Min Kwon - General Journalism Projects in Costa Rica
I am a high school senior from Los Angeles, California and I wanted to get out during my last summer in high school and luckily came across Projects Abroad. I had friends, who had done programmes with Projects Abroad in other countries and their stories really convinced me to join in on the fun. So, I chose Costa Rica for the adventure.
I honestly did not know what to expect. I was scared that I would be in a Spanish-speaking country (I spoke little Spanish at the time) but at the same time excited to see what kind of a cultural experience Costa Rica would give me.
On my third day I met other volunteers from all over the world and I was introduced to my workplace and met my project supervisor, Edward Alfaro of El Periódico La Provincia - the newspaper publication that I would be working at for a month. Just meeting the new volunteers from England, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, Germany, and many more was a whole different cultural experience in itself.
My Host Family
Work and friends aside, my accommodation was in a small, yet more than comfortable house with a great host family. I was in a room by myself with a fan to cool me and a drawer to store my clothes and even a small table to put my stuff on. I never felt uncomfortable especially since I had a private room, with the exception of the first week when I was getting used to the heat.
I had a shared bathroom, but since the host mother and father had their own bathroom, I basically had the bathroom to myself (until a new volunteer came in two weeks into my placement). The bathroom was well kept, and my host mother cleaned it almost every day. I had cold showers every day, but the lack of warm water was not a thing to complain about because of the heat.
I was lucky to have a very good cook in the form of my host mother. Señora Iris made me delicious meals every day and I was really excited to try some of the Costa Rican meals that she prepared - they were quite good! My host mother was really receptive to my hunger needs, and whenever I asked for a lighter meal, she would give me the perfect amount, and I don’t remember not finishing a single meal while in Costa Rica.
The Journalism Project
My supervisor was extremely nice and receptive to a foreign assistant at his side. He told me to speak whatever Spanish I had so that he could allow me to improve, and in turn I helped him with his English. He gave me work to do every day, but I had the tendency to finish early, and whenever I asked for more, he had more work for me to do.
At about the midpoint of my placement, however, I felt that my work had been a bit repetitive, and I found that relaying this kind of concern to the Projects Abroad staff members is the best thing you can do. They were extremely helpful in talking to Edward to find me some new kind of more exciting work, and they even told me that I could help with at Teaching programme at the local school. So I had two workplaces for a while, which made my days both busy and fun.
Experiencing both journalism and teaching at the same time was a very rewarding experience, especially since I felt that I was able to contribute to the community in a way that I have not before. And getting a thank you card from all of the students made the experience all the more satisfying.
Projects Abroad Staff
I mentioned that the staff was helpful, and personally, I had no problems with the staff in Costa Rica. They were all extremely friendly, helpful, and funny whenever I visited them in the office. For example, my first laundry turned out horribly wrong, and I did not know what to do, so I texted one of my supervisors.
She immediately texted me back to come to the office the following day so that she could help me. Soon enough, she had made a call to my host mother to make sure that the laundry was fixed and I had my clothes back in no time. I found that just asking is the biggest step and most of the times I was satisfied with the help I received.
Weekend Travelling and Socialising
Costa Rica was one of the countries that allowed the volunteers to really experience the beautiful locations that are only a few hours away. With the other volunteers, I was able to go to four different places on the four weekends I had in Costa Rica. And each of them was unique in their own style and equally as beautiful.
Being able to experience the nature without the human influence for relatively cheap prices was really fun and exciting for me. Sure, the Mondays after the weekend trips were kind of tiring, but having the weekend trips really made me look forward to something during the week - it's also a great time to get to know the other volunteers! Since there were only a few volunteers, it was really easy to get comfortable and close with them, and I still keep in contact with them, even after parting with them a few weeks ago.
One key experience I will never forget in Costa Rica is the dancing classes that we took in Liberia. A few other volunteers would come every Monday and Wednesday to a local dance studio to learn salsa, bachata, merengue, and even swing.
To be honest, the studio was really hot without any air conditioning or windows, but the hour and a half sessions of dancing, whether you were good at it or not, was really fun. It was a great chance for me to get out of my comfort zone since all those dances required that you dance with another partner, so naturally I got more comfortable with dancing with other students there.
Not only was it a workout, it was also a fun time to get away from the work and just have a good time apart from the weekend trips. After dancing the volunteers and I would often go to a local cafe or the ice cream shop to refresh ourselves and the social aspect of such gatherings really made Costa Rica even more unforgettable.
Lastly, I would like to mention how amiable and hospitable the people were. I don't think I saw any kind of anger or aggression towards anyone in Costa Rica for the entire month I was there. The motto "Pura Vida" really does take up a central part of the country's culture. Everyone is understanding, sympathetic, and extremely nice. All of the new people I met in Costa Rica were more than willing to help me with anything I needed, and such friendliness made a huge difference in whether I felt welcomed or not in Costa Rica.
If I had any warnings or advice for future volunteers, it would be that you have to be willing to immerse yourself in a completely different culture, a completely different world. Many of the "conveniences" one might have in their home may very well not exist in Costa Rica. To be honest, I had a difficult time adjusting to that fact in the beginning as well. But if you just open yourself up and truly jump out of your comfort zone, Projects Abroad will surely be one of the most rewarding and most memorable experiences.