Living in a Virtual World

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.

-Brendan Mulhall

Come one, come all!

Back in the day, as they say, the Idioma team used to get together every Sunday evening to have dinner as a team, and always at the home of the first academic director, Joy. At that time, we all lived in the same neighborhood and we were a much smaller operation.

Fast forward to 2019 and having nearly tripled in size, we now live all around the central valley, counting four of the seven provinces as home to Idioma and its team.

Nonetheless, the passion for spending time together and eating together has never been far from Idioma; it was in this spirit, to take some time outside of work to share, laugh, eat and enjoy the rich diversity on our team that we organized a mid-year potluck in the late afternoon on Sunday, June 30th.

At 4pm precisely, the hour that we started the potluck, it began to downpour…torrentially and so much so that within minutes, the road gutter in front of our current academic director’s apartment, between the road and the door to his apartment, was filled with a half-foot deep, six-foot wide rushing ‘river!’ It’s a good thing that everyone arrived on Tico time and not on time! By 4:30pm when people started showing up, the downpour downgraded to just heavy rain and the ‘river’ was crossable by way of a leap and we all made it upstairs to start warming up food and eating!

We had shrimp and grits along with sausage and fried apples from some of the southerners on staff. We had fruit salad and a huge pineapple for a more Tico flair. And no potluck is complete without a couple of potato dishes, as in mashed potatoes and home fries!

We all took turns grazing through the food line in Brendan’s tiny kitchen and the chatter and clatter soon took a downward turn as the silence of good-eatin’ commenced! There was enough food for seconds (and thirds for some, who shall remain nameless!) and a surplus to take to the office for some Monday munching.

Add we enjoyed some guitar strummin’ and singing in an impromptu session before we capped the evening off early but very full, full of international fare, Idioma friends and the Costa Rican Pura Vida vibe.

-The Author

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

The Power of Example

Language. Community. Action.

These are the three pillars of our social responsibility initiative: Idioma Cares.

The Idioma Cares leaders and staff volunteers conducted a park cleanup on Sunday, August 19th, 2018, with the mission of taking action in the community to make a positive difference. We chose “Parque de la Paz” in Desamparados as it is relatively close to our office and it is not provided with a private sanitation service like our local park, “Parque de la Sabana.”

Tim, our team leader, took care of the planning, supplies and logistics for the event. These preparations included scouting the location ahead of time and providing each of the Idioma Cares team members with a map of the park and a designated area to be cleaned that day, so as to cover the entire park and maximize our impact.

We numbered just over a dozen participants, including my two children (five-year-old and a seven-year-old) and a teacher’s partner who joined in the effort. First thing we did when we arrived was climb a steep hill in the center of the park with an incredible lookout point where we game-planned and surveyed the park. Tim passed out gloves, garbage bags, water  and maps while we got into teams of two, with one person taking a large bag for garbage and the other person taking a bag for recyclables.

We all set out to scour and clean our assigned areas of the park with an 11:00 am meet up time to throw the garbage in the park garbage bins for a later pick up (previously coordinated by Tim) and load the recyclables into our cars to haul off to a recycling center in neighboring Escazú.

By and large, it was a typical San José Sunday morning: beautiful weather, blue skies and lots of sunshine, billowy white clouds, scores of families and individuals bustling about the park. And there were some unanticipated, yet insightful  and positive moments to the day above the expected parts of just picking up trash and recyclables to clean up a city park.

The first element that stands out to me was the experience working alongside such a good-hearted team that took their personal time to make a difference in a place that is not their home country. That is so inspiring. Most of the Idioma Cares team is not from Costa Rica, yet their desire to serve and make a difference shows how compassion, support for others, and doing good goes beyond territorial and cultural borders. We were all volunteers joining together for a common cause of making a positive difference. It was pretty cool. And really fun.

The second element that sticks out is how proud I am of my children for participating wholeheartedly in the clean up efforts. This was an important lesson for them that I am really happy they got to experience in addition to their witnessing of the Idioma Cares team setting an example. It was great to see my children do something for others in order to make things better instead of playing, which is what they normally do on a Sunday. I hope this is something that they build upon for years to come as they make their way.

The third element that struck me was the impact we had on the locals. We all wore team shirts and that really made a difference, as we were highly visible while cleaning up the trash and separating it to recycle. Our good acts were noticed by a lot of people and many of them came up to us and thanked us for what we were doing. I didn’t know how to respond, as it was a little awkward. Here they are, thanking us for cleaning up their park, and you could tell they felt as ashamed as they were grateful. And for me, I didn’t know whether to say thank you or ask for them to do more themselves to help their own community. Just act, I thought. So I only said thank you and offered a smile.  

I couldn’t help thinking during the clean up that everything we were doing that day could have been avoided if everyone were responsible with their own trash and recyclables. Even though Costa Rica’s citizens have made monumental improvements over the years in terms of protecting the environment and not littering, there is still some work to be done. That is why the visual impact the Idioma Cares efforts had on the locals and the example we were setting give me confidence that if we continue to act in good will in a noticeable way in the community, that permanent positive change can be achieved. This is indeed the ‘Pura Vida’ vibe that can help move this wonderful country toward a brighter future.

 

Brian Logan – Founder