Alumni Spotlight: Emily Gurney

Emily is a sophomore mathematics major with a love of adventuring and helping others! In January 2021, she did the IVHQ-Costa Rica Childcare Project.

Why did you choose this program?

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, my University had an extended winter break, and I was stuck wondering what I was going to do with the extra few weeks of break I had. My mom encouraged me to find something to push myself out of my comfort zone and use my break to make a difference. After a quick Google search, I found IVHQ, and did a bit more research into safety (especially regarding health) and program specifics - the affordable fees and timely communication from my Program Manager also influenced my decision.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

IVHQ has a volunteer portal that essentially lists out all the different required steps, from paying fees, arranging air travel and pickup, background checks, and more. While your registration fee covers access to this, your program fee covers accommodations, breakfast and dinners, volunteer fees, and airport pick-up. That said, IVHQ volunteers are required to pay for airplane tickets, most lunches (as you'll be away from your host family), background check fees, and international insurance.

Another big thing IVHQ volunteers should keep in mind is that on most programs, you're also responsible for organizing your own transportation back to the airport from your host family.

I was so pleased with the timely communication from my program Manager, from the time I applied to the time I got back home, for being so timely with responses to any questions I had. The local team, Máximo Nivel, was also great with answering any questions I had while in country and providing any support I needed.

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

It's so easy when you're looking forward to doing a program like IVHQ to build up all these expectations of what your experience might look like. While my expectations were wildly exceeded in every way, I'd say the best way to do this program is to go in with the most open mind possible. Doing so gives you a growth mindset, and will allow you to not only remain flexible about how you can make the most impact on your volunteer project but also gives you the most potential for personal growth from your project.

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

During my program, I lived with a host family alongside up to 6 other volunteers. Every morning, we would all have breakfast together before taking the bus into town to the Máximo Nivel campus and take advantage of the free coffee, tea, and wifi, before taking our separate buses off to our separate projects. There was one other volunteer working on my project with me, which was super nice as a young female to not have to navigate a foreign city by myself.

At my project, I worked in a classroom with nine year olds, and helped with reading, gym class, playing games, and cleaning. I would work for about 4 hours before going back to the Maximo Nivel campus.

There, I would grab some lunch from a local restaurant (volunteers should expect to spend ~$5 USD on lunch) before taking a Spanish class at Maximo Nivel (an extra fee from your program fee)

After Spanish, some nights Maximo offered a free Salsa class or a free cooking class, so me and the other volunteers would go to these classes. And, after that, we would all go home for a lovely, home-cooked meal from our host mom.

Evenings after dinner were mostly filled by endless games of Uno and other various card games. It was so much fun having some friendly competition while unwinding from the day!

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 that this trip was not only my first trip abroad, but it was also my first solo trip. One of my biggest fears was feeling all alone in Costa Rica, especially knowing that not as many people were traveling.

But, once I arrived to my program, I realized I wasn't alone, and I very quickly became friends with some of the most awesome people I've ever met! By the end of my time in Costa Rica, it definitely didn't feel like I was solo travelling anymore. Everyone was so awesome, and we were able to go on some really neat excursions together around Costa Rica, including going to Irazú Volcano, Arenal Volcano, and Tortuga Island.

What was your favorite moment from the trip?

My favorite day was probably when me and five other volunteers went to Tortuga Island! We took a boat out to the island, and spent the day swimming around, relaxing, and enjoying the beauty of the island! At one point, the six of us decided to rent this banana boat we could all ride at the same time, which was a crazy experience but I'm so glad we did it!