Name: Alexandra Haynes
Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner)
University: Louisiana State University
Volunteer Abroad: Working in a Botanical Garden in Cartago, Costa Rica
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: May 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become a UBELONG Volunteer because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to do something selfless. I recognized I live a very comfortable life back home and was not doing enough to help others. Being an international volunteer not only allowed me to challenge myself, my perceptions, and my opinions of places outside of America, but it also allowed me to see how simple actions can have a huge impact.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
Working in such a large, beautiful botanical garden alongside people who did not speak English, I doubted I would make an impact or create meaningful relationships at all. To my surprise, I spent every day not only improving different parts of the garden but having fun and laughing alongside the workers as well. They taught me so much about their country and culture and were visibly excited to see me everyday. They expressed their gratitude to me everyday and told endless jokes. They were relentlessly kind and patient. They stood in the rain to tell me when my bus was coming so I could wait inside. They even helped me learn enough Spanish to communicate with them.
One worker, Juan Carlos, and I became best friends, despite not knowing each other’s language. He taught me so much about life in Costa Rica and was a source of constant encouragement for me. I cannot put in to words how life-changing this experience was, other than I am planning to return in a few months to continue working alongside my best friends, my “familia pequena”.
What were your major challenges?
This experience challenged all of my preconceptions. I thought I would not be of much help in such a large garden. I was wrong. I thought I would not be able to communicate with the Spanish speakers there. I was wrong. I thought this would be an average trip where I would do average work in an average garden. I was wrong. Although volunteering abroad comes with its challenges, mainly the language barrier and culture shock, my advice is to view things as “different,” not “better” or “worse.”
In a sentence or less, best advice for fitting in with the local culture?
Focus on what you CAN do and how you CAN help instead of doubting yourself. Remember you are a visitor in their country, so try to adapt to and appreciate their way of life, not resist it.