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Henry B.

“Dancing is big in my community, and it has been a great way to meet people and to distinguish myself from the tourists who are constantly coming through town.”

Henry B headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

During my freshman year of college, I was studying international relations and got interested in international development. After looking at various organizations and the way that they go about development, I found the Peace Corps’ approach to be different because it sent people to communities to work in a bottom-up approach, where they could really learn the needs of the community and make a more profound impact during their service. I applied to serve right out of college, and now, here I am eleven months into service; what I learned in my freshman year has rung true about the Peace Corps.

2. What projects are you working on?

My primary project is helping improve the English education program at the local public elementary school in my site, and I also have gotten the opportunity to develop secondary projects. I have helped the school band as a drum tech and supported the choreographed and folkloric dance groups with choreography and rehearsals. I also have taught English to a few groups, including caterers and dance instructors, so they can expand their business. Recently I supported the development of a Rotaract Club in the community to connect and develop young adult leaders in the community.

Hank B. supports the English education program at an elementary school in Costa Rica.
Henry supports the English education program at an elementary school in Costa Rica.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

Since my arrival, I have been asking questions constantly about everything from Tico (Costa Rican) culture, to people’s families and interests, to Spanish words I don’t understand. When you show interest in people’s culture and lives, they are generally willing to share, and sharing can create positive relationships. I started dancing Latin dance (salsa, bachata, merengue, etc.) in my senior year of high school, and have gotten the opportunity to use that as a cultural integration tool. Dancing is big in my community, and it has been a great way to meet people and to distinguish myself from the tourists who are constantly coming through town. 

4. What is a highlight of your time in service so far?

The dance group I was involved with got invited to a competition with groups from the school district, which consisted of 12 dance groups performing a variety of Latin dance styles. Although the group from my school was smaller than some others, they performed a complex Latin compilation with bits of salsa, merengue, cumbia, bachata, swing criollo, and reggaeton, and placed second overall!

I've also enjoyed seeing the success of fellow Volunteers. Success can look very different depending on the place where you are serving. In the future I hope to visit more of other Volunteers so I can see their service in action.

5. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

I have really enjoyed getting to meet people with such different backgrounds and life stories. Talking to my host dad and a Returned Volunteer from the ’80s has been fascinating because I get to hear how Costa Rica has changed over the years. I have also enjoyed learning the lifestyle of a smaller beach town, with a much slower pace than Washington, D.C., where I went to college.

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

Family is one of the most important things in life, so enjoy the time you have with them. The people in the community I'm serving have strong family ties and spend a lot of quality time with their families.

Another important thing that I've learned from my community is to focus on the here and now. My host dad often says to me “Hay que comer hoy, porque no sabe de mañana,” which roughly translates to “You have to eat today because you don’t know about tomorrow.” So, eat your food and enjoy the present! No one knows if there will be a tomorrow so stressing about the little things simply isn’t worth it.

7. How do you spend time when you are not working on a project?

I often go dancing, bike in the surrounding area, enjoy time at the beach, rock climb, or spend time with my host family; I like to play games with my host nephew, watch soccer with my host dad, or enjoy cafecitos with the whole family.

In his free time Henry uses a local climbing gym in Costa Rica.
In his free time Henry uses a local climbing gym in Costa Rica.

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

Now that I know my community better, I am excited to be able to dive into service in a more impactful way. Along with the projects I am currently running, I am hoping to start a few youth climbing teams and implement a recycling program at my school.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

One of the things I will do differently is to try to invest more in the relationships I already have. Since leaving for college I have not lived in the same place for more than a year, and while I don't necessarily see that changing when I return from service, I would like to make a more active effort to stay engaged in relationships I already have.

I will try to listen and think before I respond to things. Living in a different culture with a different language has taught me that this is a valuable skill in two ways: first, as all Peace Corps Volunteers learn, regardless of what we think our community needs, we are there to serve them and so we must put aside our own ideas and listen. Second, we process things more slowly in our second languages. Living every day as a Spanish rather than English speaker I am forced to slow down to understand what people are saying. This also gives me more time to think about my response. Living in Costa Rica has taught me to put my own ideas on the back burner, and to slow down and process things before I respond.