Staff Spotlight: María Emilia Chaves-Rees

Host Family Coordinator


Having studied English in bilingual schools in Costa Rica, she obtained a BS from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a graduate college degree in Psychology from Universidad de Costa Rica. She worked as a Psychologist with children and teenagers, both in her private practice as well as in public and private institutions. She has traveled extensively and has worked at ICADS for over 18 years now.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Traveling is one of my favorite things in life. I’ve learned a lot through traveling. Each traveling experience is different as different are all the places you visit and the people you meet. It’s a difficult exercise to name only one favorite traveling experience…

I can classify my traveling experiences into several categories - within Costa Rica and abroad - in terms of food, music, art, culture, personal gratification, birds, and landscapes, to name just a few…

There are some traveling experiences that certainly fall into several of these categories. I must also consider that even if large visited cities - such as Paris, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Vienna, Osaka, Rome – offer SO many wonders, I love small cities. They’re so much more personal and relaxed. In general terms, I must say that, with a few exceptions, my most favorite traveling experiences probably happened in small cities.

Bruges in Belgium, Salzburg in Austria, Florence in Italy and La Coruña in Spain are definitively my most favorite small cities’ traveling experiences abroad. Bruges is a small fairy tale-like beautiful town where I ate the most delicious steamed mussels, in the best of companies.

Salzburg is probably my favorite musical city experience; Florence is art at its greatest, and La Coruña offers great food and is home to one of my dearest friends. I must confess though I am biased towards Spain. It’s my most favorite country of all, especially because of the food!!!

I have had many great traveling experiences in Costa Rica. Naming one is also very difficult. Probably the greatest birding experience was Cocos Island, followed by many outings to watch the awesome feat of millions of migratory hawks passing through our country. My most challenging traveling experience has definitively been climbing Chirripó; the landscape at Costa Rica’s highest peak is absolutely out of this world!

Did you study abroad?

Despite being their only girl, my parents always supported my inclination towards studying abroad. Following a college career while learning another language or improving my English language skills had always seemed very attractive to me. The time was the early 70s.

Costa Ricans who traveled to study abroad where mostly boys who had finished school and were pursuing graduate degrees not offered at the few public colleges in the country (private college education was inexistent at the time).

Studying abroad was definitively not normal in those days and definitively very expensive. Most students who studied abroad got scholarships and only a few who came from wealthy families were able to pay for their education abroad.

I knew the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered scholarships to several European countries. I had thought about studying in Germany but after analyzing the paper work, the process seemed complex. The Costa Rica-US Cultural Center announced several scholarships to universities in the US and I decided to apply.

I approved the English proficiency test and the screening interviews also went well. Sooner than I thought I was offered the chance to study in BGSU in Ohio. At that time, I didn’t even know where Ohio was in the map!

I was a second year Psychology student at the time. I finished the first semester of school at the Universidad de Costa Rica and off I went to Ohio to start school in September 1971. I graduated in December 1973 and decided to come back to Costa Rica to do graduate school here.

What unique qualities does your company possess?

Probably ICADS shares some unique qualities with a few other companies where collaborators work happily and clients satisfactorily receive the services offered. I think the uniqueness has to do with what I’d summarize as a great working environment.

As partially mentioned above, a healthy working environment has to do with adequate physical facilities and resources, flexible, responsible, open-minded, respectful, honest and resourceful personnel, and a clear company goals guided by ongoing betterment and excellence in all services provided.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

I think company success is the result of the combination of several key factors. However, if I have to choose the biggest factor I’d have to say it has to do with how individuals feel working in the company: the human factor! Companies that promote healthy and respectful working conditions will most probably have happy thus productive collaborators.

Focused, responsible, honest, resourceful, well-informed and open-minded employees are key to a successful operation, regardless of the industry – so much easier to generate in a good working environment.