Haley Haas - General Care Projects in Costa Rica
I'd like to start off by saying that my experiences in Costa Rica were some of the best in my life, hands-down. Before spending a month in Costa Rica, I had never been on a plane by myself, much less in a foreign country by myself. Yes, it was intimidating, and yes, it was a little nerve-racking. However, the experience was rewarding beyond what words can describe.
As a junior in college double-majoring in Communication and Spanish, I began to realise that I was never truly going to become bilingual nor fully respect different ways of life unless I were to completely immerse myself in a different culture. I researched volunteer opportunities in Spanish-speaking countries and found Projects Abroad in Costa Rica. Reading the testimonials and having continuing email correspondence with one of the local staff made me think the organisation was too good to be true, but guess what? It's not!
My placement was with the care programme in a kindergarten classroom located in an underprivileged neighbourhood. The children were absolutely precious and so welcoming. On my first day, two little girls hugged me just after I walked in the door! At times, it was hard to hear the children talk about their home lives because they have many siblings and unfortunately don’t receive the attention they need.
At school, the children are fed twice because some of their families cannot afford to feed them three times a day. At first, I admit that I was a little shy with these children, but they have an uncanny ability to bring out the best in you and teach you far more than you ever thought you were going to teach them.
The kids always laughed at my accent and were amazed by my "piel blanca," and I truly enjoyed every moment of it. The honesty and innocence of children that age is something to be admired. During my first week, a 5-year old boy named Francisco sang Justin Bieber's "Baby" to me and asked me to dance with him. The next week, a little girl in my class asked if I could do her hair like mine because she thought it was pretty. Ticos, and tiquitos in particular, are some of the nicest people I have ever met.
The Costa Rican lifestyle is something that I was, and still am, drawn to. It is worry-free, filled with love and compassion, and focused around family and faith. One morning when I was walking to school I saw a man lying on the sidewalk, so I greeted him with a cheery, "Buenos dias." He responded to me, "Buenos dias! Pura Vida! Everything is good." Not only did I appreciate him adding an English phrase, but I admired that he was so happy when he literally had nothing but the clothes on his back. Ticos taught me that happiness does not come from possessions, but rather from the time you spend with your family and friends. And thanks to Costa Rica, I have an even larger group of people to call my family.
Roxana was my host mum while I was in Liberia. I cannot say enough wonderful things about her. She was so welcoming and genuinely interested in talking with me about my life in the United States. Every night, we ate dinner together (rice and beans…yum!) and talked about current events while CNN in Spanish was on the TV. She kindly corrected my Spanish so that I could improve and taught me about the history of Costa Rica and the values shared by all Costa Ricans. She became a second mum to me and really made my experience exceptional.
The Projects Abroad staff made it very easy to connect with other volunteers. After class and on the weekends, we were able to get together, talk about our placements, and travel the country a bit. There are endless places to see in Costa Rica! During my month-long stay, I visited the Arenal Volcano, Caño Negro, Tamarindo, Playa Conchal, Playa Ocotal, and Playa Hermosa. The beaches in Costa Rica give you nostalgia for something you have never experienced. The warm sand, beautifully clear blue ocean, and gorgeous weather will make you never want to leave.
So, to all potential volunteers: just go already! A once-in-a-lifetime experience awaits you. I promise you, Projects Abroad is not too good to be true, and this experience will really change you for the better. Good luck and Pura Vida!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.