Charlotte Buck - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Costa Rica
Arriving in Liberia, I was suddenly very nervous. Before my time volunteering in Costa Rica, I had never lived anywhere outside of New York. One of the staff members from the local Projects Abroad office took me to my host family's house and I immediately felt at home. Carmen and Luis, my host family, were so welcoming. The first thing I did after unpacking my bags was talk to them about myself. They didn't speak any English, so the experience could have been a lot more difficult if I hadn't spoke Spanish. They told me about the other volunteers they had hosted in the past and they always made an effort to really become close to the volunteers.
Each day, I would come home from work and we would have a family lunch together. I really did feel part of the family. Luis would always come in yelling "Charlotte, Pura Vida" and his daughter, Maria Jose, would ask me about my day. Carmen was very accommodating to the fact that I am a vegetarian and also tried to give me some traditional Costa Rican food. Of course, this involved lots of rice and beans, but I got used to that. One night she even made me plantain ceviche as a substitute for the raw fish version. Since I really did not want gallo pinto for breakfast, Carmen would just cut me some fresh fruit, which was always delicious!
The only downside to my housing was that I lived on the edge of Liberia, far away from the other volunteers. I was also the only volunteer who never had another volunteer living with them and the only one who did not have internet at their home.
My Teaching Project
After getting a tour of Liberia, a small city of one-story buildings built around a town square with the white church, Gabby took me to Colegio Artistico Felipe Perez Perez. I couldn't have asked for a better place to work. The first afternoon, my teacher Elena, who spoke nearly impeccable English, immediately involved me in teaching. It was exam week at the school so we had to make due with teaching under a large tree in the yard, but I didn't mind. The tenth graders were excited to have me and wanted to know all about New York and my life back home. They were shocked to find out that at only 18 years old, I was coming to live and work in Costa Rica. Most of them were 17 and 18 and had assumed that I was much older.
After meeting all the other classes I would be working with over the next few months, I started to get used to the high school. Classes never started on time and I had to work hard to keep the students on track and motivated, but it really paid off on the days they understood a topic or could have a conversation in English. The students had a pretty strict curriculum, but I was able to help by creating new activities such as word game.
I even got to help stand up for the rights of students in my school. When I first arrived, the school didn't have access to potable water or clean bathroom facilities. The administration needed more money from the Department of Education to fix the problems. Off and on for two weeks, classes would stop and we would march around the "barrio" or the town in protest.
I also was able to experience Costa Rican culture as the school would host assemblies on holidays and showcase traditional dances and songs. The kids were all really talented. The school had a specific day dedicated to celebrating the importance of learning English. They were going to sing English songs, perform skits and dances and play English games. A few weeks before the English Festival, one of my students, Tania, asked the other volunteer at Felipe Perez and me at if we would like to participate in a dance for the festival. I thought it could be fun even though I am a terrible dancer.
Tania then had us over to her house twice a week until the festival to rehearse. We would warm up by learning more traditional dance and then work on choreography she had created to go with the song These Boots Are Made for Walking. It was hilarious the number of times I tripped over my own feet but it was totally worth. I really got to know Tania, her little sister Angie and their friend Mauren. After we performed, the staff from Projects Abroad told us that we had been the first volunteers who had agreed to dance in front of the whole school.
My teacher and I also ran a spelling-bee. For a few days, I worked individually with students who had stayed after class. They did really well with only a little practice. It was so hard to say goodbye to my students. I had gone through a lot with them. I miss having them come up to me to ask about my life and telling me why I should like One Direction. They all hugged me goodbye and asked why I couldn't have stayed longer. I really wish I could have. Even three months is not enough.
Traveling in Costa Rica
I also became so close to the other volunteers. This was perhaps the aspect I was most worried about before I arrived in Costa Rica. I, unfortunately, did not live with another volunteer but we would meet up once or twice a week after work to grab a beer at the local bar or get a batido in the central park. Every weekend, we would explore another part of Costa Rica. I bungee jumped 143 meters (470 feet) and went zip lining in the cloud forests of Monteverde. I spent a long weekend at the Caribbean coast, playing volleyball and going snorkeling. In Parque National Manuel Antonio, we saw howler and capuchin monkeys. But watch out! Not all the animals are friendly. A "mapache", raccoon, dragged off my coat and nearly got away with it while we were at the beach.
Liberia was also close enough to the border with Nicaragua that I was able to go to Granada for a weekend with a fellow volunteer. I went to many of the nearby beaches like Tamarindo, Flamingo, Coco and Samara. The aqua blue water of Rio Celeste was one of the most fantastic natural phenomenons. I saw. The German volunteers taught me about 50 words in German. I really didn't expect to be working on any other language besides Spanish. All of our crazy adventures exploring the country bonded us together and we still keep in touch even though we live all over the world. I am so glad that I took the time to work and live in Costa Rica. I had an amazing time!