Kansas State Wildcats in Linea Vieja, Costa Rica

One word – transformational! Our recent trip to Linea Vieja in Costa Rica was nothing short of extraordinary. The 20 wildcats from Manhattan, Kansas experienced a week that truly exceeded anything we could have every imagined.

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Waiting in the airport on day one there was much excitement about what the trip could be.  There were discussions about the community, the project, the challenges of building a court during the rainy season, the food and the sleeping conditions. After an eventful day of travel the group woke up the next morning anxious to get to work, only to be thrown into their first lesson of the trip “Tico time.”  Conor, the resident Peace Corps volunteer who worked with the community to prepare for the project, explained that everything happens on Tico time due to the country embracing the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle. Our group quickly learned that Tico time meant things would happen when they happen. 4 hours later we arrived at our new home and were greeted by the smiling faces of the community members. Seeking to dive right in, we got unloaded and made our way to the work site. Tasks were assigned and we got our first taste of the work we would be doing. Buckets of gravel and sand were being mixed with water, fiber mesh and cement to make the concrete mixture. From there the wheelbarrow team transported the mixture to our first slab. Spirits were high after we successfully completed one eighth of the court and then it was on to an evening of cultural dancing and games.

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Youth from the community began the evening with two traditional dances, wowing all 20 gringos in attendance. Up next was something our athletes were very used to – competition! From sack races to musical chairs to balancing acts, it was gringos against ticos. We even learned a few new games, one of which resulted in a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” as Dane’s impeccable vertical wowed the audience. That evening was a great way to break the ice and begin to build relationships with the community. Despite the language barrier we were able to engage in a fun lighthearted evening and set the tone for the rest of the week.

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6:30am came early the next morning as the team was greeted by roosters crowing and rainfall. Despite skepticism on whether or not we would be able to get to work, we parted our mosquito nets, rolled off of our mattresses and geared up.  Not be conquered by the rain, Connor reported that our contractor was on site and ready to go. Excited we grabbed gloves, ponchos and rain jackets and made our way to the site.  After draining the court and preparing the land we were yet again off to work. Moving like a well-oiled machine we cranked out 3 slabs of the court before the heavy rains caused us to cease work for the day. Feeling accomplished the team prepared themselves for another evening of fun with the community. Tonight was bingo night. Much of the community came out to participate and win prizes ranging from soccer balls to kitchen supplies. The evening ended with the group enjoying dinner and discussing our “challenges”. Derek Nesland, president of Courts for Kids, challenged us to tasks each day to help better integrate us into the community and learn about their culture. Initially skeptical, the group found the challenges very helpful in providing a way to initiate interaction and conversation.

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Day 4 was the day we were anxiously awaiting. Connor informed the group that day 3 would be the day we had a community potluck. Being from Kansas it was only right that our group prepare BBQ chicken. Little did we know that preparing the chicken meant that we first had to kill the chicken! There was much discussion about who would be doing the killing and who would assist with catching. One of 5 males on the trip, Tyler was the brave soul that stepped up and killed the first chicken. As if one was not enough, we had to slay, pluck, and clean 7 in order to ensure we had enough food for everyone. The team got it done, creating a vegetarian in the process. In addition to the BBQ chicken we also prepared baked beans. It was cool because while beans are a staple in their diet, they had never had baked beans before. Some were very skeptical about them but for the most part they enjoyed them. Following lunch, we worked with community members to complete two more slabs of the court. With their help we seemed to be moving in hyper speed. They were so excited to be helping and pretty impressed with the strength of our females in the group. Initially the men wanted to do all of the heavy lifting, but when they saw the ladies getting it done their respect for our group significantly increased. After we reached a stopping point we enjoyed a variety of activities including soccer games, four square, arm wrestling, and push-up competitions.

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With 2 slabs left until the court was officially completed we began day 5 with a tenacity to see the project completed. Due to it being a Saturday, we were able to have help from the high school students and other community members. We finished the court in record time! The community was as excited as we were.  We had officially earned ourselves a relaxing afternoon. The Tico’s version of relaxing meant taking a hike up the mountain and taking in the views. Embracing the Pura Vida lifestyle, we followed our high school tour guides through the mountain spotting monkeys and frogs along the way. The view at the top was worth the 30 minute or so hike. It was absolutely breathtaking. Then, as luck would have it, the rain begins just as we were preparing to head back down the mountain. While it felt good and cooled us off, it made our trip down the mountain very complex and challenging. We unsuccessfully navigated a mudslide and had the mud stains and scars to prove it! Next up was a short trek to the river. A few members of the team took a refreshing dip in the river with their new friends and even enjoyed the rope swing.

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Now that everything was completed, the only thing left to do is officially dedicate the court. Sunday morning we enjoyed breakfast and headed to the court to make final preparations for the court dedication. We put gravel around the perimeter of the court, cleaned the court and it was open for business. Feeling accomplished we were yet again surprised by Conor regarding our lunch meal. Due to our great success with the chicken a few days prior, we would now have to kill a pig. WHAT?!?!?! Naturally, the team looks to Tyler to see if he would be willing. Like a true Tico in training, Tyler took on the challenge and miraculously got it done. Conor informed us that pig is typically enjoyed on special occasions like Christmas or New Years. It was so moving for the community to view the completion of the court as something worth celebrating in this manner. The entire community came out to celebrate their new court. We danced, laughed and taught the youth the Wabash and KSU chant to ensure the court as properly dedicated. Following an exchange of thank you’s we set out to the grass fields to for our final soccer matches. Much to the ticos dismay, the gringos beat their men’s team 2 goals to 1 while the ladies lost to the Ticos 3-2. Our day ended with our host family serenading us with songs and the group wrote their final reflections.

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This trip was about more than just building a court, it was about being immersed in a community and learning about their culture and lifestyle. We were welcomed by all of the community members of Linea Vieja. Despite the language barrier we were able to build bonds and witness the power of sport. Sport has the ability to bring people from different backgrounds and nationalities together for a common purpose. We were able to play and learn soccer, teach the children basketball and volleyball, and engage in a variety of other activities. I saw our team transform over the course of the trip and develop empathy, emotional intelligence, communication skills, and patience. They ended the trip embodying the Pura Vida lifestyle and have a lifelong bond with the Linea Vieja community. The warmth of our goodbye embraces were a clear indication of the impression we had on the community. What I hope they are able to understand is the lasting impact they had on our group. Our lives are forever changed.

Cori Pinkett, Director of Student Athlete Development, Kansas State University

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“I feel like this trip has changed my definition of ‘necessity.’  Being here has taught me that you can be completely happy and functional without all the things that I previously thought I needed.  This trip also made me no longer afraid of bugs!  This trip has made my outlook on different races and different cultures much different.  Before this trip, I was judgmental about people who dressed and looked different from me as separated from me.  I was nervous about the people who lived in the ‘ghetto’ parts of my home town.  I thought they were…scary, in a way, unapproachable.  Now, after spending time with the people in this community, I realize that the way people look, in no way is correlated to their personalities- the people in this community are so incredibly kind, caring, compassionate and funny.” – Paige Kemper

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“I would just like to say this has been an absolutely life-changing experience.  I will never forget this.  The Peace Corps people are so incredible.  Working alongside the locals toward a common goal was moving.  Seeing their excitement for the court was so amazing.  Regardless of the language barrier, we were able to community and have a good time.  I loved hanging out with them.” – Noelle Dykmann

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“I want to continue to learn about all different people, because we are all similar and different in so many ways.  This trip made me so appreciative of everything I have, and pushes me to do more for others who are in need.  I will remember every experience I gained from this trip.” – Miranda Larkin

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“What I learned from the community is that materials are not everything.  Spending a week with the locals has taught me that spending time with family and friends is way more important than hiding behind technology.  Not having my phone and signal this whole trip has been a blessing in disguise.  I quickly realized that this trip was a once in a lifetime experience and needed to enjoy every aspect of it.  I have been told that I spend too much time on my phone so getting to turn it off for a week has helped me realize that my phone is not near as important as connecting with locals from the community.  Not having a phone has helped me realize how much I miss when I do hide behind it.” – Megan Deines

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“I think in our day to day lives we lose track and focus on what we need to do and get done.  It makes us selfish and self-centered.  This culture is completely different.  They are all about community and doing something for others.  I want to travel to see if the rest of the world is like America and materialistic and self-centered or like Linea Vieja and community oriented.  I learned America is so much different than the rest of the world.  I want to expand my view of the world even more.” – Nicholle Hatton

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“I had heard that the ‘Tico’ culture was very laid back, almost to the point of laziness.  What I expected during the building of the court was for us (our group) to do the vast majority of the work with an audience.  Although I was fairly convinced that this was the case when we started, I was truly surprised on Friday afternoon and Saturday when a large number of the community members showed up and set straight to work.  Working and interacting with the community members was a truly rewarding experience and changed my predisposition towards the Tico culture.” – Simeon Seiler – K-State Athletic Trainer