San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Peace Corps Costa Rica: Always an adventure

At a time when most people are winding down in life, 71-year-old Paty Marin was looking for her next adventure.

The U.S. citizen had left a job teaching English in Wichita, Kansas, to be closer to her family in Arizona, but wasn’t ready for the traditional retirement of golf, Bible study classes and bingo. So she began looking for jobs.

No one was hiring.

“That was in 2008, when the bottom dropped out of the economy,” she said.

Restless and frustrated by the lack of opportunities, she began asking around.

At the recommendation of her daughter-in-law, a former Peace Corps volunteer, Marin began looking into the Peace Corps. It took a great amount of patience to comb through all the online application forms, she said, but, after an extensive review process, she arrived in October 2010 with 44 other volunteers ages 23 to 35.

“That was a very tense time,” said Marin, who speaks with an energy that makes her sound 30 years younger. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to adapt. I didn’t have a connection with the younger generation – I wasn’t looking to go out at night – and I thought to myself, ‘Am I going to make it?’”

But she passed the rigorous health exams and other screenings required to be a volunteer, and, since she arrived in her community in Florencia, a rural town in north-central Costa Rica, she hasn’t looked back.

“In the Peace Corps, they say there are three types of volunteers: those who try to get off the site as much as possible; the ‘half-and-half’ (half on site and half traveling); and the ‘site rats,’” she explained. “I’ve become a site rat; I never want to leave the community.”

Marin moved in with a middle-aged couple and their three adolescent children, and loves the fact she no longer has to cook.

The former tutor teaches English three days a week at the Escuela Carlos Maroto Quirós, gives classes in conversational English and also teaches English to a group of senior citizens, as part of the Teaching English as a Foreign Language project, Peace Corps Costa Rica’s newest area of work (TT, July 1).

She said her age has been an advantage because she has been able to connect with every generation, whether working with children in primary schools, chatting with adults in community classes or playing cards with senior citizens whenever she gets a break.

“In the States, what would be on my mind, social security? Here, I am having to learn new things. My life is expanding instead of shrinking,” she said.

According to Steven Dorsey, director of Peace Corps Costa Rica, the U.S. government agency made a big push to attract volunteers over 50 a few years back, recognizing the experience they can bring to projects.

One of the three over-50 volunteers currently working in Costa Rica retired early from a successful business and decided he wanted to do something good, Dorsey said.

“Why not Peace Corps? Now he is working to help strengthen economic development and business practices in his community, which is what he did all his life anyway,” Dorsey said. “Our older volunteers make a very potent contribution.”

Marin said not just anyone can thrive in the Peace Corps; it takes a unique person.

“It has to be someone who is willing to make mistakes. If you get on the wrong bus, it’s got to be someone who can get off and get on another bus,” she said. “It takes someone who is willing to drop that protective barrier.”

Dorsey added that many people don’t expect Peace Corps to be a solitary experience.

“You are supported by a staff and you have volunteer friends, but, for the most part, you are assigned by yourself to go out into the community on your own,” he said. “It can be lonely.”

Marin said her daughter-in-law had told her that Peace Corps would be one of the hardest but most beautiful things she’d ever done.

“Already this has been the best experience of my life,” Marin said. “I know I will like the person I end up being.”

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