Jordan Dobrowski is a student at Augustana College and an ISA Featured Blogger. Jordan is currently studying abroad with ISA and participating in service-learning with ISA Service-Learning in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Some people wander; others find a park and sit. Some people go out each night to meet locals; others get to school early to get to know people over lunch. Whatever the strategy, most international students want to make the most of their free time abroad. We didn’t travel thousands of miles to sit in our rooms watching Netflix. Yet, sometimes it is hard to branch out of our comfort zone. Moreover, we don’t want to spend a fortune. Therefore the question becomes: how do I guarantee a fulfilling experience without unfilling my wallet?
I would argue the simplest answer is to pay for those experiences with something other than money — volunteer your time. Even though Costa Rica is not considered a volunteering culture, there are many opportunities to get involved and give back.
Save the Turtles: Turtle poaching is a very serious problem here along the Caribbean. The illegal egg market poses a threat to their populations everywhere. Therefore organizations like Turtle Trax and Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Ostional offer all-inclusive packages for long-term and weekend volunteers alike. Students who choose to help either of these organizations out have the opportunity to walk along the beach at night, guarding the turtles.
Play with Kids: In San José there is an orphanage that welcomes volunteers to come in and interact with the kids. Many of my friends have gone to help, and even those who may not consider themselves kid-people reported that they had a good time. Getting involved is easy if you just ask around.
Ask Your School: Your host university is bound to have many connections to various organizations in the area. Professors may take classes out for the experience, or perhaps the school runs its own after-hours tutoring center. Whatever the case, professors and administration are great resources for finding volunteer opportunities.
If you want to take it a step further and really develop your personal skills while helping others, I have to recommend investing in a more established volunteer program such as ISA Service-Learning. Such programs have experienced individuals who can help guide you through the process of finding a host organization, all the while encouraging thoughtful reflection and resume building. I have been working at a women’s rehabilitation center through ISA Service-Learning, and though the work is a bit unpredictable at times, I have felt myself growing intellectually, professionally and even spiritually.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, I hope that you remember that your study abroad experience does not have to be limited to book-study. Go, experience the culture around you, and give back! You will start a cycle of reciprocity that will make your travel worth so much more.