After graduating from the University of Calgary, I decided that I would take a year off to do volunteer work abroad. I have always wanted to participate in a volunteer type vacation, but I had never had the time or the money to be able to take on a project like this. A year off from school provided me with an excellent opportunity to travel to a foreign country, experience a new culture, and to lend my assistance to people in need. I wanted to volunteer in a Spanish speaking country as I have a great passion in learning languages and wanted to be able to add Spanish to my language repertoire.
I chose UVolunteer because they were extremely organized, provided me with the option to participate in a number or different volunteer programs, and to take a Spanish language training program prior to starting my volunteer project. I decided I would volunteer in Costa Rica for eight weeks and was able to get two of my friends from Calgary to join me for six of those weeks. The first two weeks we would be in Curridabat, San Jose taking part in a language training program (Epifania); the following four weeks we would participate in a project where we would teach sports and English at a rural school just outside of San Ramon (Escuela La Palma); and for my final 2 weeks I would assist at a special needs school (Centro de Educacion Especial de San Ramon).
Application and pre-arrival proceeded very smoothly. I was able to talk directly with a representative from the UVolunteer office when I had questions and was able to receive prompt replies to all my emails. Upon arrival at the San Jose airport on Saturday, we were greeted by our driver holding a sign with my name on it, who took us straight to our homestay family in Curridabat. We began our language training program on the Monday. At Escuela Epifania, our preliminary knowledge of Spanish was tested and we were split into corresponding levels based on these results.
I was placed in the intermediate level as I had previously taken two preliminary courses in Spanish in university two years ago. The instruction here was excellent, intensive, and has you prepared for your volunteer program. I highly recommend this program to all volunteers who lack a background or fluency in Spanish prior to starting their programs. We stayed with a homestay family for this portion of our travel. Our host family was terrific and definitely went beyond the minimum requirements to ensure that we felt at home. Following completion of the language program, we moved to San Ramon to begin our project.
San Ramon is a perfect and safe location for the volunteer base. The town is small enough that you can walk from one end to the other in around thirty minutes, and buses arrive and depart San Ramon very regularly making it very convenient. We stayed in a volunteer dorm with two other volunteers. Dona Isabel always kept the house in great condition, and cooked us breakfast and dinner throughout the week. Be sure to ask for her banana pancakes in the morning as they are deliciosisimo! My first volunteer project was conducted with my two friends (Ryan and Bryan) at a rural school just outside of San Ramon.
Here, we assisted in teaching English and played soccer regularly with the children. This four week project went by extremely quickly. Following this, I started my second project at the special needs school. This was a terrific, eye-opening experience. I had previously had some minimal experience working with special needs children as a swimming instructor but never to this extent. I learned a great deal from this experience, especially in terms of patience and perseverance.
Overall, my volunteer experience has been very successful. I was able to learn and embrace all that the Costa Rican culture had to offer, provide my assistance to people in need, and become nearly fluent in Spanish. I would like to have stayed here for a month longer to become fully fluent in Spanish; perhaps in the future. UVolunteer has fulfilled all my expectations in allowing me to obtain all that this experience has to offer. Big thank you to Mario, Ligia, and Dona Isabel! Pura Vida!