Teaching English Abroad in Costa Rica

One can live happily in any country in the world. This is my theory, and thus far it has remained true. I was born and raised in beautiful South Africa. I lived in a tiny village surrounded by mountains and rivers in the northeastern part of the country for 18 years and loved it. Then I moved to central South Africa and lived there for three years and loved it. From there, I accepted a job in Bloemfontein, where the weather is dry and hot in summer and ice cold in winter. I loved that too. I lived there for nine years and then decided to make another move… a big move… one that would change my life forever.

I first saw the name ‘Costa Rica’ in a South African coffee shop. The owner imported coffee beans from countries all around the world. I tried most of them, but the Costa Rican coffee was my favorite. The coffee (and the country itself) can be described as relaxed, rich, different, and beautiful. Then one day, while I was drinking a cup of my favorite joe from Costa Rica, Bear Grylls—a British adventurer and journalist—appeared on my television. He was talking excitedly about the amazing wildlife and gorgeous beaches of Costa Rica and I began thinking… I dreamed about Costa Rica.

That night, I Googled “teaching English in Costa Rica” and surprisingly found all kinds of people online saying it was more than just a dream! For weeks, I pondered leaving my stable job behind in exchange for a new life. After hours of analyzing and thinking and questioning, I finally decided to enroll in Maximo Nivel’s TEFL Certification program in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica—on the beach!

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I literally sold all my belongings. One by one, I watched as all my earthly possessions were carried out of my flat. Sometimes I wanted to cry, but there was no time; the future beckoned with a friendly smile and open arms. On 8 April, my birthday, I boarded the plane with my two bags—my only tangible belongings! From my window seat, I watched South Africa disappear, and I cried. I drank some wine—it was my birthday after all!

Due to the time difference, my birthday lasted 32 hours. When I finally arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica I was happy. However, as I made my way through immigrations and customs, I had a numbing feeling that Maximo Nivel might have forgotten about me; my god, I was stranded all alone in a foreign country! Fortunately, I was wrong. Juan was right outside waving a smiley-face yellow flag just like they said he’d be. Juan had a big smile and he greeted me in Spanish. I greeted him with my almost-Spanish. He smiled again and I realized I still had a long way to go. Still, here I was; the first part of my journey a clear success. I fell asleep that night in my host mom’s house with mixed emotions running through me. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but strangely at peace.

The next day I took the bus to Quepos – Manuel Antonio, three hours from San Jose. I saw deep valleys and green mountains that took my breath away. The roads were narrow and I admired the bus driver and his calm manner handling the big bus with about sixty humans aboard. I was fascinated as I heard ‘live’ Spanish for the first time in my life. My fellow passengers only spoke Spanish. In fact, it seemed everyone only spoke Spanish! Each time I said something in my almost-Spanish and someone understood, it felt like a major victory. I was on a new bus in a foreign country with good-hearted people. We were surrounded by green hills and brown rivers and humid weather. I was in heaven!

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We arrived in Quepos at about 7:00PM and my host family was waiting at the bus station for me. My host family greeted me with excitement, speaking to me as if I understood every word. I felt like a baby who knows what she wants to say, but can’t find the means to express herself!

The TEFL course was four weeks long, plus I did an extra week of extremely useful Spanish language classes. The TEFL program “is rigorous” our trainer told us on Day number one. I thought, “good” and I lived every day to the fullest. I ran along the beach in the morning, took a swim, and ate a lovely homemade breakfast every day. The TEFL course was clearly meant to be intensive, but I strapped in and did what needed to be done. In my free time, I walked around the small town of Quepos and talked to all sorts of interesting characters and slowly but surely my Spanish improved!

The TEFL course ended on a high note with practical teaching week, pushing all of us to use what we had learned. Our TEFL Trainer, Audra (the most excellent trainer in the world) presented all six of us with our TEFL qualification in a little graduation ceremony. We smiled. There was excitement in the air. We all had future plans, which could take us anywhere in this beautiful world. As for me, I was ‘on my way to San Jose’!

Almost immediately after finishing the course, I signed-on as a teacher with Maximo Nivel at their San Jose institute. I was a little apprehensive because now I would live in the big city surrounded by mountains and streets filled with cars and tall buildings. And the beach was no longer just down the road. However, I remembered my theory—a person can live happily anywhere in the world.

I started teaching on a Monday. My students were delightful, consisting of a baker, a banker and … no candlestick maker! They were mostly professionals or university students who wanted to improve their English for work or academics. I loved every moment of teaching, and I soon realized there was purpose for me, even in the big city. I love the lively vibe that San Jose has to offer. I visit ‘la feria’ (farmers’ market) in San Jose and take long runs around the neighborhood of San Pedro. It’s a good life.

Here in Costa Rica, I’m home and happy! And… the coffee is still great.

G. Uies

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