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Letters to Melissa

After a decade of letters, a traveler reunites with her pen pal

Posted on 12/15/2015 12:47:00 PM in Traveler Insights

Melissa, at left, at home in Costa Rica with her parents.

By Gail B., 12-time traveler & Vacation Ambassador from Forest Hills, NY

On our first Costa Rican Treasures trip with Grand Circle in 2005, we went to a school that Grand Circle Foundation supports and watched the children perform. I studied Spanish for many years, so I can easily communicate with everyone. One of the girls told me that they were losing their English teacher, and asked if I would please come and be their new teacher. Well, I could not, as I have never been a teacher.

We were then taken by hand back to our buses, and continued our tour at an exotic flower farm. At that time, the owner was exporting to the U.S., and the stringent methods of washing and preparing the flowers was absolutely fascinating. (Sadly he no longer does this; too difficult.) From there, we were divided into groups for a Home-Hosted Lunch. The same little girl I had spoken to earlier said she hoped I would come to her family’s lunch so she could continue to chat with me. As it turned out, we were assigned to her family. And a lovely lunch it was!

Melissa was about nine years old at the time. She gave me her address, and asked me to be her pen pal. I agreed, and we started an on-and-off correspondence, half in English and half in Spanish (on both sides). In 2006, she got an email address. Despite limited internet connectivity, we continued a few times a year to make contact. I would send her photos of my family and show her how our grandchildren were growing up—and also where we were traveling and what we were seeing.

I had always wanted to go back to Costa Rica. When we were looking for someplace warm to go to last winter, we chose to go there—so I wrote to Melissa about meeting up with her again. At this point she was studying at the University in San Jose, hoping to become a teacher. Fitting in perfectly was an email from our Program Director, Oliver Acosta, as an advance welcome. I wrote back to Oliver telling him about my plans to meet up again with Melissa and I asked for his help. He was incredibly helpful in contacting Melissa and sorting out our schedules to see when it might be most convenient for our meet-up.

I had asked Melissa what she thought might be the best thing to bring to the school supported by the Foundation, and she said books in English. So I collected about ten pounds of beginner’s reading books from my grandchildren and lugged them down with me. Everyone seemed pleased to get them. Then we went on to the flower farm and the Home-Hosted Lunch. As soon as I walked into the house, I remembered being there for the first time ten years prior.

From left, Melissa’s mother and father relax at the table with Carl and Gail B.

It was only when Melissa and her father came to our hotel to take us to their home for dinner that I was told that her mother’s brother owns the flower farm. What an incredibly small world! It was a very enjoyable visit.

Melissa and I continue our occasional contact and I hope someday she will be able to visit the U.S. so we can show her the wonders of New York City. However, our Program Director, Oliver, told us that it was very difficult and very expensive to get a visa to the U.S. He found that out when he tried to get a visa for his daughter so he could take her to Disney in Florida.

I should also mention that my husband, Carl, who is a retired teacher, was given a Sarchi plaque on his birthday during our last Costa Rica trip in January, to celebrate his numerous trips. He also has met so many people, mostly students, over the years and maintained contact with them, but he was never able to re-connect as I was. It was really terrific!

You’ll meet the children of a school supported by Grand Circle Foundation during Costa Rican Treasures. In this video, meet Oliver Acosta, the Program Director who facilitated the reunion between Gail and Melissa.

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