As a first-time ESL teacher, I found my experience in Costa Rica to be a great opportunity to learn about teaching English with lots of external support, as well as gain experience in the field. The program gives you the curriculum to work with, so there is no lesson planning necessary. While the lesson is already planned, there was still plenty of planning and prepping materials to do. With 6 hours of teaching a day (with breaks throughout), 4 days a week, the schedule is overwhelming at times (especially as a new teacher), but I learned to adjust to the workload.
The program is very new; however, the organization offers lots of support in terms of orientation, materials, and housing. A lot of those tasks and processes that would have been difficult otherwise were much easier with their help. All I had to worry about was teaching my students. Orientation was informative and practical, especially for a first-time teacher. The lesson plans were well laid out, but also offered the freedom (and encouragement) to personalize them by adding in new, fun activities or adjusting activities to fit the needs of the students.
The only aspect of the program that I felt did not fit the description was the promise of having a bilingual on-site coordinator. There was not an on-site coordinator and my social worker spoke almost no English which sometimes left myself and my fellow teachers feeling left out of the loop in terms of what was happening in the school building or with our students. The support from San Jose was helpful, but they could not offer the same kind of support that an on-site coordinator would be able to give to us. Also, while I was fortunate enough to be placed with 2 other volunteers in my location, I know others were not. It is a great idea to have 2 or more volunteers in each location, but it needs to be honestly advertised if there is a chance that you could be placed at a site alone.
My host family was absolutely wonderful. My host mom made delicious food, did laundry, and kept the house quite clean. My family did not hesitate to invite me on trips to new paces, to parties with their family, and to events in town. I enjoyed getting to practice my Spanish at the dinner table. That being said, I had somewhere between a beginner and intermediate level of Spanish before I got to Costa Rica and I still struggled to communicate for the first month. My host parents spoke no English, and it is very difficult to practice your Spanish when you have to speak English for 8 hours a day. My host mom did her best to speak slowly and deliberately with me to help me learn, but I was often left feeling like I couldn't have conversations that were as meaningful as I would have liked them to be. Knowing at least a beginner level of Spanish before coming into this program is must. Overall, I loved learning more about the culture by staying with a local family, and loved being able to share my culture with them as well. My host family helped make my experience an unforgettable one.
Aside from all of the technical aspects, I truly enjoyed my time working with the students in Costa Rica. I got to work with young adults (age 18-30) who were passionate and enthusiastic about learning the English language. These students are receiving the opportunity to learn English from the government for future employment, and it was amazing to be even a small part of that mission. I got to watch my students grow so much over the 4 months I was in Costa Rica. I felt like I learned just as much as the students did. These students, and this organization, gave me a life-changing experience that I will never forget.