Part of being an ESL teacher is having to say goodbye. We watch students learn, grow, and become more and more fluent in English. It is a beautiful thing to see so many students progress and get ready to make the next steps in their lives. However, it is also, always a mixed bag of emotions. The only way for me to describe it properly is to tell the story of three of my classes that graduated our program and are moving towards their new phases in life.

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In order to put this in the correct context, I will start from when I first met my classes. All three classes that I had were taken over from other teachers who had to leave because their contracts ended, or they were assigned other classes that conflicted with the schedule of these. I had observed two out of the three classes. During the observations, I was able to see how wonderful these students really are.

Once I was given the classes, I truly connected with the students and found my initial reaction to be absolutely correct. Each student was individually brilliant, and as a whole they made class time incredibly fun. I worked for them for three and a half months. It is not a long time in the grand dance of life, but it was sufficient to understand what kinds of people they are. If every teacher had students like mine, this profession would be saturated with applicants.

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Anyway, after working with them for that time, the end had come near. I only had one last week with them. As the final class for each group approached, I began to feel melancholy. I knew they were excited to be finished. I would have been also, in their shoes. I prepared the lesson with a sinking feeling in my chest. I knew I would miss them, but I didn’t think it would actually affect me this heavily.

I kept the lessons light and fun on the last days. All the students wanted pictures of the entire group, including myself. It was very special to me. I felt more like a part of something than I had in a long time. We took many group photos, made sure that we all looked happy and then finished the class with some good group discussions.

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It was the end of the final class. I had all the students packing and preparing to leave. I had my bag organized again, the whiteboard cleared, the chairs put up. Then we all stood there looking at each other. I could tell this was going to be the hard part. I could sense the emotions like a bird senses the dawn. I told them that they could leave, class was over. Then, almost in a resounding chorus, they replied, “but teacher, we don’t want to leave.” I could have cried right then. My heart swelled with admiration and a massive sense of appreciation. These students, who were going to school for 7-9 hours a day, and then more class on Saturdays had just told me they didn’t want to leave! I did cry. It was so meaningful to me.

We left together since we couldn’t leave one by one. We got towards the exit and exchanged our cordial goodbyes (I wasn’t crying anymore). I know that they will go on to accomplish great things. I know that they need to be finished and out of the program. I know that they taught me more than I could ever teach them.

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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.

 

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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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