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The kids who live in Concepcion and Lindavista, two of the poorest neighborhoods on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, had never heard of lacrosse. As the rest of the Beyond Study Abroad students and I handed out lacrosse sticks and balls the first day of camps, a flood of questions ran at us from different directions. Answering twenty questions at once is hard enough, but try doing it in Spanish when you’re trying to learn it. After three days of lacrosse, most kids were throwing, catching, and cradling with their lacrosse sticks.
I spent six weeks in Costa Rica this summer teaching sports camps in the marginalized neighborhoods around San Jose. I worked with a program called Beyond Study Abroad, which recruits collegiate athletes from the U.S. to travel to Costa Rica and facilitates their working with kids. The first three weeks of my trip consisted of studying Spanish at the University of Costa Rica, working out with my fellow students, and traveling around Costa Rica. We had the opportunity to visit the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, zip-line through rain forests, and jump into waterfalls.
But just as amazing as the weekends were our experiences with our host families and with the kids. In the neighborhoods we spent the most time in, the kids take their shoes off to play soccer because the soles are in such bad shape that running in them is a hindrance, and many of the girls get pregnant early simply to escape their households. But when we showed up every day with a bag full of soccer balls, basketballs, volleyballs, footballs and lacrosse sticks, it seemed as if every worry left these kids alone for a minute. We would spend the afternoons learning new sports, playing soccer (of course), and just talking.
Every time we left, a chorus of “Pura Vida!” followed us all the way out of the soccer field down the street to the bus stop. Pure Life. From a group of kids who don’t even get to attend school for a full day every day because the government can’t afford it, to a group of college students who attend some of the best liberal arts colleges in the world. From a group of kids who can still play a full soccer game with a falling apart ball to a group of kids who receive much of their equipment for free, brand new, every year. From a group of kids who don’t speak any English, but are more than willing to teach their new “Gringo” friends every Spanish word they know. Yes, I can say for sure I’m pretty sure that even though I went down to Costa Rica to teach, I came back being the one who learned the most.