Chloe Kwak - High School Specials, Care & Conservation in Costa Rica
This was my first time travelling outside of my home country (the US) by myself, and it was a huge step out of my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed the new experiences and people I got to meet along the way.
Arriving in Costa Rica
When I arrived in Costa Rica, the day had just started. The feeling of knowing I was going to be away from home for two weeks hit me, and as scared as I was, I was so excited for the adventure I knew was ahead of me. Once I got off the plane and went through customs and immigration, I was immediately able to find a friendly man with a Projects Abroad sign. He escorted me and another volunteer, who had come off of the same flight I did.
It was quite nerve wracking at first because I had no idea what to expect until I saw 30 other volunteers on the bus that picked us up. When I hopped on, I was immediately greeted by everyone. It was such a great way to start off my trip, especially having met 30 friendly people, my age, from all over the world (England, Scotland, Japan, France, Italy, and more)!
Living with my host family
I was fortunate to have lived in an amazing home during the week I was in Heredia. The host family accommodated me and one of the other volunteers, Olivia. At first, I was intimidated by the fact that our host mom knew little to no English. Olivia and I, however, managed to scrape together our limited Spanish speaking skills in order to communicate with her regarding our everyday needs and gratitude.
The sleeping and bathroom arrangements were comfortable, and the host mom fed us delicious meals everyday. I was always excited for the food because although I missed meals at home, the food in Costa Rica was so enjoyable and different. The atmosphere within the family was also extremely warm and welcoming. During dinners, we got to know the rest of the family, and I even recall having a three-hour conversation with the host family’s dad. He had some serious words of wisdom that I will never forget. Overall, living with this family for a week made me grateful for all the opportunities I get to meet new people.
My Care placement
Having the chance to volunteer at a daycare centre for one week was extremely tiring, yet very rewarding. My volunteer team, which consisted of nine people, was split up into groups. Each group took care of a different age group, ranging from six months old to 10 years old. It was very easy for me because my partner, Bella, and I worked with the children aged two to three, so none of the toddlers knew how to speak yet.
On a normal day, we would simply play with the kids and entertain them. We would also supervise them while they were on the playground, feed them during snack and lunch time, and put them to sleep for their nap time. Furthermore, in the afternoons throughout the week, my group prepared 130 lion masks. These masks were for the children to wear during a Lion King skit which they performed on their last day at our placement.
Although all the volunteers were drained of energy by the end, I think we all enjoyed the chance we had to meet these joyful and loving children. This daycare was special because it specifically served families that suffer in mild poverty. It was so eye opening when I recognised how kind and grateful these children were, despite their circumstances.
My Conservation placement
Conservation was a part of my second week in Costa Rica. It was definitely more rigorous and physically challenging, but nevertheless, it was delightful spending time in the Barra Honda National Park. I got the chance to participate in many different activities such as cave exploring, hiking, village clean-ups, and reforestation. In addition, I learned and studied about the different bats and monkeys in the national park. Overall, the days were filled with nonstop physical activity and many different lessons were learned throughout the day.
It took a while to adjust to the sleeping and bathroom arrangements, but bunking in a huge room with 16 girls was honestly so much fun. It also took time to get used to the intense amount of bugs and creatures; I definitely left Costa Rica with an extremely high tolerance to insects! Getting to spend this time in the forest with my group was a tremendous bonding opportunity. We all appreciated our free time, playing games and simply sharing laughs.
I think leaving the amazing staff behind was the hardest part. Every single member of staff knew how to make the volunteers smile and laugh, and it made our time there so memorable. When I struggled during any of the activities, they were always ready to help and encourage me. It was incredible how engaged they were with us, even during our free time. Establishing meaningful relationships with each of the volunteers was not part of their job description, but they managed to fulfill that regardless. There would be points in time where I would get homesick or bored, but the staff was always ready to bring entertainment and make our time there 100% worthwhile. I can undoubtedly say that the advisors I met are some of the funniest, nicest, and friendliest people I will ever know. They did a great job at making my stay in Costa Rica feel like home.
In conclusion, I would recommend this to anyone who is deciding if this is right for them. It was definitely a step out of my comfort zone, but what I left with was absolutely worth it. I regret not taking the chance to participate in projects like this earlier in life, because there is so much to learn about different countries and places. Thinking back to how much this trip entailed within the small amount of two weeks is phenomenal. I made many memories and friendships that I will never forget!