Jay – Turtle Conservation Volunteer, June and July 2012
From: California, USA
My experience in Costa Rica and volunteering with the turtles in Ostional was one that I will fondly remember until my dying days. I planned the whole trip last minute, but I was able to find out most of the information I needed about the project from Janina. She was very helpful with all my questions, but should have been more aware of the fact of how little Spanish my host family did speak.
Arriving in Costa Rica, Janina was waiting for me at the airport and even went out of her way to stay at the hostel with me the first night in San Jose. She also helped me the rest of my stay with tips on places to go after I left Ostional.
When I arrived in Ostional, the orientation included an introductory video and a tour of the beach and the host family house. While there wasn’t too much to learn. I didn’t seem to have a work schedule much at all except waking up every morning at 5 (1 during the Arribada).
I really enjoyed the work which included counting turtles, weeding, and keeping track of the nests, but I didn’t realize how disorganized the project was. While it was really relaxing in Ostional, it would often get boring with the lack of work, and being the only one from Green Life Volunteers. I met other volunteers while in Ostional and hung out with them, but I was not allowed to hang out with them at station (not Green Life Volunteers’ fault but rather odd political reasons). I also noticed the other volunteers had organized activities and a more constant work schedule. I personally would have preferred the organization and being with a group. At the same time, it was nice to have my alone time for those 16 days.
Like I said earlier, the language barrier was greater than I expected, but it did not prevent me from having a good time with my host family. I really wish I had spoken more Spanish because Gilbert and his family were such great people. I still enjoyed going on bike rides with Gilbert and eating meals with the family. I will write them soon.
Overall, my time in Ostional was a beautiful and unforgettable experience. As advice for future volunteers, I would say make it clear what your goal is with volunteering. The experience I had was more authentic than a more organized group volunteer project may have been, but as a 20 year-old with little Spanish abilities, it was not ideal. As advice for GLV, I would maybe offer both options for the Sea Turtle Conservation (group and solo). Despite the the difficulties it was a learning experience!
Green Life Volunteers’ commentary to Jay’s review:
Jay was a pleasant volunteer to work with, and I enjoyed my time with Jay a lot! Green Life Volunteers’ learned from this experience. We make sure that the volunteers know before arrival in Costa Rica about how little English that is usually spoken in Costa Rican host families. We also urge volunteers to learn and improve their Spanish before beginning their volunteer project. Furthermore, Jay’s experience taught us that some volunteers are probably “better off” in a group-setting, rather than volunteering alone.
That’s why now we offer 2 different turtle conservation options – one which places volunteers’ in a group-setting project, and the other which requires volunteers to be able to work more independently (supervised by a local biologist). Both turtle projects run year around.
The group setting turtle conservation projects are the “governmental” run projects that Jay is talking about in his review. The governmental projects are quite “separate” from the community run project, and often don’t allow much contact with other people or volunteers (mainly also due to their remote location, but also due to their policies). They receive many volunteers, and thus allow for more group activities. However, it also means that the work is distributed amongst many volunteers, and often volunteers find that there is not enough to do on such projects.
It is true that the Ostional project may seem a little bit more “unorganized” than the governmental projects – but this is because the project is run by the local community and there are usually not many volunteers on the project (which is why they are in such urgent need of help). There are activities that randomly happen on the community run Ostional project, usually in and around the community (birthdays, weddings, funerals), but there are no planned activities with other volunteers on that projects. Most likely, there is only one volunteer working on that project at a time, alongside a Costa Rican biologist. We therefore figured, that project may be more suitable as an “internship” type of project, where biology and environmental studies students can gain valuable work experience (but of course also biologically “inexperienced” volunteers are welcome on that project).
We will from now on make sure that volunteers choose between the “group setting” or the more “internship type” turtle conservation projects, and that we know exactly what they’d like to do!
Thanks a lot for your time and help Jay, hopefully we’ll see you again one day in Costa Rica 🙂