Keri Larsen is from Indiana, where she studied Elementary and Special Education. She volunteered teaching children abroad in Costa Rica with World Endeavors.
How was your experience in Costa Rica?
I think about it every day. It was the best experience of my life, hands down. It was a lot of learning, a lot of fun and a lot of relationship building. It opened my eyes to so many things. I’m so glad I went.
Had you been abroad before? What were your first impressions of Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is GORGEOUS. I was sitting on the plane looking down at the volcano and the beautiful country.
Tell us about your volunteer placement.
I was placed with one teacher at the school for the most part. I would help her with English by correcting her pronunciation as she taught. I did 2nd and 3rd grade math and I even got to teach children’s songs from the U.S. It was cool because I was able to actually teach, and I got to see the differences between teaching in Costa Rica and the US.
I have the passion to become bilingual so I would love to go abroad again. The school even invited me back once I get my teaching degree!
What was your favorite thing about your volunteer placement?
Being with the kids was my favorite part of the placement; they were just so loving and adorable. They would cling onto me every single day, and give me hugs and play with me. I have all these pictures of the children hanging up in my room and I say all of their names every day so I don’t forget. I just enjoyed being able to try and make a difference in their lives. I don’t know if they will remember me in ten years, but I will remember them.
I loved seeing the faces of the children when I would explain something and I could see it “click,” knowing they understood.
Why did you want to volunteer abroad in Costa Rica with World Endeavors?
I knew when I was in college that I wanted to go abroad, and in my freshman year I started searching and found World Endeavors’ program. The affordable cost, for one thing, made me interested in World Endeavors and having everything included was great. Everything on the website was clear and explicit and I felt that I could take this to my study abroad center on my campus and they would approve it. I brought a huge folder to the study abroad office and they said, “We aren’t affiliated with this organization,” and I said “you should be!” Everything seemed to match up. I was able to talk to real people, and it made it very easy to choose World Endeavors.
Did you find any challenges with the language barrier?
I had Spanish in high school and a little in college, but it had been a year since I had been around it. When I first got to Costa Rica there was definitely a language barrier, but people were really helpful. Our host family really helped us too by making us speak Spanish at dinner and correcting us.
I had to ask people to slow down a lot in the beginning, but by the time I left I could understand so much more and I gained a lot of confidence to speak back. It makes me want to go again to gain more confidence in speaking!
How did you get around?
Going to school I would take the bus in the morning because it was about 2 miles down the mountain, but we would walk back for exercise. If we went to a store we could either walk or take a taxi. The first two experiences on the bus were a little crazier than the rest of them since nobody is on a strict time schedule! Looking back on it I’m proud that we were able to figure it out.
Tell us about your host family.
My host family was incredible and I still talk to them every week! They were the nicest family ever, I feel like they were my parents. They would make dinner, let us help, and talk to us in Spanish. Our host sister was close to our age so she would take us out. The family even took us on vacation with them for four days! We cooked them some traditional meals from the States and we exchanged recipes. They would take us to the market and the grocery store. They offered that we can stay with them anytime and all we have to pay for is the plane ticket. I am definitely going to try to take them up on that in the next few years!
What did you do in your free time?
We always took a nap after volunteering, got up, did some homework and then hung out. We would watch movies with our host sister, eat dinner, and do other family things. We traveled every single weekend, saw a volcano, did white water rafting, went hiking in the rainforest, and went zip-lining. We went to the beaches a few times too.
What was a typical meal in Costa Rica?
Even though it was beans and rice everyday, I loved it and never got tired of it! My host dad made really good ribs too!
What are you doing now? Have you found that your time abroad has impacted you in any way?
I’ve started my junior year in college and I’m super busy. Now that I am back, I have most definitely found that Costa Rica affected me. I look at the world differently now, through different perspectives. I am more aware of different cultures and I hope to know more about other cultures too. As far as going into the education field, I feel like I can relate to Latin American kids more. I want to do it again!
Do you believe your time in the school impacted your future career goals?
It really showed me where I need to be. I was actually able to teach there and it gave me a glimpse of what being a teacher is going to be like.
Most important thing you gained from your time abroad:
The whole experience really made me realize who I am. It solidified everything that I thought that I wanted and it ended up being the best experience in my life. I gained perspective on my life as well as on other cultures.
It was interesting to see the difference in education styles between Costa Rica and the U.S. I learned a lot about myself in the teacher’s role, and I realized everything that people in the United States take everything for granted. I also learned that I would rather spend my time and money on experiences than material objects.
Anything else you wish to share?
I already have started suggesting this program to other students. We’re doing things on campus to tell people about World Endeavors and to get more education majors to go through this program. Our school didn’t offer anything like what World Endeavors does for education majors, so we are hoping to promote this experience through our study abroad office!