Teaching English in Jaco, Costa Rica: Alumni Q&A with Paige Gavrelos

What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Beaumont, Texas

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Never left the country

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
After graduating college, I knew that I did not want to immediately start working without traveling first. I wanted to be able to see the world but still help people at the same time. After doing a lot of research on different volunteer opportunities, I soon realized I could not afford the majority of the programs. I also wanted something more long-term, rather than only a few weeks.

Being a teacher has always been a goal of mine, so when I heard about the International TEFL academy, I decided to speak with an advisor about my options. This program allowed me to not only become an international teacher, but also gave me the opportunity to travel long term. It took me weeks to decide on where I wanted to teach, but I finally came to the conclusion that Costa Rica is the place for me.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
As excited as I was for this new journey, I had a lot of concerns. I had never left the country before, nor had I ever traveled alone on a plane before. I'm the kind of person who researches a lot, so naturally, I looked up every possible situation that could happen to someone while traveling abroad. I was concerned about my safety, especially being a woman, all alone in another country. I was concerned about whether or not I would be able to make enough money to live comfortably. I also wasn't sure if I would be able to find a job immediately after finishing the TEFL course. My biggest concern, however, was if I would be able to leave my friends, family, and dog, behind while pursuing my dreams so far away. Luckily for me, here I am four months later, still living in Costa Rica!

Teach English in Costa Rica TEFL

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My friends and family were incredibly supportive. Initially, my mom was the one who had the most concerns. She was very particular when it came to me picking the country I would be teaching in. After we decided on Costa Rica, she became much more relaxed and excited about my new adventure abroad. My friends and sisters couldn't wait for me to leave, only because they knew they would be able to come visit me. I even had a few people tell me how inspired they were by what I was doing. Which I thought was pretty great!

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I decided to get TEFL certified through the International TEFL academy because I knew doing so would allow me to travel long term, help people, and allow me to make a little money at the same time. It took me a while to decide on which program I should take to become certified. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scam companies out there, so you have to be very careful on which company you choose.

I researched for what felt like months. What really helped me make my decision was being able to speak to an advisor. My advisor was able to answer all of my questions, and was always available when I needed to speak with her. She sent me every bit of information I asked for, and genuinely seemed to care about the choice I would be making in the near future. The reviews online for International TEFL academy were also very impressive. I wanted to take a course that would challenge me, and actually allow me to become the best TEFL Teacher I could possibly be. From what I read online, the International TEFL academy met those standards.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Costa Rica - Heredia In-Person TEFL Course

How did you like the course?
I absolutely loved the course! From day one, the instructors had a way of making all of the students feel comfortable and at ease. I remember how nervous I was when Luke first walked into the classroom, but not minutes later, he was cracking jokes. The course work load in this program is not easy. From the first day to the last day you are busy, with little free time. I think its normal to have the idea that a course like this can't be all that difficult, that since you're in a beautiful country, you'll have all of this time to explore and party. However, that is not the case. If you are someone who is not 100% serious about teaching abroad do not take this course.

ITA Costa Rica prepares their teachers for what to expect once they walk out of those doors, and they take their job very seriously. The course also gives you the opportunity to teacher actual Spanish speakers, which is something you don't get from taking an online course. The practicum is wonderful, nerve-racking, exciting, and difficult all at once! My favorite part about the whole experience is how close you get with the other people in your class, some of which who will be your friends for life. You are with these people every minute of everyday for a whole month, and it's such a rewarding feeling to see how far everyone comes at the end of the course.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
My TEFL training has helped me in my current job in more ways than one. It has allowed me to become more confident in myself as a teacher. I am able to effectively plan lessons for the different levels of my students, and it has prepared me for the unexpected challenges I face everyday as a teacher. I am much more patient than I was before taking the course, and that goes a long way in Costa Rica when it comes to your students not showing up to class on time. It has also helped me to be able to achieve a better teaching voice. I have had a lot of students tell me that they are able to understand me, because of the way I pronounce my words, and the pace at which I speak.

Most importantly, my TEFL training has taught me how to have fun with what I am doing. You have to be able to laugh at yourself, make jokes with your students, and create a vibe that is comfortable and thought provoking in the classroom.

TEFL Costa RicaWhich city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Costa Rica in the city of Jaco. In general I chose to teach in Costa Rica because I knew it was safe for a single woman traveler. The flight from Texas to Costa Rica is only three and a half hours, meaning if something were to happen, I could easily be home in a day. I've also had a lot of friends who have vacationed to different parts of Costa Rica, and had nothing but wonderful things to say. It helps when you know people who have traveled to that part of the world. The people here are all very friendly, and welcoming. Of course, like any place in the world you will meet a few unfortunate souls, but it's all about how you handle the situation. If you are someone who loves to be outdoors, and enjoys nature, then Costa Rica is definitely the place for you.

After the course, I decided to teach English in Jaco, because I knew I did not want to be in the city. I'm from a relatively small town in Texas, so the city life just is not for me. Jaco is a very small beach town, known for it's surfing and touristy environment. I was fortunate enough to accept a position near the beach, after applying to multiple places around Heredia and San Jose. It is not easy to find a job on the beach, but if you try hard enough you can find what you are looking for.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I plan on teaching in Costa Rica for a total of eight months.

During which months does your school typically hire?
Hard to say... there is not an exact month at with they hire.

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

How did you interview for this position?
In-person interview.

What kind of visa did you enter on?
Costa Rica tourist visa.

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
The visa process is pretty easy. When you fly into Costa Rica, you will be asked to show proof of leaving the country; at that point your passport will be stamped with a number that says how long you are able to stay in the country. Mine was stamped for 90 days, meaning every 90 days I am required to leave the country. I have done one border run since living in Costa Rica, and it was fairly simple. I crossed the Panama border and came back to Costa Rica the very next morning.

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

  • TEFL Certification
  • I do not think a Bachelor's degree is required, but of course, it's always better and helps when finding a job

What is the best way to apply?

Tell us about your English teaching job!
My teaching job has been great as far as the students and the location of the school. I was working between 8-12 hours a week, making 5,000 colones ($9 USD) an hour. Unfortunately, I am not able to save any money. I am very much working pay check to pay check. My students range from children all the way up to adults, and I teach both private and group classes. I also taught at a few hotels and restaurants in the area.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I found an apartment through one of my students. He is an architect here in Jaco, and has a lot of connections with people who rent out temporary housing. I do not have any roommates—just me and the cat I have adopted!

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

Culture: There are a lot of wonderful cultural aspects about Costa Rica. The people are really warm and friendly, usually always willing to help if you need anything. Costa Ricans are also known for their laid back and chill attitudes, so things move a bit slower here, which I have enjoyed very much. They live the "Pura Vida" lifestyle, and live by what is called "Tico Time". That means that if you have plans to meet someone at a certain time, don't expect that person to show up until at least 20 minutes after.

Public transportation in my opinion has been a blessing. Living at the beach causes me to walk everywhere, which I enjoy, because I don't have to walk far since everything is relatively close. However, when I decide to travel to different parts of the country, I always take the bus. The bus is cheap, some-what reliable, and is a great way to meet people. It also gives you a chance to practice your Spanish!

Nightlife: I have not experienced too much nightlife since living in Jaco, only because Jaco can be a little dangerous for women late at night. It is not smart to walk around the strip late at night all alone, but I think that's how it is anywhere you go. You must be cautious, and aware of your surroundings. I do know that Jaco does have some wild nightlife, lots of bars, clubs, great places to meet people, but always go out with someone, never alone. Thankfully, I have not encountered any type of dangerous situation since living here.

Food: The food here is wonderful, probably one of my favorite things about this country! Since I live in a beach town, eating out every night is not an option for me because I would be completely broke. I cook a lot, and I would say buying groceries is very similar to buying groceries in the US. The prices are about the same unless you get local foods.

Expat community: There is a large expat community in Jaco, so meeting people is very easy, as long as you are outgoing and willing to talk to people.

Get TEFL Certified and teach English in Costa Rica

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent/Utilities: My monthly expenses are pretty standard. I pay $550 US dollars a month, for a single room apartment, right next to the beach. That price includes all of my utilities (water, cable, electric, internet). I do not have AC in my apartment, but thankfully, I do have some amazing fans throughout my unit. My apartment is fully furnished, and has hot water.

Food: I spend no more than $25.00 dollars a week on groceries, if that. Keep in mind I eat pretty simple. (Chicken, brown rice, veggies, eggs, and some extras)

Public Transportation: I do not spend any money on transportation, because I walk everywhere. If I do use the bus, it's only a few times out of the month when I travel to different beaches. I do not spend any money on a phone/communication because I connect to WiFi wherever I go. I haven't had any type of an emergency situation in which I've had to use my phone at the last minute.

How would you describe your standard of living?
My standard of living is pretty comfortable. I love my apartment; it's in a safe neighborhood, very cute, and literally a few steps from the beach. I live pay check to pay check, but I am able to afford everything I have. I honestly can't complain.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
That's a hard question to answer, because everyone's idea of comfortable is different. For me, I am able to live comfortably on about $700 dollars a month. That pays for my rent, groceries, transportation, and social activities.

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
If I could give any advice it would be to make sure this is 100% what you want to do. There will be times where you are struggling to make rent, and will have to pick up other jobs, for example, in a restaurant, or teaching online, and it will be hard because you are in another country where you are not fully familiar with the way things work. But don't give up, keep going, remember where you are and how fortunate you are to be traveling and helping people. Always keep an open mind, but at the same time don't be too trusting of everyone you meet. Remember that if you are teaching abroad alone, you might be your only support system, so learn to rely only on yourself. And lastly, enjoy the ride! You will meet so many wonderful people, people who will change your life forever, and sometimes those people will turn into life long friends.

I would absolutely recommend teaching English in Costa Rica. I have had my fair share of challenges since moving here, but nobody said it would be easy.

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