Alumni Spotlight: Louisa Hawkes

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Projects Abroad in Costa Rica?

Louisa: I once sat in a lecture and heard about this amazing place called Costa Rica. Costa Rica is the most biologically diverse country in the world and has an amazing range of wildlife which include over 400 species of butterflies, snakes, turtles, sloths and a whole lot more. Having a Biology degree majoring in Environmental Studies I dreamed of seeing this place for myself and being able to contribute with the skills I had learnt. I looked at many organisations in Costa Rica but liked the structured programmes that Projects Abroad had running and the diverse range of activities they offered.

What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?

Louisa: Living in the middle of an amazing rain forest in Costa Rica was definitely a unique experience; coming across things like Boa Constrictor snakes and Bats on a weekly basis was awesome.

Louisa volunteering at a school in Costa Rica with Projects Abroad

I also spent a month on the teaching programme. My most enjoyable time was living with my host family. I learnt to appreciate football and was included in the family day to day life. My host father taught me to make a few Costa Rican dishes including civiche and every Friday the family and I went out for "cono pizza" which was amazing! In Liberia, I got to know some other like minded volunteers and we had some great weekend trips away, we also hung out during the week and went to the movies every Tuesday. I taught at a little country school which was 80 minutes away from home so I enjoyed the adventure of getting to work.

One weekend I went to the local national park and took part in a parents environmental workshop. I had the time of my life! I got to hang out with 30 parents from local schools and explore 'behind the scenes' in the national park as well as take part in lectures and workshops on environmental issues facing Costa Rica. This was a big treat for the parents as they lived in a very poor region and couldn't really afford to go to the national park even though it was just outside their city.

Louisa got to handle snakes while volunteering in Costa Rica

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

Louisa: I went to Costa Rica only knowing how to say about 5 words in Spanish. After living with my host family who spoke very little English I came away with a pretty good understanding of Spanish which I was stoked about! Professionally I have learnt skills that I would be unable to learn in New Zealand (snake handling!). I keep in touch on a weekly basis with one of the other volunteers I met.