2010 – Serena Edinger

Costa Rica

Serena Edinger ’11 has a life philosophy of “daring adventure or nothing.”

So when she was awarded the Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award, she decided to head south to Costa Rica, work on her Spanish and travel the country.

She has seen an amazing countryside, photographed the rainforest clouds, snorkeled with fluorescent fish, heard the calls of rainbow-feathered parrots perched in trees and watched giant lizards comb the white beaches. She’s also navigated her way on a bus system using her broken Spanish, ended up in unintended cities having magical experiences and even jumped head-first in a 265-foot bungee jump off the Colorado River Bridge.

“I’ve had an incredible experience,” Edinger said. “Every day was an adventure.”

Edinger, an honors student who is studying nursing, knew that traveling was in her future but the opportunity and the funds hadn’t been as available as she had hoped. When she applied for the award, she decided to make the most of her experience.

During the weekdays, Edinger researched cultural sensitivity in a nursing framework by volunteering through International Volunteer HQ in San Jose. She split her time between three sites: a childcare program for disadvantaged youth who have survived domestic abuse, a home for AIDS patients and a private ambulance service. She provided health education such as teaching the children teeth-brushing techniques and the proper hand-washing method to the tune of “La Bamba” (Mi lavo mis manos… mi lavo mis manos con jabon y un poquito de agua….)

“Overall, this experience has been exhausting and challenging, yet invaluable,” said Edinger. “It has made me more globally aware and enhanced my appreciation for the culture. It has inspired a lifelong commitment to understanding the underlying factors behind poverty, poor health care and current health care issues worldwide.”

The impact this experience is having on Edinger – in something as basic and sterile as teaching blood pressure measurements to children – is apparent in one of her early travel blog entries (part of the requirements for the award, including a 5,000-word essay on return).

“I made a promise to myself today, inspired by those little laughs, those eager eyes, and those clinging arms around my legs,” Edinger said. “I made a promise to myself to influence the world with beautiful, helpful character… doing all the good I can, by all the means I can, in all the ways I can, in all the places I can, at all the times I can, to all the people I can, as long as ever I can.”

While traveling alone can be scary for young people, Dr. Gary Luter, director of the Honors Program, said it pays off in the end.

“It makes them more comfortable intermingling with people of other cultures and with taking risks,” he said. “It makes them more global citizens.”

Edinger’s weekends were spent exploring the country, enjoying hammock time and drinking the country’s famous coffee. Following a trip to Tortuga Island, Edinger summed up what travel has inspired in her on one of her final blog entries.

“As I lay on the pristine, baby-powder beach, I think to myself: every day should be as exhilarating as this one, full of mystery, overwhelming beauty, and energy,” she wrote. “I believe that every day can be full of curiosity, anticipation and ecstasy. Though each and every day may not begin with a run on a misty beach, followed by relaxing at beautiful waterfalls, and visiting mystical, remote islands, there should never be a dull page in the stories of our lives. Every day can be like a fairytale.” – Article by Jamie Pilarczyk