Why did you pick this program?
When I was trying to decide what program to go through in order to volunteer over spring break, I based my decision off of reviews. My main priority was safety, and after lots of internet research, Projects Abroad was the most reputable.
Once I trusted that I would be safe, I liked what Projects Abroad offered - the chance to stay and learn from a host family, lots of interaction with kids, and the opportunity for free time.
What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?
This sounds trivial, but I wish I had been better prepared for the weather and climate. Coming from Seattle, any temperature over 65 seems extreme. I wish someone had given me advice to better prep for the change!
I now know to bring a water bottle, and it's super important to get the proper amount of sleep/rest!
What is the most important thing you learned abroad?
I learned how to communicate non-verbally. As a person who loves to travel but is awful at languages, that has always been a huge barrier for me. However, when I was working with 3 year olds who knew just about as much Spanish as I do, we had to figure out how to communicate in other ways.
One specific memory I have is when this little girl was running around the playground and she fell and hurt herself. She immediately began crying, and since I was unable to comfort her with words, I got down on her level and opened my arms, gesturing for a hug.
She ran over and embraced me, and within a matter of seconds, began to feel lots better. Moments like this one show how the language barrier can be overcome, and knowing how to do so has helped immensely with some of my other travels since.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
DO IT. There's no better way to grow as a person than putting yourself outside your comfort zone. Traveling, and specifically volunteering abroad, offers so much.
Not only do you learn a ton about another culture and other people, but you begin to understand yourself a lot better, too. Some of these opportunities really do only happen once in a life time, so don't hesitate!
What was hardest part about going abroad?
For me, it's the change in lifestyle. It's easy to get really comfortable at home - I have a routine, I know who my friends are, everything feels familiar and safe. I know how to behave. Then, all of a sudden, all of that disappears and you are left to figure things out practically on your own.
It can be tough, and it requires a certain amount of confidence and independence. But don't be scared - it's worth it! The best thing to do to make this transition as easy as possible is to be prepared - do research, reach out via email or social media to people who will be there with you, pack well, know who to call in case of an emergency, figure out a way to keep in touch with your friends back home, etc.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
The little girl who fell and hurt herself is one of my most memorable experiences from the trip. In addition to that, the kids were just all so adorable! Before snack time, our job was to help dry their hands, so after they washed, they would come running as fast as possible to us with giant grins on their faces. It was small moments like these that I remember the most.
What made this experience unique and special?
I really loved having the opportunity to work with locals and interact with little kids, but I also loved having the chance to get to know some of the other volunteers.
One other girl and I were staying with the same host family, so we were able to commute together, volunteer in the same classroom, and have free time together. To this day, several months after we were there, we still talk on a regular basis, swapping long emails or texts! Being able to make a friend abroad and bond over this shared experience has made this trip even greater for me.
Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.
Again, this goes back to the language barrier and being outside your comfort zone. Not being able to speak the language is extremely humbling, because you begin to realize how communication truly is a two way street.
I tried my best to communicate with others, and the people there tried their best to slow down their Spanish and gesticulate as well. It's just a heartwarming experience, as cheesy as that sounds, to see someone genuinely trying to help you.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Make sure you have a good attitude. Seriously. As exciting as being abroad is, it can also be exhausting, and it's easy to slip into a bad mood. Don't self sabotage yourself! Go into your experience knowing that it's not going to be completely easy breezy, but that is totally okay.
Listen to your body and take care of yourself, but also be willing to put in more effort than you might normally do. There were times where I was so tired that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep, but then I would remind myself how lucky I was to be in Costa Rica and that I would completely regret wasting this experience.
What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?
I've wanted to be a teacher for a long, long time, and I always thought I would work with older kids, preferably high school. I simply did not think that I had the patience for little kids, or the stamina. However, little kids are GREAT.
They are so full of life and love, and it's just a positive experience. Now that I have hands on experience with younger children, I am now considering working with them full time.
What else is there to do in Costa Rica?
THERE'S TONS! Had I done a better job at researching beforehand, I would have loved to fly out a day or two earlier. That way, I could have spent an entire day at the beach (San Jose is right in the middle, so it takes a while to take public transportation to the coast).
There are lots of areas to walk around - either in the city to do some shopping and eating, or in the quieter neighborhoods. Find parks and have a picnic, plan a hike, etc.!