I had always imagined that I would volunteer in Costa Rica. When I had first arrived, all my time was taken up with the unpacking, organizing and getting all the ‘typical’ Costa Rica things out of the way.

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After getting my residency, drivers license, utilities and cell phone in my name and organizing my house, I finally had time to focus. My goal for moving to Costa Rica was to slow down my life.

I don’t know if that has necessarily happened for me yet, but I can say that my life has changed for the better and that a lot to do with volunteering with CEPIA (Culture, Education and Psychology for Infants and Adolescents.

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“CEPIA is a great non-profit organization in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica that focuses on the needs of children and young adults that come from poor backgrounds in Costa Rica, by promoting cultural development, educational and market opportunities, physical and mental health, as well as social cohesion and participation.”

My friend, Nova, had asked me if I would be interested in teaching English to some local school children from Matapalo. Matapalo is a small, rural town located 15 minutes from Tamarindo. I had told her that I would love to do that (as I had been hoping for months to do something useful with my after work time).

Nova was teaching classes from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm on Fridays. I had agreed to add Monday and Wednesday to the schedule and looked forward to my first meeting with the children. I would say they are really young adults – mostly 12 year olds.

My first day, was of course, PURA VIDA! Very interesting to say the least. I teach the classes at Matapalo Elementary school in a small classroom with no AC and two fans. I was trying to figure out the kids and all of their names (there are 15 students in total).

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As they strolled into the classroom one-by-one with smiles on their faces. The first few days were challenging, but completely rewarding. English is such a great thing for these children to learn, as job opportunities as they get older are more plentiful due to the booming tourism trade.

They feel embarrassed sometimes to speak (because of mistakes), but ultimately they realize that practice makes perfect. Day by day I am more fascinated at how bright they are and their willingness to learn and have me as their teacher. It is an honor.

The fondest memory so far is when one of the girls in my class, Stephanie, asked me what “Rock on Man” means. I laughed and tried my best to explain what that phrase meant. She sparked a change of lesson plan for the day to learning all about “slang”. The kids really enjoyed learning about all the words and sayings you don’t usually find in the dictionary.

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I have come to care about these kids, and I think they care about me too! When I pass through Matapalo on my way home, the kids that are in my English classes wave to me and say hi. It’s a great feeling to think that as one person, I too can make a small difference in their lives.

Volunteering in Costa Rica: You can make a difference.

Article/Property ID Number 1452

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