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Teaching English in Liberia, Costa Rica: Alumni Q&A with Sarah Garrett
Written by: Sarah Garrett
Last Updated: April 13, 2020
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past, if so, where?
Yes - Monterrey, Mexico.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I was interested in more than just visiting other countries. I wanted to experience life in a new culture. It seemed like a great way to ensure that I have a job opportunity wherever I go.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Was it necessary to be fluent in Spanish? Would I be a good teacher? Would I like teaching? I had never taught before and didn't have a college degree in teaching. Would I know enough about grammar to teach it well?
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My friends and family were supportive from the get-go and continued to be throughout the planning process. They were excited for me. Many times people were inspired.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
It was simple for me to decide. I really didn't explore other options. I typed into Google, 'teaching english in Latin America' and ITA popped up. I was immediately impressed with them for many reasons: The extensive information that was readily available, the organization of the website, the opportunity to speak with an adviser for free, and their notable reputation with the industry.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
I liked it! It was easy to fit into my schedule - I was working full time and saving money for the move abroad so flexibility was extremely important for me. The professors were easily accessible and you could talk to others in the course if you wanted to as well. I learned a lot and in hindsight the lesson plans that we had to do were definitely valuable for my first job as a teacher. The practicum was also valuable as well. That was extra special for me because I completed it at the elementary school that I went to as a child.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I decided to take the extra hours that taught me about young learners which helped me to understand that they are a totally different category. I learned about TPR and the different types of learning styles that there are for each student. Because of this, I am sure to incorporate different ways of teaching in my lesson plans. Another valuable thing I learned in TEFL is the phenomenon of culture shock. The basics of this are mentioned in our book and we also watched a video about it. This insight proved to be super helpful for me. Its not only a new job we are adjusting to, but a new culture as well, and understanding that it comes in waves has helped me along the way.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I teach English in Liberia, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. I arrived here in 2019 and aimed to stay for one year which was my goal, but I don't plan on leaving any time soon.
I knew it would be Latin America because I have always loved the culture and wanted to learn Spanish. After doing research, Costa Rica stood out to me. I read about the beauty, the nature, the people, and the adventures. I love nature and activities, so I felt it was a perfect fit. Safety and job opportunities were also
During which months does your school typically hire?
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
This school helped with your work visa. They sent me a list of what I needed to obtain this and I secured all of these documents in the states before I moved abroad. Upon arrival, I had a tourist visa so I didn't tell anyone I was moving there. When I got to Costa Rica, we went to immigration with the documents and applied for the work visa.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
TEFL certification & native English speaker.
What is the best way to apply?
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
We work 24 hours per week and you get paid about $100 per week. I sometimes have to use my savings that I had before I moved here whenever I travel, however I can live off of this salary fairly easily. I don't save, however, sometimes I have money leftover from the week before in my account. Its all about how you live. If you live like a tourist, you're going to spend more money. If you live like a local, you will not require much and may even be able to save.
I work in a private language school 5 days per week. Students of all ages and levels attend this school. We teach on Tuesday- Friday at night and on Saturdays from 8-4. The kids and teens go to regular school during the day, the adults work, and they come learn English at night.
We get paid vacation and paid sick days as long as you get a note from the public hospital. If you don't take your vacation, they pay you out at the end.
Our housing was taken care of which included all the bills - water, electricity, WiFi.
I was very impressed with how diligent and thorough the information was from the school when I got hired. It was nice to have all of that while I was still in the states to have an idea of what to expect. They gave us information about our job but also about the country.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
The school provided housing that was about a 15-20 minute walk from the school. We lived in an apartment compound with 4 different apartments. Each apartment had 2-3 teachers living in it. I had 1 roommate and we get along great! All the teachers shared a common area for laundry. It is comforting to live around people who speak your native language and are experiencing life as an expat.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Be ready for hot weather; extremely hot weather where most times you only have a fan and no air conditioning. Guanacaste is the hottest province in Costa Rica! For me, it has been an easy adjustment because I love tropical weather. At night and in the morning, the climate is perfection.
Ticos and ticas (what the natives call themselves) are genuinely nice people. They want to share about their country and really have respect for foreigners. Tourism is huge in Costa Rica so for them, seeing foreigners is very common. When it comes to being a foreign consumer in Costa Rica, use your Spanish! Gringas/gringos = $$$. It's just the way it is, no matter how long you've lived here. If you just say, 'no gracias' then usually they'll respond with, "Pura Vida!" Everything here is pura vida, which means 'pure life'.
Rice and beans are staples here for food. I have a tico boyfriend (yes, :) I met one!) and at their house you will always find bread, rice, beans, and of course, coffee! Your typical dish is called a casado: rice, beans, meat of some kind, salad, platano (plantain). Delicious! You will see various signs labeled, 'soda'.
These are restaurants set up cafeteria style that serve (yummy) casados, various other plates, and fresh fruit juices. You pay first, then eat. It is not a custom to tip at restaurants. If you go to a full service restaurant, you typically have to ask for the check. Bread and coffee (pan y cafe) is a typical snack here. Pancita y cafecita! (ticos add 'cita' at the end of their words, its like a form of endearment)
In Liberia, there are two bus stations. There are posted schedules at the stations as well as a few online (Facebook has a few resources too). At times you cannot find the times anywhere so you have to ask people. Bus is the cheapest route, however, it can be frustrating so I resort to other options. I take taxis, Uber (which is technically illegal here) and pirate taxis (jumping in a car with a stranger - sorry Mom but its true!). [The latter is not something you would do in the big cities such as San Jose.] When traveling as a group, we have done both. When you go somewhere off the beaten path, you have to take a taxi and in a group its obviously cheaper!
Liberia is a good location because it is central to many travel spots. There are plenty of beaches within 1-3 hours (on bus). There is a waterfall just 30-45 minutes away. I spend a lot of time in Curubande, a part of Liberia that is near Rincon de la Vieja National Park, where there are lots of beautiful rivers, waterfalls, and places to hike.
I have always felt safe here. I stand out quite a bit (matchita = blondie) and I think that it has served me well to learn Spanish, learn the culture (and appreciate it), and also just be smart. Anywhere you go, you have to be aware of your surroundings.
There is a large expat community in Costa Rica. They tend to live closer to the beaches. I have a friend who lives in Brasilito by the beach that also did ITA. We met online before I moved here. She has become my best friend and has connected me with other expats.
If you want nightlife, you can definitely find it. There are week long parties they call, 'fiestas' in various parts of Guanacaste, during different holidays ticos do it big, and if you want a more chill experience you can find that too.
What are your monthly expenses?
- Rent was paid for by the school. I recently moved to another apartment because my contract with the school is over and my rent is $310 per month with everything included (wifi, water, electricity) and its fully furnished.
- I spend about $40-$60 every two weeks on groceries. I get a lot of fruits and vegetables and go to the butcher for meat. I usually go to multiple places to shop for food (fruit and vegetable stores, butcher, Walmart/supermarket) and it ends up saving me money.
- On my phone I spend about $30 per month.
- Travel just depends on where you are going but a bus ride to and from the nearest beach is about $6. When I go places for a longer time, I usually spend about $100 so I have to use savings.
- An Uber from the apartment to the school is about $2.
- I stocked up on toiletry items such as shampoo, supplements, lotions, deodorant, makeup etc. before I came because those things tend to be more expensive here (and your options are limited). That has lasted me since I've been here and I recommend doing that.
How would you describe your standard of living?
It's comfortable. We have what we need - an oven, stove, refrigerator, running water, plumbing, and a place to do laundry. You have to be open minded and ready for different standards of living than the states. There is no air conditioning and here you don't flush toilet paper. With no A/C, we keep the doors and windows open so there are bugs inside.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
$150-300 per week.
What advice would you give to someone looking to teach English abroad in Thailand?
I say go for it! If you have that nagging feeling that won't leave you alone, that means something is driving you to do it. You will never know what it is like if you don't try it out. Nothing is ever permanent, so if you don't like it you can always move back! Definitely do your research first, take your time and save money, and plan ahead as much as you can but don't have expectations. Keep an open mind and use your resources (other people's experience, ITA Alumni pages, etc.). Once you get your TEFL certification, it's tempting to jump right in and move, but I read one of these Q & A's and it was advised to take your time and save money and I'm glad I did. I would recommend teaching in Costa Rica, for sure! It's a beautiful country and I've had the experience of a lifetime.
Sarah Garrett was interested in more than just visiting other countries. She wanted to experience life in a new culture and teaching English abroad seemed like a great way to ensure that she would have a job opportunity wherever she went. She spent 9 months teaching English to children at a school in Liberia, Costa Rica, before transitioning to teaching English online.
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