Alumni Spotlight: Greta Phillips

Greta is from Massachusetts and is an ESL teacher. At age 25, she studied at Instituto Estelar Bilingue after before starting a Masters in Teaching ESL at Simmons College. She went to Costa Rica to teach English and improve her Spanish.

woman posing with costa rican elementary school students

How has this experience impacted your future?

Greta: My experience at Instituto Estelar Bilingue has impacted my life in ways I wouldn't have imagined. In terms of my Spanish speaking ability, my confidence has grown exponentially. Because the classes were so interactive and primarily based on real world conversation, I am now able to communicate well with any Spanish speaker I come across in Boston!

As a teacher of ESL in Boston, it's important that I'm able to communicate with the parents of some of my students in Spanish, so my studies there have helped me professionally, as well. I also made long lasting friendships with English students at the institute who taught me to think about life in different ways.

Living abroad has changed how I think about the world and my place in it. I owe that to what I learned from the beautiful people of Liberia, Costa Rica.

What made this study abroad experience unique and special?

Greta: Instituto Estelar Bilingue is a unique and special place. It's in a bright and friendly building that is always bustling with students - of both English and Spanish. In comparison to other programs, this program truly cares about your connection to local people, customs, and activities. Besides having classes with a teacher from Costa Rica, there are ways to get to know Costa Rican people and places set up for you almost every single day.

group posing in costa rica

From a home stay option, to cooking classes, to trips to see sea turtles lay their eggs on a near by beach, there are always opportunities to learn more than just language. One of my favorite weekly events was "Spanglish Social" in which Spanish and English speakers from the community get together in a relaxed environment for casual conversation in both languages at a local restaurant. It was a great way to practice Spanish outside of class while meeting new people!

Another weekly even that I participated in was called "Estrellitas" or "little stars," which is a bilingual reading club for local kids. I volunteered to read children's books in English and Spanish and had a great time showing them that reading can be a lot of fun!

What is one piece of advice you'd give future Instituto Estelar Bilingue students?

Greta: ¡Aprovechar! Do everything. Take advantage of all of the language and cultural opportunities that Instituto Estelar Bilingue has to offer. Instead of trying to find US tv shows on the Internet, get up, get out, and get yourself to the extracurricular activities to learn new things and meet new people!

There are always dance, cooking, and artesian classes, as well as countless organized opportunities for cultural exchange and conversation practice with local students. Don't miss out on trips organized by the school to local beaches, volcanoes or volunteer opportunities or be brave and hop on a public bus.

costa rican sunset

You wouldn't want to go all the way to Costa Rica to go to classes in the morning and then waste the rest of your afternoons and weekends by missing out on all that Liberia has to offer! My motto was "aprovechar" while I was there, and I'm so glad I did!

Do you feel you got a chance to see the city from a local's perspective?

Greta: Absolutely. The school has a lot of activities and events, both at the school and around the city, that connect the Spanish students with the English students, who are from the Liberia area. Making connections with the English students allows you to learn all about their way of life and all about their culture.

It's very likely that they will suggest going out for an ice cream or a typical Costa Rican meal. Liberia is a walkable town, making it fairly easy to explore. Liberianos are always willing to tell you about their pura vida lifestyle.