It was the last few months of my college years, all my friends were getting real, adult jobs, and I was starting to panic about what my next steps were. When one day, I saw an ad on Facebook that said something about a sustainable village in the jungle. With my interest peaked, I clicked on the page and found that there are a group of people living in the Panamanian jungle attempting to build “the world’s most sustainable modern town” called Kalu Yala, and even better, they have three month internships.
After doing a bit more research I applied for the Media Arts internship and found out I was accepted a few weeks after that. I was ecstatic about the opportunity to do something different and exciting, but I was also nervous to leave the country, live on a campsite for three months with a group of people I’d never met, and live in a country whose language I wasn’t fluent in. What was I getting myself into?
Turns out (to no one’s surprise probably) stepping out of your comfort zone will challenge you, terrify you, and teach you more than you ever expected.
Here’s what I learned after three months in the jungle:
Bravery Can’t Exist Without Fear
A few days before I left for Panama, I was chatting with an acquaintance of mine and she mentioned something about how brave she thought I was and I remember thinking ‘I’m not brave, I am absolutely terrified!’
After I arrived at Kalu Yala and started to get used to it, I realized that bravery is being scared. If you aren’t afraid of anything, you don’t need to be brave. It’s when you’re petrified of something, but you do it anyway that bravery comes through. Whether it’s finally asking out that person in your class or jumping off a waterfall, taking the plunge (pun intended) is what bravery is all about.
You’re Stronger Than You Think
I loved my time at Kalu Yala, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have bad days. Living in the jungle during the rainy season is tough. The weather is unpredictable, there are creepy crawlies, and keeping clean is a challenge all its own. Not to mention that you are living in tight quarters, and are basically never alone, another challenge for an introvert like me.
On my best days, it was a paradise but on my worst days, I just wanted to go home. I had to face facts that I had two options: toughen up and make the most of this once in a lifetime experience or book a ticket home. I came to Kalu Yala with goals, I wasn’t about to let my discomfort keep me from achieving those goals.
That’s when I realized how strong I truly am. It wasn’t until I pretty much had no choice but to be strong that I found my inner strength.
Maybe it’s just me, but choosing joy at times takes some serious strength. It made me think of times in college when something didn’t go my way and I complained to my roommates about it for days instead of figuring out my next steps. I wasted time I could have been doing something awesome with wallowing in self pity simply because I didn’t think I was strong enough to face it.
When you realize what you’re capable of, yes, things might still be scary, but you can move forward with the confidence to know you can get through whatever it is.
When You Feel Good, You Don’t Care How You Look
A few months ago I read an article about not looking in a mirror for an entire summer, and I thought it sounded amazing so I decided to give it a try. Not so surprisingly, I didn’t last one day before caving to straighten my hair.
But, when I got to the jungle I discovered there were very few mirrors in camp, plus I didn’t even bother packing my straightener or makeup. This lack of emphasis on appearance as well as the physical activity we partook in nearly every day (hiking new trails, swimming in the rio, etc.) made me feel great. I couldn’t see if I had frizzy hair (which I’ll tell you right now, I most certainly did) and the physical activity was just for fun, not for weight loss or toning so feeling great was all that mattered.
Now that I’m home again, I still straighten my hair and look in the mirror every so often but I try and keep the feeling of being comfortable with how I am. I don’t compare my looks to others as much, and I still try and focus on feeling great not “looking great”. This is a tricky one to balance but I’ve learned that when I am having a blast, I hardly think about how I look.
There Are So Many Different Ways To Live
On my first day at Kalu Yala, another intern told me she came here “to learn how to live a more beautiful life.” And during my time in Panama I met people with lives completely different from my own. I saw so many different ways of living a beautiful life.
Growing up, I basically knew one track in life: early education, higher education, career, retirement. When it came time for me to apply to colleges, I never even considered if I wanted to go, it was just where I wanted to go. College is a huge privilege and I was so lucky to be able to attend, but I had never considered another path for my life.
But Kalu Yala is filled with people doing amazing things, and all on unique paths. Some interns were in college, some had just graduated (like myself), some never went to school or were taking a gap year. Each and every person I met was deeply passionate about what they were doing, no matter how diverse their situations or plans were.
Remember, I applied to Kalu Yala while all my college friends were getting jobs? Well now I’m home and I don’t feel nearly as pressured to find the perfect career, or worried about what people will think about my life path.
There is no set formula for living. We can all live beautiful lives doing completely different things in different places. There is no right or wrong way to live. When searching for a job or graduating, it’s easy to compare our lives to others and feel inadequate, but living is a personal journey. We’ll all have ups and downs, so why not support each other no matter what stage we’re in?
During my internship at Kalu Yala, I learned about sustainability and media, I took trips to gorgeous places, and adventures I won’t soon forget. But I think the best part of my experience is what I learned about myself.
When you leave the comforts of a dorm room or cozy apartment and push yourself further than you even thought possible, you’re bound to learn a thing or two.