Kayla Holder - 2014 Program Participant

Members of Circo Fantazztico in Costa Rica

Practicing with the touring members of Circo Fantazztico and various interns. (Kayla, bottom left backbend)

What inspired you to intern abroad?

My three major passions in life are art, travel, and social outreach. I believe that theatre and art are meant to cross borders, are universal, and have the extraordinary power to unite people from all walks of life. I wanted to find a way to be a part of this international network, and to push myself beyond the edges of my comfort zone in order to create relationships worldwide.

What led you to choose Costa Rica?

I chose Costa Rica because I have always been interested in traveling to Central America. Living there would mean that I would be forced to learn to communicate in Spanish, be exposed to a different cultural lifestyle, and have a chance to explore the marvelous tropical landscape. It was an opportunity that I could not allow myself to pass.

Why did you choose Performing Arts Abroad over other organizations?

Performing Arts Abroad gave me the incredible opportunity to combine each one of my passions in a creative way. The internship that developed for me was geared to foster my personal motivations and goals. The PAA staff was amazingly personable, supportive, and attentive throughout the entire process of my program, which gave me a strong feeling of security and support.

Volunteers playing with children in Longo Maï, Costa Rica

Circo Fantazztico interns playing theatre games with the children of Longo Maï, a small farming village.

Where did you live in Costa Rica? What were your housing arrangements like?

I lived in San Jose for one week with a host mother and her son. I had to take a bus to and from their house in order to get to my Spanish lessons and back. Their house was clean and cozy, and my host mother Ligia always had a hot meal waiting for me on the table in the morning and evening. I had a private room there and for a part of my stay I had two other host sisters who were also students studying abroad.

For the rest of my stay, I lived in San Isidro with another host mother. Her name was Luz and she was incredibly welcoming. Luz always had family or friends coming in and out, which made for a fun time. There was no hot water or wifi in her house, but that was something that I adjusted to quickly. I learned to live without excess and it was extremely enlightening.

What was your favorite part about your accommodation?

My favorite part has to be that in both of my living situations I was made to feel at home right away and it was as if I was part of the family from day one. Even though we spoke different languages we found alternative ways to communicate clearly, which is a remarkably beautiful ability. I created such loving bonds with my host mothers that I know will last a lifetime.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered in Costa Rica?

Culture shock is a real thing. I did not personally expect to experience it, but it hit me at a moment of vulnerability. I was traveling from San Jose to San Isidro for the first time and when I arrived there was a miscommunication between my host mother and me, which left me stranded in at a bus stop for a significant amount of time. Despite my efforts to communicate with passersby, I was unable to understand where I was supposed to be. I was exhausted and hungry from a day’s worth of traveling, and overall overwhelmed by my lack of communication skills. In the end, it all worked out with the help of my PAA advisors and I was safely situated at my new home.

Also, towards the end of my trip I became very ill and had to go to the hospital due to a bacterial infection, probably brought on by something I drank or ate.

Tarzan Swing in the cloud forest of Monte Verde, Costa Rica

Kayla walking the plank to jump from the infamous Tarzan Swing in the cloud forest of Monte Verde.

What advice would you give to others interested in interning in Costa Rica?

  • Go with the flow and learn to untie yourself from the clock.
  • Be cautious of drinking the water. Even though people may say it is safe, your body may not be used to certain enzymes or chemicals and that can easily result in sickness.
  • Take advantage of the fact that you are living in a beautifully diverse climate, so take some time to appreciate the wildlife and scenery around you.
  • Make personal connections with the Ticos. Do not miss out on other people and do not let them miss out on you. Be safe of course, but recognize that cultural exchange can amount to rich moments of education and joy.

How has your internship with PAA impacted your life?

Overall, this experience has pumped me with a deeper desire to use art as a collaborative channel towards social change. I interned at Circo Fantazztico, which is part of the program Vida Nueva. Its mission is to act against “social and economic separation of groups of people in San Isidro el General, especially concentrating on children and youth that have been victims of abandonment, violence and inter-familiar abuse.” I volunteered at local orphanages and barrios where I played theatre games with and led physical exercises for young children. Seeing their eyes light up during an opportunity to creatively express, to let their troubles go for an hour or two, was enchanting and unbelievably rewarding. They would look at me as though I was their hero, when in reality, they are the mighty ones.

Also, working with the circus sparked my interest, and since I have been back in Chicago I have taken aerial arts classes and have a new focus and footing in the realms of physical theatre.

Would you recommend Performing Arts Abroad program in Costa Rica to others? 

I would absolutely recommend Performing Arts Abroad to others. This program opened my eyes to the power of art and the brilliance of humanity. I learned so much about myself on this journey and had a significant amount of independence, but always knew that I was supported by a remarkable team of advisors who would be there for me in a heartbeat. Performing Arts Abroad allowed me to unleash my creative potential in a new and exciting environment.

Volunteering with Children in Lomas Cocori, Costa Rica

Michel and Ines, both interns from Germany, assist children with headstands in the neighborhood of Lomas Cocorí.

You experienced culture shock upon your arrival in Costa Rica, did you also experience culture shock when you returned home?

Yes, it was a definite adjustment. I got used to living minimally in Costa Rica, (without air conditioning, hot water, internet, etc.). I found that my priorities were not the same as many of my friends back in the U.S., and I realized that I was so happy with the Costa Rican way of life. When I was abroad I really learned to appreciate the core values in my life that really matter, and the materialism of much of the United States was hard to swallow upon my return. 

Also, in Chicago I am constantly on a regimented schedule. Work, class, rehearsal, bed, repeat. The clock is my best friend here, but in Costa Rica, not so much. Getting back to the punctual routine was a tedious process, and it took a while for me to feel comfortable with it.