Name: Lauren Lustek
Hometown: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (advanced)
University: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for People with Disabilities in Cartago, Costa Rica
Duration: 13 weeks
Start month: January 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I was looking for a volunteer project abroad where I could gain skills in the realm of speech-language pathology, improve my Spanish skills, and above all, make meaningful connections and differences in the lives of the people at my project. UBELONG was the perfect choice to responsibly volunteer abroad, engage with the local community, and have the opportunity to make a real impact. I worked with adults with disabilities for three months in Cartago, Costa Rica, and my experience was absolutely wonderful.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I helped the students to get their garden project going even though I didn’t have much experience gardening! When I arrived the garden was all weeds, but by the time I left it was brimming with lettuce, beans, arugula and horse radish. Even more rewarding, I worked a lot with the students on their reading and writing skills, and some students were able to read more than when I arrived and were even painting letters we had talked about in class! I loved the opportunity to teach what I felt the students needed, but it was also a major challenge because I didn’t receive any feedback or critique on the lessons I gave. There was no one there to keep me accountable except for myself, so I started making lesson outlines to make sure we were progressing as a group.
What were your major challenges?
Though I hope I have made an impact on them, I know for certain that they’ve made an impact on me! The kindness the students bring with them every day is really inspiring and an important reminder of the differences that can be made if we just care for one another. They greeted me everyday with a hug, when I had a hurt foot they helped me in every way possible (even stabilizing me while I washed my dishes), or sharing their cookies. I loved learning Spanish words from them (or which Spanish words not to use!) or learning about different Costa Rican traditions.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe local life?
It’s only been two weeks since I’ve left the organization and I want to go back already and spend the morning in the garden, have our coffee break at 10, eat a typical Costa Rican casado for lunch, and spend the afternoon working on reading skills, doing yoga, or dancing! My experience with UBELONG, the local team, and my volunteer organization was nothing short of amazing.