Travel is what I live for. I have been lucky enough to visit more than a few countries on various continents, and my appetite for seeing the world is only getting stronger and stronger. Even though I always try to really explore the destinations I visit and be respectful of their customs and culture, my experience with the Centennial team on the 2018 GCELE in Costa Rica taught me that there are definitely ways in which I can improve as a traveler.
Our group was introduced to a few Indigenous groups in two parts of Costa Rica. We had a great privilege of getting to know some of the members of those communities. They welcomed us with their arms and hearts open. It was an experience that most likely none of us would have had the chance to get without the hard work and the networking between the staff from Centennial College and our Costa Rican partners.
Admittedly, these were the most genuine and life-changing interactions that I have ever had with Indigenous people abroad. Traveling from a country like Canada, it is easy to get wrapped up in your own expectations of what your planned cultural experiences should look like. You may want to witness ceremonies, dances, and see people walk around in their traditional clothing. There may not necessarily be anything wrong with that. However, you should also ask yourself: Am I really finding out who these people are? How did they get to where they are now? What are their current struggles? Is there anything I can give back to the communities that I visit before I leave, or do I just want them to perform on my own schedule before I get on my way?
In Costa Rica we had a chance to see what the lives of Indigenous communities really look like. We met with university students from remote parts of the country who moved to Cartago to pursue higher education and better their lives. It was really heartwarming to find out that some of their main goals focus around using their knowledge to give back to the communities that they came from, as well as to aid underprivileged people from all of Costa Rica. We also learnt how community members and their allies formed an organization that gives Indigenous people the power to coordinate and dictate how tourism happens in the areas that they inhabit. In addition, we met with female entrepreneurs who were able to build successful businesses in spite of numerous adversities, as well as members of an organization that focuses on helping women who are escaping domestic violence. The list goes on…
Throughout the trip what stuck out to me was the great strength of the people we met, their genuine concern for one another, resilience, humility, hospitality, and willingness to share with us.
Would I have learnt all this from an afternoon spent at a village built for visitors, snapping away pictures, and being a tourist myself? Certainly not!
I am forever grateful for this life-changing opportunity. I am also hopeful that I can now more respectfully participate (even if for a short while) in the lives of people from countries that I visit. I would like to instill the same gratitude in everyone whom I may help plan their own adventures in the future.
I am determined to always be a traveler, not a tourist!
GCELE – Leadership and Sustainable Practices – Cartago, Costa Rica