My Reflections on My Volunteer Experience in San Jose Costa Rica

What have I gained from my experience volunteer teaching in Costa Rica?

The thing that will stay with me the most about my volunteer experience is my memories of having lived in Costa Rica and the friends I made. I am still in touch with my students and I teach them English online. I am happy I got to teach them English and I am glad to have been able to have improve their fluency. The skills and experiences I gained while teaching are also very valuable.

What were the differences between Costa Rica and the United States?

The language was a little bit different and by that, I mean that Costa Rica has certain words that are different from the words I learned during Spanish class. I had gotten a book from the library about the different Spanish words use in different Spanish speaking countries and that helped me out lots. I definitely noticed the new Spanish words that were specifically Costa Rican words when I was speaking to my Uber drivers and to the retail staff in the stores.

The food was also different. I have eaten lots of Mexican food, mostly tacos from taco trucks and I did not really eat the same kind of tacos in Costa Rica. I had all sorts of other kinds of food. I got to try lots of Costa Rican food from Kracovia. I tried passion fruit drink and passion fruit pie. I had never really had passion fruit before and I got to try the drink and I absolutely loved it. When I was little one of my grandmother’s friends had passion fruits at his house. I think we got some fruits and tried to make a juice out of it, but we didn’t really know how and it ended up being sour so I did not really drink the juice. So yes, technically it was my first time drinking an actual passion fruit juice and what an awesome thing to think of making them into pies. We did not have lots of passion fruit in the Philippines and since I have been living in America I have never really seen passion fruit pies at the grocery store or in the restaurants so it was a treat to get to enjoy the passion fruit drink and the passion fruit pie. I also got to try passion fruit macaroons at the airport. Those were so yummy. You get a sweet and tangy delight in the little bite sized macaroons.

The other thing I really liked were the crepes in Costa Rica. I have always loved the dessert crepes with the Nutella and the strawberries, but Costa Rica has taken crepes to another level for me and the crepes have savory food inside that I got to eat for lunch.

My other favorite go to for food were the panaderias or bakeries. I got all sorts of goodies from the bakeries. I especially loved all the different types of empanadas you could get. I also loved the hot dogs in a flaky type of bread that was similar to a croissant.

What are some similarities between Costa Rica and the United States?

Costa Rica is very well developed and the roads and infrastructure are amazing. When I first arrived in San Jose, it seemed to look a little bit like Davao City in the airport areas, but as you go to San Jose and Escazu, it definitely looked more like the United States, which is a good thing. Also, the malls had lots of the same brand name stores. When you went into the grocery stores, you could find lots of the same United States brands like the shampoo and other toiletries.

What lessons did I learn?

I learned that even though I have been learning Spanish in school and online I still need to learn more. Yes, I was able to get by and have basic level conversations, but I really could not fluently express myself in Spanish. I really needed to watch more Spanish movies and listen to more Spanish music. I also need to make friends with someone who speaks Spanish so I can improve my fluency.

What was the most important part of my Costa Rican experience?

I would say making new friends was the most important part. I did not expect to make so many new friends and I was delighted to have made so many. I will cherish my travel memories more because I got to experience my tour of Costa Rica with friends. I think you can enjoy yourself so much more when you are touring with your new found friends.

What turned out differently during my trip than I had planned?

I decided to stay longer that I had expected. I just wanted to go for two weeks and then come right back home. I was expecting to really miss my friends from home and yes, I was a little sad my first night, but after my third day of being there, I really got over being away from home.

I also didn’t expect to be going to Nicaragua. That was not planned at all, but I am glad I went to Rivas and I got to see Nicaragua. I also did not expect to be staying for two months in Nicaragua. I thought I was just going to stay there for two weeks at most, but I really loved it there and I did not want to leave.

What were the most difficult parts of my travel?

I would have to say that the most difficult part of my travel has been the actual getting around Costa Rica. I am glad that I had Uber to take otherwise I would not have found half the places I was looking for. Taking the bus was also challenging at first, but after a few months of being there I felt more comfortable and once I got to know the bus routes I was golden and taking the bus became easy.

How is my volunteer experience shaping my future?

Because I loved volunteering so much and living in San Jose, I got a TEFL certificate in Manuel Antonio, which then led to a job at Academia Europea. I think my Costa Rican experience is going to stay with me forever and in the future I will be going to teach English in Latin America again because I have already experienced it and it was fun and easy. I had the best time ever in San Jose and Manuel Antonio and I hope to be going to Costa Rica specifically; however, I would also like to teach in Managua, Nicaragua.

My volunteer experience was such a positive experience for me that I would also like to try other volunteer programs through Maximo Nivel like the program where you work with hatching turtles in Manuel Antonio. I have also been looking on the IVHQ sites recently and there is an internships with footages of dolphins program that they are running in Greece. That also really interests me lots. Overall I had the best time and I would highly suggest the volunteer teach program that you can book through the IVHQ site.

About My Volunteer Questionnaire:

Check out the travel questionnaire I made. I think these are awesome questions you need to answer before you go to your travel destination. I got some of these questions off of the volunteer training site that I visited before I went to Costa Rica. I watched their videos and downloaded a worksheet that had some of these questions. I have added more items onto the worksheet and this is what I have created. I am hoping to create a better guide in the future. I think I am going to be making a TEFL version that anyone can download.


My Reflections on My Volunteer Experience Part 1

My Reflections on My Volunteer Experience Part 2

What Motivated Me to Volunteer Abroad

I wanted to gain teaching experience abroad. I had always wanted to teach English abroad and teaching in Costa Rica was going to help me get experience in teaching abroad. I also wanted to learn about the Costa Rican culture and be immersed in the language. Living in a Spanish speaking country really helped me improve my Spanish speaking skills.

I think my travel experience helped me discover a new place I could possibly live in for a long time. If I could afford to I would love to live in San Jose, Costa Rica. During my volunteer experience I learned to be more open to new experiences and new food. My volunteer trip was lots of fun.

During my volunteer trip, I was able to help my students learn English and I was able to give back to the community. I hope teaching English to my students helped improve their lives. Often times, the ability for the students to speak English can really improve their chances of getting a job. My students were advanced students to they had a good understanding of English already, but I think my lessons really helped.

How to Prepare for Your Volunteer Trip

Preparing for your volunteer trip is easy to do. I did my volunteer trip through IVHQ so they had a list of things I needed to do and I went ahead and got them done one by one. Volunteering abroad is a great way for you to give back to those in need while also learning a new skill or honing one of your skills. When you are volunteering you are supporting a community by giving them your time, energy, and skills. One of the best things about my volunteer experience was that I was working with other volunteers who had the same goal as I did which is to help my Spanish speaking students learn English.

Once I registered for the teach English program, I booked a flight through IVHQ. I highly suggest booking your flight as soon as you have registered for your volunteer program. If you are flying to San Jose, note that there are direct flights from Los Angeles to San Jose. I did not take that flight. My flight went all over the place, but in the end I flew out of Miami to San Jose. I wish I had booked a simpler flight though. I arrived in San Jose a day before the start of my volunteer program, which was perfect.

When you are registering for the program, make sure to do your research thoroughly as to where you want to go that way you are not making changes to your program. If you do need to make changes, IVHQ lets you. When I first registered, I signed up for volunteer teaching program in Xian, China. I later learned from my volunteer program advisor that I needed to get a visa to enter China and that I had to travel to San Francisco to do that. I did not have the money in my budget nor the time so I changed my program to volunteer teach program’s destination which was Costa Rica. In the future, I would like to try a volunteer trip to Xian, China, but I will really need to plan that out more carefully.

  1. Passport and Visa

My volunteer trip was in San Jose, Costa Rica so it was a pretty easy preparation process. I made sure I had my passport. If you are volunteering in Costa Rica, you do not need to go to an embassy to get a visa. You can get a 90 day tourist stamp on your passport once you arrive. That stamp will allow you to stay in Costa Rica for 90 days. After 90 days, you must exit the country and re-enter to get that stamp again. Other countries may require you to obtain a visa ahead of time from their embassy so make sure to check with your volunteer organization to find out the details for your travel visa.

I extended my stay in Costa Rica past 90 so I ended up going to Rivas, Nicaragua to exit Costa Rica. I was there for one night. It did not take a long time to exit Costa Rica. I then went back to San Jose the next day. I went with my co-worker from Academia Europea. It was a lot of fun to go to Rivas.

  1. Clothing

The next thing you need to make sure of is to have proper clothes. Since I was volunteer teaching, I packed lots of shirts and pants. I wanted to look casual, but not too laid back since I was teaching after all. I also packed lots of shorts for the times I was going to be spending at my homestay and also for going out. The one thing I did not pack enough of are sweaters. It was a little cold at night and early in the morning in Costa Rica. I highly suggest packing three sweaters at least and some jogging pants.

  1. Pack Light

Do not pack too much when heading to your volunteer trip. Just pack enough clothes to last you during your volunteer trip. Pack formal work shoes for working. Pack sneakers for traveling. Pack sandals for lounging around. Do not pack too many shoes. Pack some makeup, but not too much makeup. You will probably not have enough time to do your makeup in the mornings and it might be too hot to wear makeup. Packing less means you will not be lugging around a huge luggage all over the airport. This will help you relax during your travel and have lots of fun.

  1. Bring a Gift

If you are staying with a host family, make sure to bring a gift from your home country. You can also bring markers or art supplies to donate to your volunteer location. Gifts always help so make sure to bring something special.

  1. Money

Make sure to bring enough money to your volunteer trip. You should bring enough dollars to then exchange into the local currency once you arrive so you can pay taxi drivers if needed. Luckily for me, Maximo Nivel has an airport pick up service and I was picked up by a van and then taken to Maximo Nivel’s office and then afterward to my homestay. You can possibly live off of $150 a week in San Jose, Costa Rica, but you need to make sure you have enough for buses, Ubers, taxis, and food.

If you are planning to do tours during your weekends make sure to budget for those. I decided to do a Combo Tour which was about $90. It did include a tour to the Doka Coffee Plantation, Poas Volcano, and La Paz Waterfall. In San Jose, you can book your tours at MJ Travel Service, which is located right next to Maximo Nivel.

  1. Background Check

Make sure to get your background check before you go. Most volunteer organizations will require you to obtain your background check and then send them a copy. A background check should be one of your requirements. Make sure to get it done as soon as possible. I got my background check done online.

  1. Travel Insurance

You need to have travel insurance during your time traveling. Travel insurance will allow you to get medical help if you need it. It will ensure that you are safe during your travel. Most volunteer organizations will talk about this and may require that you send them paperwork showing proof that you do have travel insurance.

  1. Make Copies of Your Documents

When you are traveling make sure to copy your important documents just in case they get lost. You need to make a copy of your passport, visa, and travel insurance so you always have those on hand. When I was in Costa Rica, I often had to use my passport copy. I usually had my passport copy on hand. It was not required that I carry around my passport as long as I had my passport copy. I was then able to store my passport in the safe in my hotel room in San Jose.

  1. Vaccines

Some countries require you to get vaccines. Costa Rica does not require you to get vaccines so I did not have to, but for other countries you might have to. Check with your volunteer organization to find out more about the vaccine requirements for your destination.

  1. Book Your Accommodation

You can stay in a homestay during your volunteer trip. I stayed in a homestay and I absolutely loved it. After a week and a half I decided to stay closer to Maximo Nivel so I got a hotel for about a week and a half. It was worth it for me because I spent most of my time in the San Pedro area.

My host mom was amazing. She prepared my breakfast and dinner. I also got help learning about San Jose. I was also able to get my laundry done with the help of my host mom. She charged only a little bit and it was worth it.

These are some of my advice for preparing for you volunteer trip. I hope this was helpful. I will be making a movie about this blog post to talk about my volunteer preparation process a little bit more.

Pack a Medical Kit to Your Volunteer Trip Video

Document with Your Information

It is important to fill out a document with your information so if there are any issues someone can find out more about you. Write down your medical information and emergency contact information. I have created a PDF below that you can download. You can also add information about your homestay and your host family’s information on the sheet so you have it handy and ready for reference.

Contact Information Sheet

Click on the link to download the file you can print out and fill out.

Contact Info

Important Costa Rica Phone Numbers

Identify Your Destination Country’s Risks

You must do your research about your destination country’s current political situation and if it is currently safe to travel to the country. Costa Rica is a safe country to go to, but it is still important to research what is going on in the country. Currently, Costa Rica is closed to travelers due to the Covid 19 pandemic. I checked this site for information:

Usually it is safe to travel to Costa Rica, but still before you go to Costa Rica research your country’s advisory site on travel. You can just look it up on Google. It is important to research the tourismand cultural dos and don’ts. Make sure to also take note of the weather and the political situation. Some countries may have terrorism warnings. Please take those types of news seriously and make sure to think about that type of a warning when making your decision as to what country to go to because that may affect your safety greatly.

Some countries may have medical type issues going on and you will be able to find the warning online. Head those precautions and take them into account when deciding your volunteer program. Costa Rica’s government website and their tourism sites were very helpful in learning all of these information. Guide books were also helpful for me. The two guide books I had contained lots of information about Costa Rica and how stable of a country Costa Rica was. There were some warnings, but nothing too major during August of 2019.

Here is the latest Covid 19 Information regarding Costa Rica below.

Here is the Covid 19 Information News link below. Click on it to download the information.


Why TEFL was a Good Choice

TEFL was a very good choice for me. Here is my slideshow and video talking about why I chose to do a TEFL course. I also talk about why a TEFL course might be a good choice for you.


My Maximo Nivel Certification Book

Videos About My Maximo Nivel Certification Book

Here are videos I made in Rivas, Nicaragua talking about my TEFL experience with Maximo Nivel.

A Video About My First Lesson During My TEFL Course

IVHQ Volunteer Training


Yay! I completed my volunteer training. It took awhile, but I finally completed it! It was pretty easy and it was very informative. I am glad I went through the process. It was also lots of fun with all of the videos.

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I also did the travel safety abroad course. It was very helpful.
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Here is the training handbook I used to help me prepare for my volunteer trip. It was part of the online training.