A Typical Day For A Volunteer
The overall experience of being an ILP volunteer is similar in every country, but each location has its own unique aspects and adventures. For example, what you're eating in Costa Rica will obviously differ than what your meals would be in Russia! Things like your housing, meals, teaching times, group sizes, ages you teach etc are all different depending on where you volunteer (and they can change a bit from semester to semester). Your experience may not be the same as another volunteer's ... even when you're in the same group.
We'll set you up with the tools to have a successful semester, but you are responsible to make the most of it! Here's an example of what a typical day could look like though to get an idea ...
A glimpse at what a day as a Costa Rican volunteer might look like:
Wake up in time to have breakfast with your ILP group. You get ready for the day and make the walk to your school where you have breakfast. Your house is just a short walk from where you're teaching. Today's meal? A plate of local staples; fried plantains, beans and rice, with some eggs. You never thought you'd be a fan of beans and rice for breakfast and somehow in Costa Rica, it just seems right (though you're looking forward to eating cereal and waffles again!).
After breakfast, you have about an hour of free time before your lessons start so you help clean up your dishes and run over your lesson plans before Facetiming your family. Your family is actually the same time zone as you (MST), so that's really convenient. You're excited to catch them up on the funny stories from class yesterday, and update them on your vacation plans ... you and your group are heading to one of Costa Rica's national parks for a weekend of waterfall hunting and zip line tours over the jungle. Can't wait!
You wave goodbye to your family right as your students are lining up for English lessons; time to start teaching. Meet a few of the students you might be teaching here!
Your first couple of classes went well, and it's time to break for lunch. You have lunch back at your place and your group chats about the weekend and teachings tips as you chow down on a plate full of pulled chicken, more rice and beans, and a cabbage slaw, provided by your cook. You make the short walk back to class and sit by the fan in your classroom (there's not air conditioning, which is pretty normal in Costa Rica) before your afternoon kids arrive for class.
You're teaching the same set of lessons you taught before lunch — arts and crafts — but when you looked away to help another student, one of your troublemakers hijacks the tape so your art lesson turns into a game of "who can put the most tape on their masterpiece", complete with too many giggles. Not exactly what you had planned for the day ... Little knuckleheads.
ILP classes are activity-based so students are having fun and are engaging with you all while they learn English naturally (so it's totally fine if you've never taught English before). Your class is also small so that you know each of "your kids" by name, know their personality, and see how they learn best.
After waving goodbye to your afternoon students, you walk home and have free time the rest of the day. You finish up today's journal entry and do a bit of lesson planning for next week until dinner. You can pretty much plan on rice and beans being the mainstays of your diet in Costa Rica but tonight your cook taught your group how to make tortillas, so you stuff chicken and cooked veggies into the still-warm tortillas for makes-shift tacos. Yum.
After dinner, your group spends some time hanging out all together. The WiFi doesn't work great, so you can't really rely on Netflix all the time, but a few people pull up a movie they downloaded on their laptop before coming to Costa Rica, while another group plays cards. You decide it's time to look into some hostels for your upcoming vacation. Afterwards, a few of you guys hear some cheers and instead of walking over to just watch the soccer game that unfolded next door, you end up playing. The game breaks up once a bit of sprinkling turns into a full-blown tropical downpour — time to call it a night! You put in some earplugs to drown out the thunder, and make sure your mosquito net is closed and head to bed, ready for another day in Costa Rica.
Make the experience your own
Like we mentioned, the experience is different for everyone. We give you the tools to live abroad, the free time, and the meaningful purpose of service but then ultimately you're responsible for what you get out of the semester.
Be adventurous with your free time! You may be living close to the beach, which means having a weekend on the coast is easily done. Or you might be living in the foothills right outside of some of Costa Rica's most impressive national parks, volcanoes and the capital city, all of which will keep you quite busy. Some volunteers choose to attend San Jose's temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But even just walking around your town can be an adventure; maybe you'll run into a farmers market selling piles of pineapple, or stumble upon a festival. We can't recommend enough going out and exploring to help you make the most of your semester.
Travel and Vacations
Explore the coast, hunt for waterfalls and adventure nearby countries.
ILP volunteers have scheduled vacation time throughout their semester as well as every weekend off. There are plenty of beautiful tropical areas in Costa Rica to explore, but volunteers also can take trips outside of their country to some neighboring Caribbean islands, or places like Nicaragua, Panama or even Peru if they'd like. It can get a little expensive to travel by air, but you can get around by bus both in-country and out of country to help keep costs down.
You'll have your travel plans approved by an ILP director to help ensure you're traveling to safe areas, but otherwise it's really up to you and your group where you'd like to go.
Our favorite vacation ideas:
- Explore the beaches and jungles of Manuel Antonio
- Soak in the hot springs of Arenal Volcano
- Trek Monteverde's Cloud Forest
- Head to the Bellena Coast for whale watching
- Hang out on Jaco's beaches or go waterfall hunting there
- Vacation on Costa Rica's Caribbean side in Puerto Viejo
- See the Celeste Waterfall for yourself in La Fortuna
- Tamarindo is your pick for a beachy vacation
- See the city life in San Jose
+ Adventures Outside Of Costa Rica
- Take a bus to Nicaragua for cathedrals and volcano boarding
- Boca Del Toro in Panama is hands down one of our favorite out-of-country spots.
- See Manchu Picchu in person on a trip to Peru
- See ancient ruins or swim in deep cenotes on a trip to Mexico
Experiences You Can't Miss
Living in Costa Rica for a few months gives you the time you need to really experience all the things you're looking for. We feel like the best part about this country are the locals and the friendships you make — don't miss out on the chance to really immerse yourself in the culture and make new friends.
Check out our complete bucket list for a semester in Costa Rica as well as a list of some of our favorites:
Costa Rica Bucket List
- Spot sloths, parrots, iguanas, monkeys and others on a jungle safari
- Join in on a local soccer match
- Sip on a Churchill: a sweet, syrupy slushy topped with ice cream
- Snorkel on Cano Island
- Bargain for the best price (in Spanish) at your local market
- Hang out in a hammock or try your hand at surfing
- Go zip lining at least once
- Catch moths or butterflies as big as your hand
- Learn how to make fresh tortillas or fried plantains
- Trek through the muddy jungle in a rainstorm
- Ride bikes to the coast
- Buy coconuts right off the street
- Soak in hot springs and dive into waterfalls
- Figure out what Pura Vida means to you
- Watch the sun set over the ocean or the dense rainforest
- Get stuck in a classic Costa Rica traffic jam
- Visit all of the most Instagrammable spots in Costa Rica
Know The Basics
Quick facts about an ILP semester in Costa Rica:
Qualifications - who can volunteer?
ILP volunteers are young adults/college-aged - typically age 18-24 (yes, you must be at least 18), from the US and Canada, and speak English as their first language. There is no experience necessary! It's totally fine (and normal) if you only speak English and/or have never taught before.
Single females and single males are welcomed to apply.
Hang out with a group of 5-8 or so volunteers.
There are currently two programs in Costa Rica: Uvita and outside of San Jose.
Currently we have two programs, one on the western coast, and another hidden in the foothills outside of the country's capital.
There are three semesters that you can participate in: Spring, Summer and Fall
The exact dates vary from year to year, but in general ...
- Spring is late January to May
- Summer is May to August
- Fall is August to December (home for Christmas!)
The program fee to participate as a volunteer in the Humanitarian program in Costa Rica is $3,720. This includes your roundtrip international airfare to Costa Rica, housing, meals, training, and support for the entire semester.
You might notice that the cost here is a bit higher than some of our other volunteer locations. That is because Costa Rica is a Humanitarian Program and your service is entirely gifted - the children you serve are receiving a free education which they would not have otherwise been able to afford. In Costa Rica, English is vital, but there are some families who can't afford the very expensive private schools but still need an English education.
For the students you teach, families and the host school are not helping to subsidize your costs like they are in our Exchange program. You can compare the 2 programs here.
We also recommend budgeting around $1,500-$2,000 for any traveling and purchases you make while you live abroad as well as things you may need that the program fee doesn't cover (like a passport, health insurance, airline baggage fees, etc).
Psst! Is budget one your concerns? We have a guide with ways to make a semester abroad affordable - check it out! It's especially helpful for college students.
Volunteers live all together in a house, in a small local neighborhood. Details vary depending on which location in Costa Rica you'll call home, but both spots have some things in common: You'll be living with your other group members, usually sharing a room with a few other volunteers. Inside your house, there is a level or two full of bedrooms, a kitchen and dining hall where you'll have some of your meals.
Here's a picture of what one of the ILP houses looks like, nestled right in the Costa Rican jungle.
Hot and humid - pretty much all the time! You'll see lots of sun as well as tropical storms. There are also areas that get a bit cooler up in the mountains.
How to apply
You can start your application online right here. It's easy to get started and there's no commitment at this point! We start accepting applications about 1.5 years prior to the start of the semester and there are no deadlines (we fill spots on a first-come-first-serve basis).
We recommend applying when you know you're interested in volunteering.
As soon as you apply you'll be assigned an ILP representative who can answer all of your questions, give you tips, and just be your go-to person when you need help.
Advice From Past Volunteers
It's really helpful to use past volunteers as a resource!
So how can you get in touch?
Check out the ILP blog
We're posting tips from volunteers on our blog frequently, like "What I Wish I Knew Before Going To Costa Rica".
Follow us on Instagram
@ilpadventure is frequently posting about all of our locations, giving updates, and more so make sure to follow us there.
Follow #ilpcostarica to discover volunteer's personal accounts and follow them.
We even have an Instagram account called @ilptakeovers where we ask volunteers who are in-country right now to take over and post some stories about what they're doing and put a post on the feed. Volunteers are usually featuring what a typical day looks like, what the meals are like, info about vacations they are taking, things to pack (and not to pack), what the bedrooms look like — you know, all the things you want to know from their perspective.
You can see what they're doing from day to day and also DM them with questions! Most volunteers are so happy to help you out because they also had tons of questions before they signed up.
Talk to an ILP Representative
The representatives who work in the ILP office have volunteered on our program before and love to talk about their experience and answer your questions. Check out the form below where you can leave your contact information and we'll have a rep reach out and text you.