A volunteer trip to Costa Rica nearly four years ago changed the direction of Adrienne Engel’s life.
Engel, of Camas, stayed with a host family in the small village of Herradura. There, she worked alongside other high school students in the community, helping to build a church and a community center.
“It was a real collaborative effort,” she said. “We spent a lot of time with our host families as well.
“I even learned how to milk a cow. I’ve always had an itch to travel and see how people really live. I thought this would be fun because it was also service oriented.”
Engel went to Costa Rica with Walking Tree Travel, a service program that sends teen participants to one of seven countries in Central America, Africa or Asia to work on community projects.
While many teens would probably set aside the experience once they returned to regular high school life, Engel did not.
In fact, the trip to Costa Rica prompted her to change her college major from mechanical engineering to international relations three years later.
“I was going to major in architecture, but after spending time in Costa Rica, I gained a much more realistic view of the world, and realized that I could have a lasting impact on the world.”
The decision came after her freshman year of college at Notre Dame. Engel, now a sophomore, feels good about her future career choice.
“I’ve always been a math and science girl, but have always been interested in the economics behind international relations and how the world is different,” she said. “I saw firsthand how people in the villages have communication with the bigger cities and the United States. I decided mechanical engineering wasn’t something I was very passionate about.”
Engel’s major is focused on political science and includes a minor in economics. She describes it as the “best of both worlds.”
“I’m really happy now,” she said. “It’s not work that I dread doing. It’s really interesting.”
Engel has continued taking Spanish since returning from Costa Rica and has applied for a study abroad program in Spain this summer.
“My ultimate goal is to work in the FBI as an intelligence analyst,” she said.