I volunteered with WorldTeach in 2008 and couldn't be happier with my choice to do so. I was placed in a tiny town of about 200 people on the Pacific coast. I had 30 students in my school, spread across 1st - 6th grades. I met with each grade for 40 minutes each day that there was school (supposed to be 5 days a week, but canceled often because of meetings and rain). I lived with a host family of a mom, dad, 13 year old host brother, and 2 year old host nephew. I ate my meals at home and had my own bedroom with a bed, dresser, fan, and small table.
Although I was teaching, I learned many things. I learned to eat rice and beans for three meals a day for an entire year, to laugh at my blunders in Spanish, to keep small children's attention in a foreign language, to make delicious breads at the local bakery with a family who has been baking for over 50 years, to make beautiful jewelry made out of locally found seeds and shells, and to live a little bit slower.
Don't get me wrong - there were definitely challenging moments. Moments where I couldn't handle being bitten by another bug, moments where I wanted the weather to be cool enough to snuggle under a warm blanket and drink hot chocolate (instead of instantly sweating from the moment after I finished my cold shower), moments that I had no idea what to do in the classroom to reign in the sugared and caffeinated energy of my students, and moments when I could no longer smile and swallow all the town gossip.
However, the things that I learned, and the connections that I made, far outweigh those (now insignificant) challenging moments. Four years later I still keep in touch with my host family, friends, and students. I am bilingual and use my cross-cultural skills in my work everyday. In addition to the connections I made in my community, I made friendships with my fellow volunteers as we battled many of the same challenges in distinct small towns throughout Costa Rica. Each of our experiences was unique - different families, different sized classes, different climates, etc - but we were all thread together just the same.
I found the staff support, in-country as well as in the US, to be friendly, very knowledgeable, and flexible. The training was excellent and I always felt safe. I couldn't have asked for more out of my year teaching and learned far more than I taught.
I rated two things slightly lower, "Fun" and "Facilities" but I'd like to explain why below.
Fun - I think "Fun" depends on your interpretation. My weekends were filled with Bingo games, soccer matches, and long quiet walks. There were no movie theaters, malls, or shopping of any kind. Some people may not find small town life fun, but I loved it.
Facilities - Also depends on your interpretation. They ended up working out just fine, but were definitely not your average American classroom. I taught in the cafeteria with one long table, one tiny whiteboard, and with only the materials I could invent from construction paper, index cards, contact paper, scissors, and a sometimes-working-copy-machine. Another challenge indeed, but it gave me the opportunity to really learn how to be resourceful.
In short, really great experience, where I saw the impact my work was doing (my students use English in the developed tourism industry north of their community), and which has brought me to where I am today.