San Ramon is a lot like Middlesboro in some respects. It’s about the same population, it’s laid out in a grid, and there is a small mall on the edge of town near the principal highway. In other ways, however, it’s completely a different world.
In resorts, everyone seems to speak English. In San Ramon, that is not the case. I had studied 4 semesters of Spanish in my workplace, and I had some knowledge of Spanish language and culture. But I’d never HAD to use it until this year. My hostess spoke almost no English, just a word here or there, but I had a built-in tutor in her 7 year old daughter. I could express myself with the basics, but abstract concepts were a different matter. Still, one thing I learned about myself is that my abilities can grow to match the need at the time.
Flexibility is important for volunteers. I originally planned to teach English to adults during evenings, but 3 out of the 4 weeks I was in Costa Rica, the schools were closed. I suddenly found myself as a volunteer in the office, proofreading and editing volunteer documents, making myself useful in a new and unexpected way. And it worked! I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish for future volunteers.
My host family were a never-ending surprise and joy. They shared their home, their family, their food, and their weekends off with such grace and willingness.
It always left me inspired. Twice there were emergencies: a sudden torrential rain left the floors of the house flooded, and another time the family dog got into red paint from head to toe. Both times I was home alone, yet I pitched in and helped clean up as if it were my own house. Both times, I generated some goodwill for my pitching in during a crisis. There was a death in the family while I was there, and oddly enough, it was easier for my hosts to talk to a stranger about the loss than members of their own family.
Twice during my month’s stay I prepared a traditional Southern US dish “chicken pot pie” for friends who had never eaten it. I was pleased to be able to contribute something from my culture and to see the smiles as my international friends dined on ‘comfort food’ from the USA.
If I could change one thing about Costa Rica, it would be to have more cats. I am a cat lover, with 3 big cats at home, but in Costa Rica, cats are very scarce.
Dogs are everywhere, but I got to pet only one cat the entire month I was there. Someone explained that cats eat the birds, a national treasure, and so are discouraged. Still, a nice warm cat purring in one’s lap is a real pleasure. Maybe they could turn vegetarian?
I am thinking of retiring in Costa Rica soon. This visit helped me see that I can be busy, happy, and productive among people who are new friends. I am grateful to uVolunteer for providing this opportunity. At age 54, I am still discovering what I want to be when I grow up.