A message from LIVFund Scholarship winner Olivia Zug.

Feliz Navidad, amigos!

It’s Christmas, I’m sitting in my room only accompanied by Shakira, staring at my hurricane of a packing job, and I’m nervous.  Will I seriously be in Costa Rica in just a little over 24 hours?  It seems unbelievable.

First, I’ll describe myself a little to you wonderful readers.  My name is Olivia Zug, hailing from West Chester, PA, just outside of Philadelphia.  I’m a sophomore at the University of Maryland, and I am a Government and Politics major with a Spanish minor.  CIVICUS, a living-learning program of which I am a member, has instilled within me the values of citizenship, civility, the value of diversity, and our ability to enact positive changes in our local and global communities.  I believe I really make the most of my time at Maryland, and feel so blessed that my hard work has paid off in so many unexpected ways, like this trip.

Whenever I’ve told friends that I’ve never been on a plane or out of the country, they seem shocked.  I certainly act like a well-traveled person, and in my mind, I am!  But in reality, I go to the New Jersey beaches and dream of speaking Spanish in foreign countries.  Because of support from my educators, parents, and others, tomorrow that reality is over.  I begin the life I’ve been living in my mind.

Tomorrow morning at the absurd hour of 4 am, I will leave my home Pennsylvania, drive to Baltimore-Washington Airport, and board a plane to Costa Rica.  I’m relieved that at least for my first time flying, I won’t be alone.  I’ve been messaging a fellow University of Maryland student for the past few weeks, and although we’ve never actually met, she’s made me feel very comfortable with traveling!  The more I learn about the trip and Costa Rica herself, the more prepared I feel.

It’s been a fantastic experience learning the Spanish language and culture, and I hope that meeting my host family and experiencing their home will further my understanding of Latin American history and lifestyles.  It’s something that I feel such a strong attraction to for some reason.  Maybe I’m making assumptions, but I’m really looking forward to what I expect to be a more simple and easily enjoyable way of life.  I have learned about the importance that Latin American cultures typically place on family time and other human relationships, and these are two things I yearn to be a part of.  Truly understanding everything about another person, no matter where they are from, being able to talk to them about anything is a goal of mine that I want so badly to achieve.  This is a primary reason I put so much work into learning the language- it opens up the opportunity to have conversation with an unbelievable number of people that I couldn’t otherwise.

All this excitement aside, I still am nervous.  I hope that my travel inexperience won’t inhibit my full enjoyment of every moment, but I don’t think it will.  Everything is new!  That’s what will make it interesting.

Hasta la próxima, amigos =).