Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with GLA in Costa Rica?
Isabelle: I chose to volunteer abroad with GLA in Costa Rica because out of all of the locations, for my first time traveling abroad Costa Rica seemed to be a safer option.
It is also fairly close compared to some of the trips offered in Africa and Asia. I chose my program after researching all of the ones in Central America because it seemed to focus more on the environment, and I wanted to learn more about that.
Even our service work had a conservation aspect to it because we were building a bio garden for a school. The bio garden helps to prevent grey water and it also reuses left over water for the garden part of it. I was very interested in that concept and I thought it would be fun to see how it came together.
My brother had gone on a GLA trip the previous summer, and he volunteered in Peru for three weeks. I heard a lot of great things about the program from him, about safety and fun actives along with rewarding service work.
One thing that was very important to me in deciding what program to pick was making sure I could be immersed in the culture. I had looked at other volunteer abroad programs but most of them seemed to be in more touristy areas.
The GLA base on my program was in a small town right off the beach. It was essential to know that I would actually be living how the locals do, and that I could feel like I was a part of the community.
Describe your day to day activities on the GLA Costa Rica program.
Isabelle: We could not jump immediately into our service work because it required some planning and research about what exactly we would be creating.
Once we got our plans figured out, service work was almost a daily activity. We had one or two off days where we learned how to surf or did another activity like hiking or snorkeling.
Our volunteer work took place in the morning and we would work until lunchtime and on most days after lunch we went back to the school to work. Some days in the afternoon we had other activities planned.
The last day of volunteer work, after we finished we went to the beach and were taught how to fish with just a line and a hook. Artisanal fishing is the only kind that was allowed because we were on a National Park that was protected.
Our main service work was building the biogarden for the local school. But we also did beach clean-ups, and trash clean-ups with GPS tracking. My group was very passionate about volunteering and we were occasionally able to sway our counselors and the local director to let us work longer.
It was very encouraging to be surrounded by people who had the same determination to help others. Our hard work did not go unnoticed.
What was the best moment of the trip?
Isabelle: One of my favorite memories from the trip was when we were working at the school and it started to pour. The twelve of us pleaded to stay longer so we would be able to finish the biogarden before the trip ended. We had a lot of work to do.
The most cumbersome job, collecting rocks, was all we were able to do in the rain. So everyone in my group started collecting rocks and putting them in the wheelbarrows.
Although normally it was not a fun task, the warm rain brought out an energy in everyone as we moved at rapid pace and began to sing songs. Cars that were driving by slowed down and stopped looking in awe as a group of teenagers were happily working.
Two children, a boy and girl, came over to where we were collecting the rocks and started to dance and laugh with us. The little boy went to the side of the road picked up a rock and placed it in the wheelbarrow. His face lit up, and everyone else's did too because we were able to really see how much we were impacting that small community.
All of the community members were so thankful for the work we were doing. A bracelet vendor gave us several free handmade bracelets and told us how appreciative he was of the work we were doing on the beach and in the school. It was heartwarming to see how much they cared about their town and keeping it safe.
There were endless great memories from the trip, including things like snorkeling and swimming with a sea turtle, being able to stand up on a surf board, hiking through waterfalls and zip-lining through the forests.
Another highlight of my trip was playing a soccer game against the locals. They were incredibly skilled and the whole group was scared going into it because only a few actually played soccer.
It was competitive but also exciting. Although language separated us the sport brought us together as we laughed over stumbles and missed kicks. It was truly an incredible experience.
Any tips for someone considering this program in the future?
Isabelle: For teenagers who are interested in this program and want to talk to their parents about it, I recommend contacting either a GLA advisor or one of the ambassadors, like myself.
They have information that can answer almost all your questions. I've been in contact with several perspective students.
Before I applied, I also spoke to ambassadors. It is very helpful to talk to people who have been on a trip because they can share more information than the website might give you.
It's natural for parents to worry when they send their child abroad so I think for parents, talking to the parent of someone who went can be very helpful as well.
Global Leadership Adventures is a very safe program and there are many unique features that make it more appealing for parents. There is a daily blog so parents can keep track of what they're doing, the bases are all very safe and only include the people on the trip, students are never allowed to go places by themselves, and all transportation is safe as well.
I think reading the website and learning about the program more in depth is helpful. This is a great opportunity and a life-changing experience. I really recommend this program.