My wife and I wanted to go south for part of the winter and learn Spanish by immersion. Costa Rica seemed like a nice place to visit, and Instituto Estelar looked great when we did an Internet search on Spanish immersion programs. We then emailed the director, Bethany Kirk, who answered all of our questions satisfactorily and in-depth. So we took the plunge.
David is a retired college professor living in Chicago with his wife Nancy, a retired accountant, and their cat Piper.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
For the three weeks we spent in Liberia, Instituto Estelar either provided or assisted us with virtually everything. We'd never been to Costa Rica, so that was very helpful. Of course, we did things on our own when we got there, as anyone would, but the Instituto Estelar staff was always ready to point us in the right direction for anything we wanted to do.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
While I would recommend this program to anyone, there are two things you should know. One is that Liberia is always hot, 90+ degrees Fahrenheit during the day. (The a/c in Instituto Estelar is great, fortunately.) The other is that immersion Spanish is not for the faint of heart. You are expected to work hard, and if you do, you will learn a lot.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Classes take place from 8 AM until noon Mondays through Fridays. In the afternoon there are a number of optional activities that are less onerous, but which are also oriented toward improving your Spanish. Examples are watching a movie or TV show in Spanish (with English or Spanish subtitles if you like), speaking English and Spanish with native Spanish speakers who are trying to learn English, playing games that involve Spanish vocabulary, and volunteering at a local school where the kids are trying to learn basic English. I did all of those things, and I found them all rewarding.
Weekends are free. Instituto Estelar offers trips to local sites, and of course, there's always homework to do in preparation for the next week.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I have never considered myself a natural learner of foreign languages, and my wife is the same. Given the additional fact that we're no longer young, we had some concern that registering for three consecutive weeks of immersion Spanish would be too much for us. It was a pretty heavy regimen, but neither of us regretted it. Our teachers were great, and all in all the experience was perfect. I'll be less hesitant to undertake something like this in the future.
What do you have to say about the city in which Instituto Estelar is located?
Liberia is a decent-sized city by Costa Rican standards, but pretty small by US standards. It's not particularly touristy, and most of the people speak little or no English. We came to view that as a benefit, as we had to use our Spanish when we went to a restaurant or shop. That kept us on our toes and kept us from using English as a crutch. The people of Liberia are extremely friendly and encouraging, and prices are relatively low. The streets are not labeled, so it was sometimes hard at the beginning to figure out where we were, even with a map. But the city isn't so large or complicated that that's a problem.
Tourist attractions are mostly comprised of beaches, volcanoes (mostly inactive), and waterfalls, many of which are within easy driving distance of Liberia. Instituto Estelar offers trips to all of them, mostly on weekends, so you don't need a car to see a lot of interesting sites (we didn't have one). If they don't offer a trip to something you want to see, the odds are that a local bus goes there several times a day. The buses are pretty inexpensive. Buses also go to Liberia airport, which is very near the city itself.