Long time, no see! February has been full of happenings and I’ve had a radio silence for a while. By now, I have finished my AIESEC volunteering in Costa Rica and made my way to Aracaju, Brazil where I’m about to start my third and for now last volunteering experience. I was also lucky enough to spend a week vacationing in Rio de Janeiro right during the carnival time between the volunteering projects. Nonetheless, I’ll keep you waiting till my next post to hear about my first impressions about Brazil as well as my experience at the samba carnival as I will now wrap up my experience in Costa Rica with this post.
I was stubborn enough to keep working the originally planned six weeks in Costa Rica even though many things went wrong: the work was not as I expected, I got an overdose of religious traditions at the kindergarten I volunteered at, and the way AIESEC worked was somewhat questionable as many things written in the contract were not delivered. Looking back, I think I would have been better off quitting earlier and using my time in Costa Rica in some other way but as I’m of the mentality “challenges are meant to be overcome” and giving up is really difficult to me, I kept going. However, as I’ve now been pondering on giving up a lot, I now have a clear note to self: if I cannot be honest to my own values while doing something, it’s actually smarter to give up than to keep going. Values don’t change quickly, if at all, so if there is a value contradiction between you and the other party, there is no sense in waiting for things to get better for you.
On one hand, the whole experience in Costa Rica was a 6-week intensive course to learn which issues put me at unease and what I don’t want to deal with. I’m not okay with working in a heavily religious organization, I don’t like dealing with people who only find excuses instead of taking responsibility and I certainly don’t like being underestimated nor micromanaged. I want to work on tasks where I can actually think and create instead of doing something someone else has already thought through. On the other hand, it was again one of those experiences that strengthened my feeling of being a world citizen and being able to leave a positive mark on other people enabling growth to directions that didn’t exist earlier.
I also discovered I’m better working with children than I thought. As this was my first time working with young children on a daily basis for a longer period, I was a bit scared in the beginning but luckily they liked me and we got well along. The best experience was definitely when I got to teach them about Finland! I told about Santa Claus and Finnish nature as well as baked cinnamon rolls, which, by the way, looked a lot better than those few times I’ve been baking them at home. Kids loved both the cinnamon rolls and the realization that Santa Claus is real! So much so that some of them said Finland is their favourite country now. As the cherry on the cake, we danced Letkajenkka (a traditional Finnish dance) together and the kids were absolutely thrilled! Everyday after that, there was somebody coming to me and showing that they remembered the dance. Apparently, the dance stuck with them as I received a message this week telling that one of the youngest kids was teaching the dance to a new volunteer now! So, I’m pretty sure these kids will remember there is a country called Finland out there and I am super proud of that!
I did not know earlier how I naturally behave with kids as I’ve mostly been in the visiting teacher’s position when being around kids. However, I realized that when being with kids, I’m the very same as when being a leader for adults: encouraging to try and learn, empathic when someone is down, trusting and giving responsibility, and putting myself out there to ensure my team is motivated and enjoying their time. Usually, even kids seem to know when they have done something wrong, so it’s better to focus on the lesson learned instead of blaming on anyone. If somebody is just testing your limits that’s a bit of another story, but being firm on what’s not acceptable and what are the possible consequences seems to work well.
On my last day I got tons of thank you letters from the kids and one boy sang me a goodbye song in front of everybody. Of course, on the last day we also danced some more Letkajenkka together and gave plenty of hugs. Even though it was in many ways a challenging experience, I am thankful for having met each and everybody that were part of my journey. I am also confident that my visit has left a permanent mark to each child I worked with. What’s the difference it will make, remains a question, but maybe one day our paths cross again and I’ll find out! Thank you kids for letting me learn from you, thanks to the employees of the kindergarten for letting me participate, thanks to my lovely host family for the hospitality and thanks to the other volunteers for sharing parts of the experience! Hasta la proxima!