Idioma Internacional Kick Off – January 2019

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.

 

-Timothy Garren

December 2018

Wow! December was a packed month at Idioma Internacional.

As we began to wind down another great year, we had a lot to celebrate and a lot to be thankful for.

We actually kicked off December by having our annual Idioma Christmas party! We started the night off with a gift exchange at our office. As usual, a lot of the gifts were consumable (food and drink alike) and there were a few favorites that got stolen until they couldn’t be stolen again.

We took some pictures at the office and then loaded up in a private shuttle to head up to the mountains of Heredia and have the famous paella at La Lluna de Valencia. The night was replete with flamenco guitar and dancing, a fire show and the proprietor coming around with his famous bota full of wine! We ate, drank and had a really fun and warm Christmas celebration as a team.

December festivities continued with our 2nd annual Gingerbread House night! We got into teams and put on some villancicos to put us in the Christmas spirit while we got to work building our Gingerbread Houses.

All of this only brought us to the middle of December! We still had some events to go, not the least of which is our 2nd annual Christmas Pie in the Face Raffle.

At the end of every year, we choose a charity to support and raise money for by selling raffle tickets to our students. Our students can buy a raffle ticket and with it buy a chance for their teacher to get a pie to the face!

This year, we have been working closely with an organization called Boy with a Ball for which we raised 134,215.00 colones as a team! And with such a remarkable turnout, Idioma Internacional was able to match that amount and double the funds we were able to donate!

We picked the raffle ticket at random to find our lucky winner to get a pie in the face and sure enough, our teacher, Brian, who sold the most actually won!

And of course, each year an Administrator is also chose at random to participate because the only thing better than one person getting a pie in the face is two people getting a pie in the face!

With all the December and end-of-the-year activities behind us, we all hopped on planes, busses and in some cases, motorcycles, and headed out to enjoy some paid vacation time over the holidays. Here is a quick snapshot of the last sunset of 2018 in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica…

-Brendan Mulhall

 

 

Friendsgiving Costa Rica Style – November 2018

Venezuela, Costa Rica, Australia, Finland, United States—these are just a few of the nationalities represented at our Idioma Friendsgiving celebration this year. Needless to say, it was an international and very Tico-style Friendsgiving this year. There was not even a turkey in sight!

One of our teachers graciously invited the entire team to his home to celebrate with food, friends and to take an evening out of our busy lives to give thanks for all the blessings we enjoy living and working in beautiful Costa Rica.

We celebrated potluck style: a southern-inspired chicken and rice dish, green beans and bacon, goat cheese and almond dressed salad with a homemade balsamic, homemade cheese and fruit dip, mashed potatoes, a vegan curry, bread and dips, and brownies and a cranberry apple cinnamon cake to top it all off. And we had wine and sangria to drink, and of course a Costa Rican specialty: a homemade chiliguaro shot brought by a coworker to share.

We scrounged up benches, a couch, some beach chairs and anything we could find so that we all had a seat at the table to eat, chat, celebrate and be thankful together. While the food and drink were plentiful and flowed throughout the evening, it was spending time with both co-workers and friends that truly made this a Friendsgiving to remember.

-Brendan Mulhall

 

Biannual Idioma Internacional Retreat Event – October 2018

Over two different Friday mornings toward the end of October, our teaching staff gathered for the second Retreat of 2018.

We had a healthy breakfast of granola, yogurt, fruit, bread and spreads, juice and coffee to get us started on both days. Our professional development activities focused on our core values of Excellence, Sound Character and Innovation and were complemented by some fun team-building activities.

After the two mornings of professional development, we all met up at Bol Cariari for a Sunday afternoon of wings, beers and bowling shoes! For this Retreat Event, we decided to keep things a bit closer to home and indoors, which was a great idea given the massive aguacero that dumped all afternoon.

Many of us wish we had had bumpers in our lanes to help improve our scores; however, proudly there were a few of us who actually broke the 100-mark! As more beers were cracked open, our scores tended to increase as well.

While we may not have a career in professional bowling ahead of us, we are certainly aficionados of snacking, drinking, laughing and lofting gutter balls one after another.

-Brendan Mulhall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hardest Word to Say

When I close a chapter in my life, even with a new one beginning, I struggle to find the right words or ways to express myself. It is no different this time. The end of my contract here at Idioma Internacional has me struggling to describe the feeling. I have known for a little over a month that I would be ending my contract and moving to a new phase of my educational career. However, preparing for departure is a task in and of itself. Mentally, I have had to think positively. I know how much this company has offered me. I believe in the over ten thousand words I have written in this blog that I have expressed a lot of truth and sincerity. The friendships I have made will stay with me, whether physically or emotionally, for the rest of my life. However, the reality of moving on doesn’t really set in until it is upon you.

Some of the most challenging aspects of leaving such a great part of my life were having to tell my students. Sometimes, however, it does go smoothly. A few of my classes were ready and aware of the way that it goes. These were fairly easy on the emotions. We all shook hands, wished the best for each other, and decided to stay in touch. I went to a lunch with one of my former classes and had an excellent time just bonding and hanging out as friends. It was nice to share some memories with these great students outside of the classroom. However, I know how much I already miss that group.

One of my classes really surprised me. It was one of the lower level classes that I taught. They are an amazing group of people with such varied backgrounds and experiences. When my last night as their teacher arrived, they surprised me with pizza at the end of class. This group always worked very hard and sometimes it was difficult for them to arrive focused for class. However, seeing their progress in just over five months was so motivating and impressive. They had advanced so much in such a short time. Their hard work paid off and many of them have improved so much that I believe they are above the level they are studying.

And just as beautiful as those classes were, with sad but well-handled goodbyes, there was one that brought a flood of emotions over me. This goodbye took my breath away. Literally. I had this class for almost my entire contract. This group was one of the colegios (high-schools). The final class began as normal. The students were taking their short break from regular school to this scholarship program that we teach. A few of the students expressed that it was sad that this was the final class. I knew it too. I felt it. But we all got the lesson going and moved into the routine. I feel close to this group because we have grown together as individuals and as a group. We have had to face some difficult challenges and we have had to make some adjustments throughout the program. However, as smooth as things were going at the beginning of this last class, it suddenly changed. The teacher who replaced me was leading a lesson as I sat in the back of the room. The realization that this was about to be the last time I taught them hit me. My eyes began to well up. I had to take a few deep breaths to keep from crying. One of the students noticed my demeanor and called me out, “not yet, teacher. Not yet.” I giggled, but that made it a little harder, so I busied myself with more instruction and correction. Then, with barely 5 minutes left to spare, I began to say my thanks to the students. They stopped me. They had a few surprises ready. They pulled out a handmade poster with our group picture in the middle and handwritten post-it notes all surrounding it. The waterfall began the moment I saw what it was. I couldn’t even see the words on the notes because I couldn’t stop the flood. I thanked them with every ounce of my being, but they were not done yet. Then, they presented me with a humongous bag of candy and a small figurine that will forever remind me of them. As we finally cleaned up the room and began to leave, many of the students took pictures with me. We exchanged high-fives, hugs, and at the end one final “everybody hands-in” huddle and cheer. I had nicknamed them Team Awesome. So, of course, it was “awesome on three.” I fought off the tears for the rest of the goodbyes, but it was incredibly difficult. I felt appreciated in a way that I have never felt before. Every struggle in my life was worth that feeling.

Before signing off, I want to make one thing clear: I appreciate every single person that has ever taken the time to read any of these posts. I am so thankful that I had the chance to write for this company. I love writing, even if I am not very good at it. I hope that these posts will continue and that the next author will be even better than me. Thank you. Each and every one of you. And as the title suggests, I hate saying this word: goodbye.

Thank you again,

The Author

 

Reflections on a Full Year

The Arrival

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.

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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.

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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.

Adventures Abound

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.

Full Circle

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.

A Day at a Time

A Random Wednesday, 2018

4:50 AM: My nemesis begins to chime, bringing in the new day. As I am not a morning person, I immediately begin to cringe. I always set obnoxious alarms, because the peaceful ones don’t do the trick. I step out of the bed with the same labored sighs as every day. However, once showered and dressed, I walk out to the balcony to put on my shoes and the morning mountains makes the sarcasm bubble forth, “well… it’s not so bad really.” I pop in the headphones and choose today’s playlist: Funky Soul Delicious. Well-crafted for the toe-tapping bus ride.

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6:40 AM: I step off the bus near my first class. The sun is beaming rays of golden heat to melt away the rest of my sluggish start. My hair catches in the breeze over the bridge, soft like a lover’s caress. I finish my walk with a smile and a wait patiently for my student to come and take me to the offices. She and I always exchange our pleasantries and discuss our weekend. We take the elevator up to the office and she lets me into our classroom. She goes to gather her things and returns with the final part of my morning medicine: coffee. She no longer asks. She knows the answer. Class has us both laughing and the time flies like it is moving at double-tempo.

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9:30 AM: The office is warm as I enter, but the AC kicks on and feels nice. I bring with me my daily dose of Tico Wheaties: gallo pinto. Time for some class prep, more coffee, emails, catching up on the news and some fraternizing with the other teachers and administration. There always seems to be something to discuss that inevitably gets the whole gang laughing. We joke on one another. It is fun.

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11:00 AM: A brief walk through the beautiful park across the street from the office. Headphones returned to keep the soundtrack pulsing. This bus ride is my favorite. Not for any particular reason other than the freedom to allow my thoughts to take over. I do most of my self-reflection on buses. It seems to work well since there are plenty of buses in this country. My mind wandering through the rest of the day, I dwell upon the mysteries of the universe. Well, sometimes I just wonder about my next meal. Either way, it sets me up for the rest of my day.

11:40 AM: I arrive at the giant offices where again I wait for a student to escort me to our room. This class is always such fun. The students love to debate and get into friendly arguments. One of their preferred lines, “in my humble opinion…” prefaces some not-so-humble statements. I laugh every time I hear this phrase. An odd sense of comfort overwhelms this group as we have been together for a long time. Again, all feelings lift when I spend time with the students. I love this job.

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2:40 PM: After a brief lunch, I return to the office with a full stomach and renewed need for coffee. I think this company knows that without coffee, we would never get anything done. So, it is available the entire time the office is open. More jokes are enjoyed by the staff. Sometimes it is high-fives and hugs. We really help each other with the day by day procedures. It does feel like a family, with less arguing.

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3:00 PM: I wait for the bus to my final class. More reflections of the day and now, being Wednesday, also some thoughts about the weekend. Will it be a socializing weekend or a Netflix binge? Hard to tell at most times. On the bus, the afternoon heat and clouds begin to dull my senses and I do the awkward sleeping-not-sleeping head bob. As I approach my stop, I begin to perk back up. This is my favorite class after all. (I know. We are not supposed to have favorites. But we all do. Truth.) This afternoon I will be teaching at one of the colegios (high-schools). This scholarship program is incredible and gives such amazing opportunities for these youths. I get off the bus and walk along with my chicken friends, greet the cows, and make my way into the school. I am met by the most genial of security guards. The students welcome me also with our own created handshakes. It makes me so happy. These students are all unbelievably wonderful, even when they are having bad days. We have great interactions, that both my supervisor and I call ‘guided chaos.’ I love teaching these kids and I love the energy they make me exert. It keeps me younger. I think.

7:00 PM: I finally return to my apartment. Exhausted? Yes. Sore feet? Yes. Feeling of completion? Most definitely. I cook a simple dinner, chat with my roommate, and she goes off to sleep. She acts like an old lady with her sleep. It is actually impressive. I stay awake for a few more hours, check emails, look over material, and scroll the social media. Eventually my eyes are no longer wanting to be open, so I brush my teeth and lay down with the satisfaction and gratitude I have felt in no other occupation. Today was a good day.

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Friendsgiving

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.

 

Company Retreat

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.

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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.

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Cahuita: The Beach and Jungle Paradise

Upon receiving the exciting news that my friend and his father from the states were coming to visit me here in Costa Rica, I began searching for interesting things to do.  My friend and his father had only requested, “beach, snorkeling, chill.” Fortunately, Costa Rica is abundant with activities that fall into those specified categories.

My research paid off big time when I found out about Cahuita. It had everything that the boys wanted. So I booked the hostel and waited impatiently for my friends’ arrival. They got to San Jose late in the evening, but I made my way to their hotel to celebrate their arrival and have a few toasts.

We left 2 days later for the paradise by the Caribbean Sea. Our drive took us through some of the most twisted, and beautiful mountain views I had ever seen. As we neared our destination, we could see the ocean, a mere 20 meters from the road. Our excitement was palatable, a static energy you could feel at every pore. We rolled the windows down and breathed in the salty air.

The town of Cahuita is small, barely 5 city blocks worth of actual town, but it is densely packed with restaurants, bars, knick-knack shops, tourist companies, and mini markets. We made our way to the hostel, Cabinas Caribe Luna, and saw just what peaceful Caribbean life really looks like. We met with the owners Enrica and David. They had the sweetest and most welcoming demeanor. They were the essence of “Pura Vida.” Their property is tucked neatly back into the wilderness, but still close enough to walk to the beach, the town, the national park. The cabins are individually set back in a romantic garden that is well maintained by Enrica and David. David has even begun marking each plant and tree with their names. There is a small stone sitting circle that I dubbed the “philosophy classroom.” It’s a perfect place for meditation, relaxation, and the mental reset we all need at one time or another.

 

After setting up our gear in the hostel cabin, we left to get supplies and head down to the beach. The town itself is quaint, quiet, and beautiful. We picked up some snacks and beers and made our way to the closest beach (which was about 300 meters from our hostel). Our first day was spent lounging by the beach with beers in hand. The views are as incredible as you can imagine. The water is clear, the sand soft and warm, the misting sea salt air embraces your lungs.

That night we had a simple dinner at one of the local watering holes, where we enjoyed some beers and the company. We spent the rest of the night playing cards on our peaceful patio. The sounds of the night crept up on us and we all slowly drifted off to sleep.

I woke, sweating (it’s rather warm on the Caribbean coast), but I was delighted to get started on our day. We all had a meager breakfast of cereal bars and orange juice. The night before, we had booked our snorkeling and jungle tour. We were only an hour away from swimming in the largest coral reef in Costa Rica.

My companions and I walked the ten minutes to the tour company that we had booked with. We met our guide, received the simple instructions, fitted our gear, and followed Alex, our tour guide, to the boat. After a few minutes of getting everyone settled in the small boat, we made our way out onto the open water. We were never too far off shore, but the breeze caressing my skin felt like a lover’s hand stroking my beard as I drift to sleep. In other words, pure bliss.

When we reached the first reef stop, we were again reminded of the rules: no standing, no touching the corals, stay close to the boat, etc. We then plunged ourselves into a fantasy. The moment I was in the water with mask and snorkel at the ready, I was immediately in view of an underwater universe I had yet to experience in my life. There were fish of every color. We saw a nurse shark, held a sea cucumber, watched a school of fish whose numbers reached in the thousands. There was every variety of coral, alive and intoxicating to see. We eventually went to another stop a little closer to shore where the scene was just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the first.

After about two hours of snorkeling, the group was ready to return to shore and begin our jungle hike part of the adventure. I felt like we were waiting forever, but in reality it was probably about 45 minutes. It is amazing how much anticipation can alter our sense of time.

When we finally embarked on the easy hike, it seemed as if there were too many people to see anything very interesting. I feared we would be too loud and keep the animals away. However, within ten minutes of the journey, I was corrected. Alex, our tour guide had already spotted the first sloth. Perched just a few meters out of reach, a mother and her cub were cuddled together gazing at the humans uninterestedly. This was how the hike went: about every ten to fifteen minutes, Alex would spot something else of interest for us inexperienced tourists. We were able to see golden spiders, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, basilisks (both green and brown), a variety of snakes (both venomous and non), pelicans in the bay, tarantulas, and many types of butterfly. There may have been more as well, but it was a lot to see in one short afternoon in the jungle. There is no better way to describe it other than magnificent.

The rest of the day we ate lunch, relaxed at the hostel, and then enjoyed a bit more time on the beaches. The next day was more of the same. The adventure was complete, we never wanted to leave. We had found paradise.