Growing up, I always dreamt of traveling to other countries and all these faraway places. I saw these incredible pictures and daydreamed about how beautiful they would be. But that’s all those were: daydreams. Now that it has become my reality, my life, my perspective of travel has shifted. I am living in another country, spending every weekend in a different place. I can see that travel is not a destination. Travel is not a photograph. It’s something that can never be captured or understood by anyone but yourself.

I’ve now been living in Costa Rica for two months. I’ve been to six of the seven provinces in Costa Rica. I’ve been along both coasts and seen countless incredible sights. As someone with a passion for photography, that was one of the things that I was looking forward to in Costa Rica. I got a new camera which is incredible for shooting wildlife. I’m the type of person who feels naked without my camera in a beautiful place. I’ve already gotten so many incredible shots here and look forward to taking more in the next few months. Don’t get me wrong, photography is my passion and is very important to me. But as I’ve come to spend more time here, I’ve learned the value in having less. There’s a sort of freeness to just being and experiencing the beauty of a place, without trying to capture every single moment, without trying to overcomplicate things.

I’ve learned that travel isn’t just about seeing a bunch of pretty places. It’s not about the pictures. Pictures may say a lot, but they can never come anywhere close to the real thing. They can never capture the memories and the moments that I will keep close to my heart forever. I’m not living through a snapshot. I’m just living, experiencing. I’m living for today and loving each moment. I’m realizing these are the moments that I will take with me for the rest of my life, the moments that will warm my heart forever. These are moments that no one else could ever understand, but they don’t need to.

I feel myself changing and growing in ways I never expected. My expectations for studying abroad here have changed and expanded into new areas. I find myself wanting to try things that would never have interested me before.

So what has my experience been? What does travel mean to me?

1. The people you meet. From the crazy hilarious drunks at the bar, the friendly strangers that went out of their way to help you while traveling in an unfamiliar place, your tico family, and the friends that will last you a lifetime.

2. The unexpected moments. The adventures of getting lost and then finding something even more amazing. When all your plans go astray and you have to figure out an entirely new plan. The disasters turned into miracles. Being somewhere at just the perfect moment. Seeing wildlife and animals you never expected. The perfect sunset at the beach. Those stupid drunken conversations and the deep talks. Dancing for hours. Feeling free and alive.

3. Gaining perspective. Meeting people, seeing people of all different cultures and feeling united with them. Understanding the difficulty of learning a new language and fitting in to a new culture, but putting in the effort to do so. Accepting that learning to communicate in a language that is not your own is a constant struggle. Yet, learning to remain open and understanding of one another on both ends allows us to come to a common ground.

4. Learning the language and culture. Putting in extra effort in class, studying and practicing more than necessary. Making the effort to speak in Spanish even if you don’t absolutely have to. Practicing in public with locals, and amongst other international students. Making mistakes and learning from them. It’s all worth it for those moments of clarity when you realize you are actually starting to understand or speak successfully.

5. Trying new things. Taking trips on a whim to somewhere you’ve never been. Going to a salsa club, with no idea how to dance and doing it anyway. Taking a martial arts class. Trying to learn how to surf. Making an effort to meet new people (and speak in Spanish). Constantly getting out of your comfort zone.

6. The little accomplishments.
When you make conversation at your hostel with a group of spanish-speaking people and realize you are actually able to understand some of their natural conversation. Figuring out how to get somewhere on your own. Learning to appreciate every moment, the successes and the struggles, the good and the bad. The moment you start to really feel at home in another country.

7. Having patience. With yourself, with others. Having patience to get through the struggles – when your brain is just about to shut down from trying to understand people speaking in Spanish, when you feel the need to be around something familiar. For the moments you get overwhelmed and exhausted by everything. (Having patience when tico time gets a little too real.)

8. Growing into a more open-minded, stronger person.

Every day here is not a perfect one, but everything I come across is definitely a new adventure. I am discovering each day more and more the person I’m meant to be. I’m not waiting for my life to start. I’m just living. And life is good.

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