Cross-Cultural Solutions - Volunteer Programs in Costa Rica

Whether your version of Pura Vida includes surfing or scaling mountains, howler monkeys or hummingbirds, coffee or cocoa, camping or canyoning -- alright, you get our point -- well, you'll find it here in Costa Rica. A worldwide leader in ecotourism, Costa Rica is known for its rich biodiversity, myriad ecosystems, and not to mention its warm and welcoming people.

While this incredible environmental richness is a national treasure, it also brings with it some interesting social and economic challenges, such as an increasing percentage of regional immigration. Costa Rica's reputation for social stability, along with its free education and universal healthcare, has drawn the attention of international trading partners, as well as immigrants from other Central American countries seeking better lives. As the economy changes, so do traditional social structures, which abandon vulnerable populations and leave them little access to healthcare, education, or social services.

Program Info

Location: 
  • Costa Rica
Volunteer Types: 
Arts
Health
Sexual Health
Disabled Care
Elderly Care
Medical
Childcare
Orphan Care
Community Development
Education
Service Learning
Teaching
Program Length: 
1-2 weeks
2-4 weeks
1-3 months
Cost: 
See site for details.
See More
Age Group: 
14-18
18-22
22-35
50+
Cost Description: 

What You Get For The Fee -
Professional staff of local nationals, lodging, language lessons, personalized volunteer assignment, meals, local phone calls and international incoming phone service, comprehensive travel medical insurance, a toll-free emergency hotline to the U.S., ground transportation, free online language lessons prior to departure, in-country cultural activities.

Languages: 
English
Spanish
Housing: 
Volunteer House
Travel: 
Participants travel to the program independently (not in a group with other participants).
Some travel is required during the program.
Application: 
Online Application
Health Requirement
Other

Videos

Program Reviews (21)

92%
Positive
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  • Impact
    87%
  • Support
    91%
  • Fun
    88%
  • Value
    91%
  • Safety
    99%
  • Mary Wozencraft
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Chicago, Illinois
    Knox College
    Amazing Experience
    02/21/2015

    This was hands down the best experience, so far, in my life. I decided to take a break from school and my parents suggested to me, going to Costa Rica for 3 months with CCS. I am so happy I did, I have taken away and learned so much from my time spent there. I spent time at a nursing home, special education school and a daycare. At each placement I felt very useful, each place was understaffed so they really needed the extra set of hands to help provide more attention to the kids or residents. A typical day started at about 7, which is when breakfast was served, we left home base at about 7:30 to drop everyone off at placements. At placement it depended what you did on a day to day basis, at the daycare I would prepare about 4 or 5 activities for the kids, usually trying to work on skills like counting, colors, and some English. At the nursing home the day began with feeding the residents who needed help and then helping with laundry or therapy, and at the special education school I was placed with a teacher and would help her manage the classroom and do projects. We usually were picked up from placements between 12-12:30, and once we got home we were welcomed by a wonderful meal. After lunch, depending on the day we would either have free time, dance class, Spanish class, cooking class, a field trip or sometimes a guest speaker. None of these cultural experiences were required, besides the Spanish class, however, I would highly recommend them. All the activities were very fun and I learned a lot from each activity. Dinner was served at 6 every night, and the food was always amazing. Bernardita, the cook, is an amazing cook and if you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, or simply do not like something, she will accommodate you. After dinner we usually had free time, we did have Spanish class two nights a week, but only for 30-40 minutes. On the weekends we were free to travel, getting around Costa Rica is very easy, you can take a bus most places for cheap, and the staff was happy to help us figure out where to find bus schedules and any other information we needed. Overall, this program was more than I could have ever imagined it would be, I met the nicest and most amazing people and had so many wonderful experiences. The money you spend is worth every penny, personally it confirmed what career I wanted to pursue and taught me so much about myself and the world I live in.

    How could this program be improved?

    Better preparation for before you enter the country.

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  • Vicki Krogstrand
    Age: 51 or older
    Female
    Firth, Idaho
    South Dakota State University
    Cartago, Costa Rica Experience with CCS
    02/16/2015

    I volunteered with Cross Cultural Solutions in Cartago, Costa Rica. My placement was at an Adult Day Care. It was a very rewarding experience. This placement allowed me to both offer service & immerse myself into the Costa Rican culture. I planned activities for the people as there was minimal staff and materials at the Center.

    The CCS staff was amazing. They were both efficient & helpful. They planned learning opportunities: cooking classes, Spanish classes, field trips, dance classes, etc.

    I would recommend this opportunity to anyone who is looking for a positive, service adventure.

    How could this program be improved?

    More Spanish classes - I had average Spanish language skills & would have liked to be more fluent

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  • Luis Icaza
    Age: 51 or older
    Male
    Antofagasta. Chile
    Luis Icaza
    01/05/2015

    It's a great opportunity to contribuye our time and skill to get to achieve a better quality of lifes for Many who need our serviles. This is an invaluable emocional return that help us to be better every day people. This is a great opportunity to meet other volunteers from differents countries who the same desires, dreams and aspirations that i have. No matter the potencial barriers of lenguage, culture or traditions. In the world there are many people willing to give the Best of each to help tose in need. This revitalizes and helps us to keep hope to achieve trough the action one more dignified, more caring, more just world for all. A world getting better.

    How could this program be improved?

    Everythings is prepared for inglish speakers. It is important to do well in spanish. Many volunteers do not speak inglish.

    Photos:
    Lilly team November 2014 in Cartago, Costa Rica with a member of local CCS.
    Lilly team November 2014. Cartago. Costa Rica
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  • Marcela Gutiérrez
    Age: 31-50
    Female
    Mexico City
    Other
    Costa Rica - Manos de Jesús Nursery
    12/22/2014

    The program was so good that I just want to go back!
    I helped in the Manos de Jesus Nursery with the elderly.
    A day to day experience was to help in the kitchen or in the laundry or the theraphists to let people feel better.
    Just smiling make others smile!!

    How could this program be improved?

    Make the new volunteers know basic Spanish before they go to their assignments.

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  • Aser
    Age: 18 or younger
    Male
    London
    Great!
    11/12/2014

    I had an great time in Costa Rica with them, truly. I just think that this program could have a bit more you know? I would really love more volunteer hours because in my opinion we just didn't get enough! however the advent was great and i had an amaze time.

    How could this program be improved?

    More volunteer time!!

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  • Leo Rose Reich
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Seattle, Washington
    Pura Vida, Costa Rica!
    11/11/2014

    Traveling to another country - especially one that speaks a language that you, I, no... we aren't familiar with - feels scary. This is the beauty of a voluntourism organization; voluntourism allowed me to get a sense of what it is like to be in a foreign land, while still remaining in a (semi) familiar community. At the end of the day, my experience in Costa Rica reflects something much different than what an actual Tican goes through day to day. Which is fine; even a small exposure to a new way of doing things profoundly affected me. And that is what the "Cross - Cultural Solutions" is all about: taking people who know one way of existing and baring them to some other people who know another way of existing. Cross - Cultural Solutions facilitated this interaction between different modes of existence as well as a non-profit organization could/would/should. Which is to say they did fine. Even, great! The all inclusive room and board was comfy and authentically delicious. The climate of the house that I lived in felt safe - both physically and socially. Advertised as "cross cultural lessons," the Spanish and dance lessons felt more like after school specials for a middle schooler than life altering cultural exchanges - but whatever, I still knew Spanish a whole hell of a lot better by the time I got back stateside. For around $5,000, it was worth it. Will I ever do a month of voluntourism again? Doubtful; I think a more DIY approach is for me. All of that said, Cross-Cultural Solutions, establishing structure, rules, and presence in the local community, gave me the courage to consider a more DIY travel option in the future; CCS (and other voluntourism entities by extension) is like travel training wheels - so, so helpful.

    How could this program be improved?

    I would provide bicycles to the residents.

    Photos:
    Mt. Arenal
    Average town street in Ciudad Quesada.
    Just a glimpse into the gorgeous and rolling hills that make up the Costa Rican countryside.
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  • Melissa MacIver
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Canada
    I learned the true meaning of "Pura Vida"
    11/10/2014

    In May of 2014 I had the most amazing and inspirational experience of my life. When I first arrived in Costa Rica, I had never traveled on my own, and all of the nerves and stresses I had before I arrived were totally worth it. The staff at the Cartago location made me feel welcome and I never questioned my safety. Everything was amazing from the food, people, language, activities, and even the bunk beds which became my home for a short two weeks. During my free time I explored the city with fellow volunteers and even had the chance to travel to the Caribbean side of the country which took my breath away. From bike riding to hidden beaches to eating the amazing local food at small cafes, I felt totally immersed in the Costa Rican culture. Now for the most important part of my trip; volunteering. I worked at a small orphanage in Cartago and fell in love with every single child I spent time with. Despite the language barrier, we made crafts together, played games, and sang songs. I bonded with each of them in a different way and I can only hope that I had at least half the impact on their lives as they had on mine. I would recommend this program to anyone interested in travelling while doing something good for those who are less privileged. You will not regret it!

    How could this program be improved?

    I would not change anything about this program accept for the possibility of lowering the cost as it is a bit high compared to some of the other volunteer organizations I had researched. Although it was worth every penny, I struggled to save and fund raise for my program fee.

    Photos:
    Puerto Viejo
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  • Andrea
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    New Jersey
    Colgate University
    Great Experience
    10/31/2014

    I stayed in a house for my month-long stay. I worked in a local elementary school for my internship. While it was very enjoyable, volunteers should be aware of cultural differences. The school was often closed on random days for no reason, making it hard to make a lot of progress through lessons. There wasn't a lot of prep on how to teach a class, so having previous experience, like I did, is helpful. Everyone we worked with was amazing and helpful and friendly. The people that I met during my stay were also great, and we traveled together on weekends to sight-see. There was a little bit of a divide between people that stayed a month or longer and people that were only there a week or two, but overall everyone was very friendly. It was pricey, the only downfall. You pay a lot to volunteer your time, although much of this likely covers the cost of your stay at the house and food (which was delicious!). Overall I loved Costa Rica!

    How could this program be improved?

    Cultural preparation for those not familiar with Costa Rican culture/Price

    Photos:
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  • Alyssa Cody
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Lincoln, NE
    University of Nebraska- Lincoln
    An Experience Worth Reliving
    06/27/2014

    My day in Costa Rica began very early with a good breakfast and preparations to volunteer that day. We'd make about a 45 minute drive to take everyone to their locations, and I would arrive at the elementary school I was placed at. I typically started the day doing various maintenance work around the school. The teachers were responsible for doing everything for the school on their own time with no pay, so this was very helpful to them. Then I would play with the kids at every recess time (my favorite part) and assist in a few English classes throughout the day. I taught kids from kindergarten through 6th grade. It was very helpful to me that I was able to speak Spanish and communicate with them through both languages. The kids left school in the early afternoon, so that concluded our volunteering for the day. I returned to the home base for lunch with the other volunteers. Typically the rest of the day was usually spent in a cultural class, an expedition of the country, or relaxing in the hammock with a cup of tea. Every moment was perfect.

    How could this program be improved?

    I would have spent more time volunteering. I realize the students had short school days, but I would have liked to have been assigned another job for a few evenings.

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  • Agabinet
    Age: 51 or older
    Male
    Providence, Hode Island
    Swarthmore College
    Eye opening trip
    11/23/2013

    I led a corporate volunteer team that worked at El Pueblito orphanage. I have supported charitable work before with dollars, but never with my time. It was an eye opening experience, we prepared lots in advance, but as the CCS staff advised, as helpful as the preparation was, the thing we needed was the willingness to abandon plans and go with the flow, the children and the institution staff really guided our activities and directed us to what was needed. Despite their difficult circumstances the children were, in some ways, like any children anywhere, adorable, difficult, attentive and rebellious in turns. We were a curiousity at first, and by the end of the week, a part of their routine. Saying goodbye was hard. CCS does a great job advising, guiding, organizing and providing cultural education.

    How could this program be improved?

    More work time.

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  • Keith
    Age: 51 or older
    Male
    Ontario California
    The Best Idea Ever
    10/27/2013

    I found Cross Cultural Solutions while trying to find a meaningful way to be part of the solution. I wasn't entirely sure if I had anything to offer, and I wasn't sure if I would fit in. The staff assured me that everything would be fine and they would find a placement for me.
    From the moment I stepped out of the airport to meet some of the other volunteers and our ride I felt welcome and comfortable. The home base was filled with great volunteers and great staff. The whole experience was so much better than I anticipated, that I can't rate it high enough to describe my opinion.
    My placement was perfect for me in spite of the fact that my Spanish wasn't as great as I'd hoped. My language skills had been one of my biggest concerns, but everything worked out ok.I was working in the HIV hospice and the staff found a way to use me effectively. The residents were very accepting and friendly and I made a few friends quickly among them.
    I had only one weekend to enjoy the surrounding country with fellow volunteers, but due to their expert organizing we made the most of it and had a great time.
    This was truly the best idea I've ever had and I intend to continue volunteering as a result of this experience.

    How could this program be improved?

    I honestly can't think of anything to change. My experience was outstanding in every way.

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  • lharmon
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    United States
    Hartwick College
    My project exceeded my every expectation!
    05/23/2013

    My project exceeded my every expectation - this was without a doubt the single greatest experience of my twenty-somethings!

    The Home-Base and staff me feel so at home from the moment I got there. They are such an incredible group of people - and it was remarkable getting to know them. Plus, the food was to die for!

    My volunteer placement was working at a home for children - very similar to what we might associate as an orphanage. It was run by nuns who did a remarkable job keeping things together but it really have the time to really dive into playtime and really work one-on-one with the kids. That were my group stepped in. I was only there for a week (wish I could have stayed longer) but even within that time we painted, made a mosaic, played games, made necklaces, and made a connection. Plus we in the mid-afternoons sowed pillows to leave once we were gone.

    I went to Guatemala during the time of Day of the Dead; they do this huge festival were everyone comes into the cemetery and repaints and fly kites. The concept is that the kites build a colorful border to keep the evil spirits out. The staff took us the night before to a man within the community to see how he makes his kites which opened my eyes to how much this celebration is all connected to their history and cultural identification. I would have never seen this side of the celebration if it wasn't for CCS.

    I have traveled with them before to Costa Rica and I plan to with them again soon. Where are you going to go?

    How could this program be improved?

    I should have stayed longer.

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  • mharmon
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    United States
    Other
    Amazing - Life Changing
    05/04/2012

    There are no words that describe the effect my CCS program had on me. I went during college; taking a semester and needed a program that gave me the flexibility to experience the culture on my own but who also helped me to foster a relationship with the community.
    I went to Costa Rica, and worked in a day care center where I was able to help with the day to day activities as well as paint a mural with the children. The day to day work wasn't a job that seemed as if you were making an impact, but the fact is that by having me a volunteer that allowed the one staff member time to concentrate on improvements. With more assistance, such as myself she was able to cook healthier food and clean more, since she wouldn't be chasing them all over the place. (and I won't lie that running helped me keep off all the AMAZING food I was eating).

    My experience totally changed my life, from my experience I fell in love with volunteering! I graduated college and then joined AmeriCorps! Thanks CCS for such an incredible experience.

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  • Tess5254
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Denton, TX
    University of North Texas
    An Amazing Experience
    05/04/2012

    I had to opportunity to intern abroad in San Carlos, Costa Rica and it was the most amazing experience in my life. As an Intern, you have the chance to earn school credit and travel to a foreign country to gain hands on experience in your profession of choice. What could be better than that!! When I first arrived, the staff promptly and properly greeted me at the airport. A plus!! The staff was very organized and friendly. (They spoke English but would practice Spanish with you if you wanted). A Plus!! Also, food was ready for me to eat!!! A Plus. Being an intern is different then just being a volunteer. As an intern, there are goals that you must meet with your professor as well as goals to meet with CCS. A staff member would meet with me one on one and help me discuss what I wanted to benefit from this experience. We came up with a list of goals that I had to accomplish each week and activities that I had to do each week as well. So not only do you volunteer at your placements but you also have the chance to immerse yourself in the community.
    This was a daily schedule for me.
    Wake up and get ready (includes eating)- 7-8
    Volunteer placement- 8-11:30
    Lunch- 12-1
    Tuesday and Thursday cultural activities- visit a dairy farm, visit a cocoa plantation, Volcano etc
    Monday, Wednesday- 3-4 Spanish Classes *for those that know Spanish they had free time or plan a trip for that day
    Free time- After 4 (gym, stores, dance classes, etc)
    Weekends- Surfing in Jaco, La Fortuna etc.
    I loved the flexibility of this program. They never forced us to do anything and they were open to suggestions and ideas for trips.

    Back to Interning, the staff does not just place you in a volunteer setting and you have to fend for yourself. They stay with you until you are comfortable. They introduce you and help them get to know you (especially if you don't speak Spanish). Being an intern sets you apart from just volunteering, it becomes a second home to you. *If you are not comfortable with your placement, the staff will help you, no biggie. I interned at a nursing home and special education school. I was going to school to be a physical therapist. They allowed me build rapport with the patients so they listened to what I had to say. I loved it. The freedom to help patients hands on that speak a completely different language than me!! It was a thrill. The food is amazing, the staff is friendly and organized, and the placements helped me figure out what I wanted to do in life. This experience has given me a different perspective on life and how I have the ability to help people in the U.S and even in San Carlos one day. I would not trade this experience for the world.

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  • kbejk
    Age: 51 or older
    Female
    NY
    Other
    Family of 5 Volunteers Together
    05/03/2012

    Imagine a 60+Dad, 50+Mom, 20, 18 and 14 year old kids working and living together for a solid week! It was our family's volunteer experience of a life time. The idea of doing something positive, together made this family vacation a most special memory.

    Our assignment with a group of seven others, was to paint an orphanage for young boys temporarily removed from problematic family situations in a rural area of Costa Rica. Of course, the painting was interspersed with impromptu soccer games, guitar music and lots of hugs from the little ones.

    The CCS base house, with its caring and warm staff helped us feel right at home at the end of each volunteer afternoon of work. We enjoyed many activities with the other volunteers-- exploring the town of San Carlos,evening at the hot springs, a farm and local family visit and of course, Spanish lessons and dancing.

    Our CCS cooks prepared the freshest of food with many colorful local fruits and vegetables from the markets. It was a wonderful week and one that our family will long remember.

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Alumni Interviews

  • Why did you decide to enroll with Cross Cultural Solutions in Costa Rica?

    Children of the school
    Children of the school

    Alyssa: I decided to enroll with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) in Costa Rica because I had completed a service trip a year prior through YUDA Bands, and I wanted to make an impact again.

    Through very thorough research, I found that CCS offered everything I was looking for in a service abroad program. It was flexible in timing, which was necessary as I am a student.

    They were also very helpful in funding my trip, with fundraising tips, extending my deadlines, and offering me a scholarship. Most importantly, CCS was safe and reputable, which was significant to me as a teenage girl traveling abroad alone.

    Do you feel like you made a significant impact on the local community? Why or why not?

    Alyssa: I was only able to stay in Costa Rica for a week, so I doubt my efforts in that short of a time made a lasting impact on the school and students I volunteered with.

    However, I know that each day that I spent at that school made a difference in those teachers and students' days, which I think is still significant. Those teachers were highly understaffed and discouraged from not being able to spend enough time with each student.

    During my time there, I was able to work on fixing the school gates, a job the teachers would've had to do on their own time, which gave them more time to teach their students. I was able to spend extra time focusing on a troubled student so the teacher could spend tend to the rest of the class.

    I was able to keep the kids entertained at recess so the teachers could have a moment to breathe. I know these things made their lives a little easier that day, and the students' school day a little more meaningful. I believe that is significant.

    What did you wish you knew before going to Costa Rica?

    Making new friends in Costa Rica
    Making new friends in Costa Rica

    Alyssa: I felt very well prepared going to Costa Rica.

    CCS has their volunteers go through several training sessions that cover the basis of everything you need to know, from the program specificities to the Costa Rican culture and volunteer placements.

    They even have you virtually meet other volunteers traveling at the same time as you. Your Program Site Specialist quickly answered any question you may have had before your trip.

    I also found that the program was very transparent about everything you should expect from them and the country.

    Because I had traveled to Guatemala the year before, I felt comfortable with the language, transportation system, and other cultural aspects of Costa Rica.

    There isn't anything that stands out to me that I wish I had known before taking my trip.

    Tell me about one person you met.

    Volunteering with children in Costa Rica
    Volunteering with children in Costa Rica

    Alyssa: Traveling alone to Costa Rica, I was very unsure about the people I would meet while I was there, going in with low expectations.

    However, as I waited at the airport for the other volunteers to arrive, I found that I connected quickly with four other volunteers who were girls around my age. They came from California, Texas, New Jersey, and Delaware.

    We became close almost instantly. It's amazing how a foreign experience can bond complete strangers. Throughout our trip, we volunteered together, explored together, shared stories, and took excursions together.

    I learned so much from those girls in such a short amount of time. I found how easy it is to befriend others who have the common passion of volunteer abroad. I still keep in touch with some of them, but even those who I don't, I will never forget.

    There is an indescribable value in forming connections with people from different parts of the world with entirely different backgrounds in the name of a positive cause; it is a lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

    What was the best moment of the entire trip?

    Alyssa: The best moment of the entire trip was my first day volunteering at the elementary school. I had a few butterflies in my stomach before hopping out of the van, not sure if I had what it took to make an impact at this elementary school.

    We arrived just in time for recess, and right away a sweet little boy in Kindergarten ran up to me with no reservations, grabbed my hand, and pulled me along for an adventure. The rest of the week he was attached at my hip, ordering me to give him piggyback rides and insisting that I admire the cool leaves he picked from the tree.

    In class, I got to teach him English and during recess he helped me (somewhat impatiently) with my Spanish. We brought each other so much joy throughout that week, and for me, it will always come back to that initial moment when he grabbed my hand.

  • OppenheimerFunds Team in Cartago
    OppenheimerFunds Team in Cartago

    What led you to choose Cross-Cultural Solutions' program in Costa Rica?

    Ari: CCS was selected by my company as its partner for our Volunteer program. WE chose CCS because it has a good reputation of working with organizations and of being very structured as to volunteer safety, selection of needy organizations, and providing meaningful experiences.

    What was your favorite moment of the trip?

    Ari: Making paracord bracelets with a ten or eleven year old at the orphanage, and watching him interpret the English instructions in the book more skillfully than I did, even though he didn't speak English -- he produced bracelets for lots of the kids.

    Making paracord bracelets
    Making paracord bracelets

    What did you find most surprising about your experience?

    Ari: The generosity of people who had so little, their willingness to share what little they had as gestures of friendship and appreciation for what we did for them.

    If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?

    Ari: Try to arrange a program where I got to do more work, as our time was split between work and cultural immersion. I would also learn more Spanish and be more language proficient next time.

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Ari: It actually makes me want to volunteer more. I realize that I don't have to go overseas to find people in need, but the combination of cultural and language challenges with the work was really rewarding.

  • Volunteering with the elderly in Costa Rica
    Denise volunteered with the elderly in Costa Rica

    Why did you decide to volunteer with CCS in Costa Rica?

    Denise: At the age of 41, after 13 years in a corporate job, I was down-sized and wondering "now what". I was part of the first wave of "gappers" - displaced employees wondering how to restart their career in a down market. I realized this was finally my opportunity to re-group, take a breath, and do the volunteer work that my job always made impossible.

    Searching for local volunteer opportunities on VolunteerMatch, I ran across a listing for CCS programs. Volunteering abroad seemed like the perfect combination of "service" and "vacation" that could help redirect my restless soul. I had always wanted to go to Costa Rica, as well as some of the other CCS locations listed. In the end, I chose the location based upon the timing, availability, and ease of getting to Costa Rica with direct flights from my home in Pennsylvania.

    The CCS staff was extremely helpful in streamlining the registration process. I had a counselor available for questions - who actually spent time with me on the phone. And I was offered the opportunity to connect with former volunteers via phone to truly prepare myself for what was to come. We were also given lists of other volunteers who would be joining the program at the same time. I was a little daunted to see that I was among the oldest of the volunteers - which ultimately was irrelevant. Volunteering requires a mind-set, not an age - and success comes with an open heart and a willingness to share.

    Describe your living conditions as a volunteer.

    Denise: Upon arrival at our CCS "house", it turns out that much of the staff spoke only Spanish, and many of the volunteers spoke only English. We enjoyed some comical "charades" learning to communicate with one another, which was actually a great ice-breaker. The rooms were small, dorm-style with 6 bunk beds per room and a shared bathroom. Hot water is almost non-existent, and really a non-issue in the muggy air. The food is simple, hearty meals, made of local fresh ingredients. I wish the cook spoke English as I would have loved to learn more about her cooking.

    Describe your daily activities as a volunteer.

    Denise: We woke up at 6:30, had breakfast at 7:30 and headed to our "placement" - a short walk - by 8:15. My task - spending time at a local nursing home run by nuns. Our job was to spend the next 4 hours coaxing the seniors into the community room and getting them "active". I, and the 2 other assigned volunteers, would enter each morning and start setting up the community room. We would get a large group of regulars who wanted take advantage of contact with the outside world, and the opportunity to interact with people who were dedicated to filling their time.

    Getting Personal: From about 8:45 to 9:30 we do exercises or calisthenics to music (generally a cumbia CD playing in the background). I struggled over the course of 2 weeks to add more and more Spanish words so that I could describe the motions I wanted them to follow (las olas! as I wave my hands over my head). The seniors found my efforts amusing. We then moved on to other activities like playing a round robin game of ball - passing back and forth to those in wheelchairs, a balloon toss, bowling (in which I did the equivalent of 1000 lunges a day resetting the pins as they knocked them over). We created new games , and took a few seniors outside for more strenuous games of ball when possible.

    Volunteering in Costa Rica with CCS
    The CCS volunteer house in Costa Rica

    At 11:30 they headed to lunch and we cleaned up from our first round of activities. At about 12:00, some would drift back in for quieter activities like painting or bingo. This is where I learned to count to 100 in Spanish calling bingo numbers! We also created some paper crowns to honor our "reine or reina" (bingo King or Queen) for each round so that there was some visual reward for playing (mini bragging rights!).

    Around 12:30 we cleaned up and headed back to our house amid hugs and kisses from our new "friends" who tell us to "go with god" and offer wishes for our good health. We head back to the home base for lunch and the rest of the day is ours. Some days an activity is planned for us - a trip to an organic farm, a Spanish lesson, a trip to a coffee plantation - or we can wander the town, go to the local markets (for our own private stash of after hour snacks), visit an internet cafe to communicate with friends and family, but mostly we take the time to chill with other volunteers, talk and get to know each other.

    Dinner is at 5:30, and once a week there is an evening dance class to teach us local dances like cumbia. Many volunteers brought musical instruments and we listened to them play as we played cards, wrote letters, etc... My one free weekend, I and a group of 11 other volunteers rented a van and driver and headed 4 hours north for a weekend at the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The younger crew stayed in hostels, the rest of us treated ourselves to hotel rooms with our own bathrooms/showers, and we explored the area. Ziplines, canopy tours, flora, fauna, dinner and relaxation.

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Denise: After arriving home, for the first week I would find myself looking at the clock, subtracting 2 hours, and wondering what the other volunteers, who were still there, were doing. "Gee, it's 8:30, Jennifer must be in the middle of calisthenics - I wonder if Benedicto came to participate?" Being bombarded by newspapers, tv, and phones after 2 weeks of isolation was disorienting.

    On the other hand, after 2 weeks in Puriscal, I also had a new view of life. Having spent time with another volunteer that was an ESL instructor in Canada, I found a new passion as a volunteer ESL tutor in the US, which I pursued for 2 years after my return until a new job schedule intruded. My last student passed her citizenship test and I couldn't have been more proud! I probably would never have developed that passion had it not been for my CCS experience.

    As I go back to my journal from my time in Puriscal, I find that I wrote the following: "What did I learn? I learned that I am an amazing person; that I can rise to the occasion; that I have insecurities - but I don't need to be defined by them. Whatever new job comes along will be wonderful if I want it to be. And in many ways I wouldn't start over again even if I could. I just need to move forward the way I want things to be. Find love, be happy and live life to the fullest..."

    If you've been a volunteer, you'll never forget the experience. And if you are just thinking about volunteering - stop thinking. Just do it.

About the provider

The Cross-Cultural Solutions Volunteer Abroad experience allows students and travelers to gain valuable experience overseas while working side by side with local individuals and communities to make an impact.

Since 1995, over 35,000 people have volunteered with Cross-Cultural Solutions, providing meaningful and sustainable volunteer services to international communities, and contributing responsibly to local economies.

Volunteers gain valuable experience working in areas such as education, healthcare, and social services. Visit the Cross-Cultural Solutions website to learn more about how we're changing everything.