Volunteer Review: Kristen B., General Care Projects in Costa Rica
When I first heard about the opportunity to volunteer abroad in Costa Rica, I thought about what an amazing experience it would be, never thinking I would actually end up volunteering there. It was always one of my dreams to visit this beautiful country.
I am a student at the State University of New York at Cortland, and a small group of students in a local chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, an international honour society in education, helped make this dream come true. On our winter break, I was part of a group of students who were all planning to become teachers and work with children. We excitedly packed our bags full of supplies, books, stickers and toys and hoped that we would be able to make a difference in some children’s lives.
My Host Family
My local placement in Costa Rica could not have been a more perfect fit. My host family was conveniently located in Heredia, only a short drive from the San Jose airport. As soon as I arrived, I felt welcome and appreciated. I lived with 3 other students with whom I had traveled to Costa Rica, and thank goodness some of them spoke a small amount of Spanish! Before traveling, I had no prior exposure to Spanish and no experience speaking it. This made communication with the host family quite difficult at first. However, after only a few days, I was able to understand my host mother pretty easily and could carry out lengthy conversations.
The family was interested in getting to know and learn about us. We also enjoyed getting involved with the family’s activities and experiencing their culture. We were exposed to many new foods and the extraordinary coffee made in the country.
Perhaps one of my favorite memories with the host family was playing football with the little boy who lived with us. After casually kicking the ball back and forth with him, he invited me to play in a game with him and his team! I am by no means an experienced player, but he, his team and his coach were incredibly excited to have me play with them. It is absolutely amazing how happy, accepting and loving the people of Costa Rica are. I felt completely comfortable and immersed in the culture in such a short time.
Working in a Day Care Center
I worked and commuted to a day care in San Jose, five days a week. During the first week of our trip, we planned workshops for the staff at the day care, providing some supplies and ideas for the staff to implement when working with the children. These included some fun leisure and community building activities as well as educational activities for children.
At first, many of us experienced some culture shock when learning about and witnessing the conditions and home lives of the children at the day care. Many children were under privileged, and many children spent their entire day (sometimes up to twelve hours) at the center. In America, children usually spend only half of their day or a couple of hours in a day care, so the days felt incredibly long to us.
As we adapted to the length of our days, we grew to love every minute that we spent with the children. They looked forward to seeing us every day and loved the attention and care they were receiving. During the second week, while still working with the children, we also worked with an amazing local artist to paint a mural in the day care. I also worked with another student to create calendars and weather charts for the staff and children.
After my experience at the day care, I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the staff. They work long hours and work diligently with the children - it is truly amazing and inspiring. The staff there taught the volunteers just as much (if not more) than we taught them, and the experience made all of us better teachers.
My Time in Costa Rica with Projects Abroad
Although I was only in Costa Rica for two weeks, I was happy with the amount of leisure activities I was able to do in my free time. The Projects Abroad staff were able to make all of our dreams come true. Any last minute plans that we wished to add to our trip, they were able to accommodate. Our weekend was jam packed with activities such zip-lining, dance lessons, hiking to a volcano and going to Manuel Antonio national park.
The staff made us feel welcome and comfortable as soon as we got off of the plane, and continued to demonstrate their commitment to us as they attended many dinners and excursions with us. They were friendly and quickly became a staple in our daily routine. The trip was incredibly successful, and we are so grateful for what Projects Abroad was able to do for us. We plan to remain in touch with our host families and even the Projects Abroad staff, as they ultimately became a part of our long distance family.
I wish my two week stay in Costa Rica could have been longer, but my short exposure to the culture, lifestyle and breath-taking landscape only motivates me to plan more trips and adventures in the future.
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.