Maximo Nivel > Volunteer Abroad > What to Expect
What to Expect from our Volunteer Programs
Volunteer abroad programs give globally-minded people like you access to international projects that need your help—projects where you can learn to serve and make an impact.
Volunteering abroad is built around short-term programs where people come to learn about the problems and the needs of the world. This is what we call “learning to serve.”
At Maximo Nivel, volunteering is an out-of-classroom learning experience where you work, study, and travel to help benefit a local community and project site. Volunteering abroad pushes you beyond your comfort zone as you take part in a whole new way of living and giving back—it’s a unique experience, both exciting and challenging!
Maximo Nivel is a local organization in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. We are locally-based and managed here in-country, which means we’re already part of the communities we work with. We partner with other local organizations such as orphanages, clinics, schools, social projects, NGOs, and government agencies. Maximo builds up these local projects by bringing them international volunteers who want to help and give back, and we bring structure, organization, and quality service to the program.
The Maximo Nivel team is multi-lingual, educated, and well-traveled. Our staff in each country is approximately 65% local people and 35% international people. This means, we easily manage the cultural and language barriers that often get in the way, and at the same time we’re familiar with both the local culture and your home country.
Some things to consider before volunteering abroad:
- You are there to help and serve, on their terms, not yours.
- You might feel inadequate at times.
- You may experience culture shock.
- You may be shaken by some people’s living situations.
- The biggest impact is the impact the experience has on you.
A Week in the Life of a Volunteer
Airport pick-up is included in all of our programs. Maximo Nivel’s professional drivers meet you outside of baggage claim as you exit the airport—just look for the yellow smiley face flag. You receive a Welcome Folder detailing your accommodations, orientation time, and our Emergency contact numbers. Depending on your time of arrival, you come to the Maximo institute or go directly to your accommodations.
Your Welcome Folder tells you the exact time of your orientation. Your host family shows you the best way to get to/from your family-stay and the Maximo Nivel institute. Orientation is very important because we cover specific details about your program, a health and safety review, dos and don’ts, cultural activities and tours that are available, and a short walking tour to be sure you’re familiar with the area around the Maximo institute. During your orientation, you also take a Spanish placement exam.
You have breakfast at your accommodations. We have a lot to do on Day 1, so we expect you at the institute first thing in the morning. A Field Manager from Maximo Nivel shows you how to get to/from your project and Maximo Nivel (e.g. buses, taxis, walking, etc.). Our Field Manager accompanies you to the project site, explains the activities that take place there, and answers any questions you have so you’re fully prepared to begin volunteering.
Your volunteer work is programmed for the morning shift from 8:00AM to 12:00PM, or the afternoon shift from 1:00PM to 5:00PM. Note that times are approximate and vary by project.
We strongly recommend you sign up for Spanish classes at Maximo Nivel—they are discounted for volunteers, and they help you integrate at your project site. Spanish classes are available on the opposite schedule of your volunteer program, so if you’re volunteering in the morning, you will take Spanish classes in the afternoon and vice-versa.
During the week, you start the day with breakfast at your host family, generally around 7:00AM to 8:00AM. Most often, you eat with some of the family members or with other volunteers who are staying at the house.
From there, you make your way to Maximo Nivel or directly to your volunteer project. You either have mornings free or afternoons free, and every day you have time to meet other volunteers, socialize, and do some exploring. You can spend some time with your host family, explore the city, take excursions, and hang out at the Maximo institute. Be sure to take advantage of the many free activities we have including salsa classes, cooking lessons, Tandem Conversation Program, and more.
There are plenty of great restaurant options around Maximo Nivel. Be sure to get out and try some of the local dishes and do some looking around.
In the evening, you have dinner with your host family. After dinner, families like to sit and talk about their day and hear about yours—remember, this helps you become more involved in the daily routine of your host family. If you won’t be home until later, or if you’re going out to a restaurant with friends—just let your host family know you’ll not be there for dinner.
At night, your evenings are free to relax at your accommodations or to enjoy the nightlife with friends and other volunteers. You have your own key to the family-stay house and you’re free to come and go as you please. However, we ask you respect the routine and house rules of the family. If you choose to drink, please do so responsibly! It’s important to follow the Maximo Nivel safety rules—we want you to have a fun and safe experience abroad.
Weekends are free to go sightseeing, traveling, or trekking. You can arrange tours with Maximo Nivel’s on-site travel partner or pool together with other volunteers and head out on your own. If you’re traveling, please be sure your host family knows where you’re going and when you’ll return so they don’t worry. If you decide to stay with your host family on the weekends, you are welcome to get involved in their routine, go to church with them on Sundays, and in general spend quality “family time” together.
Departure day is always bitter sweet. Our program participants are excited to go home and share their adventure with family and friends, but they also realize they’re going to miss their new home and new friends in Latin America. Remember, you’re always welcome to extend your stay!
On your last Friday, make sure you come to Maximo Nivel to check-out, collect your Maximo t-shirt, and leave us your feedback card. Client service is very important to us and we take your feedback very seriously—it helps us improve our programs so that future volunteers continue to have a great experience and make as big an impact as possible.
On your last Saturday, you are welcome to stay at your accommodations until 11:00AM, and breakfast is included. We’re always happy to help organize a lift back to the airport. Please note that airport drop-off is not included in your program fee.
Life at Maximo Nivel
At Maximo Nivel, we have lots of large common areas to hang out and meet up with friends, students, and other volunteers. At the institute, there is free WiFi, a computer lounge, free Spanish tutoring, and free coffee and tea. During your program, you should definitely study Spanish and take part in the free Tandem Conversation Program. Every month we have a calendar of free activities including salsa dance classes, cooking lessons, movie night, and so on.
At every Maximo institute, travel and excursions are easy to arrange through our on-site travel partners.
– MyJ Travel (Costa Rica)
– Old Town Outfitters (Guatemala)
– American Inca Trail (Peru)
At Maximo Nivel, we are strongly committed to the projects we work with and we expect the same level of commitment from our volunteers. Being successful in your volunteer abroad experience largely depends on the 8 points below:
You’re here to serve, on their terms, not on yours. Strive to serve and learn at your project. At the same time, you’ll be surprised to see that the biggest impact is usually the impact your volunteer experience has on you.
Things will look and feel different. That’s part of the experience. Don’t judge. Enjoy the differences.
Understand that your project site has probably been functioning for years. Respect their rules and ways of doing things.
Gifts and Donations
Gifts and donations are always nice, but 1) be careful about just giving things to your project, 2) don’t bringing candy to children every day, 2) if you plan to buy something for your project, let us help you find the best place and get the best price.
Integrating at your volunteer project is a process—it usually doesn’t happen overnight. Relax and enjoy the process; work at integrating yourself. Study some Spanish and learn the names of the project staff.
Treat your volunteer project professionally. Don’t miss work days; show up on time; call ahead if you’re sick. Work hard and be proactive—you get back what you put into your project.
Project changes are not easy to make, so remember to stay committed and work at integrating at your project. If a change is absolutely necessary, project changes only happen on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The Maximo Nivel team is available 24/7. Please let us know if something isn’t right or if you need help.