Volunteer Opportunities in Costa Rica
When I began volunteering with local non-profit organizations back home, I realized that giving back to the community inspired me, expanded my horizons, and allowed me to become the well-rounded person that I am today. This is the part of my life that allows me to step outside my comfort zone, better understand my strengths and overcome my weaknesses.
For these reasons, I was enthralled to discover all of the volunteer programs that CEA has to offer in Costa Rica. Activities range from volunteering at a veterinary clinic to spending time at local orphanages and day-care centers. Some students have also volunteered their time engaging in diverse activities at butterfly gardens, schools, and a natural medicine healing garden. When I studied abroad in Costa Rica, I was interested in the healthcare sector of the country, and I dedicated some of my non-classroom time at the Children’s Hospital in San Jose.
Started in the 1960s, this hospital is recognized for its service to the larger group of Tico families in Costa Rica. Being a public hospital, it receives an abundance of visitations from people all around the country. As a volunteer, I worked with the children in different departments throughout the hospital while they were waiting, admitted, or recovering. I got the opportunity to play with the children, read books in Spanish with them, teach them English, or just simply talk with them while the parents went to the laboratory. I was able to learn more of the language, cultural practices, and medical terminology and symptoms during my time at the hospital.
As volunteers, we were asked to be present for a minimum of three hours a day, so I divided my time at the hospital in the different units. My experience enabled me to not only serve the patients in their time of need, but also to serve my interests in learning another language and foreign health care. Although at first I didn’t think I could make a strong impact due to minimal Spanish skills, I was surprised at how quickly my interaction helped the families in the hospital and transformed my Spanish and communication skills. After several weeks, I was able to clearly understand physician-patient conversations and diagnoses. This was a highlight of my academic experience. Not only was I learning another language, but I was doing so in my own field of study.
The volunteer program offered through the Children’s Hospital was started by a group of women- “damas” – who wanted to contribute time to the community through the avenue of helping children. They began recruiting more female volunteers to build their program by reaching out to schools, other volunteers, and study abroad programs. Today, through, the connection with CEA, this volunteer program engages all interested female study abroad students that come through CEA by providing a segue into the Costa Rican community. This experience has enabled me to grow as an individual and expanded my knowledge of the country’s culture and government.
Similarly, other CEA San Jose volunteer programs intrigue volunteers by allowing them to intermingle their interests with their experience. By doing so, our volunteer job becomes more like a hobby–something enjoyable and natural. Through such eye-opening experiences, we tend to forget our language barrier and cultural differences; volunteering abroad becomes fun, simple, and worthwhile. Similarly, many other volunteer programs in Costa Rica leave the students feeling served more than being the ones who did the serving– a characteristic that makes the study abroad experience so more worthwhile, so much more ‘pura vida’.
Bhumi P. is a CEA San Jose Winter 2015 alumna and a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University. She is currently a CEA On-Site Ambassador in San Jose, Costa Rica, where she supports the on-site team and helps students make the most of their time abroad.