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Posted 03/03/2020

Costa Rica Teaching Q&A With Magnolia

Costa Rica Teaching Q&A With Magnolia


What is your citizenship? United States

What city and state are you from? Bellingham, Washington

How old are you? 25

What is your education level and background? I graduated from the University of Washington in June, 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Speech and Hearing and a Linguistics minor. I am planning to be a speech pathologist and attend a Master’s degree for SLP.

Have you traveled abroad in the past? I had traveled to Mexico a few times as a kid for mission trips, and I went to the British Isles for the first time with a program without family in high school, but besides that I had never traveled to another country alone before moving to CR for the course.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad? Ever since high school, I have wanted to live in a Spanish speaking country and become bilingual.  When I decided that I wanted to be an SLP, I knew I wanted to be a bilingual SLP, and I saw teaching English as related experience to prepare me for grad school and working with clients.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad? I was a little nervous about moving to a foreign country alone and teaching adults since I was only 22 when I started.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad? Everyone was really supportive and thought it was this cool thing that I did. I heard a few people say “Oh, I wish I could do something like that.” I told them they could, anyone can! It just takes getting the TEFL certification. Once you have that, there’s such a built in community and so many resources, finding a job and starting that life comes pretty naturally, especially if you certify through the ITA.


Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy? At first I thought I wanted to teach English through the Peace Corps, but found for almost all positions a TEFL certificate was required. So I looked into getting TEFL certified, and the ITA was the first option I saw in the google search when I looked up TEFL teaching in Costa Rica.

Which TEFL certification course did you take? I took the Barva TEFL course in October 2017.

How did you like the course? I loved it. It was definitely intense and such a “bubble” in that we spent so many hours with the same few people, but I got really close with my classmates and had a lot of fun. I definitely learned a lot about lesson planning, how to actually teach difficult grammar points, and a lot of conversation activities that were super fun to actually participate in.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position? I was definitely well-prepared when it came to teaching high level grammar points. Other coworkers who had done their TEFL training through other businesses did not have the grammar foundation that I had, and found it much more difficult to teach at the beginning. Additionally, I had a community built in of English teachers living abroad. Through them I was able to have support in finding housing, tips like where to go grocery shopping etc. and people to talk to and support me when going through culture shock. I also have a lot more flexibility in creating or doing activities in my back pocket that are low tech when there are technological issues or power outages.


Which city did you decide to teach English in and why? I decided to stay in Heredia after completing the course because I found a community and knew there would be a lot more job opportunities and opportunities to practice Spanish in the central valley.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay? I have been here for a little over 2 years, and I am staying to teach for about 3 more months. I have been accepted to graduate school, so I’ll be returning to the states to complete my Master’s.

What school, company, or program are you working for? I work at Intercultura in Heredia Central and sometimes observe or teach classes at the TEFL program in Barva.

Do you have a work visa? If not, please elaborate on working without a work visa. I didn’t have a work visa for the first year of living here so I would take border runs. Luckily for that year they always aligned with holidays in Costa Rica, so it was easy to take off time from work and go to Panama, Nicaragua, or home. I went to Nicaragua for Christmas for about a week, then I went to Bocas del Toro in Panama for semana santa, or holy week. Then for the semester break I went home to visit my family after 9 months of living here and not seeing them. My last border run I decided to go to Bocas once again, which aligned with Costa Rican Independence day. 

After that, I applied for my work visa with the help of Intercultura. My visa has been in process for a year and a half, but I don’t need to leave the country because I have my comprobante, a piece of paper with my visa case number that indicates I don’t need to leave the country until the government reaches a final decision on my visa. I leave the country from time to time for travel or to visit my family, but I always bring my "comprobante" for immigration when entering Costa Rica, and I still bring proof of exit from CR when traveling from the US back to CR.

Tell us about your English teaching job. I love working at Intercultura and training new English teachers. At Intercultura I’m able to work with a variety of ages, including teaching kids which I love. There are also opportunities for professional development, including attending and leading workshops about different aspects of English teaching. And my students are wonderful. I also like meeting the new TEFL trainees. I like giving them information about life as an Engish teacher in the central valley and giving advice on different lesson plans or assignments.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates? I’ve lived in a lot of different places and with a lot of different people in my time here. Right after the course, I rented an Air BnB with 3 other teachers from my course in the mountains in San Isidro. I used that month to job search. The next month we moved to Heredia together using encuentra24.com. We found after living there for a few months that we wanted to move closer to work, so one of my friends moved with me to an apartment within walking distance of Interculura that we heard about from a coworker.

Over the next year we had different English teacher roommates live with us every few months, and then I moved into a house with my fiancé that we found on encuentra24 once again.


Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, and travel opportunities in your country:

There are a ton of travel opportunities and cool places to visit. I have been all over Costa Rica by now, traveling with English teacher friends or my fiancé. The beach is an especially affordable and nice weekend getaway if you stay in hostels and bus there. That’s probably my favorite thing to do in Costa Rica. If you don’t have opportunities for weekend getaways, there’s also a lot you can do in the central valley (where you probably will be living). ITA alums/ the English teaching community here is pretty close knit. I used to play soccer in Barva with other ITA people every Wednesday for about a year, but stopped after an injury and then a schedule change. 

People go out to bars a lot. My favorite thing to do is go out with my fiancé to bars where "Ticos" do karaoke or go dancing. I’ve learned a lot of Latin dance since being here, including merengue, salsa, bachata, etc. My fiancé is a great dancer! Sometimes you can experience these more cultural things if you make friends with locals. I get everywhere I need to go by bus. I’ve been with people who have rented cars a handful of times, but I have never rented one or driven while being here, and I’ve gotten around easily. It sometimes takes a little time to understand the bus schedules you need, but once you do it’s nice. You can also use uber in most places now, so I use that for going out or when I’m in a pinch or a time rush.

What are your monthly expenses? I pay $175 per month for rent and about 20,000 colones for internet and utilities because I share expenses with my fiancé (we split it down the middle). We probably spend about 70,000 colones per month on groceries, and we also spend a bit on going out to eat (probably too much, but hey we enjoy ourselves). I live comfortably and am able to go out to eat or go to the movies every other weekend and go to the beach every few months or so.

How would you describe your standard of living? I think I am pretty low maintenance compared to other people in terms of living situations. My house is very small, it’s basically a studio cabin, and it’s also next to a busy highway, so I hear a lot of traffic at all hours of the day, but I’m happy there. I’m also able to live with a lot of different people, probably because of my experience living in a sorority house with 90 other girls during undergrad, but I’ve found living in Costa Rica to be very easy and pleasant, as well as affordable.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably? Depending on your living situation, roommates, supporting someone else, alone, etc. I would say $800 per month, or 450,000 colones is probably a good salary to live comfortably. I have lived on less here and was comfortable, but my standard could be lower than others as I eat less meat, don’t need a lot of space, etc.


What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? In Costa Rica I would advise packing bug spray, sunscreen, and peanut butter (if you’re into that) in bulk because those items are expensive here. I would also tell you that it’s much easier and better to find a job in the central valley. That being said, if you work here you probably aren’t going to live at the beach or go to the beach every weekend. However, I still go a lot, probably every 2 months, and it’s easy to get around without a car, although bus trips can take about 4-6 hours. But for me it’s worth it! You can also see a lot of nature or go hiking if you live in the central valley since the mountains are close by. If you don’t want to live in the city, you can still live in quiet, mountainous areas like San Rafael de Heredia and have a reasonable commute to the city centers by bus. 

Also, know that you are going to experience culture shock and homesickness even if it seems like an easy transition at first. I found for me in the first year and a half or so of being here, I would get bouts of culture shock/frustration/homesickness every 3 months or so. Call your parents or your friends back home! Go out and talk to your English teacher friends about it rather than sitting at home missing your family. Being with other people who are in the same boat as you always helps.

Would you recommend teaching in your country? Absolutely, and often I recommend doing the Barva TEFL course specifically because of my great experience.

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