English Volunteers for Change in Costa Rica sought to increase Costa Rica's economic competitiveness by offering exciting teaching opportunities in public, private and corporate institutions. This is a hub for a program no longer running.
I was a volunteer teaching English to students who wanted to enter the tour industry. The experience was great because of the students but I would suggest going through another program like ISA or Maximum Nivel. EVOLC told us we were paying the lowest amount which we thought was fine because we were receiving little support. However, we realized other programs offered identical experiences teaching english but offered more support (prepping to teach English classes, cooking classes for volunteers, salsa dancing, etc) and charged $500 less. When we reached out to EVOLC/API they did not resolve the issue and just told us the money was "going to a good cause." Would not recommend EVOLC
What would you improve about this program?
Matching prices to other teaching programs in San Jose. Offering more support in office for volunteers
I was immediately excited about the opportunity to volunteer in Costa Rica as soon as I spoke to the EVOLC Coordinator about the INA organization and what they provide to young adults seeking better opportunities for themselves and loved ones. I was hesitant, at first, to live with a host family and worried I wouldn't connect with the students or my co-teachers. Although I had some experience training employees, this was my first time teaching in a classroom. My worries quickly disappeared. My host and her family were nothing but very hospitable and kind.
Teaching: I had the pleasure of working with two co-teachers. Both co-teachers worked with me to improve both the academic and social aspect of the classes taught. The rapport built with the students, however, was by far the most rewarding part of the experience. The positive impact you make with the students, community, and colleagues is valued and appreciated. As soon as you notice their efforts improving you become humbled and proud.
There were some communication and scheduling issues with the school throughout my stay in Costa Rica but the EVOLC coordinator was always available to talk and worked with you to find solutions. She kept in touch to make sure things were going smoothly and she also "introduced" me to a couple of people volunteering in the area I was working in - It's always nice to have other volunteers to talk to and share your experiences with, from time to time.
I would recommend this program to anybody willing to open their minds to discover a beautiful country and open their hearts to help develop beautiful minds.
I was the first English volunteer at a school in San Jose and I believe that the work I did really made a difference - and I hope, as a result will offer up further opportunities for other volunteers after me. The two teachers I worked with were extremely friendly - and made me really feel part of a team. They took on board any ideas I had and encouraged me to utilise them with the children - who ranged in age from kindergarten to approximately eight years of age. It was extremely rewarding when the children enjoyed the activities and found them fun - but importantly at the same time helped them to improve their English. For me it was a very positive experience. I never imagined I would have enjoyed working with children so much and feel such a sense of achievement in helping them to better their understanding of English. I should add that Costa Rican children are quite delightful and make it easy because they are so friendly and tend to see their teachers as 'friends' - a very different perspective from Australia and England where I have lived. However, on the other hand, they also present challenges - they are very relaxed in the classroom - frequently moving around and talking. But meeting these challenges means you gain valuable experience and confidence as you work towards addressing them.
In short, it was a very positive experience for me. I discovered something about myself which was a surprise, felt I provided I contributed to the children's understanding of English and provided some assistance to the teachers when they needed it. I would recommend doing such work - you will never forget it!
What would you improve about this program?
The social aspect could have been a little better, but this really depends upon how many participants are taking part in the program. Unfortunately one person EVOLC would have put me in touch with, left shortly after I arrived. The family I stayed with were lovely and made me extremely welcome but it would have been good to have explored San Jose with someone participating in a volunteer program. Perhaps volunteer organisations in San Jose could work together on bringing together volunteers for socialisation?
I would add that the coordinator of my program took me out one night and was always very friendly and helpful.
I was placed in a great location with a wonderful and friendly host family. My teaching experience was very challenging and rewarding. I really enjoyed working with my students and getting to know them. I really learned a lot as a teacher and person through EVOLC. They were supportive and wanted me to succeed in every way. I would definitely recommend this program to others! Overall, it was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.
What would you improve about this program?
Funding is difficult, but more resources/materials for teaching would have been helpful.
A journalist friend of mine who volunteered in Africa is now investigating unscrupulous voluntary organisations and asked me did I know of any in Central or South America. It made me think how lucky I was to tee up with i-to-i which attracted the interest of not-for-profit group EVOLC [English Volunteers for Change] which aims to make Costa Rica bilingual by 2020. The program co-ordinator's thoughtful placement for me at Escuela Nueva Laboratoria and with my host family continues to have a positive effect and I've formed great contacts that I hope will become life-long associations. EVOLC chose the right fit for me. Everything about the program was professional, which contributed to my sense of feeling totally at ease as a new volunteer in a foreign country. Because I felt I was in safe hands under EVOLC it made my experience in the Costa Rican capital such a positive one. Now looking back on that experience, which only ended in late May, I feel privileged to have been involved with a group such as EVOLC. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the program, and I'd love to return to repeat it but next time I'll stay longer.
What would you improve about this program?
It is hard for me to be critical about this program because I truly had the best experience. When I return, given I'd like to repeat my volunteer experience, I'll stay longer and enroll in Spanish language classes as my skills need improving! If anything, knowing more Spanish would have enhanced my experience, although I certainly picked up more words during my volunteer stint over 6 weeks.
I taught English at INA for 3 months through EVOLC and had only great experiences there. The school was very good, the Costa Rican teachers were very competent and fluent in English and they were extremely helpful to me. The students were eager to learn and very hospitable as well. The host family was the best that I could have asked for anywhere. The family the teachers and the students invited me to weekend retreats, restaurants, cafes, parties and their homes. I even went to a wedding and a funeral! I was welcomed everywhere. The classes were beginner to intermediate and very enjoyable. We had alot of fun playing music, movies, videos and games. Of course, I had to teach them grammar and vocabulary too and they grouped up in pairs or more making different presentations in the classroom with power point or just conversations as well as written tests and homework assignments. I saw their progression and felt that I had helped them alot learn English fluency.
If you desire to live abroad-as opposed to merely travel-and want to do so in Central America, I would highly recommend this program as a way to do so.
I was introduced to EVOLC by a friend already living in Costa Rica. Thus, I had a bit of an "in" in the application process and found it very easy and convenient to be accepted. But in general the application process and placement will be very comfortable and accommodating for anyone. If you want to be in a city, let them know, if you want to be on a beach, let them know.
I was placed in San Jose which is not a tourist destination in and of itself, but is the central hub for all travel in Costa Rica and has a lot of offer. I was fortunate enough to be placed in two great, and extremely different, programs: a NGO in the morning that allowed me to work with adults and a high school in the afternoons where I worked with, well, high school kids. This allowed me to get multiple perspectives on Costa Rican life. Therefore, my experience was more rewarding. As a plus, you work Monday through Thursday so you have a three-day weekend to travel around Costa Rica.
I was placed into a wonderful host family which treated me just fantastically. It was in a nice community part way between my two programs and near UCR which means there is a lot of student infrastructure: better for those of you in your 20s, or those of you looking to formally study Spanish.
Overall, I think my experience in Costa Rica was great. I would recommend EVOLC to anyone who wishes to have a secure placement in Central America and wishes to actually experience the culture and people of Costa Rica rather than just spend a week traveling though the country. Moreover, you can stay there anywhere from four weeks to much longer so you can adjust the program to fit you.
EVOLC has diverse partners all over Costa Rica so you are guaranteed to find the program and place for you. Also, they have programs with different levels of responsibility from assisting other teachers to running the English program very independently.
Your stay in Costa Rica will depend on the local community and the local partner, because they are very different. EVOLC is based in San Jose and will provide support via phone and email. No matter the challenges or issues, EVOLC is there for you literally 24/7 and ready to help you with any professional or personal issues. They are a small organization and able to focus on the individual volunteer.
My only criticism would be that there isn't always fluent communication between the organization and the local partners and some things do not get done and it may be frustrating for the volunteer. For me it was the case of not having Internet access at home, which I had different information about from EVOLC, my host family and my local partner. Also, we were told that there were many activities and trips during our stay in Costa Rica which never happened. ALso, there was a big typo in our contracts about program fee and deposit.
Examples of how EVOLC did help: My housing situation was not satisfying in the first weeks, and EVOLC took it very seriously and found new housing for me almost immediately. Also, they followed up to make sure I was comfortable in the new housing. They also relocated another volunteer when it was too hot for her in the city she was living in.
All in all it's a good organization that really wants to make a difference in the works. I can recommend it.
Rita is a thirty something year old professional from Montreal, Canada. With over 15 years of work experience in the Financial industry, she decided to drop everything and head to Costa Rica to volunteer for 6 months. Why not? She loves to help others, explore different cultures and languages, and most of all, she can't resist the natural beauty that Costa Rica has to offer. Aside from her constant obsession to travel the world, she enjoys music, swimming, reading, and walking aimlessly around any city or town.
Why did you pick this program?
I initially was looking to head to Asia and explore working opportunities in that area but I fell upon this program and was curious to learn a little more about it. I had visited Costa Rica a couple of years ago and was left with a feeling that I needed to return and explore the country a little more. Something about the raw beauty of the country along with the kindness of the people just tugged at my heart to return.
After I spoke to the EVOLC coordinator about working with a local technical college in a rural area, I was 100% on-board! The college exists for young adults who want to and need to learn so they can get better jobs and be able to better provide for their families. There was no doubt I wanted to be a part of this program. I was also very impressed with the different programs and organizations that EVOLC partnered with in Costa Rica...assuring that any volunteer can be matched with the right program.
What is the most important thing you learned abroad?
Leaving friends and family is not as difficult as people will tell you it is. Keep an open mind and heart so you can discover a new place and welcome new friends into your life. Thanks to the Internet, staying in contact with friends and family is made easier. You can also take some epic long distance selfies to remember that although your friends are far away from you...they are never gone.
I realized that I didn't really want to be back home with my family and friends but sometimes wished they were around to share the experience with me. However, I was very lucky to have met great people and my host welcomed me into her family without any hesitation. I'm glad I accepted my adopted family and friends invitations to celebrate holidays, parties, and other outings. The best way to enjoy a new country or city is to follow the locals and do as they do, eat as they eat, play as they play!
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What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions or future path?
I loved how this experience allowed me to learn how it is to work in a different country / culture. I enjoyed comparing the similarities and differences.
I know that my experience in Costa Rica has made me richer and a more valuable person due to the people I got to work with, the students I built a rapport with, and the individuals I randomly met and shared stories with. As a result, I'm now completing an Adult Education degree to pursue a career in Academic Advising. I'm also strongly interested in working for NGO's here in Canada and abroad. No other experience in my life, personal or professional, has been as rewarding as my time with EVOLC has been.
Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.
I worked in a small rural town called Santa Cruz. Charming town with lots of history and cultural festivals. I enjoyed getting to know the town and its citizens. The greatest thing about the location of Santa Cruz, however, is its proximity to some of the most breathtaking, stunning, beautiful, and serene beaches on the Pacific coast.
On weekends, I'd get on a bus for no more than 1-2 hours and then be at one of these many beautiful beaches. On occasion, my colleagues and I would rush to a beach after work and enjoy the breathtaking sunset. Our year end Holiday party was at a beach resort... You can't do that in Montreal...
Alexandra Johnson is the Program Coordinator of English Volunteers for Change (EVOLC) in Costa Rica, where she's been living for the last 3 years. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a major in Cultural Anthropology and a minor in Spanish.
What position do you hold at EVOLC? What has been your career path so far?
I didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad in college and always knew I wanted to gain experience in a different country. After a few years of working in the service industry after graduation, I decided it was time for a change. I chose Costa Rica because my grandmother is from there and I’d always wanted to meet my family there, learn about the culture, and of course practice my Spanish. I have been living and working here for almost three years and can’t complain.
Did YOU teach abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
After some research I found out that there were a lot of opportunities to teach English in Costa Rica, but most institutes required a TEFL Certificate. I enrolled in a one-month TEFL course in the Southern Pacific town called Quepos. After that I decided that I wanted to look for a job in the country’s capitol, San José. I had never thought about being an English teacher, but it was very rewarding and it was a great way to connect with the local people. Thanks to my teaching experience in the country along with my Spanish skills I was hired at ALIARSE, the foundation that drives EVOLC.
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What does the future hold for EVOLC - any exciting new programs to share?
EVOLC is still a very new program and is constantly growing! Because speaking English is almost a necessity in Costa Rica, EVOLC will continue to bring native-speaking volunteers to teach in tourism communities, public schools, community programs, etc. This year we started a very exciting partnership with the Coast Guard Academy in Quepos. The Coast Guard Academy is where all of the Coast Guards in the country are trained and it’s located next to one of the most popular national parks and beach: Manuel Antonio. We’ve had both community English classes as well as classes specifically for the Coast Guard Instructors. For both groups, it’s very important to obtain English language skills to either find jobs or to communicate more efficiently with the ever-growing tourist population.
What about the future of the teach abroad industry? How do you think international education will change over the next 10 years?
I think that the industry will only continue to grow. Teaching ESL is something that is attractive to people of all ages. This year we’ve had volunteers in their 20’s and others in the 60’s from the US, Canada, Europe and even Australia. It’s a win-win for both sides; teaching abroad is a great way to exchange cultures and languages. I know in Latin America there is a huge shift to online classes and I imagine that international education will continue to diversify with technological advancements. I however am an advocate for in person classes and hope that teachers continue to travel the world, experience new cultures and places, and change people’s lives!
What's one piece of advice you'd offer to teachers in Costa Rica?
My advice for teachers in Costa Rica… Don’t come with any expectations. Be open to the culture, people and trying new things. Between the months of June and December - never leave without an umbrella and never ever slam doors! You have to be patient and flexible, Costa Rica is still a developing country and it’s easy to get frustrated. Lastly brush up on your Spanish and try to use the local slang, Ticos love to hear foreigners use their “tiquisimos”!
Costa Rican Colón
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Costa Rica is known for its Pura Vida lifestyle and San José is a great place to get familiar with the lifestyle. One of the best ways to discover San José is through the arts; whether you like theatre, dance, or music, this is the quickest way to the heart of Costa Rica.
About EVOLC - English Volunteers for Change
EVOLC was an English teaching initiative sponsored by Aliarse, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the academic competitiveness of Costa Rica by increasing the number of English speakers. Their objective was to act as a catalyst in the development of a national culture of social responsibility and equitable development in Costa Rica.