Stephanie H. – General Care in Costa Rica
At 22 years old, I had spent the past few years of my life studying psychology at Carleton University. My life revolved around my studies and with a few short weeks until graduation, I decided I wanted to embark on a journey where I made a difference. Little did I know, that was the starting point of the most rewarding five weeks of my life.
Costa Rica was my first choice of destination. In fact, I didn’t even have to think about it. It was always the country I dreamed of visiting. I was in the airport wondering why I didn’t feel nervous; instead I was overcome with joy and excitement. I think my mom was nervous enough for the both of us anyway.
My arrival in Costa Rica and my host family
I was picked up and driven to my host family’s house in Heredia. Upon arrival, I was greeted by my host mom who hugged and kissed me like I was her very own. Although she spoke no English and I spoke zero Spanish, I still felt welcomed and comfortable. She introduced me to my host sister and her boyfriend who also lived there, and a few fellow volunteers who I would be sharing rooms with.
Her house was equipped with a delicious restaurant and a hair salon. I always felt more people lived in the house because it was so full of life and laughter. My host mom spent her days working at the salon and restaurant; cooking for volunteers, taking care of her family and cleaning. It only took me a few moments to realize she was the hardest working person I’ve ever met.
I remember listening to my host mom’s conversations with family and friends and hearing ‘Pura Vida’ religiously. A quick Google translation didn’t justify what the phrase truly means for the locals. It’s about living a life that is peaceful, happy and simple. It’s a life without worry. I immediately wanted this lifestyle to be my own and I spent the next month doing just that. I enrolled in Spanish classes, enjoyed authentic Costa Rican cuisine (rice and beans), traveled all over Costa Rica with friends on weekends, enjoyed the delicious fruit, and spent nights cooking with my host mom.
My Care Project
I volunteered at a primary school for children with mental and physical disabilities. I made prior arrangements with the Projects Abroad staff to be placed in this particular setting. I was placed in a morning and afternoon class with children aged 11-13 years old. Each class had about 12 children which kept the teachers and I very busy.
In a typical day we organized educational lessons, made crafts, ate lunch, played in the park, and did a small amount of exercise. Sometimes we would even join another class for music therapy or sewing lessons. The kids LOVED to dance so we made that a priority every day. Although a number of the children were unable to communicate verbally, it didn’t take long to form a friendship with them. By the end of the first week they began greeting me with hugs, gesturing if we could play or even going for a walk together.
The teachers were so wonderful and caring towards me. They would spend their lunch hour telling me about their culture and lifestyle and asking me about my own. They even planned a farewell party for me with cake and gifts. It has been a while since I left my placement in Costa Rica and I still think about the kids. They taught me so much. My life is forever changed by them.
Traveling around Costa Rica
One of the many things I loved about the Projects Abroad staff was they immediately connect you with other volunteers upon your arrival. They organize weekly outings (soccer games, bowling, etc.) where you meet peers volunteering in the same area as you. This is where I met the girls I spent the next five weekends traveling around with. We mostly went to beaches and national parks and spent our time swimming in waterfalls, climbing volcanos, zip lining, surfing, animal watching, and of course eating all the Costa Rican food we could get out hands on!
Our weekend adventures were when I became impacted by the kindness of the locals (they call themselves Ticos!) I remember a time we were lost and asking for help. Not only did the kind man call us a taxi but he provided us with snacks and drinks while we waited and he even let us all try his coffee beans! Every adventure was nothing short of amazing and the girls and I still keep in touch today. Mostly reminiscing about how much we miss our adventure.
The best possible advice I can give a future volunteer is that volunteering with Projects Abroad is an adventure of a lifetime so don’t hold back. The beauty of Costa Rica is an endless and truly life changing experience!
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.