February 26, 2010

Rain-forest trek brings growth

EMMA BOUTHILLETTE

— By

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Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- Elianna Lantz was really enjoying her college experience at Elon University in North Carolina, but she decided she needed a break from the classroom setting.

After investigating study abroad options and deciding she wanted to be in a warm climate, Lantz enrolled in the Costa Rica Rainforest Outward Bound program -- an 85-day semester hiking from the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.

''I'm not really an outdoorsy person, but thought it would be a challenge,'' Lantz said. ''It was definitely something outside my comfort zone.''

A graduate of Waynflete School, Lantz, 20, is majoring in psychology and minoring in Spanish at the private liberal arts school in central North Carolina. And while she did not sit in a classroom during the three months she spent in the tropics, she earned 12 credits toward her degree and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Costa Rica Outward Bound has been operating programs for the past 12 years based on the philosophy set forth by its parent organization Outward Bound, offering experiential education experiences internationally, Costa Rica Rainforest Outward Bound Marketing Coordinator Debbie Mayer said.

''(It) creates an environment that allows for growth through personal challenges, group effort and cross-cultural understanding,'' Mayer said.

''(Students) are constantly exposed to new cultures, languages and physical environments, which is an experience that can't be replicated in the classroom.''

When Lantz arrived in Costa Rica back in mid-September, she was not sure what to expect of the program.

The students . who were between the ages of 17 and 21 took time to settle in the first two days before they were shuttled to the Pacific Coast to start their journey.

''We packed everything up into backpacks that weighed about 60 pounds,'' she said. ''We had our lunch, and then we started our hike. It was really difficult.''

Most of the students Lantz was hiking with had experience with the outdoors, while she had never slept a day outside in her life. She also did not prepare for the long days of hiking.

''It was really tough for the first few days, a week or so,'' Lantz said.

While she was not out of shape, the six hours of hiking with a 60-pound pack was something that took some adjusting. But at the end of each day, she said it was really fulfilling to see how far they had traveled.

What she learned throughout the semester is certainly not something that can come from a textbook.

Aside from the technical lessons in first aid, scuba diving certification, learning how to surf and instruction on how to be a guide on the river for white water rafting, Lantz said she learned a lot about herself and in terms of her mental strength.

''When I really want to do something, I can put my mind to it and go through with it,'' she said, adding her group members showed her that she had a positive outlook.

Some parts of the trip were difficult, but as she adapted things got a bit easier. When asked if she would do it again, Lantz said, ''Surprisingly, yes.''

''Going through it, no, I would never think I would say that, but I loved it as hard as it was at times. I have come away from it learning so much and I'm so proud of myself,'' she said. ''It's a great experience.''

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ebouthillette@pressherald.com

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