Christina Giordano - 2015 Program Participant

Hiking in Costa Rica

Exploring Costa Rica

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I decided to apply for an international program because I was inspired to go back to the beautiful country of Costa Rica and continue to engage in service, since I participated in an alternative break in the Los Santos region in January.

Why did you choose IVHQ’s program in Costa Rica?

I was searching for an affordable option to participate in service abroad in Costa Rica and IVHQ seemed to offer the best price as well as programming. I have teaching experience and knew teaching English was the service I wanted to do.

What was your favorite part about volunteering in Costa Rica?

My favorite part about my placement in Costa Rica is that I could definitely own my project and make it unique to my students. We had a lot of freedom to plan our own lessons and I was the sole teacher in the classroom for 15 to 20 adults. My students were empowering, inspiring, and willing to learn.

What made your teaching placement unique?

I think the freedom to create your own lesson plans and really make the experience your own makes this program unique. IVHQ and Maximo Nivel were great to work with.

How did the local staff support you during your time in Costa Rica?

The local staff of Maximo Nivel were great, particularly the two guys in charge of client services. They were always helpful. In terms of my field manager, he showed us how to get to our service site via public transportation (the buses) and, for the adults, he gave an example lesson plan. He provided helpful tips for teaching English and we had a 45 minute crash course in teaching ESL the previous day. However, after that there was really no oversight or feedback, which is where the independent part comes in. Since I had teaching experience and spoke conversational Spanish, I really didn't mind but I think if you do not speak a little Spanish or are not comfortable in a classroom setting it could be hard.

View of Costa Rica from the sky

It's a beautiful country, with beautiful people

Is there anything you wish you could change about your program?

I would definitely make the field manager's role in the local staff more engaging. Although I don't want to be micromanaged, I would've liked to touch base with the manager of the project more.

What is one thing that surprised you about volunteering abroad?

One thing that surprised me about this trip is the immense amount of independence you have in terms of making the experience and program what you want.

What was a normal day like for you in Costa Rica?

I knew that during this abroad service experience I wanted to fully immerse myself in the culture and take full advantage of the two weeks I had in San Jose. In the morning, we had breakfast in the homestay, usually the family was getting ready for school when we woke up. Then, I would take a bus to get to Maximo in the morning with my roommate around 7 a.m. (her project was in the morning, mine in the afternoon). Our host mom showed us how to take the bus the first day.

Then I would go to the computer lab and plan my lesson between an hour and an hour and a half depending on what we were learning that day. Sometimes, I would make plans with my tandem conversation partner to meet up and chat or I would explore the surrounding areas. I would eat lunch with volunteers around 11 a.m., and then I would leave for my project site with two other volunteers around 12:45 p.m. and return around 5:30 p.m. Time went by surprisingly fast. Then after having dinner with the host family I would sleep or go hang out with other volunteers I met at the local partner home base.

Street painting in Costa Rica

Pura Vida

What was your favorite part about your program aside from your teaching placement?

My favorite activity was definitely speaking with my tandem conversation partner. We talked for an hour and a half and we both got to practice the language we were learning; half the time we spoke in English and half in Spanish. We literally talked about everything.

Tell us more about your accommodation.

I stayed in a homestay with a family in Sabanilla. The family was really sweet and I appreciated how they welcomed us into their home. I had a very different home stay experience from other volunteers. Each home stay is different. They had four children who were awesome! My host mom was always helpful and patient. She patiently explained the cab and bus system many times to me.

How has volunteering and teaching in Costa Rica impacted your life?

The program has impacted my life in multiple ways. Participating in service abroad gives you a whole different perspective on life in general, it gives you a lot of time to reflect and be appreciative for what you have. I am so happy that I was able to meet people from all over the world and become friends with many of them.

Traveling alone is something I think everyone should do because it is such a unique experience and you really get to enjoy the small victories of navigating a foreign transportation system, knowing your way around a new city, communicating in a different language, and even getting to your terminal on time.

This meaningful experience has impacted my life in a positive way and contributed to my excitement about studying abroad in the future.

Teaching Volunteers in Costa Rica

Gracias para una experiencia gran - such a meaningful trip

Would you recommend IVHQ to others interested in teaching abroad in Costa Rica?

It was great, and I definitely would recommend IVHQ to others!