Volunteer Abroad 2017
Ostinal, Costa Rica
What We Did
Costa Rica was an experience unlike anything any of us had ever done before. Though our work took place in the small coastal town of Ostional, we started our trip by going through orientation at the Maximo Nivel institute in San Jose. With the afternoon off, we walked around the city and finished out a busy day with a Salsa dance class! What a start!
One seven-hour bus ride later, we made it to Ostional and met up with our host families. We quickly got settled in and even got to meet a few other volunteers before getting straight into the work with the sea turtle.
We had arrived at the perfect time to experience the arribadas, which is a period of a few days where thousands of sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the beach! This process has seven stages. We were tasked with finding turtles in stage three and then proceed to count the eggs, measure the turtle, and tag it if not tagged already. Since the turtles prefer to lay their eggs at night, our patrols occurred from 8 PM to as late as 6 AM! However, we were able to rest during the day time and also had time to play cards, hang out with the other volunteers, and even swim in the Pacific Ocean.
After a few days, we started a task called transectos, which involves walking up the beach with a 2-meter pole and counting any turtles that are laying eggs in range of the pole. This is done every 50 meters along the beach and every two hours during the night. This process helps the government keep track of the turtle population without disturbing their natural cycle. Between the arribada, counting and tagging turtles every night, and transectos, we had a busy two-weeks! Thankfully, we still had time for an excursion to the town of Tamarindo where we got to learn more about Costa Rican culture. It’s still hard to believe we really did go through all this!
Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Every one of us was so grateful for the people that helped put this VA trip together, for Maximo Nivel and the other volunteers we met, and for everyone at the Ostional Wildlife Refuge. This trip was an incredible bonding experience and the six of us came home closer than ever.
While we were lucky in our timing with the arribadas, this allowed us to maximize our impact in the short amount of time we had in Costa Rica and we hope that our efforts were helpful. We certainly learned a great deal from the trip: about turtles, about conservation efforts, about Costa Rica, and about ourselves. Here’s to next year’s trips and learning even more!
What We Did
This trip to Morocco was a life-changing experience! Despite how unprepared we sometimes felt in terms of the language and cultural barriers, our two weeks spent there were filled with unbelievably enriching experiences.
The best part of the trip was our volunteer work: we taught English to students from some of the lower-income families in the area who could otherwise not afford to pay for summer education. Even though none of us had real prior experience teaching and working closely with kids, we couldn’t help but approach each day with anticipation as the kids just made us feel so welcome.
Since they ranged from 6 to 16 years old, we decided to split into groups to make the lessons more tailored and thus achieve more. Who knew that teaching the ABC’s and 123’s could be so fun!? The best part of the day was getting smiles and hugs from the students after class. We felt like we were really making a difference and that was so rewarding to see.
We weren’t going to leave Morocco without seeing some of the local sights, so we did quite a bit of exploring too. Our first day in the country was the national independence day so schools were closed. We spent the holiday in the city of Casablanca were we got to visit the famous Hassan II Mosque, see the beautiful city palace, and even eat at the same restaurant as Tom Cruise! It was a long but awesome day.
The other main excursion of the trip was to Marrakesh. Transportation there was interesting to say the least but it was definitely worth it. We got to experience a camel ride through the Sahar desert to the city of Ouarzazate and we even saw a Michigan MBA on the way. Amidst clay villages and movies sets (including Game of Thrones), we tried some local delicacies such as freshly-squeezed juice and snails. A few of us got to finish off the day at a Moroccan bath house turned spa which was the perfect way to wash away the heat of the desert.
We left Morocco with so many memories. Working with kids was challenging at times but so incredibly rewarding and we hope that we were able to make a dent in their English. It’s hard to quantify that but we definitely saw huge improvements in their pronunciation and vocabulary. Hopefully the next group of volunteers can build on these efforts and continue to help the students become more confident English speakers.
Personally, we all grew a lot from this trip. Some of us discovered hidden talents for teaching or riding camels, but all of us gained a greater appreciation for the work that needs to be done to increase access to education across the world. The two weeks we spent here were only a small drop in a big ocean and it was humbling to realize how lucky we are to have grown up the way we did.
To follow the EGL students’ Morocco experience day by day: visit their Morocco Blog
What We Did
Getting to the island of Puerto was no easy task, but after long flights and hours of travel all of us made it there safely, and with no lost luggage thankfully! We settled into the volunteer house alongside the 30+ other volunteers who were also staying there. Our first day started bright and early with the sound of roosters crowing and dogs barking, followed by a hearty breakfast and a short drive to the project location. For the next few hours, we focused our time, energy, and lots of sweat into whatever tasks were in store for us that day. From weaving palm fronds to make roofing material for houses to planting seeds of Bok Choy, we took it on.
Despite the heat and humidity, morale stayed high as we made significant progress on our projects. One morning, we built practically the entire structure of a stage which the community will use as a gathering place. Though the work was exhausting, the reward of seeing it all come together made it all worth it, and there was no better way to finish off a hard day of working than jumping into the cold, rough sea.
Our free time was split between intense games of Pitch (a card game taught by Yusuf), friendly but intense competitions with the other volunteers, and excursions to discover the surrounding area. One excursion took us to El Nido, a small coastal town nestled between mountains and a popular tourist destination. We soon found out why. Deep blue waters washed onto pristine beaches of white sand, and the whole scene had a surreal look as if straight out of a postcard.
The group of volunteers that accompanied us made the experience even better, and we left El Nido as close friends, with friendships bringing us together regardless of nationality or ethnicity. We approached the second week with renewed enthusiasm and the last few days absolutely flew by. Soon enough, we found ourselves laying down our last bricks and having to say goodbye to the people we had grown so close to over these two weeks. All of us wished we could stay longer.
“Our VA trip was exciting, educational, and rewarding. Our volunteer task of building an outdoor stage for the local village was definitely challenging, but we made a considerable amount of progress in the hot and humid days that we worked on it. In the end, I think we all felt tremendously proud of our hard work and tangible contribution to the community. The basic camp accommodations forced us to step out of our comfort zones and truly immerse ourselves in the local Filipino lifestyle. We all enjoyed learning about the local culture through fun and educational activities such as palm tree weaving, cooking, and Tagalog language classes. Lastly, the various excursions we were able to experience, such as the Underground River, zip-lining, and the El Nido Island Hopping Tour were exhilarating and beautiful, and they’re certainly memories that we’ll never forget” – Jason Comstock, Philippines 2017 participant
To follow the EGL students’ Philippines experience day by day: visit their Philippines Blog
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