Volunteer Review: Joanne A., Teach English and Other Subjects in Costa Rica
When Projects Abroad first asked me to write about my experience in Costa Rica, I thought “no problem, I had such a great time there, it’ll be easy!” I couldn’t have been more wrong! I have so many wonderful memories from my time there that it is actually really difficult to write about it all without writing a small novel. So, here’s a brief rundown of the experiences and memories I have from doing a teaching project in this, what can only be described as a, truly amazing country.
Why I chose Costa Rica
I decided to do a volunteer teaching placement with Projects Abroad in Costa Rica because I had been taking Spanish lessons and thought it was an ideal way to improve my linguistic skills by fully immersing myself in what I had heard was an extremely friendly and interesting culture. I am also considering changing my career path and becoming an English teacher abroad so I believed the project would provide me with the perfect opportunity to gain teaching experience and to determine whether this is the right decision for me.
Living with a Costa Rican host family
Staying with a local host family in Liberia was the perfect way to experience typical Costa Rican life. My host family was really welcoming and on my first day, realizing how tired I was, took me for a relaxing day at the beach which I thought was really considerate of them.
During my stay with them, we enjoyed a number of family dinners and they taught me about Costa Rica and its traditions. It was so interesting comparing our cultural differences. My host family had a live-in helper, Candida, who was from Honduras but could not read or write. I really enjoyed spending time with Candida, chatting and practicing my Spanish with her as well as listening to, and helping her read.
My teaching placement
My one month placement was at a high school and involved assisting in the English lessons of students aged between 12 and 17. I worked with three teachers; Elena, Lillian and Mayra, who were not only extremely appreciative of having a native English speaker to assist both them and the students with the language and pronunciation, but also of the fact they were being introduced to the different traditions and customs of the United Kingdom and Europe.
Whilst at the school, I found playing games an extremely useful way to help the students improve their communication skills. I also led, and encouraged the students to participate in, discussions on various topics such as climate change and the environment, technology and also how society and families are changing in Costa Rica and how these changes compare with those in the UK.
As it was nearing the end of the school year, Mayra asked if I would carry out some of the students’ English oral exams as she considered it to be the best way of assessing the students’ conversational skills. I also performed a number of ‘PowerPoint’ presentations on a variety of subjects to help with their reading and listening skills. The presentation which I found both the students and the teachers showed most interest in was the one I gave about ‘The World.’ The majority of ‘Ticos’ have never left Costa Rica so I found that they were fascinated in learning about other countries of the world that they will probably never visit. I even taught them some of my native language, Welsh, which they also really enjoyed!
My last day teaching
My final day at the school, although sad, was a particularly interesting one! The students were rehearsing for their school concert, ‘Noches de las Artes,’ which was to be held that evening. Lillian very kindly offered to teach me to cook typical Costa Rican dishes so that I would be able to cook them when I returned to the UK. The school cook, whose meals were far better than the meals I had when I was at school, allowed us to take over the school kitchen and cook lunch for some of the other teachers. The ‘menú del día’ included Gallo Pinto, Patacones, Picadillos, Barbudos and Frijoles Molidos and Lillian was such an excellent teacher, I’ve managed to recreate the dishes pretty well since returning home.
In the evening, I went to the concert to watch the students perform. As the school specializes in the arts, I was fortunate enough to experience a variety of different dance, drama and folklore performances. I enjoyed the traditional Costa Rican folklore dances most as, not only were the dances entertaining, the costumes were both colorful and beautiful. The whole day had been a perfect way to end my trip to Costa Rica!
Life outside of work
Despite working at the school for the majority of my time, I still found time to enjoy some of the highlights of Liberia and Guanacaste in the evenings and at weekends with my volunteer friends and the teachers at the school. In the evenings I played soccer with both the teachers and students as well as going to the cinema and trying out the local restaurants.
Some of the places I visited at the weekends included Playa del Coco, Playa Samara, Playa Ocotal and the Volcán Miravalles region. Costa Rica is a beautiful country and although I only saw a very small proportion of what it has to offer, I was amazed at the sights I was fortunate enough to see in such a short space of time.
Not only did I make friends with some of the other volunteers; with whom I share some fantastic memories and had some wonderful experiences with, the ‘Ticos’ are some of the friendliest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I could not believe just how kind they were. From the helpful supermarket assistant Diego who was like my personal shopper as he took me around the supermarket helping me fill my trolley with the contents of my shopping list; to Carlos, the Tico we randomly met at Playa Ocotal who gave us a guided tour of the beach and showed us the best bits that tourists don’t get to see.
Tania, one of my students, knew how much I wanted to try the dish ‘Arroz de Maiz’ so asked her mother to make it especially for me even though it is quite complicated and rather time consuming to make. It was delicious. Mayra would frequently invite me to her house for lunch with her family who were so hospitable and acted like a second host family to me in Costa Rica.
Highlights of my Costa Rica trip
The main highlights of my trip to Costa Rica were my placement and the new friendships I have made with the local people and my volunteer friends. The staff and students at the school were truly wonderful and made me feel so welcome. I will miss them very much but will definitely stay in touch. Back home in the UK I only have one regret…that I didn’t do this type of project sooner!
My time in Costa Rica was the most rewarding, inspiring and enjoyable experience of my life and I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to experience such a beautiful culture. Based on this trip, I now have no doubt that teaching English in Costa Rica, or a similar country, in the future is the right decision for me.
My advice to anyone considering doing a project like this is to just go ahead and do it! You have so much to gain from the experience and you will come out of it with memories and friendships you will treasure forever.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.