Alumni Spotlight: Vanessa Chen


Vanessa is a veterinarian in California. Always on the move - she's lived in China, Singapore and both sides of the coast. In her free time, she loves cuddling her cats, playing the oboe, and exploring new cultures and food through travel.

Why did you choose this program?

Before choosing Tico Lingo, I researched many different immersion programs online. Tico Lingo stood out with its outstanding reviews. I wanted a program that had small class sizes, had the option of living with a host family and was in a safe and non-touristic environment. This school checked all the boxes.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The school places you in a class based on your speaking ability and a written test. On the first day, they provide learning materials and a notebook and further education materials depending on your daily lessons.

If you decide to stay with a host family, they will pair you with a family based on your preferences. Your family with provide you with breakfast and dinner daily as well as laundry service weekly. Further, someone will transport you from the airport to your homestay on your first day. The school is within walking distance of your homestay.

Tico Lingo was also helpful with any questions I had. They can assist you with contacting drivers or give you information about local gyms, etc. I wanted to do more extensive traveling so I organized some of my own trips on the weekend.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Don't hesitate and keep an open mind! Prepare to think in Spanish and dive into Tico culture. My only advice is to save some extra time at the end to travel and explore Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is an amazing place to try out tropical fruits, local cuisine (ie. Olla de Carne (a savory beef stew), platanos con queso) and explore the wonderful wildlife. Heredia is a central location to travel from; I had the chance to travel to the cloud forest; see a quetzal and lie on the beaches of the Caribbean coast.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The average week can vary depending on what course you sign up for. I was at the school for 4 weeks and signed up for an intensive which included a 4-hour group class and a 2-hour private class after lunch. Some students do only the group class and some only the private classes depending on their needs.

During the week, Tico Lingo offers classes in cooking, yoga, and dance. One of the weeknights there is an interchange program in which Costa Rican students and Tico Lingo students practice their English/Spanish. On weekends there are organized day trips. When I was there, I wanted to explore Costa Rica a bit more so I took advantage of the weekends and organized trips to Monteverde, Tortuguero, and Manual Antonio, which were unforgettable experiences.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

It's natural to be slightly fearful about going into a foreign country alone. My biggest fears were speaking Spanish with locals, being safe and adjusting to the culture.

The greatest part about Heredia is that it isn't touristic (meaning you HAVE to speak Spanish) and Ticos are so kind, patient and always willing to help. For example, we went to the AMAZING Friday farmer's market and one of the fruit vendors let us try Jocote and even gifted us some to go. Further, on my last day, my teacher and I visited a local veterinarian and he allowed me so much of his time to interview him and show me around.

Whatever fears you come with- I am sure other students in the program will feel the same. The school is such a fun place you really won't remember why you had feared at all.

Why did you choose an immersion program in Spanish? How was your overall experience?

I've always wanted to learn Spanish for traveling and to speak with my clients in veterinary medicine. I've regretted not being able to study abroad during college and only wish I could have stayed longer in this program. This was a transformational experience in terms of my Spanish abilities and in all the wonderful people I've met during my studies.

I started with beginner/beginner intermediate and feel comfortable that I've moved to an intermediate level. I have a basis and enthusiasm that will carry me forward to continuing my Spanish studies.