My name is Ave Abellanosa, and here’s my story on my experience during my construction volunteer program with Maximo Nivel in Costa Rica.
I decided to volunteer abroad so that I could experience a new country in a way a tourist wouldn’t be able to. I’ve always wanted to travel the world, but it was important for me to experience the culture and sites of a new country through the lens of a local. I knew I needed to be truly immersed, and therefore, a volunteer program seemed perfect.
With a background in architecture, building and construction are really important subjects for me. I’ve always wanted to get hands-on experience, but I knew that my formal education in University wasn’t going to allow that opportunity. I completed my studies without further inquiry into my passions, but I still hadn’t found the courage to leave home to volunteer in another country, meet new people, and understand the hard labor that makes the dream a reality. Finally, after discovering an organization founded by two architecture graduates, I learned of the opportunity to get involved with a construction project in a foreign country. I felt really comfortable with Costa Rica because I knew it would be an easy transition for someone like me who was still hesitant about traveling in Latin America. But it was the perfect first step.
I chose to stay with a host family to ensure I get the full experience of living and volunteering abroad. My hosts were a sweet couple who lived on a hill just outside of the capital city of San Jose; their home and hospitality were beyond my expectations. My host family cooked me a delicious breakfast every morning and prepared dinner for me when I came home in the evening. Their house was also conveniently located near a bus stop that would take me directly to the site of my construction project every morning.
I worked with three other volunteers and a professional, local Site Foreman during my volunteer program. Our jobs were to assist the foreman to build a small laundry facility in a young girls’ rehabilitation home. We assisted in construction tasks such as putting up metal studs, the drywall sheets, minor plumbing repairs, and some landscaping to their yard.
Some days, the work was very labor intensive, and I felt our progress was slow. Despite this, I realized that the small efforts every day added up and really contributed to the improvement of their facilities. It was encouraging to hear from our Site Foreman how many projects on site were completed by volunteers. I realized that together, all of us volunteers made a huge impact on the communities we were serving. One thing I never expected was how much I would learn and grow from the program. I volunteered abroad so that I could be of service, but you will be impacted by the people you meet tenfold. The biggest highlight for me was meeting many other volunteers, who have become my close friends.
Volunteering alone in a foreign country has brought me close to amazing people from around the world, in a way I would not have if I had just traveled Costa Rica as a typical tourist. This has really made me value potentially life-changing travel through meaningful experiences of volunteering abroad and giving back to communities in need.
When I was a student, my original intention was to build a resume through volunteering. However, now that I’ve lived it, I realize that it not only helps build a resume, it can also help to build a life; a life full of rich, broad, cultural experiences that you just don’t get if you never leave your home country—such as the Costa Rican way of “Pura Vida”.
Learning to embrace and embody the main Costa Rican saying, “Pura Vida”, helped me to understand a new way of life—a way to live more gently and with less pressure. Although the western culture of “hustling hard,” has shaped who I am today, I am happy to have been able to explore a new way. For example, when tasks at my volunteer site became too labor intensive, we made sure to balance our work with frequent breaks so that we didn’t become overwhelmed, stressed, or just plain exhausted. I make sure to nurture the care-free attitude I’ve adopted from the Costa Rican people now that I am back home in North America. It has allowed me to enjoy life, just exactly the way it is in that very moment in time. Sometimes in North America, we get so busy chasing down the big goals in life that we forget to find time to appreciate all the small moments that make life wonderful.
Overall, I would absolutely recommend a volunteer abroad project to any and every one! Whether you are 18, 28, or 58, there is no better time than now, and although most people enroll with the idea of bringing positivity and change, what you learn and experience in return is tenfold!
I haven’t stopped talking about volunteering abroad since I got back home. It was such an incredible experience that I want to share it with everyone. I will continue talking about it for many years to come, and I hope to embark on many more volunteer abroad programs in the future.