Experiencing the Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Guest Blogger: Ruby Reddington – July 7 2016

Travelling just over 12,000km from my small home town of Wanaka, New Zealand to San Jose, Costa Rica and living there for 2 months was exactly the exciting, scary experience I wanted after just finishing my commerce degree. Desire for a tropical get away, a few years studying Spanish, and the urge to do a little good while travelling led me scrolling through volunteer website after volunteer website looking for the perfect program for me. I eventually found the micro-business internship GVN offered in Costa Rica, working with grassroots entrepreneurs helping them and learning from them in areas such, marketing, sales and client services all the while expanding and improving my ability to communicate in Spanish with a daily Spanish lesson. Check, check and check! I couldn’t wait!

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I had had a rather big night out, needless to say I didn’t do too well.

— Ruby Reddington

I ran into a few hiccups organising my trip, the worst being scheduling a Spanish diagnostic test the morning after I had had a rather big night out, needless to say I didn’t do too well. Fortunately, once I was in country and a bit more prepared I was graded 3 levels higher on the test than I had been on the phone.

My Mama Tica was a tiny lady called Vicky, who turned 75 the first week I was there. Her family and church threw her a huge fiesta, it felt like the whole neighbourhood was there! They were all used to Vicky’s gringo children and made sure I was never without a plate of food in my hands. The family was very close knit with both of Vicky’s daughters and their families living in the apartments above and below her. Everyone spoke to me in rapid fire Spanish, affectionately teased me when I couldn’t understand and treated me like I was their own.

My placement was with Fundacion Mujers, an organisation which provides small non-collateral loans to female entrepreneurs to give them the opportunity to generate an income. They provide business planning and support along with classes in many different areas from English to making your own chocolates. Meeting these women and seeing how what I would consider a small sum of money could have such an impact on their quality of life was a truly eye-opening experience. Sometimes it was just a case of having the capital to buy a few piglets or chickens in others it was building renovations or medical bills. The Foundation employees were 90% female and each of them were so passionate and dedicated to their work, I left my placement full of inspiration from the amazing people I had worked with.

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San Jose is in pretty much the center of Costa Rica making it very easy to grab a bus and head out of the hot, dirty city for the weekend to explore what the country has to offer. Adventure tourism is huge, there is zip lining, bungee jumping, quad bike tours, and volcano hikes, with plenty of low adrenaline options as well if you’re less of a thrill seeker. Passing a few days on the beach in Manuel Antonio, or in the cloud forest in Monteverde and I was captivated by la pura vida, a Costa Rican life motto, greeting and multi-functional phrase translating to the pure life.

It wasn’t all perfect, and it was nothing like I imagined it would be but I believe that’s what made it such a rich experience. I urge anyone considering volunteering abroad to go for it, it is the opportunity of a lifetime and something you will never regret!

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