Volunteering in Costa Rica

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Upon my recent two week volunteering opportunity in Costa Rica, presented to me by the gap-year travelling organisation “Frontier”, I discovered the wondrous atmosphere that is presented not only in miraculous environmental aspect of Costa Rica, but furthermore the cultural, simplistic “pura vida” lifestyle that its people live by.

Completely unknown to me up until this trip (not that my knowledge of Costa Rica was by any means well revised), I found that the town which was to be my home for two weeks was surprisingly inviting. Despite the initial struggle of having to cart around a wheeled suitcase over the large stones and even larger potholes in the earthy roads of the town, the atmosphere gave off a sense of immaculate beauty, despite its obvious simplicity. This immediately helped me to realise why the Costa Rican people pride themselves so highly in their “pura vida” lifestyle, and furthermore why it is easily considered to be the paradise of Central America.From delightful little souvenir and clothing shops, including a particular favourite of mine which presented gifts made from local artists to the town’s local supermarket, BM. Being just a two minute walk away from where I was staying, this was often the area of choice when in need of some quick, cheap lunch for the day or even a dose of delicious chocolate for the evening time. Alongside this, the town also prided itself in its selection of restaurants, both by the seafront and within the centre. One which was frequently visited by myself and the other members of the house was “PizzaMail.it”, an appropriately named pizzeria with enough delicious food to last you both through dinner and lunch the next day. Our favourite seaside cafe, “Los Delfines”, also became the ideal spot to lounge after a dip in the ocean, as well as selling the most remarkable smoothies of every flavour that I have ever encountered (papaya every time for me).

Travelling abroad

From hardly knowing the basic directions to school in my own hometown, to suddenly travelling half way across the world alone, was a pretty large and albeit daunting risk on my part. On the surface, it seemed pretty simple, and although it wasn’t necessarily complicated, the essence of fear and nervousness that came with such responsibility failed to kick in until the gates of security at Heathrow (hardly the ideal time for such a realisation to take place). I was waved off by my family and boyfriend upon which – of course – I immediately started to cry. Let this not scare you off from such experiences if you are planning to travel alone; I tend to cry a lot. Despite this minor inconvenience upon departing, the nine hour flight to Houston (where I would have my first layover) was surprisingly relaxing and not the least bit troubling. The same could be said about the short three hour flight to San Jose, despite being marginally dull as my only entertainment was a rather uninteresting book. However, such could not be said about the small propeller plane which I had the “pleasure” of travelling on (all sarcasm intended). Although the sights were undoubtedly beautiful due to the low altitude at which the plane was required to remain at, travelling mid day during monsoon season in such a tiny aircraft equated to the perfect recipe for extremely strong and frequent turbulence. This was by no means pleasing to a person who despises even the thought of a roller coaster or its equivalents. Despite this, my arrival to the small but picturesque town of Puerto Jimenez made it all very much worth it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The town of Puerto Jimenez

Overall, I feel that my experience volunteering in Costa Rica is one that I will not soon forget, both in the essence of the people and in the town that surrounds them. Teachers, students and housemates alike are all personalities that helped make my journey what it was and allowed it to be as fulfilling to me as possible. Despite being my first worldly expedition going solo – it will certainly not be my last!panish managed to keep me afloat for the majority of the time. From hour-long playtimes to dancing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in the classroom as a starter to the day, this experience did not go without its fair share of childhood nostalgia on my part. Assisting them with their writing by forming dotted letters on their pages or ensuring they coloured inside of the lines often led to me doing some colouring of my own (and I am by no means ashamed). When not dealing with kindergarten, I was often sent in charge of assisting the first grade, the single largest grade in the entire school. The large jump from the year below them made their work seemingly more serious, but not without its enjoyment both on my part and theirs. Despite some occasional disruptive behaviour, the children were delightfully lovely and were always willing to work...ard, this certainly made mealtimes most interesting). A personal highlight of mine was the house’s highly friendly guard dog, Chester, who was always up for playing despite the humidity of the Costa Rican air. Unfortunately, I have recently discovered that he has since passed away, but my memories of his energetic spirit will always be vivid in my reminders of volunteering..g..g.worth it.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the town is the tranquillity of the beach, equip with many seaside restaurants as well as boat and kayaking trips across the small strip of the Pacific which divides the country.I had the privileged of experiencing one of these miraculous ocean tours for the rather expensive (but equally worth it) price of $55 , in exchange for a spectacular encounter with three humpback whales: a father, mother and baby swimming wildly close to us. It was simply breath-taking.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The “Frontier” House

Although it was the area where I most spent my time (despite attempting to explore its outskirts as much as I could), it was by no means the dullest. Much like the rest of the town, it was fairly simplistic, with four bunk beds to share between myself and the other volunteers, cold water, and a very basic washing machine. This did not bother me much, however my largest pet peeve of  such minimalism was the need to put toilet paper in the bin rather than the toilet, as the pressure wasn’t strong enough to contain it (not pleasant). Besides this, the house had frequently strong WiFi and comfortable couches to sit on, so it was often considered a paradise to those volunteers who were camping in the jungle on other expeditions. On the practical side of things, our field staff member fashioned a rota which was closely followed, in which cooking was to be done in pairs at least twice a week by each person, and cleaning once a week. This certainly made life easier for everyone, despite my highly poor cooking skills causing me and my pair to burn some of our pasta on the first night. The house was also not free of its fair share of dramas among housemates, none of which strongly involved me but all of which were very tense (despite being awkward, this certainly made mealtimes most interesting). A personal highlight of mine  was the house’s highly friendly guard dog, Chester, who was always up for playing despite the humidity of the Costa Rican air. Unfortunately, I have recently discovered that he has since passed away, but my memories of his energetic spirit will always be vivid in my reminders of volunteering.

The School

Unarguably the most important and most fulfilling aspect of my experience, the Corcovado School not only gave me lifelong skills in the teaching of children abroad, but more significantly offered me the most amazing memories. The student body was reasonably minute, with only a rough number of 40 pupils in the entire school. This number was largely made up by the kindergarten and first grade children, as all other grades were often taught together due to the small amount that attended each one. The responsibility of this mainly derives from the fact that the school is private, the only one in the Puerto Jimenez area therefore which requires a fee to attend. This, however, did not prevent the school from having significant lack of teachers and resources.

My responsibility mainly lied in the multi-coloured classroom of the kindergarten children, where smiling faces and kindly personalities often made it a very inviting place to work (despite the occasional wave of monstrous behaviour – which I did not go without). Being so young, of course, their reluctance to speak English was always very apparent,despite constantly encouraging them to use it. Thankfully, my Spanish managed to keep me afloat for the majority of the time. From hour long play times to dancing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in the classroom as a starter to the day, this experience did not go without its fair share of childhood nostalgia on my part. Assisting them with their writing by forming dotted letters on their pages or ensuring they coloured inside of the lines often led to me doing some colouring of my own (and I am by no means ashamed). When not dealing with kindergarten, I was often sent in charge of assisting the first grade, the single largest grade in the entire school. The large jump from the year below them made their work seemingly more serious, but not without its enjoyment both on my part and theirs. Despite some occasional disruptive behaviour, the children were delightfully lovely and were always willing to work.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overall, I feel that my experience volunteering in Costa Rica is one that I will not soon forget, both in the essence of the people and in the town that surrounds them. Teachers, students and housemates alike are all personalities that helped make my journey what it was, and allowed it to be as fulfilling to me as possible. Despite being my first worldly expedition going solo – it will certainly not be my last!

#teaching #CostaRica #travel #Frontier #volunteering


6 views0 comments