Service Learning in Costa Rica: Expectations vs. Realities

Lindsey Williams is a student at the University of Richmond and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA Service Learning in Heredia, Costa Rica.

My time working and volunteering in ISA’s Service-Learning program while in Costa Rica has been anything but boring! Before I came here, I had this idea in my head that I would come and make a HUGE impact on the communities of Costa Rica. I believed that I would come in, full-force, and change some lives while also learning about the culture and people of this beautiful country. Once I arrived and spent my first few days here, I couldn’t believe how naïve I had been. Yes, I was learning a lot about the community of Costa Rica, but I soon realized that I would not be making these big changes that I thought I would. In fact, those big changes are somewhat impossible at this point in time. Though I may not be able to change much right now, I have been learning a lot, which could help me later.

During my first week here, I had to reflect and respond, in journal entry form, to a short video that ISA sent to me about my thoughts and feelings in regards to the video. This video was about the difference between service-learning and “voluntourism.” “Voluntourism” is a phrase used to describe the concept of people traveling abroad to different countries to provide goods and services to the communities for a short period of time. This video stressed the dangers that can come with “voluntourism” and how these goods and services that these volunteers are distributing could possibly be taking revenue and jobs away from citizens of the community. However, it discussed a solution that showed the benefits that could come from traveling to a country, learning about their lives and situations first, and then returning to provide service to its people. In that way, everyone can benefit from the volunteering and bigger impacts can be made.

The reality of my situation here with service-learning is that I am here to learn about Costa Rica and its people, while also providing somewhat smaller services that the community needs. While working in the clinic, I have learned about the healthcare system of Costa Rica, as well as provide small administrative services and outreach to the community. I won’t change the lives of the people here in Costa Rica now, but I may be able to in the future. This opportunity has helped me to learn about various aspects of volunteering, as well as helped me to develop myself as an individual, which will help me in my future service-learning journeys!

Volunesia (noun): That moment when you forget you’re volunteering to help change lives, because it’s changing yours.

The world awaits…discover it.

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