Seraphina Tucker Indiana State science education student explores Mexico and Costa Rica

Seraphina Tucker tries to only buy items secondhand, but her experiences at Indiana State University have been nothing but brand-new. For the science education major from LaPorte, Ind., shopping at thrift stores is a small act that shows her love for the environment. Tucker’s eagerness to learn about the environment and the people that inhabit it has been interwoven into all aspects of her collegiate career. From cultural explorations outside the United States to campus engagement, Tucker’s adventures have allowed her to gain a better grasp of the ways of the world.

Exploring with Natives

Juchitán de Zaragoza

Nestled in the heart of southeastern Mexico, Oaxaca and the city of Juchitán de Zaragoza are known for their incredible ethnic diversity and ancient sacred temples. The beautiful Mexican isthmus welcomed Tucker and her contemporary Mexican culture course in the summer of 2019. Instructor Alex Badillo has worked in the Oaxaca area for 15 years and was able to use his local connections to provide a unique experience for Tucker and her peers. “It was so culturally immersive,” she gushed. “It was so amazing to see it with my own eyes.” The group stayed in the homes of local residents, tucked away from the sites typically spotted by tourists. Tucker’s days were spent gaining a firsthand appreciation for the Oaxacan culture, visiting churches and archaeological sites. Homeowners offered the students an immersive opportunity, welcoming them into their houses to weave sheep’s wool into a rug and learn about the different colors of dye made by plants. Though Tucker gained greater appreciation for Mexican culture on the trip, she also taught others about her own heritage. “Kids practically bombarded us asking us questions about English,” she laughed. “They asked us how to say the color blue, or what a wristwatch was called in English. It was really cute.”

TOP RIGHT: Monte Albán, one of the most well-preserved indigenous structures in Mexico, was protected from the Spanish Conquest by thick layers of mud and dust. Throughout her travels, Tucker dutifully recorded each and every adventure, preserving her memories so she wouldn’t forget a single detail when she returned home.
LEFT: During her trip, Tucker grew close with native Honorio, who led her class on a 7 hour hike. Honorio is of Mixtec heritage. The Mixtec are the third-largest group of native peoples, and they strongly believe in the power of helping others. Honorio also helped the students pick plants from along the trail for the evening’s salsa verde. He taught Tucker to make handmade tamales by wrapping them in banana leaves, sharing a tasty meal and delightful company with the students. RIGHT: Tucker’s class enjoyed a unique opportunity- releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean at Olive Ridley.

Mexican vela

Dressed for a traditional Mexican vela, Tucker twirls in one of her favorite pictures from her adventure abroad. The vela is a gathering dance in celebration of the town’s patron saint. During the day, farmers parade through the streets, their carts and oxen decorated with flowers and greenery, clasping fragrant flowers in their hands. When a farmer handed his flower to Tucker, she was delighted, as the flower symbolized a year’s worth of blessings from the patron saint. After nightfall, the townspeople don colorful apparel, ready to dance through the night. Young, single men fluttered red bandanas at single ladies, who waved their elegant scarves in return. “It was intimidating at first because it was totally different,” Tucker said. “Someone just grabs you and twirls you around, but we were welcomed with open arms. Locals taught us traditional dances and encouraged us to have fun and dance to the music! There was a live band and some amazing food, too I will never forget this night because it was different than anything I’ve ever experienced, and I absolutely loved my hair.”

Pura Vida

Enamored with exploring other cultures, Tucker again left the United States shortly after her trip to Mexico. She spent the fall 2019 semester once again living with a local host family, though this time in Costa Rica. For four months, Tucker was totally immersed in the culture. Her host mom spoke no English, so Tucker had to adapt to solely speaking Spanish. “Sometimes I didn’t know the word I was looking for, so I had to describe things,” she explained. Her language skills were put to the test about three weeks after she arrived when she developed a sun rash and had to find a remedy at the pharmacy. “My hardest lesson was figuring out how to make my way in a place where I knew absolutely nobody,” she admitted. “Once I found my people in Costa Rica, they became lifelong friends. I am so immensely grateful for the friends I made here. We all had to figure things out together, and that brought us closer.”

In Costa Rica, “pura vida” is more than a simple phrase: it’s a lifestyle. Literally, the term means “pure life,” and Costa Rican natives live by focusing on the positivity in their world. “It’s very refreshing. They put people first, with less reliance on things. Very good vibes,” Tucker described.

Tucker studied at Universidad Veritas, one of Indiana State’s partner institutions. In addition to her Spanish class, Tucker completed courses in marine biology, conservation and sustainability, and land vertebrates. Field trips to the island’s unique features were an integral part of Tucker’s education.

LEFT: Her instructors discussed a landform, such as a coral reef, before taking the students snorkeling to see for themselves. RIGHT: Tucker learned about invasive lionfish from a local fisherman.
Fresh food was a key feature of Tucker’s Costa Rican travels. LEFT: A market near her host home allowed her easy access to local fruits, including the pipa, a type of coconut, that she is tasting on the right. Tucker’s host mom also selected fruits and vegetables from a truck that stopped outside their door each week.

Costa Rican Conversations

Spanish speakers frequently add the suffix -ito to their words to show endearment or affection, and, at some point, Costa Ricans adopted -tico as their trademark ending. Because of the friendly nature of Costa Rican conversations, the diminutive ending was added quite frequently. Now, the term, “Tico” (or Tica for females) serves as a colloquial nickname that the Costa Rican people gave themselves and use with pride.

TOP LEFT: Tucker poses with her Mamá Tica, her host mother, in her host home. TOP RIGHT: In the second photo, the two smile with Tucker’s mom when she came for a visit. BOTTOM: Sam, pictured above, quickly became one of Tucker’s closest friends, and the pair has stayed in close contact even after their adventures drew to a close.

Tucker spent her weekends exploring Costa Rica from coast to coast. She and her friends delighted in several adventurous excursions, including zip lining, horseback riding, rafting, and rock climbing. They visited an organic, permaculture-style farm and a mountainside yoga retreat, and after the sun had set, they hiked through the tropical scenery in search of amphibians and reptiles.

Sycamore Culture

When her feet are firmly planted on Sycamore soil, Tucker spreads her love of people and the environment through her involvement in several campus organizations. The Honors College student gains plenty of experience for her future career, serving first as a campus tour guide in the Office of Admissions her freshman and sophomore years and now as a tutor for the Center for Student Success. “The opportunities I’ve been given to succeed are unmatched,” she enthused. “I never want to miss class because I just love it so much.”

Inspired by professors including Matthew Moulton and Della Thacker, Tucker hopes that one day she will have the same influence on her students. Above, Tucker stands with Colleagues Helping Implement Lifelong Learning, an organization that serves the students of Vigo County. One of Tucker’s personal favorite projects with the group was “To the girl who…”, an initiative to write encouraging and inspirational messages to middle school students.
Tucker and her sorority sisters show their support for the kids at Riley Hospital for Children at the 2019 State Dance Marathon and helped to raise over $220,000.

“There’s never been a day when I haven’t felt like I belonged. It’s been so inviting and fulfilling.”

Sustaining a Sisterhood

Tucker never intended to join a sorority, and in fact she only attended recruitment events her freshman year for the free food and T-shirt. She never expected to feel genuinely welcome at Alpha Omicron Pi, and she certainly never expected to meet some of her closest friends through the sorority. “There was such a warmth that I felt it was a place I should be,” she remembers. She’s since served the organization in a variety of leadership positions, including sustainability chair, bringing insight to the role from her time spent in Costa Rica.

FAR LEFT: Tucker poses with her sorority sisters after winning the 2020 President’s Cup. AOII also earned the highest mean GPA of all sororities. MIDDLE LEFT: AOII “welcomed” celebrity chef Guy Fieri to their philanthropy dinner raising money for the Arthritis Foundation. Tucker “loves every single second” of her time at State. She exudes Sycamore spirit through Homecoming and Spring Week events, including Tandem (MIDDLE RIGHT) and Tent City (FAR RIGHT).

“State has allowed me to go out of my comfort zone in ways I never even thought I could,” Tucker smiled. “I better understand cultural humility and different ideologies now, and I’m so thankful for that.”