Veronica Bottalico served in Costa Rica as an English teacher in a community driven by the tourism and ornamental foliage industries. She talks about residing in a house that could have been the set of a telenovela, living in a home overrun with mold, and eventually living in a tropical paradise.
Photos from Veronica’s Story
Veronica Bottalico’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served as a TEFL Teacher and Trainer in Costa Rica from 2016 to 2017. My community called La Rambla de Sarapiqui, was a small, rural farm town of about 500 people. The majority of people worked in the local ornamental factory or the surrounding pineapple plantations. My primary project was co-teaching English at the local environmental high school. Along with this, I was involved with many secondary projects which ranged from working with rural tourism groups ( The Leaf Cutter Project), co-teaching additional English courses, hosting a JumpStart camp, creating materials for the new nation-wide English curriculum and helping with many English Festivals.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
My service was full of favorite memories, making it impossible to pick one. Yet, one that sticks out was when Carolina ( my unofficial host mom in-site) arrived at my house with two baby chickens, after I very sarcastically told her I wanted to raise one for eggs. She handed me the chicks in a cardboard box and told me it was my test to see if I was ready to be a mother. Sadly enough, ( and despite doing everything I could to keep them safe over night) my ‘pet bats’ had gotten into the box and ate one of them after the second night. The next day, Carolina was at my door again with another chick, which again lasted about another day. This seemed to go on for a good week until all 4 chicks were down and she finally came to the conclusion that I was not ready to be a mother. Carolina still reminds me of my chicks to this day.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
If you noticed above, my service only went from 2016 to 2017. With that said, I was unexpectedly medically separated as I hit my mid-service mark. After going through a month and a half of extreme fatigue, joint pain, digestive distress and endless medical tests, I was diagnosed with a less severe IBD called microscopic colitis. After a short sense of relief for finally knowing the reason of my ongoing symptoms and disruption of projects, I was told I had to take a 8-week medication that would extend the 6-week limit of a Medevac and fly me home within the next 72 hours. I was able to return to my community for 12 hours to pack up my stuff, say only a few goodbyes and ultimately leave behind my life that I had worked so hard to build up over the past year. Medical separation was never something I imagined would have happened to me. With my abrupt departure, I left Costa rica with a heavy heart and lack of closure. Although I feel fortunate for the incredible year of service I had, it’s one of the few things in my life that I look back on and wonder ‘what if’.
What do you miss about Peace Corps?
I miss the endless opportunity. Everyday I was able to learn about something new, help with different projects or given responsibilities I would have never been given back home without previously presenting my resume. My days were never the same and every day was challenging in a new way. And I cannot leave out the people and sense of community I was surrounded with. Something I’ve always struggled to find back home.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
The first goes along with a quote by Stephen R. Covey that I heard many times but never truly understood until my service. It says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” During my service, I learned how to be the listener, rather than the speaker. I learned how to allow myself to not only listen, but also ask questions and recognize that everyone makes sense once you learn their story. It not only helped me become more understanding of others and the world around me, but allowed me to connect better and integrate into my community. Since coming home, I realized how much this quote applies to the competitive society we live in today. I still try my best to always listen to understand. And to remind myself, that it’s not weird, it’s just different.
The second thing I still carry with me today, is the ability to laugh when it gets hard. Laughing always makes it a bit easier (even when two cockroaches jump out of your shoe after you had already been walking around in it for ten minutes).
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?”
¡Pura Vida Mae!- The most typical phrase of them all.