Spotlight: Service Learning in Costa Rica

October 9, 2017

Hola! My name is Emily Nagle and I work in the Institutional Relations division at API. One of the best parts about this job is that occasionally, in order to learn more about the API programs, we get to travel internationally and visit the sites firsthand. This spring, I had the chance to explore API’s programs in Costa Rica with the most amazing tour guides–API Resident Directors, Esteban and Francy. A highlight of the trip was checking out the volunteer/service-learning locations, and I wanted to share what that experience was like…

Ticklish toddlers squealed while they tried to wriggle out of my grasp. I darted after them as they dodged the creaking green-apple-colored teeter-totter and whooshing set of swings. Under the almighty afternoon sun, we dashed around toy trucks and soccer balls. I tickled them through their sweat-sodden pistachio green and lemon yellow tee shirts. Even if it only meant brightening one or two kid’s days, I loved the idea of giving back to a country that had given me so many amazing memories.

Wobbly-legged tico tykes sprang behind the three-foot tall blue and red miniature basketball hoop, and they squirmed inside of the plastic play set. They blurted out belly-bouncing laughs as they sailed down the slide, pink like Double Bubble bubblegum. Tiny shoes, smaller than the length of my hand, pattered across the sunbaked reddish clay pavement. The balmy breeze rustled underneath the sound of hoots and screeches bouncing off of the colorful, doodle-covered brick walls. While I wanted to serve the community, I had just as much, if not more fun than the kids, and I couldn’t imagine it feeling like a chore.

Time vanished while chasing lightning fast youngsters, panting in the Costa Rican heat. Spritzes of the smell of salty sweat sprinkled the sweet summer-scented air. My laughter erupted like a toddler’s as I lifted tico tots above my head, squeezing their doughy tummies and letting the wind tousle their silky coffee-colored hair. Their eyes popped as I swirled them in circles and the smile never left my face. It only truly occurred to me afterward that we had not exchanged conversation, I didn’t know any of their names, and we didn’t speak the same language.

When visiting another country, differences can often be the most apparent and most impactful: different languages, different cultures, different customs, and so on. Hearing conversations outside of your own language, tasting local dishes, navigating new city layouts, and more, magnify the magic of roaming the world. We can learn a tremendous amount from experiencing lifestyles quite unlike our own, but I think that travel truly transforms when you take a moment to remember the similarities. My remarkable memories with Costa Rican children formed despite all of the differences—we bonded through nothing more than our shared humanity. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language. We united under play, laughter, kindness, and fun. No matter where we’re from or what is going on in the world, it seems like we can find connection through the beautiful little things in life. Pura vida!

Upcoming deadline to teach or be a teacher’s assistant in Costa Rica starting in January! Apply by Nov 1st here: 


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