Students Abroad

Isaac Haines - Volunteering in Costa Rica

"A very important skill throughout my time in Costa Rica was communication, and doing all of these jobs and marketing tasks allowed me plenty of time to communicate to my peers and to the public."

Published on 16 Oct 2018
Isaac Haines Volunteering

Week 1 in Costa Rica

Despite the best intentions to do as much physical work as possible whilst volunteering, these plans had to dramatically change as two weeks before leaving for Costa Rica I broke my arm. It became evident that certain tasks were not going to be possible for me to, do so I armed myself with a camera!

Having arrived at the homestay myself and Liam were living in, the settling in process began and it became apparent that our very rudimentary grasp of Spanish wasn’t going to get us very far, as our homestay ‘mum’ spoke no English. However, the initial bumps were ironed out as we quickly became accustomed to our surroundings.

On our first Monday we caught a bus from the local town centre up to Santa Elena Reserve, where we were to do the bulk of our volunteering work. The first week consisted largely of a physical task of filling bags with gravel and carrying them up hills to recover the paths in the reserve. This however, was not possible for me due to my arm, so instead I worked with a camera documenting other peoples actions and the stunning plants and animals on show at the reserve.

Our evenings in the first week consisted of trying a large variety of Costa Rican foods, whilst testing out a couple of the local bars before settling on a quaint family run local place called Pura Vida! We also planned a weekend trip away to La Fortuna a local tourist hotspot. 

Week 2 in Costa Rica

Having planned our trip to La Fortuna, we decided to set off bright and early on the Saturday in a minivan to the nearby lake. We crossed the lake on a boat and then got in another minivan at the other end that took us to our hostel (the crossing of the lake saves about eight hours of driving if you were to go around it). We arrived at the hostel and considering that we had paid £8 each for our stay there, it was one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. It had a gorgeous pool and a lovely bar/restaurant. Our activity for the day was visiting the local hot springs where we went to a resort with a variety of temperatures and sizes of naturally heated and filled pools. Having had a very relaxing soak for the afternoon, we went back to the hostel and got a very good night’s sleep. We returned to Santa Elena via the same route that took us there and then settled back into our daily volunteering routines.

The second week activity consisted of a marketing push for the reserve, so we split into two groups with one focused on social media, and the other (being my group) producing a promotional video containing interviews and cutaway shots of wildlife we had found. The finished video was great and the reserve loved it. This concluded our time volunteering and concluded our second week as we split up and those who were going home did so.

How the project helped my studies

There were several skills that prior to visiting Costa Rica I was not as strong in as I am now. Firstly, planning and organisation was required in many aspects of the trip such as organising and packing the necessary equipment, keeping to a tight schedule, and organising our weekend trip away. I also had to keep on top of my daily routine and sort out plans for days to come that I will be able to transfer into a work routine at home.

A very important skill throughout my time in Costa Rica was communication, and doing all of these jobs and marketing tasks allowed me plenty of time to communicate to my peers and to the public. Practicing both verbal and non-verbal skills through the marketing videos and posters has improved my communication skills, and I can now apply them to both my studies and everyday life, in things such as group work or even more specifically debating or advocacy. Being able to communicate to a client is something that is both taught and highly important in the industry.

Another skill was getting along and being amicable with my peers. Being put together with a group of strangers and asked to live and work with them was testing and at times very hard, so practicing when to take a break or remove myself from a situation was useful. There was a lot of supporting and encouraging people and helping them to achieve their best. This obviously is very useful in a group situation when working with each other.

The final thing that will influence my studies is the marketing project that we undertook. Having never attempted anything like marketing or even the production of a video before, this was really eye opening and a steep learning curve for me.  Marketing can be applied to a wide variety of scenarios and is a highly useful skill to have along with video production and filming. The result was a great promotional video for the reserve.

The overall effect of what can only be described as a life changing experience is one of cultural appreciation and understanding an alternate approach to life in general. The opportunity to travel to Costa Rica for the project, allowed an insight into life in Costa Rica and this was truly eye opening. My appreciation for what others have and how others approach life has changed my outlook on what I have and this will stay with me.

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