, the only important thing in life was happiness. I spent my days playing soccer outside with the children, swimming in the local river, and picking pineapples in a nearby field. This experience made me consider the important things in life — although the inhabitants of this village are what some Americans would consider "impoverished," they are some of the happiest and most hospitable people I have ever known. These families were more welcoming than I could have imagined and were truly some of the best people I ever hope to meet. I got to know some of the kids so well, in fact, that I still communicate with them today.

I cannot put into words how much I miss this village or how much I recommend this experience to all Americans who wish to see the other side of life. I can say, however, that I will remember the village of Coope San Juan and its inhabitants for the rest of my life. Pura vida!

Nicole Novatter is entering her senior year at Moorestown Friends School.

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