My gap year came as a surprise to me. I expected to go straight from high school to university, but when financial issues got in the way, I found myself with an entire year in front of me. After the initial shock of no longer being in school, I found Abriendo Mentes (Opening Minds), a non-profit organization in Costa Rica that aims to "enhance, educate, and empower" rural communities in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.
- Where I went, and for how long I spent three months in Costa Rica, volunteering as an English teacher to primary school children in a small beachtown called Playa Potrero.
- What was great? The pace of life in Costa Rica is much slower than anywhere else I've been. Sitting on the front porch for an entire day, just talking and eating is not seen as boring, but as a great way to spend time with family and friends. I am glad I was able to adjust to, and finally to appreciate living life the Pura Vida (Pure Life) way. One of the best days I spent in Costa Rica was spent with my host family, preparing for the celebration of my host mom's mother's birthday. On the day of the party, I was awoken at 5 by my host family to catch a bus to a neighboring village, where I spent the day finely mincing vast amounts of vegetables as additions to a huge pot of "arroz con pollo" (chicken with rice), and listening to my host family speak in rapid Spanish. The door was always open and people from around town kept dropping by just to say hello. There were many breaks from the hard work of chopping to eat and cool down, and I enjoyed just being a part of the action (or lack there of).
- What was a letdown? I did not have the budget to do nearly as much traveling throughout Costa Rica as I would have liked to. I was on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, but would have enjoyed seeing the Caribbean coast too, as well as the mountains in between. Many of the other volunteers that I was with took great trips to places like Panama and Nicaragua, and for one week, I found that I was the only volunteer left in town. It was also tough waking up every morning at 4:00 to the scratching of iguanas on my roof and the call of roosters outside of my window. That took some serious getting used to. Now, though, I almost miss it.
- What does it cost to do it bare bones/live comfortably/live like a king? I lived somewhere between bare bones and comfortably, with a brief stint of living like a king. I was able to support myself for the three months I was there on money I had earned through babysitting for 5 months, and donations from family and friends. The cost of living in Costa Rica is not nearly as cheap as it is in other Latin American countries, so definitely bear that in mind if you plan on visiting. I rented a room from my host family for 400 US dollars a month, and cooked all of my own food. For the last week that I was in Costa Rica, I was visited by my aunt and cousins, and was able to stay at the RIU all-inclusive Resort. It was insane to go to a resort after months of no AC and shotty WiFi, but I definitely enjoyed it.
- Tips on being prepared All of the physical aspects of adjusting to life in Costa Rica, such as the heat and the constant mosquito bites, are pretty easy to get used to after some time. Pack some serious sunscreen and bugspray though, as those are seen as luxury products, and have according prices. The hardest part of any gap year is adjusting to being out of school. I really had to get used to a life where I often had nothing to do, but if there is anywhere in the world I would want to be bored in, its Costa Rica. It was a truly beautiful experience.