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My Journey Volunteering Abroad

Updated on April 25, 2014

Where The Journey Began

From when I was young and used to travel with my family, I always wanted to see new places, discover new things, experience new cultures and try new foods. I see my self as having what is called the travel bug (don't worry it is a good thing!) . Everything I see inspires me, or reaches out to me and as a result I end up with another place on my must see list, as if it was not big enough already!

In my years I have travelled to many places.To name a few, I have seen Auschwitz and the Salt Mines in Poland, I have seen Niagara Falls in Canada, I visited the Rock and the Golden gate Bridge in San Francisco and I even lived in the Big Apple for a summer.

All these trips(and more) have instead of quenching my thirst for adventure and travel, fuelled my want of more. Every country has something that needs to be discovered, climbed or visited. Every City has a famous restaurant, festival or bar. You name of a place and I will find a reason for wanting to go there!

Now lets get back to the real reason I am writing this page, Costa Rica! As I was saying I have the Travel bug and as a result I get urges to go places when I see advertisements and hear stories. So you can Imagine how I reacted with the representatives from the International Student Volunteers( ISV) came to visit my university!

It was just like any other day in university, I was sitting in my lecture getting ready for an hour of fighting back the boredom, when they arrived in to give their presentation. They showed us pictures of their volunteer programs, their adventure programs and their additional trips. I was amazed. One thing that jumped out and appealed to me was Costa Rica.

I had always taught about volunteering but had never considered it so soon in my life as I knew the effort required may have taken from my studies, but they sold it so well! I spent hours researching when I got home, trying to convince my friends it was a good idea and of course trying to convince my self it wasn't!

Well as you can see from the fact I am writing this, I failed horribly in trying to convince my self not to go, but it was the best decision in my life, in this lens I plan to share that amazing experience with you one step at a time.

Images Courtesy Of Google Images

Images Courtesy Of Google Images
Images Courtesy Of Google Images

Step One- Breaking It To The Family

The first step was one of the biggest challenges I faced throughout the whole trip surprisingly enough. At the time of booking this I was working a full time job on top of being a student full time so they were quite surprised to hear me taking on the task of having to fund raise for the volunteering portion of my trip.

The way the program I was involved with works is you part take in an immersion program for 1 week then you volunteer for 2 weeks and travel for 3 weeks . I had to fund raise for the 2 week portion while work harder to save for the other 4 weeks. This was a challenge, however I was well up for it.

My family eventually were convinced it was a great idea, besides I had to get my travel bug from somewhere! By the time I was done convincing them they were jealous of the opportunity I was walking into.

The next challenge however was the actual fund raising. I had all these great ideas and no way to do half of them, and the other half that I could do, I did't have the time. I appealed to my boss and he agreed to donate the use of the event room of the hotel I worked in for a fundraiser. I was finally getting places.

I then proceeded to convincing a friend to DJ for me while I got my cousin's quite well known band to play a set. The night was an overall success and I was on my way.

I paid my share and the volunteering share and the next stop was Costa Rica!

Step 2- Costa Rica - Week 1 -Cultural Immersion

This was were I was bound for for week 1 , this was where the cultural immersion took place.Image From Personal Archive
This was were I was bound for for week 1 , this was where the cultural immersion took place. Image From Personal Archive
Heredia, Images Courtesy Of Google Images
Heredia, Images Courtesy Of Google Images

Week 1 Cultural Immersion

Heredia

The time came to jet off to Cost Rica and after almost 2 days of travelling country to country, surviving lay over after lay over, I arrived. The heat hit me like I had walked into a wall, it was so humid! I heard Spanish every where I walked and I initially felt a bit lost. Between the jet lag, the strange language and the fact I was on my own ,I felt lost. However it didn't take long at all until I found some body else that was in the same boat as me and we proceeded to find our project leader together.

We were quickly introduced to our new families for the week, which was difficult as I had no communication abilities with them whatsoever. They seemed quite friendly, but I could immediately sense cultural differences which was exactly what I was expecting.

When we arrived at the house I was a little more surprised. All the houses, stores and premises in the city where protected by iron grills on the doors and windows. This made me a bit uneasy but I had to bite down and get on with it, besides no body could understand me anyway. I was introduced to the family, although they could have of been anybody as I'm not sure what she was saying while she was pointing at them, and then it was off to sleep as I had a big day the next day.

Active Volcano In Costa Rica-Courtesy Of Personal Archives
Active Volcano In Costa Rica-Courtesy Of Personal Archives

The Next day was immersion time. This was to consist of a week of Spanish lessons, visiting the city and making friends with fellow volunteers. I was very happy to hear some English speaking people and immediately made the most of it and started making some friends.

It seemed most of the people there had been in the same situation as me and were just as happy to have someone to talk to. There was people from the U.S ,Canada, Ireland and England.

The lessons began that day and ran from 10-3 and after that we could do as we please. At the end of the week we were awarded with a certificate to say we had completed the program.

During the week Itself I got the opportunity to experience many great sights in Heredia, for example we seen an active Volcano in the area, we had a tour of the architecture and of the city and we even got to visit the oldest bar in Costa Rica!

Bar Mulo was the oldest bar in the city and Costa Rica, or so we were informed. It was the most basic bar one could ever see but it carried with that an atmosphere to match.

The city was amazing and had a great atmosphere, we regularly met and hung out in the park which was bustling with amazing sites such as guys with pet pigeons and rats, street performers and the regular buskers. We did't have a spare second where somebody was't saying "take a picture of that!", it really was great!

The one thing I regret not having with me most is a pocket dictionary. It would have made communications an awful lot easier!

Some Pictures I Took

Click thumbnail to view full-size
All over the country side we found these little places that would sell strawberries in big amounts, they were soo good.These were the strawberries we got from the little shacks selling them all over the countryside.The oldest Bar in Costa Rica, apparently.
All over the country side we found these little places that would sell strawberries in big amounts, they were soo good.
All over the country side we found these little places that would sell strawberries in big amounts, they were soo good.
These were the strawberries we got from the little shacks selling them all over the countryside.
These were the strawberries we got from the little shacks selling them all over the countryside.
The oldest Bar in Costa Rica, apparently.
The oldest Bar in Costa Rica, apparently.
Flat Tire-Courtesy Of personal Images
Flat Tire-Courtesy Of personal Images

Weeks 2-3- Two Weeks Of Volunteering

San Junillio

After Heredia it was time to get down to business. It was time to give something back to the communities of Costa Rica. This however involved a painstakingly long 8 hour drive to San Junillio , the scenery was amazing but after 8 hours cooped up in a small van, I was fit to burst. To top this off we suffered a puncture on our way down, which meant we had the opportunity to experience the side of the road for an hour!

When we eventually arrived in the small little village it was amazing. It was small and secluded and everyone seemed to know everyone. There was a green area for sports in the centre surrounded by the houses of the people who lived there. We unpacked the mini bus at the village hall and met our new host families. The atmosphere and culture of these people was clearly contrasting with those in the city, it was amazing.

My host family consisted of the mother,father and two children. Again we had a language barrier but it seemed an awful lot easier to comprehend what was going on between my week of Spanish and my host mothers vivid hand gestures!

The Village's Beach, Courtesy Of Personal Archives
The Village's Beach, Courtesy Of Personal Archives

The Whole Family seemed welcoming and friendly and it made settling in so much easier, it was great.

The following day came by and it was time to receive our project and start work, I couldn't wait! We were assigned the task of renovating the church and soccer field. We wasted no time and could stuck straight in. The work was tougher than I expected, what was usually an easy task of digging and lifting was made harder by the stifling heat. The ground was rock hard and the sun was burning me alive, but I didn't care I was loving every second of it. We worked from around 6am until about 4-5pm with an hour lunch, for the lunch break we used to love to go down to beach, it was amazing to be able to relax in the water and cool of.

As the days progressed we could really see our progression and on completion the church looked amazing, it was really worth the effort we had to put in. It looked like a whole new place. The locals were happy, we were happy and the chrch looked great, what more could we ask for?

On our evenings off we were free to explore. It was amazing to see the monkeys in the trees the exotic birds and flowers and the strange insects. It was something you would never experience at home. My host family had chickens, a pig and a lazy dog. Although by the time I was ready to leave I don't think we had a chicken any more.

The beach was amazing, it was hidden away and virtually untouched and for that reason it was like something out of a post card. Adjacent to the beach was the fishing area, this was the sole lifeline and means of making a living for this area. It was an amazing site to see them all going out and hand fishing big amounts of fish.

One thing I enjoyed the most was when the head fisherman brought us out on his boat. We were able to see turtles, dolphins and somebody even claimed they saw a small shark!

I spent most of my other evenings playing soccer with the locals, they were on another level compared to me and the rest of the volunteers, but it was still great fun.

The Fruits Of Our Labour - My Personal Pictures

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Our Muriel To be remembered by.The fishermen's beach.The aftermath of our work on the church. We layed the path, erected the fence and levelled the lawn, then we painted it all.
Our Muriel To be remembered by.
Our Muriel To be remembered by.
The fishermen's beach.
The fishermen's beach.
The aftermath of our work on the church. We layed the path, erected the fence and levelled the lawn, then we painted it all.
The aftermath of our work on the church. We layed the path, erected the fence and levelled the lawn, then we painted it all.

All in all the volunteering portion of my trip was a success. I can't say adapting was simple, because it wasn't but I would have been screwed if it wasn't for packing smart. I brought mosquito repellent, a net to surround the bed, a mini first aid kit, sun cream and a great set of boots. Without these necessities I would have been screwed. Take my advice if your going to do a trip like his you need:

-Sun-cream

-Mosquito/Bug Repellent

-Bed Net to keep out bugs

-Windable Torch

-Mini First Aid Kit

-Good Waterproof backback

-Good light boots to work and travel in

Dynamo Illuminator Wind-up LED Flashlight
Dynamo Illuminator Wind-up LED Flashlight

This will be your life line, not all places have power you know.

 
Hawk TC-NET-WHT 100-percent Polyester Mosquito Net, 60mm by 250mm by 800mm, White
Hawk TC-NET-WHT 100-percent Polyester Mosquito Net, 60mm by 250mm by 800mm, White

This saved me from countless mosquito's. Don't be caught without one!

 
Medique 40038 Pocket First Aid Kit, 38-Piece
Medique 40038 Pocket First Aid Kit, 38-Piece

This will be a well invested in piece of equipment, I got great use out of mine on my trip.

 
TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack; Great Backpacking Gear or Pack for Camping or Hiking; Mecca Orange
TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack; Great Backpacking Gear or Pack for Camping or Hiking; Mecca Orange

Travel light and easy with this back pack. Don't make carrying stuff harder than it has to be, use this.

 

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