Natalie Gilbert

Natalie Gilbert

I am a third year at Ohio State, studying Public Health with minors in the Spanish Language and Religious Studies. These journal entries will tell about my experiences in Costa Rica during the month of May! I am traveling with Global Volunteer Network on their Occupational Therapy trip! I am very excited about this trip and hope that these journal entries give my trip and its experiences justice!

Monteverde & Birthdays (It Rhymes If You Say It Out Loud)

 Posted by Natalie Gilbert at 4:58 am  Costa Rica  Comments Off on Monteverde & Birthdays (It Rhymes If You Say It Out Loud)
May 122015

Monteverde, in english, translates to “Green Mountain”, which is hilarious but also ridiculously accurate because the town is painted with all shades of green. The bus ride from the San Jose bus station to Monteverde was one of those things where no matter how good of a camera you have, no picture you take will fully capture the beauty of what your eyes can see.

It was a charter bus filled to the brim, literally. There were people who stood on the bus and sat on the floor of the bus for a 4 and 1/2 hour bus ride. The road all the way there was twisting and turning through the mountains of Costa Rica. Our emotions would range from petrified of falling off the side of a cliff to breathless and at a loss for words because of the scenery. It was definitely something one has to experience to understand-which I would say rings true of this whole country.

My friends and I went “Adventure Zipling” in Monteverde, which holds the longest zip line in Latin America. The whole afternoon consisted of 6 lines, 2 of which were “Superman” style, meaning we were locked in with two harnesses on our backs, then we just lay, with nothing below us, and holding onto nothing. Yes, this was absolutely terrifying, laying facedown above the treetops over 200 meters off the ground does that to a person, but was absolutely the most incredible thing I have ever and probably will ever do in my life. Flying above the rainforest, traveling for a mile, watching your tiny little shadow glide atop of the trees, makes one realize how small we truly are.

We are so small. And we live in a huge great big beautiful world.
I seriously suggest spending time in a place that makes you realize this.
The world is happening and changing and living and breathing and we’re going to miss out on it if we don’t realize that it is here for us to experience.

Which brings me to my birthday. Yes! I am 20 years old now! How exciting indeed! Nothing really changes when you turn 20, I soon realized. Other than no longer being a teenager, I feel the same. Which is fine with me, I love who I am and where I am in my life.
But what a way to celebrate no longer being a teenager- being in a different country, doing something incredible, experiencing the first thing I have ever done totally on my own.

On my birthday, I opened some gifts that my parents packed for me in my suitcase (yes, I know they are the best parents in the world). That was hard for me, only because this is the first birthday that I wasn’t with my family. However, I believe with my whole heart that I am the luckiest person in the world, being gifted with the most beautiful hearts in the friends I made in Costa Rica. The whole day on my birthday they were constantly making me feel loved, I had “Happy Birthday” sang to me three times, which is more than the amount of times in a single day I think has ever happened. My friends took me out to dinner and said whatever I wanted, they would make it happen. We ended up at a restaurant called “Casita Azul”, meaning “Little Blue House”.

The food at this place was the best food I have had since being in Costa Rica. The night was filled with great food, so many laughs, and stories shared between all of us. Spending the night of my birthday with my new friends made me realize that the bond between friends is not time-sensitive. The 6 of us were complete strangers on Sunday, May 3rd. Strangers from all over the world, even. But the way that these friends made me feel loved on my birthday, after just meeting me on Sunday, made me feel like the most special person in the world.

I have found the most beautiful souls in Costa Rica and I know that these people will always have a piece of my heart.


 Posted by Natalie Gilbert at 1:42 pm  Costa Rica  Comments Off on Wheelchairs
May 072015

When I got to school this morning, my supervisor sent me to the “other building” on the school grounds. There I was met by Paulo, one of the OT’s that works at the school. (His parents spent 2 years in Wisconsin so he speaks broken English, finally an English-speaking coworker!!!) As soon as I walked into the building, I thought Paulo was lost because we were literally in what seemed to be a workshop. There was wood, rolls of fabric and Velcro, a saw and saw table, metal pieces, and so much more. In my head, I’m thinking… “I know I don’t speak perfect Spanish, but this is definitely NOT what I signed up for.”

As soon as Paulo saw how confused I was, he explained that every Thursday, the OT’s at this center take old used wheelchairs and rebuild them, and reconstruct them to accommodate the next kid who needs a custom wheelchair.

The amount of children in Costa Rica that require special care, including custom wheelchairs, is astounding! A wheelchair that they need can cost a family anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000, which is a more than a lot in Colones, the Costa Rican currency. When I heard that, I thought he was kidding! $10,000 for a wheelchair!
Also, there is a wait list type of thing for kids to receive chairs. Paulo told me about a patient he started tending to when she was only 9 months old. Her family applied for her to have a wheelchair because they were anticipating her needs, and the little girl didn’t end up getting a chair until she was 6 years old.

Her family had to carry her everywhere for 6 years.

My heart breaks for the children in this school, and for the families of these children that dedicate their lives to doing everything they can for a kid that will never have a normal life. To me, that is what love looks like.

The employees of this center do things, like build wheelchairs, that are way beyond their call of duty as Occupational Therapists. You will not find one OT in the United States that is building a wheelchair for one of his patients. The crazy part is that these doctors don’t know that what they are doing is as impressive as it is. I tried to explain to Paulo that his work was crazy and so abnormal, and this is what he said:
“This is what I love to do- I do anything I can for these children and their families that makes their lives easier”.

After today, I believe that there are people who are living out love, whether they know it or not.

Los Niños

 Posted by Natalie Gilbert at 8:40 am  Costa Rica  Comments Off on Los Niños
May 062015

“Los niños” in English, means the children. “Los niños” are the reason why I came to Costa Rica to volunteer in the first place.

The Tico children (“Tico” or “Tica” means a person from Costa Rica) are beautiful and silly and they are also everywhere!
FUN FACT: Costa Rica is the only Central American country that doesn’t have an army. This is because sometime in the past (I forget the exact year), two provinces in Costa Rica went to war with each other, and after that the country was in shambles. The government then decided to no longer have an army, and to use that money to further fund the education system and the children of Costa Rica. Because of this, Costa Rica is also the only Central American country in which there are no children begging for money in the streets.

So when I say the Tico children are everywhere, I mean there are families with children everywhere. I have yet to see children by themselves, unless they are in school or waiting at the bus stop to go to school.

I am volunteering in a place called Centro de Educación Especial de Atención Integral Goicoecha, which in English, roughly translates to the Center of Special Education and Integrated Attention in Guadalupe. It is a small school that helps children with physical developmental disabilities from the ages of 0 months to 21 years old. This center is filled with the sounds of the children and is covered with color from floor to ceiling. If you didn’t know that it was a center for Special Education, you would think it was a typical elementary school.

But the work that is being done here is the farthest thing from typical, the work here is amazing! The patience of the doctors and therapists that work individually with these children is unbelievable. Although I can’t understand every word that the therapists say to me, I can understand that they love their work.The children that are getting help at this center are very smart and very happy. I’ve only been working for a few days and I can already see progress in kids that I’ve seen more than once- I can’t imagine the progress you would see working here full-time!

Obviously there is a language barrier. None of the staff at this school speak English, so we mostly communicate with an elementary level of Spanish- the level I can understand and speak. We also use hand gestures and props, which they probably find taxing but what can you do! This brings me to my first lunch break with the women who work here. About half way through their shift, 5 or 6 women, plus me, get our lunch and sit outside at a picnic table. On my first day, I sat down not knowing what to expect from our “tiempo del almuerzo” (lunchtime). All of the sudden, the ladies started gabbing and gossiping so quickly that I’m pretty sure my head was actually spinning around its axis. I am pretty sure they were talking about dieting and the other doctors that work here, but I could be way off.

Imagine me sitting there, wide-eyed, with a dumb smile on my face, and nodding every once in while.

After lunch, the Occupational Therapist that I’m shadowing, Laura, apologized to me for her and her friends speaking so quickly. I laughed and then all of a sudden forgot how to say “It’s alright”…. “Es bien.” is what I was looking for.

The Bachelorette Party

 Posted by Natalie Gilbert at 7:35 am  Costa Rica  Comments Off on The Bachelorette Party
May 042015

The sounds and smells and sights of Costa Rica are like none I’ve ever experienced before. There is so much green here, so much you wouldn’t believe. It’s like every inch of the country was originally green and over time people have tried to squeeze color in. From the sky, this country looks like a green canvas with colorful blocks strewn about. And up close, it looks just about the same. It’s incredible.

I knew the people here were unlike the people in the United States before I even got out of the San Jose airport. I forgot to write my accommodation address on a customs form, so I asked a man and his wife nearby if they had a pen I could borrow, the man handed me two, and said “Here is one, plus an extra, just in case”

I’ve lived in the United States for almost 20 years, and not once have I experienced simple generosity like that from a stranger.

Costa Rica is a compilation of hills and fast cars and carefree drivers. The difference between crazy drivers here and ones in the United States, however, is that drivers here are all relaxed. Every single of one them. I tried to explain road-rage to my host mother and she basically laughed in my face. Every person, animal, business, attitude in the fabric of this country is relaxed- that is the biggest culture shock so far. I’ve been in Costa Rica for less than a day, but I am already prepared to go back to the United States, shake every person I see, and ask them “What is the rush?”

Glenda, the granddaughter of my host parents, came and picked me up from my house this afternoon and told me that we were going to a Bachelorette party. Mind you I was in gym shorts, a t -shirt, and had my fanny pack on, so you can imagine my shock when she told me I was dressed appropriately. As we were walked up the steps into the apartment, I could hear the squeals and shouts and voices of men and women and all of the sudden I got nervous. Having an in-progress Spanish Language minor is hardly enough to normally behave and interact at an all Spanish-speaking Bachelorette party. Glenda assured me I would be fine, however, and told me that soon I would be “a part of the family”.

I have never had so much food offered to me in a matter of minutes. There was rice coming at me from my left, tapas coming at me from my right, and coffee seemed to be pouring from all directions. The people of Costa Rica love their food. And I love them for loving their food.
I can’t tell you the amount of hugs and kisses I received last night from people I had never met before, and in all likelihood, will never see again. Even though I stuck out like a very pale sore thumb, the weird glances eventually stopped, and after not long at all, I was playing “Pin the Lips on the Groom” with all the ladies.

Costa Rica gets two thumbs up from this girl. I can’t wait to experience the rest of the adventures this country has waiting for me.

Before I Go

 Posted by Natalie Gilbert at 1:57 am  Costa Rica  Comments Off on Before I Go
Apr 212015

In just 12 days I will be on a plane to Houston TX, then on to San Jose, Costa Rica! This is a very surreal and scary moment- I feel like I am very unprepared and am forgetting about 26 things that I need. Although intimidating and overwhelming, volunteering abroad has been something that has been weighing on me for a very long time. Ever since I was a little girl, I was concerned with people and their lifestyles in other countries- how are they doing? What do their lives look like compared to mine?

So. Before I go, there is something I want to take this time to say. Before I get to Costa Rica and am overwhelmed by new sights and smells and people and culture, I feel lucky to have this opportunity! Many people dream of going to another country and doing what they can to help, and I get three weeks to do just that! I want to embrace and remember this feeling of excitement and being anxious because before I know it, my time abroad will be over and I’ll just have memories to hold on to.

Before I go, I want to say what an amazing chance I have here to make a difference.

I am nowhere close to being ready to leave for my trip. I have to gather all the correct paperwork, I have to make another trip to the store, I have to check and double check that I have enough clothes packed, and probably at least 6 more things.
However, even though I’m not ready, in a way, I’ve been ready for this experience for many years now.

12 days to go!

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