As some of you know, I recently had the privilege to go on an alternative spring break volunteer trip with Alternative Spartan Breaks . I traveled with a group of 9 other MSU students, and 1 adult, to Monteverde Costa Rica. We spent the week working on a local sustainable coffee farm; interacting with their migrant workers, picking/sorting coffee, and doing other misc. farm chores. Long story short, it was one of the best weeks of my life and I wanted to share my experience to inform others on what to expect and encourage everyone out there to push themselves and volunteer in a foreign country!
Being passionate about travel and expanding my knowledge of global culture, I was very much attracted to the idea of volunteering abroad. And when thinking about my spring break plans for this year, the idea of an alternative break came forth. Little did I know how much this experience would effect me (on an educational and personal level). I can wholeheartedly say that I have learned more about my social issue, as well as myself, in just a weeks time than any semester at school. Here are some of the main things to expect from foreign volunteer service.
It Will Test Your Communication Skills
As humans, we rely heavily on verbal communication to express ourselves. Therefore, traveling to Costa Rica (a Spanish speaking country) and only having a minuscule knowledge of Spanish, I found myself in many situations where I couldn’t express myself as effectively as I would have liked to. Naturally, I had to fall back on nonverbal communication throughout most of the week when speaking with those that didn’t know english. What I didn’t expect was how effective this method was in building relationships with people. Hand signals, facial expressions, and silence are very powerful communication methods – something I hadn’t considered much before this trip.
You Will Appreciate How Other People Do Things
Just because something is different doesn’t mean its wrong! Being immersed in another culture teaches you this. Living and working with Latin American locals, I got to see and do a lot of different things that I wouldn’t of otherwise been able to do as a tourist – or as an American for that matter. Cooking a traditional Costa Rican meal, interacting with the farm’s migrant workers, staying in a native’s home, heck even making coffee in the morning, all showed me alternative ways to do things. Just remember that no matter where you are, there is always something to learn from someone.
It Will Challenge Your Stereotypes
I think with any sort of travel you go through the process of mentally checking and assessing what you are experiencing with what you had preconceived notions about. The reality of the situation is that everyone stereotypes, and despite the damage that can result from people doing this, it is inherently ingrained into society nowadays to do so. However, what you can do while you travel is to correct or remove these stereotypes as you experience things. This is one of the many powers travel has; allowing people to learn about other people in a proper environment!
You Will Meet Some REALLY Cool People
The university partners that my group was paired with, all of the employees of the farm, the migrant workers from Nicaragua, our bus driver taking us up/down the mountain, and of course my fellow volunteers were more amazing than I could have ever imagined. I was able to learn something different from all of these people, which is invaluable in itself.
If you want to see more of what I did on my trip, click the link below to a short vlog that accompanies this post!
Alternative Spartan Breaks (ASB) was the perfect organization for me to get involved with at Michigan State. If any of my fellow spartans out there are even remotely interested you can find more info about them here.