So as of this blog entry, I have been in Costa Rica for about 2 weeks and some change. Meaning that this post is somewhat overdue. (There’s so much to write about, but so little time to actually write!) Since this past Thursday, July 16, marked the end of my first week of volunteering, I thought it’d be nice to talk about how I’ve been adjusting here and how my first week went.
Before I arrived, I was so nervous about how I would be received here. Up until most recently, I’ve had a pretty sheltered existence. I lived in the same state, in the same area, for most of my life and only moved to Miami about a year and a half ago. So anywhere that isn’t Atlanta is both exciting and scary at the same time. But once I got here, I realized that my nerves were for nothing. Everyone here has been warm and welcoming. Silvia, my host, and her family, have been so great. I only wish I could better express my gratitude for their hospitality. And all the AIESEC UCR members have been really great too. Especially “Mom” and “Mr. Potter”. They’ve been instrumental in helping me get accustomed here and in teaching me more about Costa Rica.
And that’s just the people. There are so many beautiful places and things to see. Unfortunately, there’s not enough time to see everything but, I’m trying to make the most of my stay. Already, I’ve had the chance to visit several places–museums, malls, beaches, a waterfall, a volcano–and there’s more to come. Plus, in my travels both near and far from San Jose, I’ve met so many people from all over the world. It’s interesting to hear all the different accents and languages and stories. Thanks to this volun-tour experience I now have an extreme case of wanderlust.
As I mentioned in my first blog entry, the project I am on is called My Cultural School. Our group will be doing maintenance work at a school here in Costa Rica, but a large part of our work is also intercultural exchange. So in that spirit, the first official week was all about teaching a group of local kids about our various countries/cultures. In our group, there are 3 Brazilians, 2 Mexicans, 1 Estonian, and me. Our group leader is a local and she was responsible for organizing our project and recruiting the local kids to participate.
Mexico was first. My favorite part of their presentation is the art project that we did with the kids. We made piñatas! I can’t remember the last time I did any kind of art project, which is pretty sad, because this was a lot of fun. I forgot how relaxing it is to just create something with your hands, at your own pace, for the fun of it. Most of the piñatas turned out well and we were able to fill them with candy for the kids. I could tell they had fun making them.
Brazil was next. The three volunteers had so many items from Brazil with them and one of the volunteers even baked sweets for the kids. Their presentation was the most festive in my opinion. I particularly enjoyed the cultural dance. Vicky* is from the southern part of Brazil and on the day of the Brazil presentation, she dressed in traditional clothing and taught all the children a typical partner dance.
Then came Estonia. Aside from the general facts, my favorite part, once again, was the cultural dance. I could tell the kids enjoyed this particular dance the most. I’d describe it as high-spirited and joyful. Also, quite TIRING, but worth the energy.
The United States was last. My presentation wasn’t as interesting as I wanted it to be. Mostly because of technical difficulties and few props. In hindsight, I think it was also difficult for me because I struggled to define “American culture.” There are many things associated with the United States, (like Coca-Cola, baseball, apple pie, Beyonce, etc.), but the U.S. is also a multi-cultural society. There are cultural influences from all over the world. Ultimately, I did the best I could. I just hope the kids learned something.
Before I knew it, Thursday came. We planned a super fun last day, full of games and outdoor activities, culminating in a farewell party. For me, the absolute best part of the day (and the whole week) was Maria Paula. This adorable little girl gave me THE BEST parting gift–a handmade art craft that says “Thanks for teaching me about America.” I still can’t believe how sweet and thoughtful she is! Even better, she made one for each of the volunteers in their native language (Portuguese, Estonian, and Spanish).
What a week! It was so rewarding. I just hope the kids that attended had a great time and learned something too. Who knows? Maybe they’ll look back on this experience years from now and remember how much fun it all was. I know I’ll never forget it.
(*Name has been changed.)