Samantha Ching is a student at University of California, Los Angeles and an ISA Featured Blogger. Samantha is currently studying abroad with ISA in San Jose, Costa Rica.
I remember it clearly. I had talked briefly with my aunt about studying abroad Costa Rica. I thought it would be amazing, I told her. She was seated at the kitchen table in my grandparents’ house, and I, standing, was walking away when she looked up. “Oh yeah, it’s going to change your life.”
Pausing in the doorway, I turned to see her looking straight at me. Not a hard look, but serious. I don’t know why she wouldn’t be, but still. She caught me off guard. She had caught me in the middle of those general expressions of excitement I would often give in the months preceding my departure. The earnest, but ordinary dispensing of smiles and answering of questions about spending three months in a beautiful tropical country, learning Spanish and having adventures and what not. That such a trip, this trip in particular of which we spoke, would change my life, in fact never occurred to me.
I can’t say I’ve been waiting for my life to change since coming here. But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sensing something different. It’s not the slight homesickness of Thanksgiving past, nor the bittersweet mix of reflecting on my time here and looking forward to returning home. It’s closure that I’ve been looking for. Something grand, something to nudge me toward a future big and bright after I bid Costa Rica good-bye… for now.
Today was it. What began as a Sunday to catch up on work turned into a chance to cheer on my friends in a 15k turned into me finding myself, 13 kilometers in, fantasizing about heaps of warm cheesy pasta.
Think a long looping country road, a cow mooing passionately from over the padlocked gate. Thinking back to high school cross country, I couldn’t help but wave at passing trucks and bystanders, many of whom cheered us steadily on, others who called out to me, the passing “chinita,” or simply regarded us impassively. In other moments, I lost myself completely. I don’t even think my eyes were open all the way.
I’m not really sure why it was so fun. Certainly race atmospheres are plentiful in positive energy. The rock music imbued the morning with a playful vibe, too. And nothing gets better than locating a gentleman on the bus in telling singlet who permits you to share a cab with him to the start and then refuses to let you help pay for it. Nothing except for the lady in pink who offers you her water bottle at the 13th kilometer, later using it to wave you on from a few feet ahead as those pasta visions beckon.
Aching hips aside, I feel absolutely wonderful. In 4 years of running, I have never felt that runners’ high until this hour and a half of my life. Perhaps my coach was right when she said I might be suited to longer distances. After today, I’m certainly ready to try more races like this one. In certain stretches of the race, when the verdant mountains rose ahead of me, and the grassy fields of the campo rolled alongside, I couldn’t help it. I thought, this is Costa Rica.
Whatever I was looking, I found it today. Doing this race helped me finally give myself completely over to an experience. Going out too fast in the beginning, for once I had no fear. For the first time, I just ran. And now, just like the moment I passed the sign for the 9th kilometer, I feel ready for the finish. I am so thankful for every inch of this country I’ve been able to see. For the kindness and support I have been shown, especially from those people whose paths have crossed mine along the way simply by chance. To reach the end of this journey, that will be a very great adventure.