In the US and Canada, Thanksgiving is a widely celebrated holiday. Most everyone knows that families gather to share lots of food and drinks, debate politics, watch football, and fall asleep on as many pieces of furniture as are available. In Costa Rica, the tradition is not celebrated at all, or at least not widely. There are no stores filled with frozen turkeys, no aisles crammed with pumpkin pie filling, no gravy boats, and no fall colored decorations. This day is not a formal holiday like it is in North America. Therefore, it is no surprise that many people that come from North America generally miss out on this regular holiday from their former lives.
All of the teachers at Idioma Internacional have made sacrifices to gain this amazing experience teaching in another country. We have left family, friends, routine, and the comfort of our former homes to be part of something that is bigger than we are. Sometimes, it can be a little disconnecting from our friends and family in our respective motherlands, especially when these family-oriented holidays are upon us with no family to celebrate.
However, the staff decided to do something that could supplement this holiday away from our original homes. Many of us have celebrated what has been widely dubbed “Friendsgiving.” This is where a group of friends get together and have the same style feast and celebration as the family-focused holiday. So, we here at Idioma Internacional did just that. We had our own Friendsgiving.
About 2 weeks prior to the holiday, one of our friendliest and most dedicated staff members made a social media group where we could share our thoughts and plans for this otherwise normal workday. We planned to get the crew together after we had all finished teaching for the day. Everyone was encouraged to bring a dish of some sort, but it was not required. As the day grew closer, it seemed like we had the entire staff wanting to participate. It was very exciting. A final surprise or Friendsgiving “miracle” was revealed the Monday before: we would all be allowed to cancel our afternoon classes in order to have more time to prepare and bond! (Dear Brendan, THANK YOU!!! -From the entire staff!)
- At last, Friendsgiving was upon us. As everyone gathered and began to socialize, the kitchen was just as packed and confusing as it always is in North America. We were all laughing, and enjoying the company of each other. It was actually one of the best turn-outs for any event outside of the office. We had almost all of the teachers, many of the friends we have made that don’t work at Idioma Internacional, and several significant others in attendance. So many people, from so many backgrounds in the same room created a very lively and exhilarating experience.
At around 8 pm, the food was fully prepared. I had made a beer-and-supply-run shortly before, so we had all of the essentials ready to be devoured. There were more dishes than I could count: chicken (turkeys are rare here), green beans, salads of every variety, chili, vegan stuffed peppers, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, salmon carpaccio, tres leches, pumpkin pie, cranberries, brownie-like amazing new dessert, and more things that I can’t remember. It was possibly the largest feast that I have ever attended. Once everyone had a plate in hand, and a seat in the room, we began to go around and tell each other what we were grateful for. This is a tradition that not even my family does anymore. It was emotional, heartfelt, controversial, tear-jerking, and inspiring. Everyone was allowed to say whatever they liked. It was a magical experience to say the least.
Once the food was consumed, the thanks given, the memories created, we all enjoyed a few more hours celebrating these rare and often underappreciated friendships that we have built in our varied times here in Costa Rica. Many of the people in attendance will not be present next year, but that didn’t stop us from having an amazing experience together. We have built a tradition of love, peace, friendship, and shared experiences. We may not always realize how important these moments are in our lives, but we will be able to take these memories with us forever. This was a time where it was clearly evident how much we need each other as humans. It was magical, spectacular, beautiful, incredible, and will be remembered forever. I will be thankful for this for the rest of my life.
Part 1: Professional and Personal Development
Twice each year, Idioma Internacional holds an all-company retreat. There are always two parts to the retreat. The first day begins with an in-office professional development where we build skills to help the entire staff become better educators and administrators. Second, on another day, we gather for a lunch and information session, then we leave the office for an afternoon of fun, bonding, and usually drinks!
The most recent retreat was my first experience. I had heard about them, but there is almost no way to truly explain all the activities and development that we covered. So being that this will barely glimpse the actuality of the retreat, let’s begin with the in-office development day.
We arrived at the office at 8 am and were greeted by a casual buffet-style breakfast, hot coffee, and Irish Cream (you know, the good stuff). After everyone was prepared with a full stomach and clear head, we went outside for the first of many activities. We were using our second (sometimes 3rd, 4th, 5th) language to play a game about giving instructions. These kinds of things really give the staff some perspective on how we instruct. This kind of perspective in invaluable as it leads to better understanding of what our students have to do on a daily basis.
After the outdoor game, we headed back into the office and continued with more activities that encouraged each of us to create and adapt goals, both personal and professional for the remainder of our time here at Idioma Internacional. This was immediately followed up by a reminder of goals that were set previously (either at the last retreat or when we finished our mentor program). This way we could compare our own goals, and also see our progress. We were also given some of the comments that our own students had said about us. It is an unbelievable feeling to see the kind of impact that we can make as educators. The student quote I received was so heart-warming that it was difficult not to cry.
Next, we took an off-campus lunch at a fantastic Mexican restaurant near the office. It was another way to bond and be in each other’s company for a little while, not having to discuss work unless we chose to. This is always rare, because schedules are so varied that it is hard to get the whole group together. However, these moments help us realize the support we all provide for each other.
When we got back to the office, we had another round of professional development workshops that are fun, light-hearted, and still very informative in many ways. Most of the workshops that I have attended in the past are boring and can be redundant. These were exceptional, covering topics that we all want improvement upon, and offer new ideas to keep our classrooms evolving. We covered many different topics that will truly help us develop into fantastic teachers.
Lastly, after all of the professional development had concluded, the coolers were brought out with beer and wine. They were emptied, refilled, and emptied again. All members of staff were encouraged to hang out as long as they wished. Most of us did stay until late in the evening. These moments in the company of the other staff members are excellent for building bonds between co-workers, which then leads to some incredible and lasting friendships. We found our similarities, differences, and helped each other become stronger teachers, better educators, and most importantly great friends. Our relationships grew, changed, and impacted each of us in ways that we can take with us for the rest of our lives.
Part 2: Company Progress and Healthy Competition
As said at the beginning of this, the next part of the retreat is a day of healthy competition, fun, bonding, and drinks. These events take us off-campus and let us play in the company of our colleagues. This most recent retreat, we went go-karting!
The day began with a lunch at the office. It was catered, fancy, and was very appreciated by the entire staff. (Food has always had a way of bringing people together!) While we prepared for our incredible feast, we listened to music, drank sangria or beer, and socialized. It was a great start to the day.
After our well rounded and delicious meal, we were then treated to some great announcements about the progress of the company. There was an old video presentation with hairstyles and young faces of the most senior members of staff that had the entire room laughing viciously. After the laughing subsided, we were all treated to the administrators’ speeches about how this company is successful because of the entire staff working together in so many amazing ways.
Next, it was time to pack into Uber cars and head to the main event of the day: GO-KARTS! Once we arrived at the track, we all signed up for at least three separate times to race with the team. Each person was their own worst enemy, trying to beat their own times. Of course, we all challenged each other for the best time, and of course we were talking trash with each other.
On my first trip, I remember the smell of exhaust, sweat, and rubber. It was exhilarating. I had not driven a go-kart for the better part of a decade. I was fitted into my helmet and buckled into my car. As the green light flashed, I felt the need for speed. It wasn’t long before I was being warned about my aggressive driving. I think that if I had not been warned, I would have wasted my time.
Each member of staff experienced their own love for the track. We were all smiles, laughter, and cheers. Everyone was looking for the best times, or at least enjoying the really friendly competition. Some of the staff had never been go-karting before and were delighted to experience it with the camaraderie of this particular staff.
The social bond that we built during these events is the kind of atmosphere all professionals desire. We were able to really grow as individuals and professionals, while having fun, sharing stories, competing in exciting and healthy ways, and creating lasting friendships. This last part is what separates Idioma Internacional from others in our field. Everyone is grateful for the chance to meet so many people from completely different backgrounds and cultures. We were able to learn through fun and exciting means, while still maintaining an air of professionalism. The entire staff benefited greatly from these activities and will remember their experiences forever. As we continue to grow in this career, we can only hope to take these experiences with us to share with the rest of the world.
On October 5, tropical storm Nate hit the Costa Rica shoreline and devastated the entire nation. There were multiple deaths, massive amounts of infrastructural damage, and a state of emergency was declared closing government offices and schools throughout the nation.
In the wake of such a massively destructive storm, many families were left without homes, food, clothing, electricity, and water. Even though the country was distraught and wracked with grief, many communities quickly rallied to aid the families that were in need.
One such contributor was Timothy Garren, an Idioma Internacional teacher. He organized and promoted a clothing drive that benefitted families in the coastal town of Quepos. He asked the other teachers and our friends to donate any clothing that was still functional but no longer used. It was a simple request, but one that was needed regardless. The results were better than even he could have foreseen. He was able to collect a rather extraordinary number of articles in a very short time. There were dress shirts, jeans, leggings, socks and underwear, casual clothing, and much more. These were then delivered to organizers in Quepos where they were sorted and distributed to the families in need.
Having someone show such care to people he has never met has been inspirational at the least and extremely heart-warming as a standard. This is the sense of community that we feel on a daily basis at Idioma Internacional. We have become part of this country, this culture, these communities, and this beautiful world.
Here at Idioma Internacional we are half-way through our 5th year supporting Movember, a global movement to raise awareness about the dangers and causes of prostate cancer and testicular cancer, along with general education about men’s physical and mental health. Many members of the staff have seized the opportunity to show off their handsome, smoother, and younger looking faces.
During the month of November, male participants shave their faces bald. Then, they can choose whether to grow their beard or mustache for the entire month. The participants take a photo of themselves at the very beginning of the month (with no facial hair) and also track their progress by taking one photo for each week of hair growth. Profiles are created on the Movember website, where the participants upload their photos. Check out our profiles! Once the profiles are created, followers are encouraged to donate money to the research and disbursement of education programs worldwide. Idioma Internacional is donating for each staff participant or sponsored participant.
If you are female and want to contribute to this great cause you can sponsor a male friend, family member, spouse, significant other, etc. Upload their pictures and track their profiles. These amazing women sponsors are called Mosistas!
The second most prevalent cancer in men, prostate cancer is a topic that is not talked about enough. In 2012, there were more than 1.1 million documented cases of prostate cancer. This staggering number still doesn’t receive the attention that it deserves. As stated on the Movember website, “men are dying too young, before their time.” The Movember Foundation has a plan: Raise awareness through research, improve the lives and health of men by educating them on ways to take preventative action, and reduce the number of men who die too young.
Please follow the Movember Foundation’s link below to learn more about what they do and how you can help! The time to act is now.