Valeria Garcia grew up in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, CA. At the age of 17, she moved to sunny San Diego to attend college after falling in love with SDSU’s campus. Her original plan was to major in nutrition, but during her freshman year she realized that it was not a perfect fit for her. After researching other majors, she stumbled upon social work and enrolled in Social Work 110. She was happy to be learning about people, cultures, ethics, relationships, social issues and so much more. Her favorite course was Practice Skills Macro with the famous Mike Eichler. Valeria says that the class taught her how to think outside of the box and how to push herself to think beyond what is expected. In Professor Eichler’s class, she learned skills that she still refers to in her current work as a Peace Corps volunteer.
While enrolled at SDSU, Valeria was the Student Advocacy Chair for the Undergraduate Social Work Association. Additionally, she volunteered for the International Mentor/ Tutor program and at the San Diego Center for the Blind. She was and continues to be a tutor for the social work department, and she interned with the Consensus Organizing Center (COC) for her field practicum. For her international experience, she volunteered in Costa Rica with the COC’s Costa Rican Organizing Project. Working with the COC in Costa Rica was the first time Valeria understood the broad range of roles for social workers. She says, “I learned that social work is not defined as one simple job as it can be so many different forms of helping people. Walking with community members through a rural town to find resources is social work. Helping students practice their English for a future in tourism is social work. Helping youth organize a community cleanup day in their community is social work. My experience working in community organizing in another country changed how I define social work.”
Currently, Valeria teaches English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica. She works at a high school Monday-Friday, teaches community conversational English classes on Wednesdays, and coaches a boys soccer team on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The most challenging aspect of her current work has been integrating and trying to build relationships in the community. She initially completed three months of intensive Peace Corps volunteer training, and was then sent to her assigned work community, Paquera, where she will be stationed for the next two years.
She explains, “I have learned that patience truly is a virtue. I have only been in my community for a little over a month and have been challenged in trying to find my place in such an unfamiliar place. Although this has been a challenge, it has been such a beautiful experience as well, as I have met some of the most loving, welcoming and humble people that instantly treat me as part of their family. Also, the Costa Rican culture is more relaxed and laid back. Coming from fast paced America, I have had to remind myself every day to relax and cherish the ‘tranquilo’ vibes.
The most rewarding moments in my practice are the humbling and simple things. Having students wave to me in my community, having community members say thank you for being here, having community members share the history of their ‘pueblo’ with me, watching my students compete in an English spelling bee, having Costa Ricans treat me like family, coaching my boys soccer team, riding bikes with my host brothers…these are the moments that touch my heart. Having my students smile during English class and having students show interest in what I am doing and why I am here…those little things remind me why I joined the Peace Corps.
I joined to change the lives of people, impact the lives of those who live in my community, and build relationships with people. Every day I fall more and more in love with Costa Rica and the people from my community. Every day I face small challenges from doubts to having a fear that I am not doing enough. All of these small challenges are similar to the ones I felt as a student. How am I going to do this? Maybe I’m not fit to be a social worker? There is so much work to do, how can I be the change I want to see in the world? How can I exceed expectations? What I have learned is to have faith in your experiences.
Sometimes we think we aren’t prepared or we aren’t ready to take on such a challenge, but the truth is we can never be fully prepared for anything. Honestly, I was afraid to join the Peace Corps and was unsure if I was prepared, but now as a Peace Corps Volunteer I am experiencing one of the most raw and humbling experiences of my life, one that I wouldn’t change for the world. My advice, ‘Always do what you are afraid to do’ –Ralph Waldo Emerson. Fear opens the door to ADVENTURE.”
In the future, Valeria hopes to continue her work with the Peace Corps, and plans to obtain her MSW with a focus in community development or international studies. She loved everything about her experience at SDSU, and encourages students to get involved, to be outgoing and to be patient with their studies.
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written by: Kelly Reilly