I arrived at the Aldea Hostel in San José at 1 a.m. on the warm morning of May 20. After missing my first flight a few days earlier, experiencing a 10-hour layover in Florida, and having to travel to the hostel from the airport with little knowledge of the city and language, I questioned what I had signed up for this summer. Despite the initial hurdles and doubts, I was still excited to work with Fundacíon Accíon Joven (FAJ), experience the country and region, and learn Spanish.
I could spend this entire blog breaking down just the trip to Costa Rica, but that would prevent me from discussing how I came across FAJ and my first days in Costa Rica.
During 2012, I was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, in the Management of Science and Public Policy program, with the intention of accomplishing three objectives during the summer of 2013. They were: 1) work with an organization whose mission closely aligns with my vision for youth empowerment in the United States; 2) gain meaningful international work experience; and 3) learn Spanish through complete immersion.
In an effort to meet these objectives, I used Ashoka (an organization dedicated to supporting close to 3,000 social entrepreneurs globally) to identify José Aguilar Berrocal, founder and president of FAJ. Since 2006, FAJ has successfully decreased the dropout (exclusion) rate among targeted schools in the 7th and 10th grades in Costa Rica by engaging its staff, college students, school administrators, businesses and government agencies. Due to their methodology of using a diverse group of social actors to address problems, I recognized in September 2012 that FAJ was the best organization that matched the three objectives.
Over nine months of preparing for this opportunity with FAJ, my research consisted of surfing the Internet and having conversations with Costa Rica vacationers and friends of Ticos. When I arrived in Costa Rica, I had a typical foreigner’s view of the country – it is a great vacation spot, and has one of the best educational systems in the region. I discovered from conversations with residents on the flight that I knew nothing!
The first days in Costa Rica I learned that English was not really an option. In San José, just ordering food was frustrating as my communication was akin to a baby using hand expressions and piecing together broken words to communicate basic needs.
Despite the language deficiency, my host family and FAJ staff in the northwestern province of Guanacaste have supported me as I have worked tirelessly to learn the culture and language.
Over the next couple of months, I will be writing about my experiences here in Costa Rica. As a former youth developer and teacher, the blog posts will highlight students who are excelling in some of the most challenging schools in which the FAJ works, and spark a conversation to find solution to issues that Tico students face. See you next week!
Fundación Acción Joven aims to prevent student dropout for teenagers who attend public high schools located in communities of high social risk. This is done through the implementation of projects designed by the educational community, and executed with the help of different stakeholders such as private enterprise, government entities, other nonprofits and volunteers. FAJ currently has offices in San José, Guanacaste, Limón and Puntarenas, and works with 10 different high schools in those regions. Get involved by visiting www.accionjoven.org/index, emailing [email protected], or calling our San José office at: 2271-4407.
As a current graduate student in Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, Timothy Evans has worked to combine a decade worth of youth development experience with data analytics to positively impact communities within the U.S. This international experience is providing him with invaluable tools and best practices that allow for organizations such as Fundación Acción Joven to change communities globally.