Volunteer Review: Zuleyma D., Teach English and Other Subjects in Costa Rica
My name is Zuleyma de la Rosa and I am currently a second year graduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo where I am studying Early Education. I earned my Bachelor’s degree at the same university, majoring in Early Childhood and Sociology with a minor in Education. During my undergraduate studies, I had always wanted to study abroad. However, I never got the opportunity to do so due to my extracurricular activities on campus.
Time passed and I never gave much thought to studying abroad again until one of my sorority sisters went abroad for a month during winter break. That’s when my spark for studying abroad rose again. After completing my first semester of graduate school, I spent my winter break researching international study programs to find out which ones would be able to facilitate credit for my studies. While browsing online, I came across SUNY Cortland’s programs which feature an international teaching program coordinated by Projects Abroad.
Once I looked at the website, I fell in love. Seeing all the different things I could participate in with Project Aboard was amazing to me. Out of all the destinations to choose from, I chose Costa Rica since I am fluent in Spanish and have always wanted to visit the country.
My Host Family
During my stay in Costa Rica, I lived in San Joaquin de Flores with the best host family I could have asked for. They were incredibly welcoming and made me feel like a part of the family. Staying with a host family was a great way to experience and learn about Costa Rican culture and lifestyle. They took me out to dinners and to activities they participated in, such as cooking classes, bible studies, and hosting a potluck for all the Projects Abroad volunteers in Costa Rica.
Teaching at a School in Costa Rica
My placement was based in Heredia at a public school called Escuela Cubujuqui. When I first arrived, the students and teachers were so welcoming. As the teacher introduced me to every class, all the students had dozens of questions. They asked me: “Where are you from? What is your nationality? Why are you in Costa Rica? Do you like Costa Rica? What will we be learning during your time in Costa Rica? Will you be teaching us things like you teach in the US?” and many more.
The students I interacted with in Costa Rica were nothing like the students I taught back home. One of the big differences is that the students in Costa Rica always looked forward to what we were learning today and what was the unit of the week.
Escuela Cubujuqui class schedules are separated into morning and afternoon shifts. The first shift starts at 7am and finishes at noon. Once the students leave from the morning shift, there is the afternoon shift that runs from noon to 5pm with a new set of students. During the school schedule, students have a 15 to 20 minutes recess break after the second period and class resumes after.
During my time at Escuela Cubujuqui, I got the opportunity to teach English to five different classes in the 3rd and 4th grade. I also taught math in Spanish to 6th graders. I must admit that teaching math in Spanish was a challenge for me in the beginning but I did not let that get in the way of teaching my students!
Although I am fluent in Spanish, I found it difficult to explain certain things to the class due to different terminology. I can still remember the little things students would always correct me on and I found myself learning as much from them while they were learning from me. I also found it difficult teaching in Spanish because, when learning and teaching math back home, I am used to solving problems in multiple ways. In Costa Rica, students are taught to solve math problems in only one way.
Volunteering and Graduate Research
I traveled to Costa Rica with my graduate study project in mind and as such, I had a goal for my math class. My focus for the class was to understand if students know the difference between problem posing and problem solving and what their thought processes when solving a problem were. The local math teacher, Rosemary, was a great support in helping me work toward my goal. She allowed me to lead the activities I had prepared for students, even though some of the problem posing and problem solving questions did not include math.
I also got the opportunity to start the warm up problems that were assigned to them. Furthermore, I got to help the teacher in creating a review sheet for students when it came close to their exam dates.
Teaching English in Costa Rica
Initially, I was only interested in teaching math at my placement. However, I figured that because I had so much time in my hands I should also teach English. I am glad that I did! By teaching English, I got to meet more students and learn so many strategies for teaching the language. As I mentioned above, I taught English to five different groups who were either 3rd or 4th graders. In each class, there were approximately 25 to 27 students.
Since there were so many students in each class, I had to do something different if I wanted to learn each student’s name. Before each of my classes started, I handed students a blank sheet of paper and instructed them to fold the paper in three and write their names. Then I told students that this paper would be their name tag and it needed to be placed on their desk with their name facing forward.
I also taught the students in each class a class management technique, which the students loved! The class management technique was a clap method, designed to get students’ attention all at once. I would clap a specific pattern/rhythm and the students would clap back with a specific response. When doing this, students knew that they needed to be quiet and pay attention.
I worked alongside a local English teacher, Shirley, who was an amazing teacher and person. Shirley always asked my opinion when creating lesson plans and allowed me to correct exams, as well as lead and teach a full class.
For the four weeks I was in Escuela Cubujuqui, I taught students about a variety of topics, including the different rooms in a house and the objects you can find in a specific room such as a kitchen. I also lectured about family and the different roles individuals have in a family. For example, brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, aunt, grandfather, and grandmother. We also discussed step relatives. After each unit, students were responsible for building complete sentences about the material we had just finished.
Although I did teach for the majority of the time, I also helped Shirley incorporate some fun games and activities into the lesson. We did cross word puzzles, played musical chairs, and we also did ‘fill in the blanks’ with song lyrics. Furthermore, for the duration of my time teaching English I also helped the students with oral exams, spelling bees, and spoken dialogues.
Overall, my teaching experience in Costa Rica was fantastic!
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.