Lightning flashed far away, too distant to hear, illuminating the night sky a rich purple for a fleeting moment. The bridge I stood on swayed with the rhythm of my professors’ and classmates’ steps, the rush of the Sarapiqui River beneath us accompanying the animal calls littering the night. Cool rain seeped through my shirt. I had an umbrella, but I decided not to use it – the rain felt too good on my skin, covered in sweat and bug spray from the day’s hike and data collection.
A month before, I sat in a library in Boston, cleaner, but stressed, caffeinated, cramming for finals, staring into the gray spring sky, feeling unbelievably far away from myself. I’m first-generation, low-income college student from a working-class family – I was raised to prize manual labor, taught that my sweat was valuable, instilled with the belief that my hands were meant to build and create. I hadn’t been able to reconcile this part of my identity with my experiences in academia. I’ve known for a long time I want to pursue a career in research, but I’ve always felt particularly out of place within the sterilized, air-conditioned walls of labs and lecture halls. Especially in a historically affluent college like mine, those spaces never entirely felt like they belonged to me.
Costa Rica has allowed me to reconcile my identity as a first-generation, low-income college student with my career aspirations. Standing in the tropical sun, breathing the humid air, hiking through forests to collect data, climbing mountains to plant trees, has been like coming home to a part of myself I’ve neglected all year. There’s never been any lab I felt more comfortable in than the rainforest, no classroom I felt I belonged in more than that swaying bridge over the Sarapiqui River.