I wanted a chance to not only travel the world, but to make a difference in the places I traveled to. Volunteering abroad allowed me to do not only this, but to fully immerse myself in the culture.
Why did you choose International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)?
I am looking to apply to medical school next year, so it seemed fitting to choose a medical program abroad. I wanted to see how medical practices around the world differ from those in the United States. I choose to travel with IVHQ because of their easy to use website and their great support team.
What was your favorite part about Costa Rica?
My favorite part of San José, Costa Rica was the welcomeness of the locals. Every person I encountered was so friendly and helpful. The people of Costa Rica would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. I felt a part of the community while I was there.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Before going on my trip I envisioned how I thought I could make an impact on the community, and how I was going to make a difference. In reality, I learned and received more from the people of Costa Rica than I could have ever given to them. My whole view of international health care has been changed, and I can't wait to volunteer in my next country (and go back to Costa Rica, of course).
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local support team was wonderful. They were so welcoming and so helpful. Any problems that I ran into were quickly resolved. They offer 24 hour support for any of your needs.
What surprised you most about Costa Rica?
The thing that surprised me the most about Costa Rica was how friendly and welcoming the people of Costa Rica are! Every time I had a question to ask there was always someone willing to help. Costa Rican’s love having visitors in their country!
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
My only regret is that I wish would have stayed longer! I could have stayed a full year and that would not have been long enough.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
7:00 a.m. - Breakfast served at host home
7:30 a.m. - Travel to the local headquarters by public bus
8:00 a.m. - Meet with friends who I had met while volunteering and travel to our volunteer locations
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. - Volunteer ( I volunteered in both a nursing home and a private ambulance service)
1:00 p.m. - Travel back to local headquarters and eat lunch
3:00pm - Spanish Class (I definitely recommended taking Spanish classes if you are not fluent.)
4:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. - Hang out at the headquarters (They offer things like free cooking classes and free salsa classes, with chips and guac of course.)
6:30 p.m. - Travel home
7:00 p.m. - Dinner at host home
The weekends are free for volunteers to do whatever they wish. Many volunteers go to see the beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, etc. One weekend while I was there the local team put on a free hike for volunteers.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Walking around the city, salsa classes, visiting the beaches, visiting volcanoes, visiting hot springs, etc.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I stayed in a home stay. Generally volunteers are placed together, so you will not be the only volunteer in your homestay. If you don't have another volunteer with you, don't stress; I was alone and it was just fine because my host mom was wonderful!
She made traditional Costa Rican food every breakfast and dinner. As a vegetarian, she was more than accommodating. Homestays allow you to make a strong relationship with your host family. Both my host mom and I were in tears the day I left.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
At the beginning of my trip it was difficult for me to communicate with the locals, because I had not taken Spanish classes in years! After a couple of days in the country, I quickly began to remember how to speak Spanish and communication became much easier!
What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?
The hardest part about volunteering abroad was learning how to communicate with people who speak another language. During my time in Costa Rica I did learn quite a bit of Spanish!
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Be open to new things. Immersing yourself in a new culture really allows you experience and learn about the culture. I would have left with regrets if I hadn't tried all the new things I did.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Costa Rica?
Do not forget your camera!
If you are headed to Costa Rica between May and November, do not forget to bring a good umbrella and shoes for walking in the rain!
Dress conservatively. Be sure you are not wearing short shorts or revealing tops, especially during your volunteer projects.
It does get a little cold at night, so be sure to bring a sweatshirt or light jacket. You will also want these if you venture to the top of a volcano!
Is there anything you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Costa Rica?
One thing I wish I would have know before volunteering in Costa Rica is how fulfilling the experience was going to be. I definitely would have stayed longer!
Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad impacted your life?
I have a new vision of how to provide health care, and how international health care works. I got to experience a true inside view of how the health care system in Costa Rica works.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
I feel that the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is truly being able to immerse yourself in a culture. I learned more about Costa Rica by volunteering abroad than I ever would have just visiting the country on my own.
By volunteering abroad you truly get to live in the culture while you are there.
Would you recommend IVHQ to others? Why?
I would recommend IVHQ for anyone who is thinking about volunteering abroad. The pre-travel and local in country support was great. They really give you all the tools and resources you need to succeed in your program.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
If I could ever volunteer abroad again, I would definitely go back to Costa Rica! I would also like to volunteer in other places throughout Central America and Southeast Asia.
Jamie is a pre-medical student from Minnesota. After an undergraduate degree in exercise science and some time in nursing school, she decided to pursue a career in medicine. At home, Jamie volunteers regularly with a delirium prevention program at a local hospital and she also runs a gymnastics program. Jamie has traveled to many places abroad, but her trip to Costa Rica was her first time volunteering abroad.