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Volunteering In Costa Rica? Your Day Will Look Like This

Viewing a Costa Rican sunset as an IVHQ volunteer

IVHQ's Teach and Volunteer Abroad Scholarship recipient Hannah Pitts, continues her journey as a volunteer Teacher in Costa Rica. This week she shares her new daily routine, the challenges she's faced as a volunteer teacher, and her incredible weekend adventures...

Having lived in San Jose for a month now, I feel like I’m starting to settle into a routine here. A new housemate moved in with my host family a couple of weeks ago, and I have LOVED having a friend to take the bus home with every day. We’ve found our favourite places to eat; Neshuma – amazing vegetarian and vegan food, and Mandarina – delicious açai bowls. We’ve learned which buses are worth taking, and that the Periferica L2 should be avoided on a Friday afternoon, even if it’s pouring rain. Best of all, I’m building relationships with my students and their parents, and learning more about the community I’m volunteering in. Despite being really homesick at times, I am growing to love life here in Costa Rica more and more as time goes on.

A typical week-day goes something like this:

6:30am - Wake up. Quick breakfast with my housemate (mama tica has already left for work by this time). Get ready and catch the bus into San Pedro.

8:00am - Arrive at the volunteer base. Plan lessons, check emails, plan weekend trips, upload photos from last weekend, have a free cup of tea from the kiosk, admire beautiful admin staff.

11:00am - Lunch… and most likely a cinnamon roll or some Japanese-style chilli peanuts for later.

12:30pm - Set off on a half-hour walk through the UCR college campus to the bus stop in Guadalupe. Probably stop to swing on the tree swings. Hopefully not have to wait too long for the Dulce Nombre bus out to our project in Coronado.

2:00pm - Begin classes. Welcome another student every 15 minutes or so, for the next hour. Put the stray dog that comes into the classroom back out the door at least 4 times.

4:00pm - Finish up for the day. Sometimes have a cup of tea and some cake with the locals.

5:30pm - Arrive back in San Pedro, and catch the bus home. Probably stand the whole time because the bus is so packed. Move 20 metres per minute for the first half of the trip.

7:00pm - Dinner with our host family. Attempt conversation in Spanish.

8:00pm - Back into town for rollerblading, a movie at the cinema, or some kind of fun with other volunteers. Or, an early night at home with a good book.

Independence Day parade in Costa Rica

Last Tuesday, we joined in the Independence Day festivities as Costa Rica celebrated 194 years of independence. There was a huge parade on the main road (virtually right outside the front door of the local IVHQ offices). The local schools were represented with marching bands, baton-twirling cheerleaders or students playing marimbas. Trying to get anywhere on the buses that morning was futile, so we were told to take the day off work, and we spent the day wandering around, watching the parade and eating amazing street food. There was red, blue and white everywhere, and many of the little girls were wearing gorgeous traditional dresses.

So far, working at Coronado has been full of both challenges and rewards. I’ve been working between the younger children and teenage groups; some days I may have both groups together if another volunteer is away. One day a bus had crashed into the electricity pole just metres from our building, closing the street and leaving us without power for the day. Teaching in the dark with the sound of heavy rain on the tin roof is not ideal! I feel like I’ve acclimatised to the role now though, and am more confident in my ability to plan activities that will be appropriate for the students’ age and level. Last week I had a new student join my teenage group, who wants to visit America. This gave me a whole new motivation and focus for my lessons; a genuine purpose for learning English. The ideas were pouring from my brain after that, and I got really excited about planning fun activities around real-life scenarios; like ordering food at a restaurant, using money, and starting a conversation to make new friends.

Hannah Pitts teaching as a volunteer in Costa Rica

The TEFL course has proven to be incredibly valuable, despite my existing classroom experience as a teacher back at home. It has focused my planning, reminding me to prioritise student talking time. It has provided me with an enormous range of options for games and activities; ideas that work really well with EFL students. It has helped me to understand the needs of children and teenagers in the EFL classroom, and the stages of second language acquisition. Not every lesson has been a roaring success, but with time I am improving and having a greater impact on students’ learning. Actually, I’ve been learning a lot about learning itself during my time here – including my own learning process as a Spanish student and as a first-time EFL teacher. Being a second language learner, while simultaneously working as a second language teacher, is really helping me to understand the learning process on a deeper level.

Hannah Pitts on a beach during an IVHQ weekend

It’s not all hard work though - we’ve had some amazing weekends exploring all around the country, from the mountains to the coast. In Monte Verde we walked on hanging bridges, went ziplining, hiked through the rainforest, and did a mini bungee jump. In Puerto Viejo we cycled along the coast, swam at a beautiful beach, ate the best ice-cream in the world at Alice’s, and found a river with a waterfall in the middle of the rainforest. Last weekend we took a cruise to Tortuga Island, where we went snorkelling and banana boating, and saw the most bizarre wild pigs and chickens with an abnormal amount of feathers on their legs and feet. And I have just returned from a weekend away in La Fortuna, where we visited the stunning Río Celeste with its bright blue water. We held tiny colourful frogs, climbed a million stairs, sat in a natural thermal spring and jumped off a rope swing to swim in a waterhole. I haven’t seen a sloth yet, but I have a few weekends left here to achieve that life goal. Life’s good!

Learn more about volunteering in Costa Rica and follow Hannah's footsteps by checking out our range of project opportunities in Costa Rica here. Or if you're interested in learning more about the online TEFL course Hannah took to prepare for teaching in Costa Rica, visit our TEFL course page. Read the fourth and final update of Hannah's journey here...

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