Alice Robinson - General Teaching Projects in Costa Rica
Arriving in the dark
As I searched the arrivals crowd for the Projects Abroad staff member, shifting my enormous rucksack awkwardly on my back after a 17 hour journey, the first thing I noticed was the heat; for the first time in my life I actually wanted to open a car window in early January!
It was lovely to meet another volunteer as soon as I arrived at my host family; I was welcomed with huge smiles and a huge plate of rice and beans – a dish deliciously comforting at first, but which I soon discovered was the norm every day, three times a day.
The sun sets early each day in Costa Rica (around 6pm!) so thankfully, after exchanging Spanish pleasantries with my host mum, Nancy, I could sleep off my jet lag.
My first weekend
I think the complete amazingness of the whole experience first hit me when I found myself, on my first weekend in Heredia with seven other lovely volunteers travelling on a sunshine-bathed bus back from swimming in some beautiful, gigantic waterfalls in the middle of a forest. The ‘pura vida’ attitude of the ‘ticos’ (Costa Ricans) quickly caught on and I could feel myself relaxing more and more as time went on.
Meeting the children
Asociación Obras del Espíritu Santo (AOES ) was immediately somewhere I knew I’d enjoy working; the kids could not have been more friendly and I loved being with all of them.
I went to Costa Rica partly to improve my Spanish and working in AOES certainly helped with this; neither the children nor the ‘profesoras’ spoke a word of English. Sometimes I even had to translate between the children and the frequent visitors from American and Canadian schools. It didn’t take long for my friend Caro and I to realise that all they really wanted to know was people’s relationship statuses!
Whilst playing, singing and skipping with the kids was constant fun, the teaching itself was slightly trickier. With no schedule and different children each day, the main way we got through to them was endless repetition, running-around-the-classroom-style games and songs. The cup song from ‘Pitch Perfect’, Titanic and ‘Let It Go’ from ‘Frozen’ were constant favourites for the whole four months I was there.
My fellow volunteers
I never thought when I came to Costa Rica that I’d meet such a variety of people from such a variety of places. Whilst when I arrived there were only around 15 volunteers staying in Heredia, by late February/early March, our numbers had swelled to something like 50; we completely filled the restaurant at one of our social events.
One of my favourite memories is meeting up at our favourite restaurant/café almost every evening for ‘batidos’ (smoothies), chatting, arguing and much laughing. We played five-a-side football together, watched the Champions League, went paintballing, to karaoke, to the cinema, shopping, bowling and of course, dancing.
One particular way we all got to know each other was the weekends away. Costa Rica has a plethora of places of amazing natural beauty; even the sweltering five hour bus journeys without air conditioning seemed worth it when one looked at the white sands, the shining blue sea and the hundreds and hundreds of palm trees. I will never forget horse riding in Montezuma; galloping across the absolutely empty beaches with sparkling blue as far as the eye could see on one side, and jungle on the other, the sun beating down on my back.
Later that evening, after playing card games, dancing and meeting all sorts of new people, we built a bonfire on the beach and told stories whilst lying around and looking at the stars.
Another highlight was the catamaran trip I and three friends went on in Manuel Antonio (the most popular national park in the country). With food, two jacuzzis, two slides, scuba diving, dolphins and one of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life, could it really get any better?
Even though I am possibly the biggest wimp in the world, superman zip-lining in the Monteverde cloud forest between two mountains was absolutely unbelievable; I truly felt like I was flying. In fact, I think I became a lot braver whilst I was away; even almost flying off a water slide in the middle of the jungle!
The greatest surprise of my travels was the sheer natural beauty of Nicaragua. Whilst Costa Rica is pretty touristy, Nicaragua is much less commercial. I and the other English volunteer were lucky enough to find paradise; the Laguna de Apoyo. A volcano there imploded in on itself, creating a huge crater which then filled with water to make a lake with apparently the warmest, cleanest water in the whole of Central America.
Honestly I cannot overstate how beautiful and relaxing this place was; I could have stayed there for a week. I especially remember kayaking out to the middle of the lagoon, surrounded by green hills, diving into the warm water and then talking and sharing secrets until the sun went down and we paddled back to the fairy lights and hammocks of the beach bar.
Saying ‘Ciao’ to the Tico ‘Pura Vida’ Lifestyle
Four months flew by and in no time at all I had to say goodbye to everyone; to my host family, the Projects Abroad staff who’d helped me with everything, to the kids and, saddest of all, to the other volunteers.
On my last day at school I brought in lollipops and cakes for all the children and they presented me with a card signed by all of them and wrote goodbye messages on the whiteboards. It was terribly sad to know I might not ever see them again in person, but I’ll keep hoping! They’ve demanded postcards from England, so I’ll be getting down to write them as soon as possible.
As my two best friends and I were all leaving around the same time, we held a huge goodbye party in our house (thanks to our very kind host mum) for all our volunteer friends. After attending so many goodbye events for others over our time there, it was hard to believe that the next day I would be the one back on a plane.
I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better send-off; we had a BBQ, played twister, ate cake, thought back nostalgically on all the memories we’d made and photos we’d taken, went out dancing one more time and sang all the way home in the taxi. I almost cried when I was driven away to the airport!
The whole experience was even better than I expected it to be; every single day was exciting in some way, and it was lovely to have the other volunteers so nearby. I can’t wait to meet up with them again, and I hope to one day return to Costa Rica and do all the things I couldn’t quite fit in last time!