Serving Humanity: Costa Rica Spring Break 2024

At Valpo, our students encourage and challenge one another to reach their fullest potential and radiate their light both inside  and outside of their communities as compassionate servant leaders. The College of Nursing and Health Professions provided the opportunity for students to step outside of their routine comfort zone and experience immersive learning through a Study Abroad trip to Costa Rica. This trip was one of three trips that the College of Nursing and Health Professions provided during Spring Break 2024. 

Valpo CONHP students and faculty posing with Valpo flag in Costa Rica.

“I chose to join this service trip because two of my best friends went on the trip last year and expressed how life-changing and impactful it was for them,” says Olivia Johnson ’25. “I have also never traveled out of the country before I went on this service trip, and I wanted to experience the culture of Costa Rica. I also wanted to gain more skills and experience working in a clinic and practicing techniques.”

Students had several encounters with patients and residents that were extremely impoverished and lived in communities that are terribly underserved. Though there was a language barrier, our students had no trouble translating their empathy and care for the individuals that they met throughout the trip. 

“One challenge I faced was controlling my feelings because there were times when I wanted to cry but couldn’t do it in front of the patients,” says Azucena Hernandez ’24, ’26 MSPA. “It was not about me but I wanted to comfort them. This experience will help my future career because it will help me to understand other people’s backgrounds. Although I grew up in an immigrant/ Spanish speaking household, there were similarities and differences that helped me grow as a person.”

Valpo CONHP students posing in Costa Rica.

The students participated in clinic hours and were divided into different stations including: diagnostic circles, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, home visits, education, or diagnostic circle coordinator. The students would rotate stations halfway through the day to allow for a variety of experiences during their clinic hours.

After clinic hours were finished, students were allowed to explore for the rest of the evening. The appeal of these service trips is the exposure to a new culture and the expansion of a global perspective but it also helps students to connect with their inner purpose and delve into self-discovery. 

“I chose this service trip because I went on it last year and it was probably my most impactful undergraduate experience,” says Matt Van Valin ’25. “The work we did, the people I met, and so much more contributed to me choosing to go on this service trip for a second time. My role on this trip was to learn as much as possible and experience the authentic Costa Rican culture, not a glamorized tourist experience. I believe my role is also to bring back what I learned — such as a new perspective of immigrants, healthcare, and culture — and apply that to life in the United States.”

Valpo CONHP students performing foot washing ceremony for patients in Costa Rica.

One particularly significant event that every student referenced as a moment of true human connection was the washing of the patient’s feet. The moment that the immigrants were given fresh socks and new shoes after the foot washing and their subsequent joy and relief would be ingrained in Valpo students’ memories long after they left Costa Rica. 

“My worldview perspective has undoubtedly changed because of this trip. After hearing the history on why people immigrate to Costa Rica from Nicaragua and other countries in Central America, I have a much better understanding of the immigrants and their reasons for moving,” says Matt. “Further, to see the dangers and difficulties these immigrants have just because they want a better life, that truly changed how I see these people. It is very easy to see or hear the news in the United States and just view these people as a number or statistic. However, my experience has shown me that these people are not that different from us — in fact, some of the immigrants I met were the same age or even younger than me. It is where these people were born that dictated the course of their life and eventually necessitated them having to flee from their country for multiple reasons.”

Finding a sense of connectedness through shared humanity is something that we thrive on here at Valpo. The College of Nursing and Health Professions provides students with opportunities to step outside of themselves to ensure that they can continue to grow as compassionate, understanding, and humble health care professionals. The experiences that Valpo students had in Costa Rica are foundational blocks that aid in the uplift of who we are as a University. 

Costa Rica Spring Break 2024