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What to Expect as an Early Retiree with Raleigh Costa Rica

Janice, 62, decided to join a Raleigh Costa Rica Expedition as an Administrator Volunteer Manager after taking early retirement.

Janice, 62, decided to join a Raleigh Costa Rica Expedition as an Administrator Volunteer Manager after taking early retirement.

I first heard about Raleigh Costa Rica through family members who had been on previous Expeditions. My sister-in-law joined as an office-based Volunteer Manager, in the administrator role, and my nephew joined as a Volunteer. Both of them gave me really good feedback on the country and the whole experience, which sowed a seed as something that I could explore when I retired.

My opportunity came sooner than expected when I was given the chance to take early retirement at 60.

I had 40 years’ of work experience in administration and human resources, mainly in international organisations and latterly at the Council of Europe and the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Having the unexpected opportunity to retire five years earlier than planned opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. I was ready.

I opted for the administrator role as it was the one that I could contribute to the most with my operational experience.

It’s a busy role. From first arriving, I went straight into organising the training materials for the volunteers, preparing documents, printing, photocopying, ordering stationary, and generally getting up to speed with running the office. I then progressed into preparing the project packs for the nine volunteer groups according to where they were going – indigenous schools, national parks, or on trek. It was satisfying to put together information on the projects and then get the chance to visit them in person.

I also had the opportunity to be part of the team’s operational communications, or ‘ops comms’ as it’s known for short. Every day, each of the nine volunteer groups call in to Field Base, where they provide an update on where they are, how they are doing, and if they have any concerns or requests.

At first, I thought it would be quite challenging but, in fact, it’s a vital role here.

When you’re answering the calls, you’re the main point of contact and you then supply the updates to the rest of the office-based team.  It’s such an important part of the operation to make sure everything keeps running smoothly and we’re aware of what’s going on at all times. Particularly with the trek groups, who spend so much time in transit, they phone in with their GPS coordinates so we can plot exactly where they are on a map and make sure that they are on track according to where they should be. We then know if they’re encountering any problems or need any practical or pastoral support.

I wanted to take part in a programme about sustainable volunteering because I think it’s really important.

When first hearing about Raleigh, I felt aligned to the organisation’s values and also energised by the young people who are going out in the world to make change happen. They are determined to improve the world, whereas my generation can sometimes be a bit complacent.

I’ve always found that teamwork is extremely important, so I’ve tried to be a good team member, and be flexible and adaptable. I’m trying to not to be afraid of learning new things. It’s good to see the young people so enthusiastic and keen just to try it all – so that’s hopefully rubbing off on me a bit.

My highlight would be being in the beautiful country of Costa Rica.

Working with local staff and volunteers, and having access to so many interesting places that I wouldn’t be able to visit as a regular tourist. I would encourage anyone applying for expedition to learn Spanish before they came. I regret that I didn’t learn the basics before coming.

I would definitely advise people who are interested in volunteering to look into a Raleigh Expedition, particularly if you are in a similar chapter of life as me.

There’s a lot of talent, skills, and energy out there that Raleigh and everyone involved in the expedition could benefit from.

Post Raleigh, I will go on to do further volunteering.

But I will choose something local to Strasbourg that I can do all the time, probably connected with refugees, where I can use my varied skills and experience. But first, I will return home, and decompress, and then start to think about next steps.

I’m starting to feel a sense of achievement. It’s been quite a whirlwind.

When I see the things that I have done behind the scenes that have enabled people to have a successful project, or feel supported along the way, then you start to see the bigger picture of what we have achieved as a group. Diversity is key. I really believe that it’s the mix of backgrounds, ages, and nationalities that all help to bring something to a successful expedition.

The three words that I would use to describe my experience are challenging, rewarding and fun.

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