Why did you choose this program?
I choose Putney's Community Service Costa Rica program because it sounded like the best combination of the things I was looking for.
I wanted a program that provided an active and interactive experience with the community we were in, and Costa Rica and a few other programs fit that description. However, Putney offered the chance to play sports with the local children, sleep in their homes and get to know the natives on a personal level, rewarding community service work and so much more.
Not only did they make the time in the village sound special, but they also offered other activities outside the village in addition to the village. Whitewater rafting and horseback riding were activities that I had not experienced but had always wanted to try, and I was able to do both in Costa Rica.
With a lot of exciting opportunities in the Community Service Costa Rica program, I decided that it was the program for me. Thinking back on it now, it not only hit everything on my checklist, it excelled in every area.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Putney helped me time my flight to Miami (which is where a majority of the group were meeting) so that I'd arrive at the designated time at the lowest price. They had found a few different options for me to take and recommended me to choose the best flight.
Once we were in Miami, Putney took care of the rest. They also gave us an extensive list of items that were recommended for the trip. Of course, we made our own decision in choosing what to get, what wasn't necessary, etc. but the list was super helpful in general.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Learn a bit of Spanish! The primary language of Costa Rica is Spanish, and not a lot of English is spoken. If you know some Spanish, you'll be able to connect and talk to the locals on a personal level, and they greatly appreciate when you try and speak Spanish.
However, this doesn't mean you won't have a great time if you only know English. In fact, a majority of the people I went with knew no Spanish at all, and they still had a great time! They either had to play charades to communicate what they were saying, or ask someone to translate for them.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
6:30 am: Wake up. If you are the designated leader of the day, you wake up at 6:00 to help prepare breakfast.
7:00 am: Breakfast. Traditional breakfasts were prepared by student leaders and the village, which were so tasty.
8:00 am: Begin work. This is the community service you complete in the village which could be mixing and placing cement, digging, building, etc., whatever projects the village has prepared is what you will help with.
10:30 am - 10:45 am: Brief fruit break. If one group needed more students to help work on a project, some students would transfer to said project.
10:45 am: Continue Work.
12:30 pm: Lunch. Fantastic food prepared by the village.
1:30 pm: Continue work and/or have free time. If the weather was bad, then work was canceled for the rest of the day and we were given free time. Work ended at 3 pm. Our free time was spent talking to the villagers, playing sports, helping prepare dinner, working on independent projects, etc.
6:00 pm: Dinner. More great food, nothing to complain about.
7:00 pm: Relax. We return to our sleeping area and hang out with the members of our student group, playing cards, talking and so on.
8:00 pm: Group meeting. Talk the day through with the leaders, who give their input for the day. They might suggest what the group could do better, or highlight an individual for an action. Other than that, they talk about the day tomorrow and what to expect. Once the meeting is over, everyone starts getting ready for bed: shower, brushing teeth, etc.
9:00 pm: Lights out. 9:00 is the specified bed time for everyone, but a majority of people go to bed as soon as the group meeting is over.
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 the food. Before I came to Costa Rica, I was a very picky eater. There were just a lot of foods I did not like (I wasn't allergic to anything, just didn't like the taste), so I thought once I got to Costa Rica, I would live on rice for the next three weeks.
That was not the case. Once I tried the food, I couldn't stop eating. The food was absolutely fantastic and I often asked for seconds (and occasionally thirds, that's how good the food was!). By the end of the trip, I missed the food the village made, it's just completely different from what's offered in America.
Is Costa Rica dangerous?
I know this question is for the parents who might worry themselves when their child is away and the answer is simple: No.
Putney always took us to the safest parts of Costa Rica so the safety of a child is never threatened. However the most worrying parts of the trip are: insects, theft and injury.
The group is in the middle of the forest in Costa Rica, there are a lot of insects always around so bring repellent! Occasionally we travel to places (such as the beach) where things might get stolen. As long as you are smart (like don't leave an iPhone X sitting around), nothing will get lost. Also, our group put all of our belongings in one place and had a few people watching over our stuff to further prevent theft.
Injury is also a minor concern. If anything goes wrong, the leaders can take you to a hospital and care for you but this is rare. You might be sore after work or have a blister, but that's about the extent of an 'injury.'