19-year-old Mike Metke, on American Peace Corps volunteer, re-adjusted his rifle while he waited patiently in the heavy Costa Rican rainfall, eyes scanning the rainforest floor for any detection on motion of dinner scurrying along in the thick bush.
This was nothing out of the ordinary for the Peace Corps volunteers in the rural area of Las Lilas, a small community in the Northwest region of Costa Rica.
“There were a lot of wild animals and we had no refrigeration, so what we ate was either something someone had grown or that we went out and shot. I carried a rifle and a scabbard,” the former volunteer said recently as he recalled his adventures during the two-year service.
In between hunting escapades, Metke helped build a new school, form a village counsel and a school board in order to maintain self-government.
At the time of his service, the country was filled with a Kennedy-inspired focus and excitement to take part in giving back to the country through universal service. One of the missions of the Peace Corps at that time was for the volunteers to bring their experiences back. The volunteer explained his reasoning for service.
“Part of it was not knowing what I wanted to do and the other part was a sense of adventure.”
This volunteer’s well-used smile lines form their usual crease at the corner of his eyes when he recalls the “adventure” it had really been.
“It ended up being a bit more of an adventure than I bargained for. We were in a very rural area. There were no indoor lights, no indoor plumbing. In fact only, I believe, of the 53 [volunteers] that started only 19 completed the full two years.”
On top of the lack of familiar accommodations, the volunteers had to fight parasites, illnesses, culture shock, and the isolation in the Costa Rican village. This Wisconsin farm-boy was more prepared than most for the sacrifices that had to be made to serve.
“Those that wanted to go out and save the world and romanticized what the experience was going to be like did not last very long,” Metke said. “You have to be aware of what you’re getting out of it.”
Which for him, was a great deal.
“Everything about me was impacted. The decisions I made later on were impacted by the service, language, culture, and people there.”
Fast-forward 45 years to May 2011. This volunteer’s experience touched him in such a way that the school he now presides over is working on their third trip back to the Costa Rican village.
Dr. Mike Metke, president of Tyler Junior College, explained the reasons he feels the experience was one worth sharing with the students of TJC.
“It was something I thought that I could help with in that I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in that village. We built that school when I was there and over the years it had gotten run down and needed some work,” Metke said. “I still have some friends there. It would be a quality experience. The people really take care of things down there. The people helped to do a lot of the building.”
Students that participate in Project Costa Rica have the opportunity to help teach, paint, and fix up the facilities, as well as gain valuable cultural experiences.
“I think it is absolutely essential that students be able to function in a global marketplace and to be globally aware and involved,” Metke said.
TJC also offers other study abroad programs with connections to Turkey. Metke explained what a great opportunity it is for students to be able to see and experience other languages and cultures affordably.
Brianne Palmer, TJC student, explained why she has decided to participate in Project Costa Rica this summer.
“I want to go to Coast Rica because it is a dream of mine to study abroad and I am a Spanish major so this trip is going to be amazing for me. I also get the opportunity to do missionary work by donating my time, for three days, to the counselor community service project which is such a blessing.”
Metke spoke of why he brought his Peace Corps experience to the students of TJC.
“We [those that volunteered] all feel pretty strongly that it was an important experience that we wanted to share with our students to help prepare them for a much bigger world.”