If you are looking for a culturally immersive program that will be rewarding every single day look no further! As a first time ESL teacher, I found this program to be a great fit. Other teachers in my group had years of experience and also found it to be a great fit. I felt supported by Lauren and Savannah from Greenheart and I felt extremely supported by ALIARSE, the partner organization in Costa Rica. I arrived with 10 other teachers from around the United States and the United Kingdom. We completed an informative, in-depth orientation in San Jose where we had a chance to do mock lessons, find out our placement locations, get to know each other and the organization and our social workers. Then on Saturday, we left San Jose with our social worker(s) for our new location and new host family!
My host family was by far my favorite part of this program. My host family consisted of a host mom and dad and 4 siblings, two lived in the house and 2 visited often. We frequently had grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other extended family members at the house. This really immersed me in the culture and the language. My host family spoke some English but they agreed to only speak Spanish with me so that I could learn more. They invited me everywhere they went and we spent many evenings talking about culture, sports, music, Costa Rica and much more.
My students were amazing, and I had an equally amazing social worker. I have never met a group of people who wanted to learn more than my students. They were in class every day ready to learn, always asking questions about words, pronunciation, and grammar they have heard. I was the second teacher in my location so the students had 4 months of English class before I started and it has been incredible to see them improve so much in 4 months. I'm able to look back at their first diagnostic test and comments from the first teacher to really see just how far they have come. Many of my students are mothers, some are single mothers. Some just finished high school and some have kids in high school. Almost none of my students knew each other prior to starting the program and in just 8 months they have bonded and formed a tight-knit, supportive community. They spend time together outside of class practicing English and only want the best for each other.
Each location has at least one social worker or more depending on the number of students. The social worker in my location is an incredibly special woman. She truly cares for each and every student, as well as the teacher. She always checks in with the students and provides so much support for them. Because the students come from impoverished backgrounds many of them have obstacles to learning. This is where the social worker comes in. She teaches soft skills, provides emotional support and helps the students mature.
As a first time ESL teacher, I found it very helpful that we were provided lesson plans from ALIARSE. This saved me a lot of time preparing. I still made notes and added some fun games and activities I had learned during my TESOL program, but I did not have to design a curriculum from scratch. There is also flexibility within the curriculum so that you can adapt it to fit the needs of your students. Also, the curriculum is constantly being improved based on feedback from teachers. The curriculum creators were very helpful in explaining the curriculum and providing support for it. Also, ALIARSE provides money for copies and transportation (I chose to walk to class, but if I wanted to take the bus, this would be covered by ALIARSE). This program is still fairly new so it is important that you come with an open mind and are flexible.
If you haven't lived in Costa Rica before it is worth your time. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting from the landscape to the language to the culture and the people. I have truly enjoyed embracing the "pura vida" lifestyle while here. The food is fresh and delicious. The fruit is cheap and from right down the road and came off the tree/bush/etc only days, sometimes hours prior! (Unlike the US where much of the fruit is months old and has traveled thousands of miles).
If you are looking for an adventure, to live in another country, to embrace another culture, to learn another language, to significantly impact Costa Rican people, to step out of your comfort zone, to meet teachers from around the world, to work for an amazing organization, to build your resume, to eat fresh fruit, to experience what "pura vida" truly means this is the program for you!