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Teaching English in Heredia, Costa Rica: Q&A with Chrystal Smith

What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Olympia, Washington

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Associate Degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Some international travel with friends, family, business, etc.

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Canada, Mexico, and Ecuador.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
Living and teaching abroad was a life long dream of mine. I got side tracked in a successful career as a hairdresser, and after getting burnt out in the industry, I finished community college and pursued life abroad as an ESL teacher.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
My biggest concern was that things may not fall into line, and I would have to return home with my tail between my legs. But in fact, that is the exact opposite of how things worked out for me.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My close friends and family were most definitely apprehensive because of how the media portrays safety in Latin American countries. But they knew I put my heart and soul into preparing and doing appropriate research, so they were very supportive.

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
As a U.S. citizen, it isn't always easy to pick up and move abroad and expect that jobs will fall on your lap. I knew that if I wanted to be an ESL teacher, a TEFL certification would be a very important step to ensure success. After a lot of research and reading reviews for different companies, I was contacted by an ITA advisor who answered every question I could possibly have which helped ease my anxieties about the unknowns of living abroad. After that, I knew the International TEFL Academy was the right fit for me.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Costa Rica - Heredia/San Jos

Teach English in Costa Rica TEFLHow did you like the course?
There is no doubt about it, the course is intense! I experienced a whirlwind of emotions throughout the 30 days, highs and lows of all sorts. My first lesson plan literally took me all day to finish because I was completely overthinking it, but with the help of my instructors, I can now finish a lesson plan with minimal time. I realized about two weeks into the course that my perspective would make or break my experience, so once I decided to relax and enjoy the ride, it all fell into line. Your classmates become like family and are an incredible support system. The instructors want you to succeed as much as you do and have been in your exact shoes, so they offer the most beneficial advice you will ever need to know as a student and as a foreigner.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I could not have been better prepared after graduating my TEFL course! It was a huge relief going on job interviews and knowing exactly what was expected of me. I felt I was able to answer questions appropriately and took all the right steps to obtain my current job.

Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Costa Rica in the city of Heredia.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been here 3 months and plan to stay here for many years.

What school, company, or program are you working for?
I currently work for two companies: Instituto NorteAmericano and Centro Cultural Lapa Verde

During which months does your school typically hire?
All year round

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
No, but I had interviews set up before the TEFL course was finished.

How did you interview for this position?
 - Skype/Phone Interview
 - In-person Interview

What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Tourist Visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
In Costa Rica, most ESL teacher have a tourist visa that requires leaving the country every 90 days for 72 hours. You must show proof that you are exiting the country within that time frame as well.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
 - TEFL Certification

What is the best way to apply?
 - Email
 - In-person

Please include any application resources (website, email, etc.) or other information here:
My school:

Tell us about your English teaching job!
I started out at less than 5 hours per week, and each week I received more classes and hours as I got used to the load, which is the perfect momentum to start with. Although I am only part time, I make enough to pay rent and also have some left over to live comfortably and travel when possible. Just like living in the states, I spend my money wisely here so I can enjoy all Costa Rica has to offer.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I started out living in a home stay here. While I was in the course, I began to do some apartment hunting to get a feel for prices and availability. After doing some networking, I am now living in a two bedroom apartment with an alumni student from the May TEFL course.

On a scale of 1 - 10 please rate your experience with this school.

TEFL Costa Rica HerediaPlease explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    
Living in Costa Rica, you have the choice to live like a typical North American or you can assimilate as a local. Here in the central valley, there are many of the fast food chains and stores such as Walmart if that's what you prefer. For me personally, I have chosen to delve into the community on a personal level. I have found an amazing group of Tico friends who have been a tremendous source for understanding the language and customs. The food is amazing and there are always fun and diverse activities to do here. The beach is just a few hours away on a bus, there are local volcanoes and waterfalls to see, and a plentiful nightlife to meet new friends. Also, one very important thing I've learned that life is what you make it, and your attitude will determine your happiness. I feel I have found my niche here and plan to make Costa Rica my permanent residence.

What are your monthly expenses?
Costa Rica isn't the cheapest of Latin American countries, so it all depends on how lavishly you want to live and spend your money.

  • Rent includes all utilities: $275 total
  • Food: it varies, but groceries are roughly $20 a week.
  • Social life: I spend $20-40 a week on social activities, and even a trip to the beach can be done on a surprisingly low budget.
  • Transportation: I take the bus everywhere. To and from work is roughly $2.00 a day.
  • Phone: I have a prepaid cell phone, and I pay about $4.00 every other week.

How would you describe your standard of living?
I chose to be resourceful and can live comfortably on a small budget.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
$500 a month

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Humble yourself. Understand that United States citizens are very privileged people. Be open to new customs, new food, and a new way of life completely different from what you're used to.


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