Alumni Spotlight: Jenny Sainsbury

A teacher from the UK, taking a year off to travel in the US, Canada, Central and South America.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program by accident: I was originally looking for placements across the Christmas period in Colombia but was unable to make the dates and the possible projects match up. The team at IVHQ transferred me to their Costa Rican link at Maximo Nivel and I am so glad they did!

I chose childcare in particular because it linked with my profession back home as a teacher, and also I knew I would be there around the Christmas period and thought it would be lovely to spend this time with children.

What did your program provider you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The provider I used was IVHQ who do the organizing for you in terms of liaising with the program in Costa Rica, Maximo Nivel. I only had to provide my travel insurance details and a background security check. Everything else from airport transportation, accommodation, orientation at the project, links with travel/tour agencies, opportunities at the Maximo office such as Spanish conversation sessions and salsa classes were arranged for me! It made everything so easy and I was, therefore able to relax and enjoy my project even more.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Make sure you’ve got some basic phrases in the country’s language - in my case, Spanish. This goes a long way in terms of practicality (getting around a city), politeness (greeting your host and the people you’re working with), and allows you to actually get involved in your project even more. My project was in childcare, so some relevant phrases/vocab were really beneficial to allow me to communicate with, support and play with the children.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I went to the daycare center in the mornings, from 8.30-12.30. This meant leaving the house between 7-7.30 and catching two buses across town which, after having done it once or twice, was just like a normal commute.

At the daycare center, I followed their schedule: games and playing as they arrived, a snack of fruit or biscuits, games and activities for an hour in the classroom, running around in the play area upstairs, another hour of a more structured activity/craft project/game, more playing, good, brushing teeth, then saying goodbye until the next day.

I was at the project in the weeks leading up to Christmas so I also helped with a trip to the Children’s Museum, the Christmas party and I led a few Christmas-based games and activities...mainly getting covered in paint and/or glitter, but having a fantastic time with the kids at this lovely time of year!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

This project was part of a longer 6-month trip, so by the time I arrived in Costa Rica, I felt pretty prepared and used to traveling abroad. That said, I think this was mainly because by this point I had learned that to preempt any concerns about traveling abroad you simply need to be aware.

This means observing what’s around me and where I am (especially when moving between places), being aware of cultures and customs that are typical of each country, and being aware of whenever I felt uneasy or uncomfortable and then acting quickly to rectify it. This could be as simple as taking out earphones so you can hear announcements on the metro.

Can I explore the country as well as work in my project?

Yes. Unfortunately, I only had one weekend in Costa Rica due to my pre-arranged flights; however, as most of the time the projects are shift-based, you often have whole afternoons and weekends to explore nearby and further afield. Don’t be afraid to go by yourself to visit a different place for the weekend, but equally it’s great to go on trips and tours with other volunteers from your host home or your project.

Plan in advance some of the places you want to visit (and budget for it too!) so you don’t waste any time and you get to experience as many different sides to the country as possible.