Why did you choose this program?
I chose this program because I have always wanted to study abroad, but with being a student-athlete it is unrealistic to go away for an entire semester. I have always loved animals and travel so I decided volunteering abroad was the next best thing!
I chose Iko Poran's Costa Rica Sea Turtle Conservation program because it is very affordable and sounded like a fun way to help animals.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
My program advisor helped me prepare to travel to Costa Rica. Being a female and traveling abroad on my own, he helped me feel safe and comfortable to make the journey. He gave me clear and direct instructions of travel and assisting me along the way, what I would be doing in my program, and had a representative meet me at one location and bring me to my final destination.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
If I could give a piece of advice to someone going to the program, I would tell them to take advantage of every opportunity they get to experience the culture.
We were allowed quite a bit of free time and my favorite memory of the trip was going away for a weekend with a group of friends and doing excursions. The volunteering was fantastic, but the friends and memories I made will always be something I hold close to my heart.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
On an average day, you wake up and have breakfast with your host family, then the remainder of the day is basically free to hang out with other volunteers on the beach, as most of the volunteer work is done at night.
Each night you pick a four-hour shift to work between the times of 8am-12pm, 10am-2pm, and 12pm-4pm. During that time you, a few volunteers, and a counselor walk up and down the beach looking for turtles laying eggs and protecting them from poachers. If a turtle were to lay eggs, you collect them and then re-bury them in the boundaries of the program's own hatchery.
Doing this allows the program to not only keep the turtles and their eggs protected, but also to collect scientific data on the turtles.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was traveling alone. I'm a super outgoing person, and I feel completely comfortable traveling alone in the United States, but going to a country where I didn't know the language was scary to me. But, with Iko Poran's help and directions to get there, it wasn't bad at all!
Through my experience, I also found out that you can make connections with people and understand them even if you don't know their language. A lot of our counselors didn't speak much English, but through interpretation of hand gestures, mood, etc. it was easy to understand what they were trying to say and to have a conversation with them.
What did you take from your experience and would you recommend it to others?
Overall I highly recommend this program. I went to Costa Rica almost a year and a half ago at this point and I still keep in touch with friends I met while there.
Volunteering abroad is a great way to expand culturally, meet friends you would have never otherwise met, and create experiences that you will remember for a lifetime.
Also, I got to see four big green sea turtles (approx. 350 pounds), two leatherback baby turtle hatches (about 30 turtles per hatch), and learn about and protect another species. Last but not least, keep a journal. My mom recommended I do this and I really think it helped me remember my experience more by keeping note of the things I did on a daily basis!