Volunteer Review: Christine R., Care in Costa Rica
When I was deciding how to spend my spring break, I knew immediately that I wanted to do something meaningful. As a sophomore in Seattle University’s Humanities doing a teaching program, I ideally wanted to spend my vacation working with children. When I was searching for opportunities, I was looking for something that was a bit more relaxed than formal teaching, but still involved some sort of structure. Luckily, I stumbled upon Projects Abroad and their program that would enable me to volunteer in Costa Rica, doing a care project at a local day care center. As I was preparing for this trip, I was nervous – I barely speak any Spanish, and I was used to working with older children, so when I boarded the plane for San Jose, I was excited, yet anxious regarding what was to come.
Arriving in Costa Rica
Once I stepped out of the airport, I was immediately greeted by Gunar, who safely transported me to my accommodation. There, I was welcomed graciously by Nancy, my host mother, and she offered me a tasty meal and allowed me to settle in and rest after my long flight. During my time in Heredia, I realized how lucky I was to have to opportunity to stay with Nancy. She and her daughter treated me and the other volunteers like we were family, taking us to Zumba classes and eating meals with us.
Despite being far away from home, I felt comforted by the fact that I could treat the other volunteers like sisters, as we were both there supporting one another during this experience.
My Care placement
On my first day of volunteering, I felt nervous and had a million questions buzzing around my head. Would the kids like me? What happens if someone gets hurt? What if I am unable to communicate with the ladies working at the care center? However, once I arrived in the classroom I would be working in, all of my fears were put to rest.
The second I arrived, all of the kids ran over and greeted me with giant grins in their faces and open arms. Initially, I was concerned that I did not speak enough Spanish in order to be able to effectively communicate with the kids, but I realized that spoken language was not as necessary as I had thought.
For example, I remember this once instance when this sweet little girl fell down while playing. Once she got up, she made eye contact with me and burst into tears. Since I was unable to comfort her verbally, I ran over and opened my arms, gesturing for her to hug me. Within a matter of minutes, I was able to calm her down simply through my actions – I wiped off the dirt that was on her knees, I rubbed her back to calm her down, and I smiled as much as possible, and soon enough, she was out in the yard, continuing to play. This particular moment taught me how communication can take many shapes and forms, and just because I am unable to speak a certain language, there are ways to effectively communicate despite a language barrier.
Reflecting on my experience
Overall, I was extremely satisfied with my experience with Projects Abroad. I felt supported by the staff, my host family, the other volunteers, and the people at the daycare center. There were some difficulties along the way: the biggest challenge for me was acclimating to the climate. My recommendation for this is to stay well hydrated and sleep as much as possible in the evenings!
In addition to learning more about the Costa Rican culture, I also walked away with a new friend – after living with another volunteer for a week, we quickly became friends and we still keep in touch today and can recall memories together.
In conclusion, I had a wonderful, extremely unique experience. I learned so much from the kids that I was working with, and after this opportunity, I feel like I will be a better future teacher because of it, as well as a more educated global citizen.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.