Volunteering at a school in Costa Rica: My favorite lesson
When I received my volunteer assignment—working in an elementary school in Costa Rica—I didn't quite know what to expect. The school consisted of 3 buildings perched on the upper slopes of a valley with a perfect view down through the clouds and over Cartago. Designed to serve children in the predominantly agricultural-based community, this school is the only one in the neighborhood and children who didn't attend were left with two options: board a 5:00 AM bus each day bound for another school in Cartago, or stay home.
The students and faculty at the school were incredibly welcoming and eager to bring me and my fellow volunteers into their little world. On the second morning at the school, the teacher asked me to read a story to the students and then handed me a book full of children's fairy tales, all in Spanish. And since my Spanish vocabulary didn't go far beyond "pura vida"—a phrase you'll learn all about when you volunteer in Costa Rica—I was on the hot seat with a class full of students eagerly anticipating something epic. With some quick thinking and a swift reshuffle of some desks, I had set the stage for a motley crew of volunteers and teachers to act out Goldilocks and the Three Bears as I told the story. Many of the students were already familiar with the story so they were able to follow along as I narrated in English and they squealed with excitement as the bears scoured the house trying to sniff out "the human," only to find her sleeping on a sweatshirt under a desk.
After a short break we moved the classroom outside where the students were instructed to use whatever they could find to build the floor plan of a house including all the rooms we had just mentioned in the story. Not only did this put their English vocabulary to the test, but it also gave them a valuable lesson on teamwork. After a few minutes they were able to come together and we could start to see the stick house take shape. Before long, the house was ready, complete with a cinder block dining table and flower centerpiece. We ended the day with the students proudly giving us a tour of their house, guiding us from room to room, presenting each room to us in English and showing us where Goldilocks had dined and napped.
By the time my week-long volunteer program had come to an end, the thought of leaving was unbearable. The students' energy, curiosity, and exuberant smiles had won me over. I can't speak for them, but I know it's something I'll never forget. Want to hear more? Ask me questions about my experience right here in the comments section.