What my time in Costa Rica taught me about “the new normal”

28th July 2020

Volunteering on Raleigh gives you the opportunity to make a change in the world, but it also changes you. Following his Raleigh placement in Costa Rica last year, RB employee Ted has been reflecting on what he learnt on Raleigh and how this helped him through the global pandemic.

“The new normal” seems to be the saying of the moment to describe what we’re all experiencing together.  I am largely indifferent to buzz words, but I actually like this one – I think it fits.  The world is going through a growth journey.  It began with the solidarity to stay apart to protect one another, and now it’s that same solidarity bringing millions together to condemn racism and police brutality.  But how can you conceivably explain what it’s like to live through a global pandemic while the world is finally coming to terms with its oppressive past?  Personally, I have no idea.   But they say change begins at the end of one’s comfort zone – and I think that’s what the “new normal” is.

In the spirit of such change I’d love to share with you three lessons I learned outside of my comfort zone on my own personal growth journey with Raleigh in Costa Rica.

Lesson 1: Start with awareness, aim for empathy, understanding takes time

The first fundamental lesson Raleigh Expedition taught me is on the importance of awareness.  While we’re all here together, no single person experiences life the same way. We as humans tend to contextualize our lives with our own experiences which makes understanding others challenging.  My time in Costa Rica helped me understand that you can start the path to a better understanding through awareness and empathy.

On Raleigh I led a group of 14 to build an iron suspension bridge at Monumento Nacional Guayabo, one of Costa Rica’s most important archeological sites.  As a bilingual group, I realized we all had difference levels of confidence in speaking Spanish and English. One Spanish-speaking volunteer was hesitant to be a translator, we later realized because she did not feel confident in her translation skills. We could never “understand” her fears because none of us were proficient enough in Spanish ourselves, or more importantly, courageous enough to try and fail in front of the group.  So as a team we agreed that all the non-Spanish speaking  volunteers would go outside of our comfort zones on the project sites and begin interacting in Spanish.  I’m proud to say that while no one realized fluency in those remaining two weeks, we all learned an incredibly valuable lesson in the relationship between empathy and understanding.

Lesson 2: Growth takes place outside of your comfort zone

Before I went to Costa Rica, my world view was shaped by a very small corner of the world.  I was a very “local” employee that worked for a very “global company”.  Sure, the exposure to a diverse work force at my job at RB helps raise awareness, but Raleigh really took that a step further.  Being fully immersed in Costa Rican culture for 13 weeks opened my eyes to a completely different way of life.  I’m not saying I learned everything I needed to know about a 200 year old country in 3 months, but I did learn more about the people, traditions, and culture in those three months than I would have if I spent 10 years researching it online.  There simply is no substitute for learning than to experience something yourself outside of your comfort zone.

This time presents a unique opportunity for all of us to go outside of our comfort zones.  As an employee, a student, or even just a human being – when’s the last opportunity you’ve had this much time and space to yourself? If you’re passionate about something, use this time to start your own journey.  Challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone is hard but incredibly rewarding.

Lesson 3: Resiliency is a journey

Life is not perfect and the journey for growth isn’t in a straight line.  For every journal entry I penned in Costa Rica happily re-living tales of accomplishment, I angrily scratched out two or three more in defeat.  The journal helped me release the bad and save the good for later.  I think that’s what the “new normal” will be at a global scale.  There will be brutal days where the world seems further apart than ever but there will also be days filled with beauty and understanding.  My only advice would be to chronicle your own account, your own journey.  Talk to someone about it – even if that someone is you.  Resiliency takes may forms, find what works best for you.  For me in Costa Rica, it was an 86-page journal about a very special time in my life.


If you want to share your voice and views on an issue you feel passionate about then get in touch at blog@raleighinternational.org.

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