Homestays & Community Service in Costa Rica

In week three, we finally completed our community service project at the playground in La Palma! With the help of many community members, we were able to completely clean and remove the rust from the fence and paint it with anti-corrosive paint, replace all the rotting parts in the playground and repaint all the structures with pretty designs, build concrete benches for the parents to sit on and lay a new sidewalk leading from the road to the playground. Though exhausted, we felt accomplished and honored to present it to our host families. Week three also included saying goodbye to our wonderful host families.  We were surprised that 14 days was all it took to love, appreciate, and wholeheartedly become a part of the La Palma community. When we first arrived, wary, uncomfortable and struggling to communicate, we couldn’t have imagined how much many of us would bond with our families and how difficult it would be to part ways. And yet, nearly all of us agree that leaving La Palma was the hardest part of our trip. From this homestay experience, we’ve gained long lasting relationships, a greater understanding of a new culture, and a greater awareness of ourselves, our own culture and our family lives at home. Here’s what a few of us had to say about the homestay experience:

“There are no words to describe how enriching and heartwarming the homestay experience was.  I especially loved spending time with my host brother, Carlos Andres. We would play cards for hours, or watch TV or go get ice cream.  It was so sad leaving this family, but I hope I can go back some day.”   –Dancy

“I now know why homestays have become such an important part of the Experiment program. I full-heartedly became a part of my host family, through daily experiences of helping within the household, trips to the beach, and watching plenty of soccer!” –Maria

“My stay with my host family in La Palma allowed me to see that not everyone has the privilege and opportunities that we do and that my family at home and I should try to be more grateful for all that we have.” – Olivia

Our farewell party with our families at the town recreation hall was a particularly fun and memorable evening.  We danced together to Costa Rican music, beat piñatas, and feasted on home cooked Tico food.  The group of Experimenters also performed and then taught our host siblings how to do the Cupid Shuffle and the Electric Slide!  The most poignant part of the evening is when we all gathered in a large circle around a branch bearing ribbons with each of the host families’ names on it. One by one, the students entered the circle with their families and exchanged appreciations, thanks and hugs and we each took our family ribbon as a special keepsake.  As you might imagine, there were a lot of tears!

The next day, we boarded our bus just after dawn to begin the long journey up to the northwest of the country, to an island called Isla Chira in the Gulf of Nicoya. A tranquil island, with only a few dirt roads and a scattering of small fishing villages, Isla Chira contains the most intact biodiversity of any of Costa Rica’s dry tropical forests.  Here we were introduced to an organization started by a group of women working to increase sustainable rural tourism on the island.  We contributed to their project by doing some ecological landscaping around the lodge that they built by hand.  We created new paths, planted trees and bushes, removed stumps, and created a tire wall for soil and rainfall retention.  We also learned about the women’s efforts to protect and expand the mangroves around the island.  One afternoon we took a boat along the mangroves, to an even smaller island that was covered with up to 6 different species of water birds.  At night, Isla Chira’s magical aura was enhanced by the beauty of thousands of fireflies under a star-spangled sky. Fireflies were far (far far) from only bug we encountered, however—we also shared our living and working spaces with scorpions, tarantulas, mantises, and an array of beetle and ant species.

While on isla Chira, we also had a chance to spend time relaxing and spending unstructured time together as a group, playing cards, swimming, going to walks in search of snacks.  On Wednesday, we got back on our boat and headed across to the Nicoya Peninsula where our driver Oscar was waiting with our bus to take us to Ostional Turtle Project on the North Pacific Coast—a part of the trip that we’ve been eagerly awaiting since we arrived in Costa Rica. Stayed tuned for our turtle tales in our next blog!


From Diandra: “Yo Moms! I miss you guys but I will see you soon. It’s pretty dope here. I’m not coming home.”

From Kitty: “Hi Mom and Dad- I really like it here and I also miss you guys so much!”