Costa Rica Revisted. 2015 Global PEACE Program Initial Reflections.

I’m feeling a surge of emotions.  I think that happens a lot with me.

I’m happy, sad, and feeling an overwhelming sense of loss & purpose at the same time. I feel like one minute I could cry and the next, I’ll start laughing.  It’s like puberty all over again.

Going back to Costa Rica was a completely new and enriching experience for me. When you go to a place for the first time, everything is exciting.  All of your senses are soaking in new details.  But, when you return to a place, especially after some time — a year, in my case– different things happen.  You begin to analyze the things you never really noticed before.  You see a lot of good things that you saw before, but you also begin to evaluate other nuances.  It’s something I never really experienced before because I’ve never been to a foreign country more than once.  And out of the things I’ve learnt from this trip, I’ve learnt that revisiting places can be a very valuable and important thing.

I feel like I will say this about every place in the world I’ll travel to, but I can say with confidence that Costa Rica will always hold a very close and special place in my heart. I learned a good amount from the people I’ve met there and the friendships I’ve cultivated.  And, I’d be lying if I said I weren’t getting a bit emotional as I’m typing this whole thing.  I’ve only been in my apartment for less than an hour and I’m already dreading so many things that come with returning home from somewhere else.  I am thinking ahead–thinking of ways to return to my home away from home, to a place where I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at peace with myself and my place in the world, even when I don’t speak the language completely.

From Alajuela to San Jose to Caldera to Mastatal, each and every person I had the privilege of interacting with have given me so much strength and joy.  I am so grateful for the group of peacebuilders I worked with and to the many individuals I’ve met along the way.  I think of them and I am filled with so much happiness, and I know that that is what peace is.  That it is powerful and capable of doing so much good in the world.  Because what happiness I feel inside of me, I know I can use to motivate others around me.  It has shifted and guided me, even when I am 100% sure that I do not know what journey I will take to attain my goals in this world.

When I left, I told my peers that I did not want to go back to the US–that I did not want to return to reality. But, upon reflection, I know that sentiment to be flawed.  My reality is what I choose it to be.  Costa Rica is a lovely, wonderful, powerful reality for me.  I learned about peace as a system from professors and citizens alike.  I learned that demilitarization cannot be the only answer and that every government has its flaws, but that people everywhere are resilient, beautiful, unique humans.  And that gives me an amazing amount of hope about our world.  I am amazed at how at home I could feel in a foreign place from only being there for a short amount of time, and if I could feel that connected to people and places in less than two weeks, I am so excited to think of how much love can flow from person to person with more time than that.

I don’t know what will happen in my future, but I know that I am capable of doing and creating great things in the world so that others can learn what I have learnt and live purposeful, extraordinary lives.

All I know is that I will do everything in my own power to return to Costa Rica again, to work with and perhaps live amongst the families and friends I have met there, and to create a more peaceful & prosperous global community.

Even though I am thinking about my future and how I can return again to Costa Rica, I know that living too much in the future can do no good for our present.  Although it will be an internal struggle for me, I’m ready for today and cannot wait for the many tomorrows we all have to build a kinder world together.

With peace, love, and pura vida,

Christina

It Starts With This: A Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge For Change Winner’s Letter To You

I love giveaways.

I have two entire email addresses dedicated just for subscribing to store newsletters and company giveaways & contests.

Even though the whole “luck of the draw” concept gets me excited, I never really expect to win anything. I don’t feel particularly lucky, nor do I know if I really believe in the concept of luck or fate.

But, I do believe in good ideas and the power of sharing those ideas. Maybe that’s what compelled me to apply for Microsoft YouthSpark’s first Challenge for Change competition one and a half years ago.

Or maybe I was procrastinating on studying for final exams and I found myself clicking the sidebar ads on Facebook that led me to the competition entry page.

Maybe it was a little of both.

I’ll just say it was a little of both.

I didn’t always think that sharing your ideas was a good thing. Giving your idea a public platform can put you in a very vulnerable place. You can be criticized, belittled, undermined. Honestly, I really should have been more afraid of applying for the competition. But, I wasn’t due in part to the fact that I honestly did not expect to win.

Fast-forward a month and I had become a finalist. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe that I had captured the attention of a panel of Microsoft employees who believed in my idea to bring peace education to primary school students around the world. Still, I did not think I deserved the attention or recognition that being a “finalist” in anything would bestow on someone. I wondered to myself why on earth anyone would pick me against the other young changemakers that applied.

A couple months later, four others and I won the competition. We were on our way to Kenya through the non-profit organization, Free The Children and their social enterprise, Me to We. That trip was an adventure I won’t soon forget.

After winning and going on an incredible journey, both physically and mentally, I realized several things:

First, it only takes an idea to change your life. Your idea may not give you global acclaim or make your crush like you back. But, if you believe in something strongly enough, you can change your entire world. And that’s something worth celebrating. I had no idea that the tangibility of peace education could impact my entire life, but it has. The idea took ahold of me and allowed me to develop a comprehensive understanding of social justice issues. It showed me that peace could give someone more hope and strength than any oppressive show of force could ever provide. Your idea, whatever it is, believe in it and run with it. You’ll be surprised at how much you grow from that little idea.

Second, the power of believing in yourself and having a supportive group of peers is instrumental for success. You may have doubts about your abilities, especially when there are many projects out there that are impactful and powerfully shifting mainstream narratives. But, I think that (a healthy amount of) doubts are only reminders to remain critical and analyze your ideas so that they can become the best they can be. Small doubts can eventually make you more confident if taken care of healthily. But, if you doubt too much, having a kind network of people that can tell you to relax every once in a while is extremely beneficial.

Third, don’t let competition consume you. If you become a finalist, you’re put up against a great group of changemakers who have equally as great of ideas as you do. Be confident in your abilities, but remember you are not the only person who matters. Remember that you are not special because you are a finalist or because you win something. You are special because you are one representative of the multitudes of people who do good in the world. I think the excitement that comes with winning a competition makes you think that you deserve recognition and praise over other people. Don’t let the idea of “winning” something tarnish your ability to see others’ ideas as something equally as wonderful as yours. Instead, empower others to understand your own goals and work to understand theirs. Solidarity is a strengthening thing. That’s why they call it solidarity.

Lastly, you are young. This competition is for youth, after all. Because you are young and because you now pressure yourself to take on the world, you will become burnt out. It is the nature of being an activist and visionary. That’s what you are, even if you don’t think it. Remember that as a visionary, your idea has the power to impact your entire being if you let it. Winning a contest is just the first step in journey to being all you want to be. It’s a beautiful journey and winning allows you to feel validated, but it can and will get tiring. Take a second and breathe. Let yourself witness all the amazing things that have come from your one idea, but don’t let it overwhelm you. You do not need to accomplish everything in one sitting. Let yourself make some mistakes and make sure you give a little bit of knowledge to someone else that wants their own idea to take flight. Even though you are young, you have a great deal of insight. Share it and do not be ashamed.

We are given great opportunities in this world. Microsoft YouthSpark’s Challenge for Change is one of those opportunities. This competition not only challenges us to think about ways to improve the world, but also challenges us to believe in the power of youth.   We are able to say that youth are not just our future, but also impactful solutionaries in our present. The Challenge for Change forces us to see that good ideas do not just come from traditionally educated adults, but also from children of all different backgrounds. And their ideas are being given a wonderful platform to grow and prosper. I have the competition to thank for my personal growth and fervent belief in peace as a powerful tool of change. I hope that you too will thank it for helping you develop your own idea for change.

If you are thinking about applying for this year’s Challenge for Change competition, do it. Who better to help mold a brighter, more compassionate and equitable future than you?

If you have an inkling of an idea about how to improve this planet we’re living on, share it with the world. We’re ready for you.

With peace & compassion,

Christina