Last summer after passing my final exams in high-school I decided to go to Costa Rica to learn Spanish and getting to know the Latin Culture.
There are various organizations which offer trips and volunteer-stays in Central America, especially in Costa Rica which is knwon as the saftiest country in this region. The reason I choose to go with Inlex was because there programmes in community developement sounded more interesting to me than caring for children or passing my days in a butterfly-farm.
I had a great time and made some great experiences, I met friendly people all over the country and i achieved an important goal by speaking spanish fluently within six month.
But overall I have to say I am kind of disappointed.Dont get me wrong, I don't want to blame anyone of the people with who I passed half a year. People who always care for you, if you need help, people do the best they can, to provide you a wonderful time. But still I have to say I was kind of bored most of the time. If you are the nature guy, I am sure you will love Costa Rica. The rainforest in the mountains, the dry and hot areas in the north, the carreaben beaches which look exactly like directly from Hollywood - all these are beatiful and impressing places. If you are the social guy who likes to meet many interesting people, who loves a good conversation and needs some cultural input there is good chance to you won't be satisfied. Sometimes I had the feeling Costa Rica lacks of these things. Of course, that is unfair to say because even in half a year I had the chance to see only a small part of Costa Rica, also it is my very subjective point of view on the other hand that is just a resume of the expierence I made. You won't find much indigenoues culture, you won't find that romatic socialist touch you may think of when you hear stories about Latin America. Instead you will feel the big influence of the U.S. (I don't want to say that's bad thing, but maybe not the reason why you take a long journey to Costa Rica), you will probably pass many hours in malls because thats how many Ticos spend their time, many nights in mostly German and American hostels because these are the nicest and cheapest all along the coast... I guess all depends on your expectations so make sure they fit. Honestly I have to admit that there were many others who had a great time and I defenitly don't regret I went to CR but after all the experiences I made would have gone to a bigger city with more social activities and more intellectual-input.
The Inlex staff did their best and always tried to support me, but many times you are on your own. I met a few host-familys and I think many of them would not fulfill the requirements, if there were any requirements, but for me that's okay. I say that because I know from other volunteers that some people expect 24/7 service from the organization-members and their host-family to be their best friends. If you decide to go to another country for some time, there will be difficulties all the time but that is what makes it so exciting. The staff works mostly part-time in the Inlex-office, so you should be able to handle problems on your own. For me that fitted perfectly, but with great respect, everyone should ask yourself, if that is really what he/she wants.