Posted 03/15/2018

Costa Rica Teaching Q&A With Kassie

Costa Rica Teaching Q&A With Kassie

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF

What is your citizenship?  USA

What city and state are you from?  Bayville, NJ

How old are you?  26

What is your education level and background?  Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Advertising & Sports Communications

Have you traveled abroad in the past?

Yes, I had been to Merida, Mexico on short term volunteer trips. I went to Jamaica with college friends. And I was lucky enough to see London, Amsterdam & Barcelona on a short term trip to Europe.

If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?  I spent 6 months studying in Sydney, Australia during my junior year of college.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?

On my volunteer trips to Merida, Mexico I absolutely fell in love with the Latin American culture. I loved the deep focus they had on family and community and they were some of the most welcoming people I’d ever met. Helping out in the community with both manual labor and spending time with the children, I felt a sense of contentment and fulfillment that is hard to describe. After that trip, I kept trying to figure out how I could recreate the feeling I had experienced during my short time there. After speaking with a friend who was teaching TEFL in Barcelona, I realized teaching someone a new language would be such a tangible and enjoyable way to help change someone’s life for the better.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?  Money was the biggest concern. I left college with a ton of student loan debt. But coming to teach abroad and learning a new culture was a priority for me, so I worked really really hard for 3 years to save enough money to afford my loans while I’m here.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?  My sister was a huge supporter of it. My parents didn’t really understand it. I was working a job in NYC where I was making a ton of money. They didn’t understand why I would want to give up something like that, or why I had such a strong desire to move countries and couldn’t just move to a new state. But, they were also my biggest support system. I’m so incredibly close to my family and at the end of the day all they care about is my happiness. So when I decided I wanted to jump in with both feet, they were very quick to stand behind me.

TEFL CLASS INFORMATION

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?  Like I said before, I had a friend who took the ITA course in Barcelona who had nothing but good things to say. I also loved how comprehensive everything was and all of the resources and support ITA provides you after you graduate.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?  I took the onsite course at ITACosta Rica in Heredia in August 2017. It was important for me to feel like I had a network of people I would know upon graduating, so I decided the in person course was best suited for me.

How did you like the course?  I literally cannot say one bad thing about it. Melanie and Luke care about every single student that walks through their door. After completing their course, I felt truly prepared to enter into the classroom without any prior teaching experience. It’s one thing to provide support to your students when you’re in the course; but to this day, if I ever need help or advice, they still always make themselves available and I feel like that alone is priceless. I also was able to meet so many like-minded people and some of my best friends have come from the course. 

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?

The course is INTENSE. But that’s how it should be. After four weeks, you’re going to be running your own classroom so you want to be prepared. Something truly special about the onsite course is that you get the chance to teach real classes starting your second week of the course. Being thrown into this environment, for me, was the best way to learn. Be ready to work and don’t think it will be a walk in the park and you will walk out of there feeling truly ready to run your own classroom.

 

TEACHING ABROAD IN COSTA RICA

Which city did you decide to teach English in and why?  Heredia, San Jose. As I mentioned earlier, I fell in love with the Latin American culture a few years back. I also had a friend who had studied abroad in Costa Rica and said “ticos” were the friendliest people she had ever met. Besides that, I love the outdoors and Costa Rica provides one of the richest ecosystems in the world.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?  I have been here for 7 months and I plan to stay at least another 9 months.

What school, company, or program are you working for?  I work full-time for Intercultura in Heredia. I also spend time observing and giving feedback to new teachers who are taking the onsite course in Barva.

Do you have a work visa?  I’m currently in the process of applying for one through Intercultura. That being said, most of my friends don’t have work visas. You can stay in Costa Rica on a tourist visa which means you just have to travel out of the country every 90 days. Catching a bus to Nicaragua or Panama is super easy!

Tell us about your English teaching job. I love, love, love Intercultura. I teach 3 of my classes twice a week and the other 2 classes once a week. In total, I teach 21 hours a week which is considered full time in Costa Rica since they also take into account the time you spend lesson planning, grading, etc. Most of my classes are adults which has been amazing because they are SUPER motivated to learn and they really want to be there. Many of my students have become my friends. My one class just threw me an epic surprise birthday party the other day, my other student is helping me to get in touch with her aunt who runs an animal shelter to become a volunteer, and all of them are always happy to help me with my Spanish or teach me a new slang word! “Ticos” are awesome! Intercultura also has an amazing group of teachers and staff and you really feel like you’re part of a community. Besides that, they’re providing me with free Spanish classes! I just started taking classes 4 hours a week which is great because learning Spanish was one of my priorities when I moved here.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?  You’re constantly meeting people who are coming through the onsite course each month. When I moved here, my two current roommates just had a friend who moved out so they had an open spot in their apartment that they offered to me! They have become two of my best friends here. The apartment is within walking distance to my work and close to all the bars and restaurants nearby. Added bonus: we have a pool!

 

COSTA RICA

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, and travel opportunities in Costa Rica.

Costa Ricans are some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. They have such a focus on family which I love. It’s not abnormal for them to invite you to their family functions or offer to drive you home from class. I spent this past weekend at a friend’s niece’s 9th birthday party! Haha!

Most of Costa Rica travels by bus, which is super cheap, but also not the most reliable. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so bad but I prefer taking the 35 minute walk to work. They also have Uber here and it’s much more affordable than in the US.

The nightlife is fun. In Heredia, it’s more of a bar scene which is what I prefer. But for someone who likes clubs, you’ll be better off going to San Jose. Heredia is in a college town, so prices at bars will be similar to the prices at bars in the US.

One of my favorite parts about living here is the soccer league I play in every Wednesday. It’s a huge group of teachers & “ticos” who get together to play each week. We always follow up the games with some beers at the local bar. 

For a vegetarian who loves rice and beans, I am thriving here. It’s not uncommon to serve “gallo pinto” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All the food is very fresh and fairly healthy.

The expat community is very rich and constantly evolving, and it’s really easy to make friends with locals as well.

Traveling from San Jose is cheap and easy using public transportation. You can get to many beaches by bus in under 2 hours and almost everywhere else in Costa Rica in under 5 hours. Nicaragua or Panama are also an easy 8-hour "border run" away.

A few final thoughts: they really all do say “Pura Vida.”  It’s impolite to walk barefooted in houses. Clothes dryers are a thing of the past.  You won’t be able to live without Salsa Lizano.  All your Uber drivers will offer you Halls cough drops like it’s candy.  Refer to yourself as a “North American” rather than an “American”.  (Trust me on that one.)


What are your monthly expenses?  $240 rent, $60 cable & electricity, $100 groceries, $150 restaurants, bars, other activities

How would you describe your standard of living?

Housing is much cheaper than in the US but everything else is pretty comparable. If you shop at the local “ferrias” (farmers’ markets) and can learn to adapt to the culture of rice and beans, you’ll be fine.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?  $800/mo if you don’t have any debt. If you have debt, make sure you have some savings lined up. This is a country where you pretty much break even every month.


 ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS IN COSTA RICA

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad?  Would you recommend teaching in your country?  Stop considering it, and just do it. Worst (and very impossible) scenario, you hate it. Best (and highly likely) scenario, you experience a new culture, make amazing memories and leave with lifelong friends… or marry a “tico” and stay forever (hey, it’s happened to a lot of people I know!).


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