Meet Your Guide to Volunteering While You Travel in Costa Rica
A native of Minnesota and now a resident and citizen of Latin America, Maggie Bjorklund is our Costa Rica and Ecuador Country Manager. Maggie joined the Global Volunteers team in 2011 and manages and leads all teams in Ecuador and Costa Rica. When she’s not leading teams, Maggie produces online strategies to engage new volunteers. When on a service program in Costa Rica, she will be your guide on everything – culture, volunteering, development, and travel in Costa Rica.
Maggie graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Spanish. Her studies took her to both Ecuador and Costa Rica, where she studied Costa Rican history, culture, and economics for a semester. Maggie has lived in Latin American continuously since 2003. She is treasured by our community partners and volunteers, and profoundly committed to the development process.
“Maggie was super great. Great relationship with host community and volunteers. Great “go with the flow” attitude. Really tried to accommodate everyone’s needs. She went out of her way to make sure everyone had a rich cultural experience. Maggie appears to truly love her job and it certainly shines through. I would recommend and do another project with Maggie in a heartbeat. She made this trip a success. Great work!”
– Jeremie Ryckewaert, microbiologist
Maggie’s studies in international development took her to Costa Rica and Ecuador. She completed a semester at Universidad Nacional Autónoma in Heredia, Costa Rica where she studied anthropology, Spanish, and Costa Rican history and economics. She also studied grassroots development in Ecuador through a program with the University of Minnesota for an academic year. Through her studies, research, and internship, Maggie was exposed to realities of communities working to address their local problems and development. Participating in a rural internship for six months on the northern coast of Ecuador and classes with Ecuadorian professors and experts, Maggie deepened her understanding of development processes at the local level. Since then, in her fifteen years living and working in South America, Maggie has advanced her knowledge and devotion to development issues through work with diverse communities.
Having studied language and culture extensively, Maggie is fluent in Spanish. In addition to the programs she runs in Ecuador and Costa Rica, Maggie has led teams to Peru and Cuba, and served in St. Lucia. She comments that one funny thing about her work and travel in Costa Rica is that people don’t really get where she’s from at first. She says, “Costa Rica is a huge tourist location, especially for U.S. Americans and Canadians. So Costa Ricans are used to American accents and American people, in general. But I commonly get different responses and people seem confused about where I’m from and what my deal is. I often have to explain. It’s funny.”
“Maggie went above and beyond to ensure a safe, meaningful, educational, enjoyable service experience for everyone involved, both volunteers and host community. I would love to work with her again.”
– Justin Klein, photographer
A Short Interview with Maggie
What compels you to work for Global Volunteers?
“I strongly believe in the work that Global Volunteers does around the globe and am deeply committed to our Philosophy of Service. Local people have in be in charge of and direct their own development process. It cannot be driven by outsiders. I am so happy to work for an organization that empowers and supports local people in these processes. No one from outside a community can understand the cultural, economic, and social realities and their intricacies the way local people can. And that is a principle that must be respected. That’s how Global Volunteers works. I would not be able to work for an organization with a top-down approach to development or that didn’t work to empower local people.”
What is one of your favorite parts of your job?
“It’s so much fun to work with the students at the technical secondary school in Santa Elena. They have a blast while they work on landscaping projects and beautifying their school. And they’re so dedicated to conservation and sustainability – they teach us so much! The teachers at Colegio are also so dedicated. The teaching style is very different than in the States, and I love watching how teachers guide their students and work alongside them. They’re so excited to work with Global Volunteers, and that’s very rewarding.”
Why should volunteers spend a week or two in Monteverde?
“Costa Rica is a great place. It’s gorgeous, and tens of thousands of tourists visit it each year. But how many actually get to know the realities and struggles of the country? Very few. Participating in a service program gives you the wonderful opportunity to work alongside Costa Rican students and teachers and learn about their education system, the local reality and struggles, and be immersed in a school setting for one or two weeks. It’s real Costa Rica, not just the beach or adventure tourism.
“And you can learn so much about biodiversity, the cloud forest ecosystem, conservation, sustainability – and have fun while doing so. The students are so eager to share their knowledge on plant and animal species, and all kinds of things that your average U.S. American student does not study in the way these students do. Since the technical secondary school where we work focuses on tourism and hospitality, the students become experts in their area. And they love to share that with volunteers.”
When people think of travel in Costa Rica, they may not be thinking of volunteer vacations, but a guide like Maggie is a great reason to do this. She and the fun-loving and dedicated students who are eager to work with you.
Why do you recommend a Global Volunteers service program in Costa Rica?
“The best part of travel in Costa Rica this way is all-inclusive lodging, food, ground transportation, an on-site team leader, and in-country orientation to help you understand the culture and service projects – everything except for airfare and free-time activities. I always give volunteers ideas and tips for planning to see the best of Costa Rica. Everything is included so that volunteers can focus on their service projects. I think the best thing people can do is combine their travel in Costa Rica with unique projects to support communities in need.”
“I think the best thing people can do is combine their travel in Costa Rica with unique projects to support communities in need.”
What Volunteers Have Said About Their Costa Rica Team Leader
“Maggie is fantastic! She is an excellent communicator to both the volunteers and host community, knows tons about the culture, speaks amazing Spanish, and is sincere and genuine as a person. Global Volunteers is lucky to have her!” – Caitlyn Bixler, elementary school teacher and mother who volunteered with her husband and three kids
“Maggie is a walking advertisement for Global Volunteers. She is extremely knowledgeable about Costa Rican culture and is very keen to share that information (often repeatedly). She is patient, enthusiastic, and an excellent team leader. I couldn’t expect any more from her, she is the reason I will do another Global Volunteers program in the future.” – Robert Burge, aerospace engineer
“Maggie is a DREAM team leader. She guides with sensitivity, warmth, dedication, and delight. Maggie keeps things focused, smooth, interactive, and fun. She is open and honest and warm and sincere.” – Jen Armstrong, oncologist
Maggie Off The Clock
In her free time, Maggie is a dog lover and avid salsa dancer. She is mama to a four-legged labrador mix named Gijo, who is also bilingual. Maggie loves to play piano, read, and travel in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and wherever she can. She is close to her sisters in Minnesota and visits St. Paul usually once a year.