When 22-year-old Cristina Navarro left Los Angeles for San Francisco for college, she never imagined that she would be able to study for her dream degree in outdoor recreation and tourism, or that she’d one day travel to Costa Rica and be exposed to a whole new environment and culture. Now, as part of her department’s alternative spring break program, she’ll be travelling to Central America. And thanks to HI USA’s Explore the World program, which awards young people with $2,000 for a trip abroad that has an education or service component, she can afford to go.
We spoke to Cristina, who was carrying a giant paper map of Costa Rica in her backpack in preparation for her trip, about what she was looking forward to the most.
Tell us a little more about this trip to Costa Rica.
So it’s 16 students and two faculty members, and it’s part of San Francisco State University’s Care Break class where we incorporate service learning with the international trip as an aspect of it. During the semester we learn about eco-tourism and how to travel in a way that is less impactful for the earth, which is awesome.
I couldn’t do it last year because I couldn’t afford to pay the fee, which is about $2,700. This year I got the scholarship and I graduate this year so it’s really kind of a culmination of all the work I’ve done.
What are the plans when you get there?
I just received the day-to-day itinerary that outlines everything we’re going to be doing, and we’re going snorkeling and ziplining! We’re going to Tortuguero National Park where there are lots of hatchling turtles, and we’re also going to visit some elementary schools in Costa Rica. We’re hosting a fundraiser to bring some soccer balls and school supplies for the kids.
I really appreciate that the whole trip will be like a cultural exchange and an experience that you can’t get in a text book. There’s also going to be talks with scientists who work at the national parks and I’m really excited about that. I want to be a park ranger so outdoor education is really important to me and I feel like learning in a way that’s more tactile and hands-on is a lot more memorable.
Have you done much research on Costa Rica then?
My professor has told us she doesn’t want us to Google things. She doesn’t want us to have an idea or expectations of Costa Rica because she wants us to experience it firsthand, so in class we each did five-minute presentations on different aspects of the country but that’s it. This map is all I’m allowed to look at because there’s no links or videos.
Have you had the chance to travel much before this?
I used to go to Mexico when I was younger, but I haven’t been since I was 14. So it’s been eight years that I haven’t been out of the country so this is going to be great. I’m really excited about the food and the animals! I’m excited to see sloths, they’re so cute! The music! Just being submerged in this different environment that you’re not used to, and just being away, I’m really excited for that.
How did you hear about the scholarship?
I heard about the scholarship through one of my professor’s emails. I think I applied on the last day – I emailed some professors to ask if I can use them as a reference and it all worked out. I was like, “No way!” I never win anything!
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be thinking about applying for the Explore the World scholarship?
It’s just about putting yourself out there and not being afraid of five paragraph questions. I think for a lot of people it’s difficult having to sit down and taking the time to write it out because it can be emotional to them or maybe it feels weird to ask for money. But I say just do it!
HI USA tip: Read about another Explore the World recipient’s plans to make the world a little better through a trip to Rwanda.