By Sarah Peters, Costa Rica Volunteer Alumna with Greenheart Travel
I am a freshman in college now and I still think fondly about the volunteer trip I took to Costa Rica the summer after my junior year of high school. I would love to tell you about my time there!
Living with a Host Family
To start off, I was slightly nervous about going to Costa Rica because I had never traveled without my parents before. To my advantage, my twin sister (Megan) traveled there with me and I soon realized that my fears of traveling without my parents were not necessary. At the airport, we immediately found the staff driver who drove us about 2 hours to the village of Javillos where we would be staying along with a few other students.
I had an awesome host family who was very kind and considerate. Megan and I stayed in different houses with host families that were actually related to one another. I lived with a grandmother and her grown son, and Megan lived with the grandmother’s daughter and her husband and kids.
The grandmother only spoke Spanish but her son spoke English and Spanish. He told me that in order to improve my Spanish he would only speak Spanish to me throughout the week, and it really helped me learn Spanish in a new way. Of course, if I did not know how to say something or could not figure out how to communicate a phrase in Spanish, I would use my English and he would teach it to me in Spanish. I am very thankful for this experience.
Every day we would eat delicious fresh food with the family for breakfast and dinner, and a lunch was packed for us so we could eat it at the animal sanctuary. We were picked up each morning (Monday through Friday) and driven to the animal sanctuary.
Working at the Animal Sanctuary
On the first day at the animal sanctuary, everyone is given an orientation to learn about the animals there, how to properly feed them, and how to keep yourself safe when handling the animals. Throughout my stay, I felt like I was being safe and could always ask for help when I needed it.
The staff members at the wildlife sanctuary were some of the most passionate and generous people I have ever met. They make this experience amazing! Don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish because the staff will figure out a way to communicate to you regardless of the language barrier.
On the weekends we would go on (optional) excursions. I went zip-lining with a few friends I had made at from the program, which was so amazing and beautiful- I highly recommend it! The zip-line workers were hilarious and we got to see Costa Rica from a new perspective. If I had the chance to go back to Costa Rica, I would definitely go zip-lining again!
There is a good amount of free time on the trip. The free time is usually in the morning before getting picked up to go to the project, after the project, and after dinner. This time is spent with the host family (some times we watched Spanish soap operas), or it can be independent time. Even at the sanctuary, we are not working all day. They take breaks in the morning, afternoon, and in the middle of the day for lunch. You only do what you can capable of and there is no pressure from any of the staff members to be working the whole time.
Reflecting on My Time in Costa Rica
My favorite aspect of the program was meeting Adriana, the volunteer director at the sanctuary . She was such a kind-hearted woman who was always touched by the volunteers that came to help at the project. She served as an awesome role model for me while I was in Costa Rica, and I still look up to her now.
The trip as a whole was two weeks long and it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done!