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Teaching Theater with Circus Group in Costa Rica

Here at Performing Arts Abroad (PAA) we are so proud and excited to send individuals and groups on unique and fulfilling international performing arts programs around the world.  Whether on trips for study abroad, internships, volunteering, or career workshops, PAA believes the experience of cross-cultural collaboration is invaluable for performing artists. Today we are thrilled to feature a blog post by Emily, who traveled to Costa Rica to volunteer and improve her Spanish. We are thrilled to share her experience and provide a more global perspective for all of our participants.

After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I decided that instead of sitting around waiting to hear back on my application to graduate school, I should do something meaningful with my time. I searched the internet making countless bookmarks, trying to find a volunteer program that would both suit my interests, and make an impact on at least one other person’s life. Eventually, and thankfully, I discovered Performing Arts Abroad.

After a few e-mails and phone calls with their staff, I found myself sending in an application for a Theater Arts volunteer program in Costa Rica. There was only a short time before I left, but PAA made sure to prepare me with the necessary physical aspects (i.e, a timeline of my trip, information about my homestays, documentation about health insurance, etc) and the helpful emotional aspects (i.e, information about potential culture shock, that I kept very handy in my “don’t freak out” folder).

Soon enough, I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, where I stayed for a week and studied Spanish at the Costa Rican Language Academy. Looking back, the only regret I have about the trip was that I really should have been honest with myself about my Spanish speaking abilities. I was sure that I would recall everything I learned in high school and I’d be just fine when I arrived – taking my placement test for class proved me to be terribly wrong. Luckily, CRLA was great and put me in a class appropriate for my ability, or lack thereof, and for the next week I was able to learn and remember the language in a comfortable, friendly, and really quite fun environment. In addition, no one in my host family spoke English, so I didn’t really have the option of not practicing after class. At first, this had me digging through my “don’t freak out” folder, but later proved to be quite helpful.

 Volunteering in Costa Rica

Here is Emily with her host mother, Luz.

After I finished classes, I got on a bus to San Isidro and was greeted by Luz Marina, my next host mother. She took me to her home and got me settled in, and the next morning I was beginning my placement with Circo FantazzTico. The group I worked with was made up of other volunteers mostly from Germany, who all had some kind of performance background, be it in circus, dance, or theater, and each week we traveled to different neighborhoods where we gave workshops or trainings for the local children. A few places we visited were orphanages, or homes for children, and a few were community centers where kids of all ages came and participated.

Because I have such an extensive background in theater, I went with the goal to teach theater. I was able to play theater oriented games with the kids – with help translating rules from other volunteers – and found that even if we didn’t speak the same language, we could communicate and express ourselves through movement, which was a truly beautiful thing to experience. Some days, the kids were much more interested in doing acrobatics, or juggling, and though it would be initially frustrating they didn’t jump at the opportunity to learn theater, it was still incredible to watch – and I felt it important for me to simply be there to say “Good job!” when they did something well, and help the children find a positive, creative outlet, no matter what it may be.

 Volunteering in Costa Rica

It may be cliché of me to say, but there is no better way to describe my experience than saying I went to teach and I am coming back having learned even more. These children, though many of them coming from unfortunate circumstances, were filled with such optimism and will to learn that truly inspired me on a different level than anything I’d ever felt before. I met so many incredible people, and made so many memories that I know I will carry with me through my personal and professional life. If nothing else, this trip truly solidified I am following the right path by pursuing the performing arts, something I knew was certain when I told a little boy I was there to teach him theater and his eyes lit up with pure joy.

 Volunteering in Costa Rica

Written by Emily Murphy, PAA Volunteer in Costa Rica

To see more of Emily’s trip watch her highlights video:

Thank you, Emily, for choosing Performing Arts Abroad!

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