Tara is from Houston, Texas and volunteered in Costa Rica. As a volunteer, Tara had the opportunity to work in a school and teach local children.
How do you feel looking back on your experience in Costa Rica?
Looking back at my experience in Costa Rica, I feel very content and proud of myself. I am content with the friends I made and proud of my work abroad. I am also proud of myself because of the challenges I faced and how I became stronger and more globally aware after I returned. Looking back, I am honestly very lucky to have had this experience abroad and know it will help me grow personally and professionally.
Did you have any reservations before leaving for Costa Rica?
My major reservations were about food and being lonely. Since I am vegetarian, I was worried I would not have enough variety to eat. I was also worried about being lonely since this was my first trip abroad without family members. I was extremely nervous about being home sick as well.
What was your first impression of Costa Rica?
My first impression of Costa Rica was: lush greenery and hills. On the drive to Atenas from the airport, it was amazing to be driving in hills and seeing all the lush greenery around me. It was very different from Texas and I couldn’t help but to smile the whole drive.
How did your first impressions/nervousness (if any) change from when you arrived to when you left?
I think I really got accustomed to life there which made the loneliness and home sickness easier. I still missed my family and friends, but I really started feeling like I had a family there too. The family and teachers there started showering me with gifts and hugs the last week so it made it hard to leave! I also fell in love with the food. In Atenas, my host mom was known for her cooking, so I was spoiled with amazing vegetarian meals every day. She was so wonderful at making different things for each meal so food was never a problem.
Tell me about where you lived. Did it add to your experience?
The town I lived in was called Atenas. This beautiful small town added a lot to my experience. I loved being in the small town and being able to walk everywhere. I also really liked the fact that it is really safe in the town which made me feel a lot more comfortable. I also loved the public transit in the city and how easy it was to get from city to city.
Did you have any trouble with language barriers?
Language was never a huge problem for me. Though I forgot a lot of my high school Spanish, I was able to manage pretty well. Sometimes with my host mom, it was a little harder to understand, but we got through it.
Tell me about your volunteer project.
I volunteered in a school that was in a town very close to Atenas. I was assisting the English teacher and helping her prepare for an upcoming English day. I would usually work one on one with students who were doing speeches in English for the event or in small groups with students who were preparing for the English spelling bee. It was really an unique experience to get to see these students work hard to memorize these speeches and spelling words on top of their regular school work.
Tell me about a typical day for you from the time you got up until the time you went to sleep.
5:40 A.M. Wake up and get ready! This was very hard at first, but actually got really easy as the days went by!
6:15 A. M. A delicious breakfast!
6:55 A.M. Take the bus to my placement school.
7:15 A.M. Arrive at the school and help the English teacher.
1:20 P.M Take the bus back to Atenas
2 P.M. A hot and fresh lunch at home!
3 P. M. Spanish class (usually 2 or 3 times a week)
4:30 P.M. Meet with other volunteers and walk around the town. We would often grab a pastry or Café con leche.
6 P.M. Dinner with family at home.
7 P.M. Talk with family/ friends back home, talk to host family, write blog posts, or do work from the school if the teacher needed help.
9 P.M. Watch T.V. and get ready for bed.
10 P.M Fast asleep! I was not used to sleeping at such an early time, but it was much needed and felt very good to get full rest!
How did you get around? (i.e. going to your project, traveling, going to a store…etc.)
One of the best parts of Atenas was the fact that I could walk everywhere in the town. Back in the States, I have to take my car everywhere! I also loved the fact that public transit was so convenient and cost effective! I loved getting up in the morning and taking the bus to my work or on weekends taking the bus to all the trips we made. As soon as I came back, I missed that convenience of walking and taking buses!
What made you want to volunteer abroad and specifically why in Costa Rica?
Ever since high school, I have dreamed of going abroad. I love helping people and traveling, so volunteering abroad was the perfect opportunity. My major requirement was that it had to be somewhere Spanish-speaking. I absolutely love the Spanish language and culture, so being immersed in it was a dream I had to fulfill. The other requirement was the fact that it had to have nice beaches! Costa Rica filled both those requirements perfectly!
How did your time in Costa Rica impact you? What do you carry with you now because of your experience?
I think my time in Costa Rica had a pretty big impact on me. It made me gather a more worldly view of education and living styles. The two things I carry with me most, though, are Spanish language skills and adaptability. I am one of those people that likes to plan everything and know exactly what’s coming. Costa Rica was full of many surprises, both good and bad, which forced me to be more adaptable.
What are you doing now? Do you have future travels plans?
As soon as I got back, I started working in a school! It was great to compare the two countries and how the students behave and such. I do have future travel plans. I would like to explore the world with friends and family by my side. I think that after Costa Rica I feel like I would like to get a taste of other parts of the world.
What advice would you give someone traveling abroad?
The best advice I could give is prepare as best you can in terms of what you want to see, what to pack, and general information about the Country but also expect the unexpected. I had to become really adaptable and open-minded. Having that mindset before you leave will help to make your experience even better.
How did you hear about World Endeavors, and why did you choose WE over other programs?
I actually heard about World Endeavors through a different travel abroad organization. After doing research, I realized that World Endeavors would be the right fit. The first thing I liked about World Endeavors was the flexibility. I liked that I could choose when I wanted to go and that admissions were rolling. After finally applying, I liked their personal feel. They were wonderful in reaching out to me and making sure they found the perfect placement for me. What really touched me was the fact that a couple days before I left for my trip, they called me to answer any last minute questions and help me out. This really helped calm my nerves and make me feel confident. I also loved the fact that they gave me an opportunity to share my love for writing by giving me the Travel Correspondent Scholarship. Once I got to Costa Rica, the in-country coordinators as well as the World Endeavors coordinators maintained that personal relationship which made the experience a lot more comfortable for me.
Number one story you love to tell about your time abroad:
One story I love to tell is when I went to Manuel Antonio. We were walking back to our hotel and saw a creepy shadow on an electricity wire. We stopped to take a look and it turned out to be a sloth (perezoso as they say in Costa Rica)! It was such a cool moment because it showed how unified the nature is in Costa Rica. The animals are able to adapt to human structures and roam freely. We were all mesmerized in that moment!
Number one challenge about being abroad:
My personal challenge was adaptability. I remember there was a day and a half without running water, and it was hard for me to adjust to using water out of buckets for basic tasks like brushing my teeth! But, it was a good challenge to face because it made me appreciate running water and gave me a view of how adaptable Ticos are and how they were able to manage without water and embrace to the situation as well.
Most important thing you gained from your time abroad:
I think the most important thing I gained from my time abroad is a worldly view. I aspire to be the best possible teacher I can, so the knowledge I gained from my experience will help me be more tolerable to different students. I think the challenges there strengthened me as a person and allowed me to see the difference in education systems which will allow me to se
Anything you learned about yourself, US culture, etc?
One thing I learned about myself is that I really like that small town feel. I never thought of myself as a person who would like a small town, but I just loved that feel of everyone knowing each other and being able to walk and use public transit! I still miss not being able to take the bus to work and walk to the grocery store. I also like the fact that big cities were close enough to visit on weekends.
Anything else you wish to share?
Traveling abroad with World Endeavors was an amazing experience. I am so grateful for this opportunity.