My name is Brittany S., a recent RN graduate. In January 2019, I attended a student nurse conference with a classmate where we met a Maximo Nivel representative. I learned about the medical volunteer abroad programs and was immediately interested in participating. I was inspired to step outside of my comfort zone and leave an impact on a different culture and gain a whole new perspective while doing so. It was even more exciting that I would have my friend there with me during this completely new experience.
After conducting my own research and reading the reviews about Maximo Nivel, I decided to enroll in a volunteer abroad program in Costa Rica. I chose Costa Rica because it was the right fit for me; out of the three countries, Costa Rica invests the most into its healthcare system. I also love the geographical diversity which allowed me to dedicate myself to my volunteer placement in the busy city during the week, and escape to the beautiful beaches on the weekend.
Medical Volunteer Work
Our work in Costa Rica was not in a typical medical setting. At the hospital back home where I worked, we focused on healing the physical parts of the body. However, my experience at the elderly facility in Costa Rica focused more on the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of healthcare making sure that our patients were flourishing and growing.
There were some distinct differences I realized though between the U.S and Costa Rica’s healthcare systems. In the United States, technology such as automated medication dispensers and Pyxis make a world of a difference for a nurse. In Costa Rica, however, the medication is ordered in little bins and it is up to the nurses to match the medication and make sure of the proper dosages.
Also, in Costa Rica, supplies are limited so healthcare providers must make do with what they have. It’s inspiring to see the innovation, creativity, and dedication necessary to be able to provide the quality of healthcare that they do. Volunteers are crucial to the center that I worked at because there is simply not enough staff to fulfill the residents’ needs. This is where volunteers can bridge the gap, fill those spaces, and make a real impact.
Open minded volunteers will benefit the most from this project. The biggest thing that I took away is to wake up each day with a thankful and grateful heart. Some of the people we met had absolutely nothing but their zest for life. It was inspiring to meet and interact with these people.
The Cultural Experience
One of the best ways to experience the culture is to stay with a host family, and I’m so glad we did. Our host family was AMAZING. Although a language barrier was a bit of an obstacle, it did not stop the laughter and smiles. Luckily, one of our roommates spoke Spanish and was able to translate for us. However, when she moved out, we relied a lot on nonverbal hand gestures and google translate to communicate.
I will forever be thankful for them opening their homes and welcoming us into the Costa Rican culture with loving arms.
Maximo Nivel also offers group activities for all the participants enrolled – both international and local! We participated in the weekly cooking classes and learned to prepare a traditional stew and a dessert tart. We also got involved in the weekly salsa classes and got a taste of Costa Rican dance.
The city’s atmosphere and central market vibe are one of a kind. You can buy anything you can imagine from food, flowers, medication, to souvenirs, and more. It’s always packed with people dancing, singing, and talking, and is one of the busiest and most exciting places in the city. We were able to practice our Spanish while interacting with the local vendors, and although we were very obviously foreigners, we always felt safe and welcomed.
Suggestions for Future Travelers
As you may have already guessed, the language barrier was the most challenging aspect of this experience for me. I would 100% do it all over again, but I would be better prepared. Firstly, brush up on your Spanish before flying out. Even just an hour a day studying vocabulary and basic grammar will help. You can also download google translate to help with any issues while in country. Secondly, I’d highly recommend a fanny pack; it’s convenient, compact, and constantly attached to you. Thirdly, be open-minded; don’t be afraid to try new things including food or exciting excursions. Fourth, make sure to take a lot of pictures because these experiences come around only once in a lifetime. And last, but certainly not least, have fun!
For exciting excursions, you can book with Maximo Nivel’s travel partners who are on site at the campus. They have many different options, depending on the kind of experience you’re looking for. We decided on a combo tour which included a trip to Doka Coffee Estate, Poas Volcano, and La Paz Waterfalls. All three destinations are completely different and really provided such insight into Costa Rica’s diversity.
The coffee estate allowed for more insight on the production of some of the best coffee in the world; Poas Volcano maintains a hot lake at the crater and is one of the most accessible spots for setting your sights on a cloud forest in San Jose; La Paz waterfall is one of the most famous in the entire country and a must see attraction.
Another excursion we did was to Tortuga Island. It’s one of the best islands to snorkel and see marine wildlife. You can choose to kayak, hike, or just enjoy the beautiful scenery and calm waters.
Manuel Antonio, where Maximo Nivel’s second campus is located, is a beach community about 3 hours from San Jose. The National Park is open to visitors for a fee where you’ll walk a paved path surrounded by various monkeys, birds, and wildlife. It’s an incredible experience.
If you’re looking for a way to give back while visiting a new country and culture, follow in Brittany’s footsteps and become part of the larger volunteer community. Choose a volunteer program that’s special to you whether it’s a medical program, conservation, construction, animal care, or other. You might decide to explore the nature of Costa Rica, the culture of Guatemala, or the history of Peru. No matter what you decide, don’t miss out on your chance to experience something new with Maximo Nivel.