I couldn't speak more highly about the Build Abroad trip that I participated in. I decided to go on this 8 day, 7 night trip with my boyfriend. We decided to go to Costa Rica as I spoke some Spanish (not fluent) although he did not speak any. When we got to our living area, it was comfortable and had a strong community aspect to it. There were two floors; each floor had a bathroom with shower, rooms with beds, a kitchen, and a work area/social area/dining room. People who happened to be there at the same time as us consisted of a retired woman traveling throughout Costa Rica as a sort of "immersion trip" and a small group of boys who were teaching local kids different sports as a part of their studies. There was also more of a Build Abroad crew with us, who we got to know very well.
Food- Awesome. I mention it first because I recall it so well. We had a cook/housemaid named Virginia that took care of our every consideration when it came to food and cleanliness of the house. Food was served every morning and evening. Lunch was brought to the job site for us a couple times but usually we would pack our own lunch. Food was wonderful- traditional cooking of arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), black beans, soups, fresh vegetables, fresh juice with EVERY meal. For breakfast we sometimes had traditional rice and beans with meat, sometimes a special "power" oatmeal mix, pancakes, plantains.... I cant rave more about the food. Our Virginia was amazing.
Safety- I never had any concerns. I am a young woman in my 20s and while I did not travel to the markets or mall alone (because I happened to be with a group and my boyfriend for almost every time we left), I felt completely comfortable in the area. One time my boyfriend and I got slightly lost (on our first day, whoops!) and were able to ask people how to get back. Then we called the house and got exact directions back. The taxi people were normal taxis... Not overly friendly but would engage in conversation if you initiated. Meters are in every taxi and a fair wage was always charged. Our house is located in a neighborhood. We had a locked tall gate out front of the house that encompassed an outside patio in front of the house and the house itself. All doors locked. We were even provided with a personal key to our own room and lockers if we so chose (I believe this is used more if you are traveling with people and you do not know the group). We walked around after dark, in the middle of the town, etc. and had no problems whatsoever.
Building- The project that we participated in was constructing the beginning stages of a house for a woman and her small family. The woman (who we unfortunately did not get to meet due to our schedules not working out) was deaf and blind and had special considerations with her house being built. We worked hand-in-hand with two local construction men who explained to us that the woman had been granted into a special program that allowed volunteers to build the house. From what I understood, local surveyers just needed to come after each stage of building (ie, after foundation made, after electrical put in, etc) in order to confirm standards are being met and then the next stage could be progressed to. During our time in CR, we cleared the lot of overgrown sugar cane, dug the huge sump-pump and water reserviour, and mapped out foundation and rooms. While each days labors were difficult, the camaraderie of the group along with the playfulness of the locals helped the (approx) 6 hour day go by quickly. By the end of our time there, we were able to see the progress that we had made and it was INCREDIBLY fulfilling. The building was my favorite part of the trip.
Ages: Volunteers that I met in the house ranged from 20-60s.
Organization: The trip was very well organized. While I cannot compare Build Abroad to many other programs due to my limited experience with others, I can say that I was VERY pleased with the organization. Airport pickup was arranged. Accommodations were above expectations. Activities were planned for every night (if we wanted to participate in them). A member of the team escorted us to the bus station and rode with us the first and second day to make sure we were acclimated. There were even mini impromptu Spanish lessons and a introductory presentation that gave us insight to some of the "Costa Rican Language" and customs, such as culture, polite interactions, slang, etc. We had one Wednesday "reflection" session in which we convened with the other volunteers (who lived in the same house as us but were on different projects) so that we could hear how their projects were going. This built relationships and appreciation for our fellow house-mates.
Overall: I do not think that I could be more pleased with my experience on this Build Abroad trip. I feel as if I got wonderful memories, pictures, experiences, skills, and friends that I will value for a very long time. I very much look forward to exploring other Build Abroad trips and I highly recommend it to anyone else.