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Teaching English in San Isidro de El General, Costa Rica - Alumni Q&A with Marnie Kogos
Written by: Marnie Kogos
Last Updated: February 18, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Some international travel with family and friends.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
It's something I had been wanting to do for a long time in order to travel, & take a break from my work at home. I'd participated on a couple of mission trips to Latin America, & had great respect for our translators, who had worked hard to learn English, so wanted to give back in some way. I had a classmate from grad school who went to teach in Spain the year we graduated. So she shared her experience with me & provided me with some preliminary TEFL info. Teaching abroad seemed like the perfect combination of my social work background & my interest in missions/non-profit work.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Health insurance, not speaking the local language, still managing my financial responsibilities back home, deciding on the right time of year to go abroad, etc.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Thankfully, they were very supportive! I keep in constant contact with my family & friends. I share my day with them, as well as lots of cool photos! I always keep them up to date regarding my location. I'm looking forward to sharing Costa Rica with them when they visit. I've received so many questions and positive feedback about what I do, from others who are interested in TEFL certification.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I decided it was time to get TELF certified, because I had been researching for awhile, and it was time to finally put dreams into action. I chose International TEFL Academy because of the positive ratings, the wide selection of in-person course locations, lifetime job search assistance, and alumni connections. My awesome advisor, Danielle, whom I had spoken with several times before actually enrolling, answered all of my questions. The admissions advisors provide you with thorough information, email you with specific topics as requested, and check-in with you as needed, but do not pressure you into enrolling. I did NOT at all feel like I was a customer walking onto a car dealership lot, being hounded!
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
I took the in-person TEFL class in Heredia, Costa Rica.
How did you like the course?
The course was intense! I'd been out of school for five years, so it was an adjustment. But it was the perfect amount of time. I wouldn't want to take a shorter or longer course. And I had awesome classmates! I met people whom I traveled with, studied with, and now work with!
The instructors provide you with real-life info for teaching in your specific country, as well as practical tips for living in the country. They have all lived & taught in the country for some time. Local employers visit the class, also, so it was great to get a glimpse of a variety of job settings. This is how I obtained my current job, from an employer's visit.
The practicum teaching made me a bit nervous at first (having never been a teacher), but it was invaluable. You will have a chance to sample all levels of English learners, so it really prepares you for the "real world"! The peer feedback and observer feedback comments were very helpful.
It is such a feeling of accomplishment when you receive your certificate on graduation day! Four weeks of hard work, well-earned! My host family was terrific also, during the in-person course. I was sad to leave them, and still keep in touch with them.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I felt very prepared for my current teaching position, possibly more-so than some of my peers. My employer likes to recruit directly from ITA because they know it is a very reputable program. Other programs may issue you a certificate, but may not have prepared you as well for the actual classroom. I still arrange my class board with the sections and color-coding I used in my practicum lessons, as well as tips, games/warm-ups, etc. provided in the course.
How long have you been in Costa Rica and how long do you plan to stay?
I currently teach in San Isidro de el General, Costa Rica, in a region called Perez Zeledon, in the southern part of the San Jose Province. I received this location through my employer. I have been in the country for a little over two months now. I arrived in Costa Rica with the intention of staying under a year.
Why did you decide to teach English in this location?
I decided to teach in Costa Rica because of the ease with immigration (passport is good for 90 days, just do a border crossing to renew; extra visa is typically not required), the availability of teaching jobs, the popularity of the in-person course, & the tropical location (last but not least!). I had enjoyed my prior visits to Latin American countries.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
ALIARSE. It is a partnership between a non-profit organization and a government initiative, to teach English to young adults in impoverished areas, in order to increase their employability. It is not an actual school, per se, but a program with multiple teaching sites in Costa Rica. Classes take place in the local community centers, churches, or an available school.
During which months does your school typically hire?
The ALIARSE program hires during all months.
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
No. When I first arrived in Costa Rica, I was unaware this type of program was available. I had envisioned teaching in a typical school setting.
How did you interview for this position?
I had a Skype/Phone interview.
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
I entered on a tourist visa.
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
None. Entered through customs and immigration, received 90 days. Need to do a border crossing just before the 90 days expires.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers?
Native English Speaker
Tell us about your English teaching job!
My English teaching job is full-time, between 6-7 hours/day, Monday-Thursday. It is a volunteer position, with a four month assignment in a specific location. You work with at least one other English teacher at your site, as well as local social workers.
Being a volunteer position may sound like a drawback at first, BUT they cover everything. Your room and board, food, transportation to and from San Jose to your specific site, daily bus transportation from your host home to your local teaching site, housing and meals during initial orientation, etc. And you receive a flight compensation, certificate, and a letter of recommendation upon completion of the program. You even have the possibility of meeting the President of Costa Rica, as he is heavily involved in this initiative.
The only things I pay for are hygiene items, if I want to travel on weekends (buses are cheap, though), any snacks I want outside of the host home, souvenirs, reloading my prepaid Kolbi phone service (which I seldom have to do, and it is cheap), and my health insurance (I obtained an international plan when I left my job in the States). It really balances out, to me. You could be working for a traditional employer and receive a paycheck, which means opening a local bank account, and have to find your own place to rent, buy your own groceries, etc., OR the ALIARSE program handles all of that for you.
I work with young adults, so late teens-into 30s. Maybe a few students over 40. They are all beginner English students, some a little more advanced than others. The students have an initial assessment and are divided into classes based on their exact level.
As for vacation time, the long weekends allow for travel! San Jose is a 3.5 hour bus ride away, and the nearest Pacific beaches are 1-2 hours away, depending which one you want to visit.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
I have had great experiences in my host homes. Public transportation is cheap. During the TELF course in Heredia, I used to ride one of the city buses to and from my host home for under $1/day. Here in Perez Zeledón, it's just over $1/day. There are long-distance bus terminals, also, where you can pay virtually $3-5 dollars and end up a few hours away in another part of the country. Be patient with the buses though, as they can make many stops. They can also be crowded. I use Uber for longer distances within a town/city, when with friends, or when I'm unsure of the bus route. Some bus stops are not very well- designated. There are some helpful apps, though, for helping figure out bus routes.
There are plenty of nightlife opportunities, especially in the Heredia & San Jose areas, as well as the tourist beach areas. The Heredia area has social activities for ITA alumni. Travel opportunities are limitless in Costa Rica. You can also get a bus to a neighboring country, or a relatively cheap flight, too.
The food is great; I've found very few food items I didn't care for. I'm never hungry with my host family. They always feed me well!
As for the dating scene, there are plenty of local men wanting to exchange phone numbers! I have found people overall very friendly and welcoming of foreigners. I have never felt unsafe here, but, do use common sense, especially if you are a female and traveling anywhere alone.
What are your monthly expenses?
I would estimate around $250/month. This includes some weekend travel, some hiking snacks, hygiene items, some reloading of my Costa Rican phone service, some Ubers, & (most of all) my health insurance. This is spending money. My program covers the room/board, food, & daily bus transportation. My homestay already has WiFi and cable.
How did you find somewhere to live?
I live in a host home, arranged by ALIARSE. I do not have any roommates. I live with my host parents, and their young daughter. They often have other relatives visiting, too. They include me in their family activities and take me places on weekends. I have seen places in the surrounding area I likely would not have otherwise seen, if not for living with my host family. Really makes you feel as though you are off the tourist- grid. It is a great experience, because you are living with a local family. I personally am not around very many other English speakers. The family only speaks Spanish in the home, so it forces you to practice your Spanish. I've had multiple offers from local people, wanting to do English-Spanish conversation exchange. They are very welcoming. I help my young host sister practice English for her elementary school class! She is very smart.
How would you describe your standard of living?
I would describe my standard of living as comfortable right now, as I'm in a homestay with my program covering my cost of living. I had saved before coming to Costa Rica, because I knew I wanted this experience of living abroad. So I'm using my personal money for travel, souvenirs, health insurance, etc.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
It all depends on how much you want to travel, where you want to travel to, what your method of transportation will be, where you dine when traveling/out with friends, what type of housing is suitable for you (if you will be renting), if you will live in a homestay where your meals or prepared for you vs buying groceries and preparing on your own, etc.
Definitely do arrive with savings, so you can travel and experience all Costa Rica has to offer, and also to support yourself if you do not work right away. I cannot speak to the average rent of homes or apartments, etc, as I have not done this. If you were renting from a homestay/local family, I'd estimate the cost to be about $125/week. This would include food and utilities. Then, however much spending money on top of that.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
DO IT! Whatever reservations you have, they will be sorted out as you set foot in a new country. If not now, WHEN? For me, it was something I knew I wanted to do, so after arriving in Costa Rica, my reaction was "Ugh! Why didn't I do this sooner?!" I've found, so far, teaching abroad and traveling only further sparks your desire for adventure, exploration. Do, however, save your money, and plan realistically from a financial standpoint.
Thirty-one-year-old Marnie Kogos saw teaching English abroad as an opportunity both to escape the daily grind of work at home and to develop her personal belief in volunteer work and trying to make a difference. So, she headed to Heredia, Costa Rica, to take her TEFL course, and now teaches as a volunteer with ALIARSE, a partnership between a non-profit organization and a government initiative, to teach English to young adults in impoverished areas throughout Costa Rica.
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