Philip Northington - 2014 Program Participant

Dancers at Ballet Magnificat in Costa Rica

Jazz night at Ballet Magnificat CR.

Why did you choose to volunteer abroad?

I had the desire to share my dance talents and experience with others who did not have the exposure and experience I’ve been privileged to have.

What made you select Costa Rica?

Out of high school I had the opportunity to travel to Spain and fell in love with Spanish culture. I desired to learn more about the lifestyles in many Spanish-speaking countries – living on passion and community. Costa Rica was different enough, but still similar. Also, being based out of the Midwest and having only nine days available, I was able travel with only an hour difference in the time zone.

What were your housing arrangements like in Costa Rica?

I stayed with a middle class family of five about 45 minutes away from the dance school I taught at. I had a private room and bathroom. My host mom (Daisy) was very lively, and hospitable. Many evenings I would not come home until after dinner. She always saved me a plate and kept me company at the table.

What was your favorite part about volunteering in Costa Rica?

Connecting strongly with my students through dance and spirituality at Ballet Magnificat CR.

Dancers at Ballet Magnificat in Costa Rica on Partner Night

Partnering night at Ballet Magnificat CR.

What was a typical day like as a Dance Volunteer in Costa Rica?

Wake around 6:30 a.m., eat breakfast at 7 a.m., catch the bus at 8:15 a.m. or Spanish class starting at 9 until 2 p.m. Throughout the week I taught a total of eight dance classes in the afternoons and evenings. Outside of teaching, I was bonding with my host family, meeting classmates at Spanish school, or seeing the sights. On Saturday, I had the chance to tour the Poaz Volcano, La Paz waterfall, and Doka Coffee plantation, which was a perfect way to celebrate after a demanding week.

What is the most memorable experience you had while volunteering abroad?

I had a dance piece prepared to teach fully written out, and analyzed as much as possible. As I got off the bus in the morning for Spanish school, I was listening to “I’m Free” from Jonah (this is the show I currently perform in). It hit me in this moment that I should use this song. From that point forward, I felt a part of a process bigger than myself and a vessel which was overflowing. Every spare minute consisted of listening to the song, cutting, pasting, and putting choreography in the right spots.

When I arrived at the studio that evening, I was empowered because I saw the big picture. However, I was equally uneasy because there were many unknowns. I used all the uncertainties I had inside and dove deep into the moment, trusting in the process of collaboration, and embracing the power and unity of dance. There was a strong bond with these students through dance amidst different cultures and speaking different languages. It was a great thrill to experience something coming together for the first time and everyone taking part in it.

Visiting Poaz Volcano

Poaz Volcano.

What was the most challenging part about volunteering abroad in Costa Rica?

The first day I arrived at the dance school was definitely my greatest challenge. I was overwhelmed with the language barrier as there was no adjustment phase, but rather sink or swim. After I taught the first combination in my class I realized this is what I do, and what I had been preparing for.

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

Follow your heart and examine where it is leading you – geographically, socially, spiritually, and find your mission. Get a journal and write down things you want to experience as you research the country and culture. Write down Spanish words that will be relevant to you when you visit. Don’t be shy about speaking up even if you are insecure about the pronunciation or grammar. It means the a lot that you make the effort to use your language, and the native speakers will help you along the way.

How has your volunteer abroad experience impacted your life?

I have learned having flexibility nurtures collaboration and makes life beautiful. It's my tendency to over-prepare and over-plan. Being flexible while living the in present moment is essential. I also connect very easily and naturally to spanish speaking people now which is a blast!

Volunteer in Costa Rica with local host family

Philip with his host family: Daisy (host mom), Jessica, Luis, Javier, and Philip.