Claire Ayers - 2015 Program Participant

Olive Ridley turtles in Costa Rica

Four brothers (or sisters) before going to the ocean

What inspired you to volunteer abroad?

I have always been intrigued by the world outside of the United States. My first exposure to the world was when I was in the first grade. My elementary school participated in a "shoebox" program, where we would pack a shoebox full of needed items to be sent to children in Kenya. I remember excitedly going to the grocery store with my mom, picking out a pair of pink tennis shoes, underwear, and reading books. "Where is Kenya?" I recall asking my mom. "Kenya is in this great, huge place called Africa, on the other side of the world." BOOM. That sentence had me hooked. There was a world outside my town and neighborhood? Of course, my family had traveled around the west coast of the United States along with Hawaii, but I had yet to realize the large scale of the world.

Fast forward to age 11, where "Google Maps" became a thing. I remember spending countless days opening this feature and dragging the "street view" person to anywhere in the world. From the streets of Paris, China, Mexico, or Australia, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to travel one day, and as middle school came around, I was overwhelmed with curiosity by my friends and family who were traveling the world. In high school, I knew I wanted to become an exchange student. And boy, it was the experience of a lifetime. After scholarships and dipping into my small college-savings funds, I was off to explore. And believe me when I say, it was the hardest and most rewarding experience that any 16 year-old could endure. But once it was over, and I was home, I was thirsty for more.

As an exchange student, I was confined to one town, one school, one country, one place to explore. And I needed more. I always wanted to give back to a needed area and, once it came time to decide my destiny (aka. choose a college) I was lost. I knew I couldn't be confined to four more years studying and working and getting myself into major debt. So I took a gap year.

I took a gap year to travel, volunteer, grow, learn, explore, see, and see if I could quench my undying thirst for the world.

Volunteer in Costa Rica with Olive Ridley turtle

Olive Ridley turtle saying hello before heading to the ocean

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

Unfortunately, money was a huge deciding factor of what I could or could not do during my trip abroad. So, I took to the wonderful Google. I spent hours on end of researching. From "volunteering programs abroad", I quickly realized some of these programs would cost me upwards of $8,000 for a month or more...and that was not realistic for me. It wasn't until I came across the ad "reliable and affordable volunteering abroad" for IVHQ that I did some investigating. Could it be true?! Six months in the Philippines for $2,210? Twelve weeks in Guatemala for $1,705? I knew I was in. IVHQ had me hooked.

For $2,065, I lived in Costa Rica for three months. This meant my meals, a bed, and a shower, along with support from the office in Costa Rica. These people spoke English, offered Spanish lessons, offered to help with directions and with any issues that would arise. They also offered numerous amounts of projects to choose from, be it construction work in the city, eco-agriculture conservation in the central highlands, teaching English, turtle conservation, and more. The "choice" was easy.

What was your favorite part about Costa Rica?

I lived ON the beach! Okay, maybe a short two-minute walk to the beach. But regardless, I could easily spend all of my free time at the beach. This beach also had very few visitors. Most people at this beach were people of the little town of about 400 residents. It was small, local, beautiful. Other locations were only a few hours away by bus if I wanted to go shopping, sightseeing, or take a surfing lesson. There was peace, tranquility, beauty, and opportunities for faster pace things to do, nearby.

What made your program experience unique?

The culture of my placement was what made it stand out to me, it's what made me love it so much. Everyone lived together, worked together, ate together, and went out to dinner together. Even the biologists joined in with the volunteers on the local karaoke night. The close-knit community aspect made me fall in love with this program.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff was so helpful! If we ever had any questions or confusion about anything, they happily would answer our questions. They often asked how we were doing, and it was obvious that they truly wanted us to enjoy our time!

Sunset on a beach in Costa Rica

Turtles heading to sea paired with a beautiful sunset

What's one thing you wish you could change about your program experience?

Honestly, I don't think I would change anything. Sure, I could have been more enthusiastic on certain nights where we would go patrol the beach at 2:00 a.m. and all I really wanted to do was sleep. But then I wouldn't have had nights where we sang Disney songs during patrol to keep us awake; or counted shooting stars while laying at the beach to keep our eyes from going heavy. Even the things I originally believed to not be so fun, turned out alright.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

A typical day would go like this: waking up at 6 a.m. to walk the beach or do some yoga, and returning at 8 a.m. for breakfast. After breakfast we would often clean up around the building by raking leaves, sweeping the floors, or taking out trash. Then we would have free time, which was usually spent by reading in hammocks or heading to the beach to swim or sunbathe. Lunchtime was at noon, and then we had a few more hours of free time to do as we pleased, which could mean going for a bike ride, hitting the beach, or getting an ice cream at the store.

Afternoon work would start around 2 p.m., where we would usually work in the hatchery (where the turtle nests are). This could include cleaning the sand from already-hatched nests, bringing fresh sand to holes, examining eggs, and checking for babies. This work would generally end around 5 p.m., and if there were babies, we would bring them to the beach at 5:30 p.m. (sunset) to watch them walk to the ocean. Next at 6:30 p.m. was dinner time, and the nightly patrol depended on the tide. This meant it could be at 7:30 p.m. or midnight!

What did you like to do on your freetime?

I loved going swimming! There is something about the ocean that feels like home. There's a special rush of emotion from diving under waves and swimming through the blue-green water to the sunshine above. It was equal parts tranquil as it was a rush of adrenaline. It was beautiful and exciting, and renewed my love for the big blue sea.

Baby black sea turtle in Costa Rica

Baby black sea turtle heading to the ocean

What was your accommodation like? What was your favorite part about it?

Our accommodation was similar to a hostel. I was in a room with four bunk beds, six fans, and eight girls. Our beds were simple, with one pillow and one sheet per bed, but that's all you could really need in the heat. We had space and shelving for our clothes and toiletries, along with space under the bunk beds for our backpacks or suitcases.

My most favorite part was living with other girls! It was so easy to make friends and have people to talk to. We spent many nights cleaning the kitchen dancing and singing to music, practicing yoga poses on the beach, or discussing global ideas together. There was never a dull moment.

How has volunteering abroad impacted your life at home?

I want to keep giving! I am motivated to find ways to impact my local community with environmentally friendly movements. I discovered how passionately I care about the earth and how I want to learn more about how myself and others can help protect her.