Summer Volunteering Grant in Costa Rica
Universities have thousands of dollars in grant money to give students each year, but few people know of these grants or how to apply for them. I spent a summer in Costa Rica on the Summer Volunteering Opportunity Grant through Lawrence University. I found out about the grant through on-campus flyers as well as word of mouth.
How to find grants at your university
- Search your university's website with terms such as grant, volunteering, international, and abroad.
- Contact the Volunteer Center (if your school has one) and ask about international volunteering opportunities. If no-one has volunteered abroad before, suggest it!
- Check with your department of study, or any department for available grants. (I got a grant to go to Costa Rica a second time through the Geology Department even though my majors were Spanish, History and Education. There's a lot of money out there, and often only a few applicants.)
- Word of mouth: ask around and see if anyone else has received a grant and schedule a meeting with them. It's likely that they have some helpful tips on the application process, as well as additional information on other places to look for grants.
- If you are a minority: there are often specific grants set aside for people from minority groups. These may be available through your university or your community.
- Write your own proposal and present it to your department chair, Volunteer Center coordinator, or even the university president!
- Search the internet. There may not be any opportunities through your university, but perhaps through another university or your city.
What to include in your grant proposal
- Read the instructions carefully, since each grant is different. If possible, talk to someone who has applied to and been awarded the grant before.
- Set a realistic budget. Your school isn't going to finance your vacation. What they are willing to cover are often essentials like airfare, room and board, program fees and supplies.
- Choose a unique opportunity. Why should your school choose you over someone else? What makes your opportunity worthwhile?
- Make a connection to your major if possible. I was able to connect my volunteering with my Education major (I would be working as a teacher) and Spanish major (I would be living with a family that only speaks Spanish.)
My experience volunteering abroad in Costa Rica
In 2008, I received $1550 USD to travel to Peru to volunteer as an English teacher in a remote village. I found the volunteer program online and contacted them to learn more about volunteering there. I made a budget which included round trip airfare, travel insurance and covered homestay costs (room and board). As part of my proposal I outlined what I would do in Peru and how the Lawrence University community would benefit from my trip.
After being awarded the grant, I ended up in the hospital from a blood clot. This made it impossible to go to Peru since the closest doctor was hours away by car and I would need blood testing done every two weeks to monitor my medication. Luckily, I found an even better opportunity in Costa Rica: teaching English and dance to Costa Rican children and adults at Su Espacio in Atenas, Costa Rica. The best part was that I could get my blood tested just down the street whenever I needed to.
I was able to change my grant location, but it's not always possible to do this since your budget is usually directly tied to airfare and the cost of living in that specific country. (Thanks Lawrence University for understanding!)
In the end, I spend 2.5 months in Costa Rica with a wonderful host mother and father, Gilma and Guido, along with my three host sisters: María José, Victoria and Karen. I taught a variety of dance styles to children and had English classes with both children and adults (my favorite student Ingrid is pictured above!)
I had such a fantastic experience living and volunteering in Costa Rica that I went back the next summer... but more on that in another blog post.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Please share with others who are interested in getting abroad!
~ Jamie and David
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