Volunteering in Costa Rica

My STEP experience included a three- week service trip in San Jose, Costa Rica. I worked in a school for individuals with disabilities, from newborns to 22 years old. My specific placement was in a kindergarten classroom for children with hearing impairments. I assisted the teacher in the classroom’s daily activities and functioning.

Upon arriving in Costa Rica, I was taken back by how friendly and welcoming “Tico” culture is. The most challenging part about my experience began immediately after landing: the language barrier. I had taken Spanish classes all throughout high school, and sign language courses at OSU. However, being completely immersed in a new language was something I had never done. Not only was I trying to keep up with the Spanish language, but my sign language skills were also tested at my project. It was fascinating to learn not one, but two new cultures all at the same time.

Through these challenges and barriers, I learned that I could push myself further than I had ever imagined. I was given new tools and strategies to get throughout my day, and I was able to fully communicate with those around me. Before my trip to San Jose, I was not the most outgoing, adventurous person. I like to stick to routine and plan ahead. Although these organizational skills can be very beneficial in the right time and place, I think it is also important to learn how to go with the flow and be open to trying new things. Costa Rica opened my eyes to a new perspective and appreciation for things that may be outside of my comfort zone.

My favorite part of the experience was the diversity. I met so many different kinds of people from so many different backgrounds and places. Each relationship that was formed while I was in Costa Rica had an impact on my outlook and experiences. I worked Monday thru Friday and each weekend I was somewhere new. From mountains to waterfalls to beaches and volcanoes to rainforests- I feel like I saw it all. My host family was so loving and gracious to welcome me into their home. Marlene, my house mom, exposed me to many various Costa Rican dishes and made sure I visited her favorite destinations in San Jose. Most of all, I loved the volunteer community. New volunteers arrived each week, and with each person came other fascinating life goals from all over the world.

At my project, the students encouraged me to try my best to speak their language, and they influenced me to continue my sign language courses. They challenged me each day to learn new signs. I had to manage with what I knew, but it was fun to find alternate ways to express ourselves to one another. This new way of communicating was fascinating to me, and I plan to continue to push myself in this field.

This experience influenced me to constantly try new things. Whether it be a new place, new food, or introducing myself to someone new, I want to expose myself to as much as possible in my lifetime. Costa Rica influenced my life by showing me the extent of what I am capable of. I was able to immerse myself in a culture where I had two language barriers, and still managed to thrive in a way I would have never imagined. I believe that if I can problem solve that, then I can work my way towards anything I want to do. I hope to one day go back to Costa Rica and experience even more of their amazing “Tico” culture.

I had never been alone in such a completely immersed experience such as this one. I stretched and exceeded more than I thought I was capable of. This trip gave me confidence and encouragement to tackle any new experience with an open mind. I met so many amazing different people, each with different reasons for being on their trips. I learned to take life as it comes, enjoy the little things, and embrace every experience and encounter that I am given.

After this experience, I am more understanding and willing to learn about different ways of life. I was thrown alone into a culture, in which I didn’t know their language, customs, or city. At first, the unknown made me feel uneasy and scared, but I learned to adapt. In my future profession, Occupational Therapy, I hope that I can be empathetic to my patients who are afraid to try something new. A new lifestyle may be uneasy or scary, but after having been through this experience, I believe that I can help walk each person through it and ease his or her concerns.

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