Thank You

By: Henry Bost

Wow, here I sit, only a few hours away from getting on the bus to go to the airport. I could write about my recent experiences with my host family or our trip this weekend to Manuel Antonio (which was totally bomb!). But I’m not. Instead I’d like to say thank you to Elizabeth Coder for being the coolest, savviest, best prepared, most mature (while still maintaining a remarkable aura of youth) group leader we could have asked for. Her skills are truly noteworthy and I don’t think Gap would have been anywhere near as good without her. Also thank you to my fellow students. You guys were all amazing and brought something special and unique to the dynamic. I can honestly say that each and every one of you possesses inside yourself at least one quality that I find admirable. Many of you more… But anyway, thank you all. It has been a wild, insane, and challenging journey but y’all always had each others backs and that type of support system made it all just a little bit easier to deal with. I’ll never forget this incredible journey and I can’t wait to see you guys on campus (in small doses).

How was your trip?

By: Gabe Thornton

That question, along with similar variations, will be the first thing out of many faces we will encounter upon returning home. A simple question, yet the answer isn’t so. How can one be expected to answer such a question without spending the next 3-4 hours connecting thoughts, photos, and random tangents of stories into one coherent explanation of how said trip was? It’s a sacrifice of such an experience that we have to make. We will have to live with the fact that not only can we not explain every single thing to those who want to hear it but that not everyone who asks wants to know. Instead we must decide who at home is genuinely interested and who, as our instructor informed us, will hear the “elevator speech”. There just isn’t enough time to tell our whole story to all those who we want to tell it to. In time however tidbits of our journey will surface and relate to our lives down the road. The knowledge and experience will contribute to our identities without coming across pompous or dull to those we interact with. After all we went on this trip to grow ourselves, not to show off to others. It’s fun to post a photo here and there or tell a friend about that ridiculous swing your friends convinced you would be fun to try, but in the end the deeper and unique meaning to one’s experience might be something that goes unspoken. So you might find you can’t answer this question outright but if you let the lessons you learn show through your actions, then those around you will know how your trip was.

Leaving is Never Easy

By: Elizabeth McDonald

Leaving is never easy. Exactly 110 days ago, I boarded a plane headed for Denver, CO, ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, not quite knowing what the future held for me. I jumped into this journey departing from a life I knew so well and I knew it would be difficult. However, what I did not anticipate was that no matter how hard an experience might be, departing is always tough. Even on the hardest days of NOLS (i.e. Whiskey Mountain, Goat Flat and Ross Lake), the memory of sleeping outside, cuddled together under the stars outweighs all of the uphill (literally) battles. Saying goodbye to our trusty instructors Andy, Brandon and Christina was comparable to leaving relatives after a holiday. Living out of a van for four weeks meant we were constantly moving, leaving each new place a slightly different person. Leaving the Pine Ridge was sad because there was an electric amount of passion pulsing through the culture there. The Gap Plague 2015 hit us hard in St. Louis and while it was a difficult transition week for many, I still long for peacefulness I felt after an arduous day of working in the sun. The hard, full days of cleaning out the old Itmann Company Store in Mullens, West Virginia with Ruby are some of the best memories of this entire experience. The ability to interact with the homeless population I learned while in Washington, DC is a skill I will treasure for the rest of my life. Giving everyone hugs at the airport was bittersweet because I knew at the other end of my flight was my family but I was leaving my new family and the daily life of debriefs and dinner together. Leaving my parents at the airport after fall break was only slightly easier than August but I knew Costa Rica awaited me, with open arms.  Now, what can I say? It’s all over. I’m leaving Costa Rica, a changed person. Not only does the challenge of readjusting to American culture loom on the other side but also dealing with the absence of my host family, walking to school every day, gallo pinto for breakfast and extravagant weekend trips. I’m sad to leave this country that has given me so much also for the fact that it represents the final leg of this gap semester experience with the people who have become my family. I cannot explain, in proper words, what this group means to me. I know our paths at Elon may pull us in different directions. I know that the dynamic that our group has now will never be the same. As this journey comes to an end, I am reminded of a quote by Winnie the Pooh that says, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. I took a leap of faith with fourteen other people who shared a common appetite for adventure as myself. I am appreciative of everyone and everything that has made this experience the journey of a lifetime. How lucky I am that leaving is never easy.

 

Rice and Beans

By: Nathan Hunnicutt

One year ago, I was bound to this fate, the fate of eating rice and beans for six weeks. A little over half a year ago, I sat in a room containing thirteen of the fifteen Gap Semester Experience students. We were split up at two different tables listening to three different experiences from three prior Gap Semester students. One of the things that I remember being told about over and over again was the amount of rice and beans I would be consuming in Costa Rica. I was told that by the end of it, I would be sick of them. Rice and beans every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What I did not know at the time was how delicious the rice and beans are here in Costa Rica, otherwise known as Casado or Gallo Pinto.

When I first arrived here in Costa Rica, the first thing that my host mom cooked for me was rice and beans, and it was amazing, the flavors were indescribable. My preconception was that it would taste the like the rice my parents would make for me almost every night as a kid, but it did not! The flavors were woven into unexpected tales. True, I had been sitting on a plan for a really long time, I was starving, and really missed my family for the first time on the Gap Semester Experience, but those rice and beans were the best thing I had ever had.

Then this past week I thought about it, at Rising Phoenix weekend all that they had told me about Costa Rican cuisine was that it consisted of rice and beans, but my plate consisted of so much more. There was also fried plantains and a stuffed vegetable with goodness inside, with a side of broccoli soup to pour on the stuffed vegetable. It was a meal of mouthwatering proportions. The food here in Costa Rica have gotten better and better as time has progressed. Ever bit has been better than the previous one and I never want it to end.

Just like the rice and beans, at Rising Phoenix Weekend I was told how amazing this experience would be, that it would be the time of my life, and one of the best experience I would ever have. I was so excited for what time had instore for my cohort and me, listening to them. I was thinking about the wonderful and hilarious stories I would have to tell and the endless inside jokes we would share. I was thinking, as I looked around the room, that these twelve others would be my new friends, my new family. Excitement had rushed through my veins, without ever having any experience of the journey itself. I was living through other people’s thoughts and experiences, other people’s jokes and stories.

As I got my first bite of the semester, I started to get the taste of those stories, those jokes, and those experiences, except this time I could claim them as my own. Every new day with this fun and diverse group of individuals has been better than the previous one, and I have gone to bed without any regrets or second guess. But just like Costa Rican cuisine, there has been so much more to my experience than I could have ever imagined, and I could not be more thankful for that. Not only have I gained a whole new family, new experiences, stories, inside jokes, and more, but I have also changed. I have grown into a new person. The Nathan that walked into the Colorado Airport back in August, is not the same Nathan that will be walking into the Richmond Airport on Wednesday, December 2nd, and I am forever thankfuk for that.

I would never trade this experience for anything else in the world. I love my cohort, and I can honestly say that. I could not wish for a better group of individuals than the ones that surround me today. This journey, this experience, this first semester of college has been better than I could have ever imagined. It has been the best moment of my life.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost)

Ratings

By: Eliza Upton

My parents love to ask me to rate things on a scale of one to ten. Whether the rating is for a big life event/experience, a test, a trip, a party, a game, or just a regular day, they want to get my recap, and it’s easy for them to comprehend my overall experience if I give it in a number. However, I hate to do that. My response is usually something along the lines of, “I don’t know, it was good.” And while that response probably doesn’t accurately describe whatever it was I was being questioned about, neither can a number.

The same goes for my time with Gap. While I could easily just give this past semester a 10, five stars, two thumbs up, or however else you could scale it, squishing the bottomless emotions and experiences had these past four months into a single rating would just be impossible and do injustice to Gap. Not only that, but the one-dimensional rating can’t give the full story. Giving something a 10 seems superficial and paints the picture that everything was perfect the entire time when we know that nothing is ever perfect.

So instead of a number recap, I’m going to share a moment that can best summarize my feelings for my time in Costa Rica. Last night my host mom came home from a long day of holiday sales shopping. She came home victorious and exhausted from the purchase of a new fridge, other holiday gifts, and a nine hour drive. Before I went to bed she knocked on my door. I thought she just needed to talk about the morning logistics of breakfast, a conversation that isn’t rare. Instead, she presented me with a bottle of perfume and said, “With all my heart”.  Now I could tell you that that moment was a 10, but you wouldn’t understand why. To be honest I’ve never really been a perfume person. I went through a middle school phase, but those three years were like an out of body experience overall and hopefully don’t reflect the person I am today.  Anyways, I’m not huge on overwhelming scents, and I don’t like how perfume triggers an allergic reaction for some people. But when Elia gave me that bottle it was one of the best gifts I’ve received.

Coming to Costa Rica I was most nervous about the living situation. Interrupting a stranger’s home for six week and make it work despite language, age, and cultural barriers seemed challenging. However, I quickly discovered for the umpteenth time with Gap, that the challenges are the best part of the journey. My Tica Mama and I found a comfortable life together in her home she so generously shared. We took our languages and meshed it into something that works for both of us, Spanglish. We took the age difference and bonded over what we could relate to, like a mutual love for chocolate and the TV show Dance Moms. And she guided me through the cultural differences by introducing me to friends and family, explaining the nightly news, and giving insight about all the activities Gap participated in in Costa Rica. We found common ground, and even though that spot may differ from my Comfort Zone in the U.S., it works.

So that pink heart-shaped bottle that my Mama so lovingly picked out because the perfume is the one her sister wears and the scent, which she describes as soft and sweet, reminds her of me, was the perfect gift. It reflects the love she has given me the past six weeks and the common ground we’ve reached together. It’s not the perfume she wears, and I don’t usually wear perfume, but it is something that we can both appreciate.

Who knows how many times I will end up spraying that bottle, but I know that when I do I will feel my Tica Mama’s love, just like I will take the lessons of Gap with me long after my days at Elon. So Mom and Dad, you can think of my time in Costa Rica not as a 10, but as the bottle of perfume that I will show you in a few days.

 

Will Miss/Looking Forward To

By: Annie Gordon

Will Miss…

A sense of adventure

Fresh fruit for breakfast everyday

Weekend travels

The warm air

Three dollar movie tickets

Jack and Henry fighting like an old married couple

Spontaneity

The devoted Sunday and Monday night karaoke singers

My host dogs

Cold showers

Manuel Monestel

The security man for the ICADS neighborhood

Walking to school everyday

The Gap family

Looking Forward To…

Hugging my mom

No communication barrier

Going more than three days without rain

Laundry machines

Familiar cultural norms

Time to decompress and process

Feeling at home in the place I live

Snowfall

Spending time with my family

Clean(er) air

American food

Driving myself around

A Little Gap Vacation

By: Jill Salvucci

This week was the final weekend of Gap. This is a weekend I really never saw coming. It really does not feel like the semester should be ending, that is how fast this whole experience went by. We ended our semester with a fantastic trip to Manuel Antonio, where we stayed at a beautiful resort on the beach. As a group we swam, ate a wonderful thanksgiving meal, fought off raccoons, and relaxed on the warm sand. However, before we could get to this point of relaxation we had a couple of things to accomplish first.
1. NOLS. Before we could imagine the fact that we were heading to the beach, we spent a couple weeks in the wilderness. There we learned how to not just be leaders but active followers. We learned how to depend on each other and trust that as a group we could successfully make it out of the Wind River Range.
2. Service-Learning: Costa Rica was in sight but maybe not the beach. Service-learning is where we as a group learned how to not just perform community service but to learn how to truly serve the people in need. We learned not to just do our jobs then leave for the day, but instead to learn from the people we are serving, truly understand what it is we are doing.
3. Costa Rica: We made it here! We saw the last weekend on our calender says “day at the beach”! However, it was six weeks away. Before that beach day we needed to experience the Costa Rican culture. Live with host families, tour the country, and learn spanish at the same time. Once we have accomplished every single activity planned and have immersed
ourselves in the culture, only then can we go to the beach.

Well now even our beach weekend is over. Tomorrow is our last official day of Gap (not counting the travel days). To think that it is really over is serial. However, we have made some amazing memories along to way that will stay with us forever. Good luck Gap 2016! I hope that you all enjoy your semester just as much as we did!

Hold On

By: Andrew Novinski

How can it be over? A family formed over 3 months will be disbanded and sent off in all different directions to their home and we wont see each other for a month. It’s a weird feeling. We have shared experiences every single day of the entire week for over 3 months straight and now we all get on planes and go home.

I am so excited to go home and I miss my family so much! The last morning I was in Manuel Antonio, I was laying in bed waiting to check out because all I could think about was getting closer to home. All of the sudden my friend comes in and begs me to come down to the beach one last time. I was in my clothes for the bus ready to leave and I am practically forced to move. I caved and decided to go, and I had a great last swim. As we were leaving the beach I stopped and sat down to appreciate the view one last time and moments from the past semester were running through my head. It hits you differently each day and right then and there was when I realized this was the last weekend I will have with 15 incredible people. Sure we will see each other around campus and get together every now and then, but never in the same way as any point in our Gap Semester.

On the bus ride back to San Jose I was thinking about this the entire time. I was having mixed feelings because I really do want to go home, but it saddens me that we are all going to be parting ways soon. I may be exaggerating this a little, but the past semester has been one of the most impacting things in my life and never will I do anything like it ever again.

It has been a rather abrupt ending to such a wonderful experience but listening to friends bring back very detailed memories from months ago gives me hope that this family formed of 15 unique individuals is going nowhere.

God bless the Gap Semester Squad of 2015!!

My Three Favorite Costa Rican Memories

By: Krisandra Provencher

  1. I have been fortunate enough to have one of the greatest host families in existence for my Costa Rican experience. Some of my fondest memories of my trip are going to be about the time I got to spend with them. Nearly every night my host-mom and I would cook dinner together. I would sit down at the kitchen counter and chop vegetables while she quizzed me on their names and whipped up a delicious masterpiece. While we worked we would talk about our day and what we planned to do the next. She would tell me about Costa Rica and the places I would go over the weekend and I, in turn, would tell her about Vermont. About halfway through making dinner, Aulmen, my host-mom’s brother, would arrive home and ask me about my day. Even though our conversations were often about the weather and whether or not I was enjoying my time here, he always made a point to talk to me and say hello. This past Sunday night, he walked into my room while I was writing my final essay and asked me about my weekend at Manuel Antonio. We talked about my trip home and how close it was. Before he left and returned to his room, he grabbed my hand and told me how grateful he was for me being here and that he and the rest of the family would really miss me. Then he turned around and left. He was so genuine in that moment that I began to tear up and it really sunk in how lucky I was to be a part of such a wonderful family and how much I was going to miss them.
  2. On one of our first Sunday’s in Costa Rica my host-dad, host-sister, and I took our two German shepherds to the park in my host dad’s very old jeep. My host dad, Luis, used to be a driving instructor and through it gained a strong love for cars. Because of this his jeep is one of his most prized possessions and he drives it proudfully around San Jose. After running around the park with the dogs and sweating our breakfast off in the sun, we decided to head home at around noon. As we started walking towards where we had parked the car it started to get really dark and then began to rain. We rushed the dogs in the back and hopped in. Luis started the car, backed into the street and drove about 5 feet before the car stalled and then died. Monica, my host-sister and I ran with the dogs to a nearby awning while Luis tried to figure out what was wrong. Nearly two hours and two soaked and exhausted dogs later, Luis’s sister showed up and brought us home. Luis had been unable to fix the jeep and sorrowfully had to have it towed to a shop nearby. However, through it all he was cracking jokes and laughing at how ironic the situation was. It was a one-of-a-kind bonding experience and definitely added to my Costa Rica trip.
  3. I am fortunate enough to of had one of my life long dreams met during my time here in Costa Rica. Ever since I can remember monkeys have been one of my favorite animals, only bested by ever-amazing elephant. For one of our weekend trips our group traveled to La Paz Waterfall Gardens where we were able to hike to and around multiple gorgeous waterfalls and see a wide variety of exotic animals local to Costa Rica, one being the monkey. When I walked up to its cage and spoke lovingly at it, the park guide came up to me and told me to stick my fingers through the holes in the cage’s netting. Skeptically I put two of my fingers in and almost immediately the monkey I had been speaking to reached his entire hand through the hole and wrapped is soft, furry hand in mine. I HELD A MONKEY’S HAND!!!! While we held hands and made endearing noises at one another, I began to cry. He was truly one of the cutest and sweetest monkeys. It was easily one of the best moments of my life.

Top Ten Things That I am Grateful for this Thanksgiving

By: Marta Djalleta

It is shockingly odd to say that our Elon Gap Semester will be coming to a close in just two short days. Having spent over 100 days traveling across mountains, continental divides, states, and countries has been an eye-opening experience in and of itself but being able to share this experience with 15 other people has been irreplaceable. So here are the top 10 things that I have been grateful for throughout this entire semester:

  1. Fast changing crosswalks

As much as I love enjoying the hot sun while waiting in the same place for 10 minutes, life becomes a little more beautiful when you walk right up to the crosswalk as it changes.

  1. The views:

Whether it be gorgeous mountainous tops, or beautifully deserted beaches, I have no doubt seen some of the most unforgettable views throughout this entire experience.

  1. Toilet Paper

While using the bathroom in the woods was new and exciting, I am forever grateful for the return of toilet paper. Although we’ve had it for a while now, I still make sure to count my blessings and remember how rough life was without it.

  1. Starbucks

While it has been great experiencing so many new cultures, it is nice to have one constant thing in my life: a grande soy chai latte with half the pumps of chai. Whether it be in West Virginia or San Jose, this drink has the ability to remind me of home, anywhere in the world.

  1. Long car rides

Whether we’re cruising around in our big white vans or our private Costa Rican bus that has a large yellow sticker on the side that reads “TURISMO,” I am forever grateful for these long trips. With an average minimum travel time of two hours, this time has been strategically well spent to catch up on sleep, making the 7am wakeup time not so bad.

  1. Cultural immersion

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to explore so many different cultures. Not just outside of the United States but within it, as well as within Costa Rica. Traveling and experiencing new cultures was something that I was really excited for coming into the Gap Semester and the eye-opening cultural adventures that we’ve had have been nothing short of extraordinary. It is fascinating to draw similarities and differences between the cultures that we’re exposed to as well as picking up on some cultural habits to incorporate into our everyday lives.

  1. Living in a foreign country

There is something so special about a study abroad experience. I believe it to be one of the best forms of travel. I am so grateful to be living with such a welcoming and fun-loving family. Not to mention the amazing meals that I get twice a day. Along with my host family comes, the Spanish language, which is easiest to learn in an environment where I am forced to speak it. Lastly, being constantly surrounded by amazing views isn’t the worst thing ever.

  1. Breakfast buffets

For those of you that may not know, I am a breakfast fanatic. Therefore these beautiful displays of endless eggs and toast were my version of heaven.

  1. E. Coder

Having a professor that also doubles as one of the coolest people you’ve ever met makes eating, sleeping, and living with your professor not too bad. Elizabeth has been the best when it comes to jam sessions in the car, laughing with us at our travel mishaps, and most greatly being a constant voice for our cohort. Elizabeth has taught us so much about travel and has really helped all of us keep our cool throughout these crazy life-changing experiences. I am so grateful to have been able to share this experience with her and I am honored to have been apart of her first Elon Gap Cohort!

  1. Gap Fam/ Gap Srat/ Gap Pack

Whatever you wish to call it, I cannot even begin to explain how grateful I am to have even met these 14 amazing people. I have had the pleasure of sharing this incredible experience with some of the most intelligent, funny, and crazy people I have met thus far. It’s wild to think that only about 3 months ago, we were nothing short of strangers standing in the gigantic Denver airport together not knowing all of the insane experiences that would soon come our way. I don’t think I have ever shared some of the worst and some of the best times with such a unique group of people. The bond that we all have is weird and rare but I would not change it for the world. Each of the gap members has made such an impact on me and has made this experience all the more better. Three months and twenty days later, our group has come to be a family that I will always hold dear to my heart.

 

 

 

Gap Pack

By: Marin Williams

Two days. I have exactly two more days in Costa Rica, two more days until my Gap Semester is over, and two more days until I have to leave the fourteen faces that have become some of the most significant people in my life. I have written about the weekly happenings, and my experiences throughout the semester, but not once have I expressed my appreciation for my fellow Gappers. Fifteen people were selected to go on life-changing experience. Going into the semester, we were briefed on where we were going, what we were doing, and how long each segment would take. What they did not or could not prepare us for was the impact we would have on each other’s lives. In August we were strangers, now we are a pack. We are a group of people that support each other, are honest with each other, and expect the best from each other every single day. We have experienced so much together and have worked together through so many trials and tribulations. The bond we have created is not one of forever-friendship, or roommate buddies. We are a pack, we will break away from each other and go our separate ways, we will find different places to go, but we always know that we once ran together for some of the craziest three months anyone has experienced. I have so much love and gratitude for the fourteen kids who decided to also embark on this adventure with me. I have only two days left with them, but our journey will never be finished.