HUNTERSVILLE – Ariel Gardner plans to display her passion for nursing through culture.

The 22-year-old Huntersville resident will travel to Costa Rica on a mission trip from the middle of July to early October to pursue her dream to become a volunteer nurse.

“I am so curious to see what other cultures have to offer,” Gardner said. “I want to better my Spanish because it is so prominent in healthcare.”

Although Gardner has traveled before, this will be the first time she has gone on a mission trip. Nursing school kept her busy, so now that she is on the way to receiving her bachelor’s degree from Lenoir-Rhyne University, she is able to do what she has always dreamed.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It is the most satisfying thing to fulfill my passion of being a nurse,” she said. “When I was a little girl at the age of 4, I played doctor with my nurse kit. I am open to doing anything in healthcare.”

Gardner will travel alone through a New Zealand-based company called International Volunteer Headquarters. IVHQ sends thousands of young people to countries to volunteer in fields such as teaching, childcare, community development, medical and construction.

Upon arriving to Costa Rica, Gardner will be with random people from different countries. She will stay with a host family and meet around 40-80 other healthcare volunteers.

“I will be working at a nursing home, dealing with homeless patients, the mentally ill, HIV/AIDS patients, disabled children and ambulance services,” Gardner said. “I would like to rotate in every aspect of healthcare and work with all kinds of patients.”

Gardner will work Monday through Friday roughly four to five hours a day. She will take Spanish classes for the first couple of weeks to get immersed into the culture.

On the weekends, she plans to spend time with her host family and explore the country’s beautiful beaches.

Her prior experience in the nursing field made her an especially qualified candidate to work with diverse patients in Costa Rica.

Last semester, Gardner completed her senior practicum at Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory. She was placed on the critical care unit of the hospital with a clinical instructor. She completed 126 clinical hours where she did hands-on work using skills she learned in nursing school.

Gardner worked with many types of patients, performing nursing care, patient assessment and intervention, administration of medications and documentation of care.

“I really enjoyed the CCU because of the high-acuity patients I took care. I gained a lot of experience on this unit dealing with sedation medications, ventilators and monitors,” Gardner said. “All of the CVMC staff were eager to involve me in the advancement of my learning.”

Gardner created a GoFundMe account to raise money for her mission trip.

“My dad is a graphic designer and hopefully, I can work with him to sell something,” she said. “Right now, I have a job at Red Rocks Café in Birkdale Village and people around me have already donated so much for my trip.”

Gardner hopes to land a nursing job in Charlotte after she returns home from Costa Rica. But she says in nursing, no matter where the location, a person must be culturally sensitive.

“You never know who is going to walk through the door,” she said.

The travel devotee says her religious faith is based on love.

“Everything you do should be with love. Being a Christian and helping others contributes to my life,” Gardner said. “It is easy for me to love the ‘unlovable’ or what the world defines as ‘unlovable.’”

Gardner said she struggled with nursing school as it took her five years to graduate from the program.

“I will always tell people to follow their hearts. I live life to the fullest,” she said. “Although I found nursing to be challenging, I knew I would get through it because it is my passion. I am now ready to do the practice.”