When my plane landed in San José, I was as nervous as I was excited. It was my first time traveling on my own, and I had no idea what to expect. However, after five minutes of talking to the driver from the Teaching and Social Work in San José project, an incredibly friendly man full of stories about his city and himself, I forgot to be nervous. My host family matched his friendliness; my host mother was always willing to work with my level of Spanish speaking and give me tips about getting around San José, and was happy to accommodate my vegetarian diet. My first day at the house, ten to fifteen relatives came in and out; I loved meeting everyone, and seeing how different this was from my own life, where I only see my immediate family every day.
My host mother dropped me off the next morning, and my nerves began coming back. The first thing we had to do was take a spoken placement test, plus, there were several large groups of students, so I was afraid that it would be hard to make friends as a solo traveler. However, the test was low-stress, and I found that there were plenty of others traveling on their own. Everyone was friendly, and students that had been with the program for a few weeks already were especially helpful with recommending places to go for the weekend or after class.
My week of classes was my favorite part of my trip. I loved my teacher, and his no-English policy for the class definitely accelerated my learning. My fellow students came from all over the world, so I learned about their home countries and culture, in addition to everything I was learning about Costa Rica.
I had only one full weekend to travel, so I decided to take three day-trips exploring places near San José. The staff was very helpful in planning the excursions, and it was easy to find friends to go with me. In three days, I visited La Poás volcano, La Paz waterfalls and gardens, and the Doka coffee estate, went ziplining in Canopy San Luis, and, surprising even myself, went bungee jumping in Naranjo.
The next Monday, I began volunteering at a nearby orphanage. My first day was stressful – communication was challenging, I was nervous about traveling on my own (I had always gone to school with my housemates), and the other volunteer was leaving in two days. However, by that time I was familiar with the kids and the schedule. I spent most of my time with a group of four, two – four year olds, and would take them to play on the outdoor playground or play inside with playdough and coloring pages, and then would help with serving lunch. Along with the older group, there were six babies, who I loved playing with. Every day after volunteering, I had time to explore the city, go back to Spanish school for conversation classes, and spend time with my housemates and host family.
After two weeks with this program, I learned more Spanish than I had in years of high school classes, learned much about the Costa Rican lifestyle, and gained confidence – I’d never had a lot of experience with bus systems, but by the time I left, exploring San José was no big deal. My time in Costa Rica was unlike any other trip I’ve taken, and I’m already thinking about the next time I can go back.