It feels like a looooong time ago that we were ending 2019 and launching into 2020!
We had a great Christmas Party at an Argentinian steakhouse in Escazú and then went up the mountain for a zarpe to end the evening and close out 2019. When we came back from our paid Christmas vacation time, we hit the ground running!
The new year kicked off with several new staff members joining our team. We also launched a new automated and recorded speaking assessment policy to enhance the program for our teachers and students. And we started several new accounts and even added some wonderful clients to our community!
In early March 2020, we had just finished up another successful year as the strategic language evaluations partner for the CINDE Job Fair, where we evaluate over 10,000 job candidates’ language levels in English, French and Portuguese. At this same time, the news and first case of COVID-19 were hitting Costa Rica quite hard.
On Monday, March 9th, the Costa Rican government started taking action against the Covid-19 virus as the first case in CR hit just days before. On Tuesday, March 10th, the Idioma Internacional team decided to close our physical offices and transfer all of our classes to virtual, online platforms. By that next day, the entire team and operations were up and running 100% virtually and with very few bumps along the way.
I have to credit the teaching team the most for making this transition happen so quickly and so smoothly. Prior to the pandemic, we were already operating with around 25% of our classes in a virtual or hybrid (part onsite and part virtual) modality; therefore, all of the teachers were already trained and prepared as virtual instructors, save one or two of the newer teachers, and were ready to lead our students into a fully virtual educational experience from one day to the next. This quick and efficient transition to a completely virtual working and teaching environment by the Idioma teaching team is truly one of the most remarkable efforts that Idioma Internacional, in its 20+ years, has seen.
Of course, nothing is easy, nor should it be. Our team has been working hard to optimize this experience and embrace it as an opportunity.
The curriculum team has overhauled our Virtual Learning Platform to more than double the amount of asynchronous, online resources for students’ learning, available 24 hours, 7 days a week, from anywhere with an internet connection.
The recruiting team adjusted to expand our hiring reach to teachers outside of Costa Rica and our team now includes teachers in Costa Rica and several other countries around the world, adding to the diversity and the ‘internacional’ part of our name and identity.
Our marketing and sales team offered flexible solutions to our teaching projects, all of which help people get employed in an increasingly tight labor market worldwide.
For now, we are following the Minister of Health and President Carlos Alvarado’s guidelines and we are firing on all cylinders in this new and exciting virtual world. With the beaches now partially open and things slowly resuming to a new “normal” due to Costa Rica’s swift and unified handling of this pandemic, we are anxious to start dipping our toes back into this country’s gorgeous oceans and once again hang out as a team, be it on the beach or at a café in the capital. We know Costa Rica will soon return to being one of the best locations to visit and live in the world.
Our Idioma Cares kick-off event of the year was as inspiring as it was fun. Good things come to those who show up. And, including brand new members of the team, we had a solid group show up to help our own community.
We have done a park clean-up in Parque de La Paz, but this was a beautification outside our actual doorstep. It was satisfying being able to clean up what we see every day, what is our home, and what is home to many others.
This was an Idioma Cares event with a dual purpose, to start the year off with committing to action and community with cleaning up our surrounding streets, but it stemmed from the philosophy of Idioma Internacional itself, of building a family. So we combined our clean-up event with a BBQ as a team to celebrate our commitment and dedication. We are all here from another land as appreciators of different cultures, specifically Costa Rica. We are not just finding purpose, but making a purpose by giving back to the country that has hosted us.
We grabbed our bags and gloves and spread out across the neighborhood to grab trash and recycling that was left behind. We enjoyed working side by side with our co-teachers and admin comrades, and we also knew there was a delicious barbeque on the other side.
After the clean-up, we proceeded to the beautiful University for Peace Park to grill out with hot dogs and hamburgers and all the snacks and drinks we could take with us (we didn’t have our vegetarians or vegans with us, but we were prepared for their dietary needs).
There was a beautiful February sun, soccer fields, a forest to explore and good company to have. One thing I enjoy a lot about our team is how easy and fun it is to just hang out, and shoot the… you know. TEFL teachers have so many things in common, and as many differences that the stories we share are always something to enjoy and learn from.
We cooked together, drank together, played games together, and hiked together. We all came here to teach English, and in so doing, make a difference, but we also get to make a difference in our personal relationships. When you have picked up trash with a friend it is that much easier to laugh about crazy hostel experiences in a beach town.
New members of the team made us laugh while getting to know them as we jammed to music. We played soccer with the locals as if we could hold a candle to their talent. And as we piled into the cars to exit before the sun went down, it was refreshing to see that our team took the time out of their Sunday to spend it together. We made our front door prettier and safer, and we did it all in the comradery that makes living abroad so necessary and awesome.
Our start of the year was as successful as the rest of our year. Now we get to walk into the difference we want to make, and the friendships we are here to have. Because they are waiting for us, and good things come to those that show up.
He stayed up most of the night packing. His bags were heavy, but his heart was light. The room cleaned out, he felt the impact of the decision he had made and worked so hard for. It had been 4 years in the making, but I could argue that it had actually been 32 years in the making. The ride to the airport with his mother and brother was full of fond memories and good jokes. His brother has always had a way of waiting until the last minute to crack some jokes. However, this time, the brother had one more piece to add. “Tons of people thought that you couldn’t do this. You worked your absolute *$# off in order to make it. I am proud of you. Go change the world.” The tears welled up in our characters eyes. He has always been close to his brother, but these words changed him. It was the first time that he felt such pride. The goodbyes were said, and he knew he had to go on from here alone.
The walk through the airport was quick. It didn’t seem to be overly crowded. NSA check point went smoothly. Now he had a few hours to kill. Always the over-punctual one. Better too early than missing this most important of flights though. He drank a beer to calm the nerves, although the actuality of this new adventure had yet to set in.
Fast forward to the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. He walked out of the airport and into the throng of cab drivers trying to take bags and make money. The humidity change had him sweating like an iced-tea in a Louisiana summer. He kept his cool and pressed forward to await his Uber. Once in the car, he attempted to speak some Spanish. Fail. However, his driver knew how to get him to his new home. After the 40 or so minutes through backroads, traffic, and incredible views of his new city, he arrived at the home-stay. The place was beautiful, different than any place he had been in the US but somehow felt like his first time at the university.
He got to his new room and arranged his belongings. Trying to unpack and feel at home, he sat on the bed and took his first deep and calming breath. It was true. He had made it. He ventured into a new country with no friends, no family, no idea about how to do most everything. He then took a short tour of the neighborhood and found a place to eat and have a coffee. The owner of the place had to come and help with the translation, because the waitress spoke no English, and the newbie spoke no Spanish. However, the waitress was sweet, patient, and very polite. He was so thankful that he left a bigger tip than he knew. He returned to his new home and listened to a hockey game online while trying to adjust. He slept with trepidation and awoke many times.
The start of his new career was upon him and he of course became lost immediately. He took the wrong bus on the first day. He made it to the office, sweating, panicking, and on-time. The first few weeks, he had almost no idea how he was going to ever get the hang of it. However, with patience, support from his coworkers, and his strength of will, he slowly started to adjust to the amazing opportunity that he was given. Now he was hooked.
Getting the Feel for It
Eventually he found the rhythm. His days became easier and less confusing. The support of his mentor sent him on the path of finding the best and fastest ways to get through his planning. He was off to see the figurative wizard.
He found that his rhythm was getting better also because of the challenges he set for himself. It is amazing what one can become accustomed to when they possess the correct mentality. At this point, he had really begun to enjoy himself. His classes filled him with joy as he pressed on every day. His new companions and he were really starting to have some fun. The company had begun to feel like his new family. He could count on them for any questions he still had, which were many.
One night, he went with a good crew for a night of dancing and merriment. After a few bars that felt like all the other clubs he had never cared for, they found a place with a view, good drinks, great vibes, and the right kind of music. They had added some random strangers to their entourage and took the entire party to the next level. He and his new companions danced until the bar closed. His morning was spent sharing metaphysical discussions until the sun came up. He found the groove.
Friends in all the Right Places
He had moved to a new apartment with his best friend in the new country. The excitement of having more space, more privacy, and more companionship enticed him to making the jump to the next level. He and his bestie would work through the motions of the day and then return home to each other’s comfort, and conversation. On the weekends they would stay up late, sharing music, beers, and stories. It is friendships like these that can change lives.
Throughout this time, he built his friendships to levels that hold for as long as both people are interested. Many times, he would laugh into the night with nothing but happiness in his heart. He knew that some of them are what I call “lifers.” Meaning, these friends will last a lifetime.
However, with the good always comes the bad. During this time of seeming bliss, he was given some bad news from the motherland. It doesn’t help our story to go into details, but this bad news was the type that makes someone long for the comfort of family. He fell into a depressive state. He struggled to find quality sleep. He fought off the mood during the days, while in his classrooms and at the office, but at night, he was haunted by the facts. He woke frequently in the middle of the night. He had many nightmares. And he eventually ruined a good relationship because of his inability to convey his true feelings. Even through this though, his best friend had his back. He let him have those long moments of sadness without pressuring him to “feel better.” In fact, the two of them went through similar problems at the same time. It was as if the universe knew they needed to be around each other at this place in history. Eventually, they were both able to break the cycle and return to the bliss. The mountains in view sure didn’t hurt the healing process either.
At times such as those, the reality of being away from the closest people in one’s life really takes its toll. But when we have the friendships that these two were able to formulate, the richness of life returns stronger than ever.
Becoming the Teacher
When starting at Idioma Internacional, he found that the learning curve was rather steep. There is a lot of information to absorb and he was a sponge. He soaked it all up as best he could, but at times he felt that he wasn’t doing enough. He wasn’t sure if he was making an impact on the students. Didn’t know if he was delivering the lessons correctly. Had no idea what it meant to be a teacher.
He adhered to the lesson plans with the grip of epoxy. He tried his best to memorize the better part of the information for each class, reviewing and reviewing. Sometimes he felt that the class went great, excellently, fantastically. Others he wished he would have given more thought to this or that, practiced the grammar more, tried out the directions with a wall. However, through all of his doubts, there were always ways to get excellent critical feedback. Also, part of the company’s many aspects of developing the teacher, were the evaluations by administrators. These helped him focus on his teaching abilities that needed some polishing.
After some of these feedback sessions, he would reflect and find a new style, new practice, or new method. As he told himself and occasionally needed reminding about, failure is part of the learning process. He failed. He learned. He succeeded. With time, patience, and amazing support, he eventually found that his methods improved. His classes were not only fun, but very informative. He was often complimented by his students and sometimes by the fellow teachers. Realizing this change, gave him great comfort and confidence. He had become the teacher.
During all of the trials and errors, the friendship building, the growth of the professional teacher, there was still some time to take on the unlimited amount of adventures in Costa Rica. He went to several beautiful beaches, the mountains, rivers, fresh springs, waterfalls, hikes. The list went on.
On his first visit to a beach, he was told by the local populace and many of the other teachers that the beach he would be seeing was “the worst beach in Costa Rica.” He was sure that he didn’t care. The bus was crowded and hot on the way out. He brought only the essentials with him, but that was enough. When he and his 3 friends arrived at this beach and he walked upon it, he said to himself, “worst beach? This is the most beautiful beach I have ever visited.” Apparently however, this was the “worst” beach. To this day it still makes him laugh. The thought that the worst is better than most will ever see in a lifetime is a testament to what can be found in this amazing country.
Another aspect that he found about adventuring in Costa Rica, was that sometimes, oftentimes, the adventures find you. Sometimes you go to find a new restaurant or bar and end up on an urban adventure. He found that the ways to best enjoy these adventures is with the same sense of wonder that brought him here in the first place. Stay positive, be patient, and everything will work out. So far, it has worked every time.
The final aspect of adventure was found in the realm of mentality. Multiple occasions, he found that his life would take an unexpected turn, but he thrived through those. He learned from each and every situation. His mind broadened. His heart grew. His adaptability increased.
He remembers everything, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the failures and successes. He could not be who he is now without the friendships and support he gained in this year. He knows that he will take everything with him for the rest of his life, where ever that leads him. He learned so many valuable lessons in the short year. What a year it was. He has too many people to thank for everything they have done for him. So now, as he prepares to leave, he becomes pensive, writes at his table and hopes that someone will read this. If you are reading it and know me, thank you. I couldn’t be here without you. I will strive to bring all of these lessons with me everywhere I go. I am sad to leave this company, but I am excited to see what will happen next. Again, thank you. You have no idea how much you mean to me.