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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Brief Reflection

So I'm currently sitting, waiting for my flight to board here in the San Jose Airport. That's right, I'm heading home to the states for the first time since I arrived in August, and I definitely feel like I'm taking a break from my life to visit family and friends for a short time rather than "going home" in the middle of my year long "vacation" here in Costa Rica. Basically what I'm saying is that in my 4 or so months here, I've begun to consider Costa Rica my home - not just some exotic location where I've decided to travel, study or work abroad. I'm settled in my home, I'm comfortable with my job, and I will be looking forward to returning after 3 weeks of Christmas vacations in the US. I think these feelings are not only comforting for me, but necessary. And not just for me, I believe that just about anyone who decides to uproot (although having just graduated college in May, I suppose I didn't have an extensive root system in place) and move abroad for anytime that could be considered longer than a vacation needs to feel like they belong where they've transplanted themselves - so that they are comfortable, so that they feel stable. To feel like you're caught in some sort of perpetual transitory state would disallow, in my opinion, the ability to fully take advantage of the country, city, and/or culture that you are trying to enjoy. Either way, I think what I'm trying to say is that here as I'm on the cusp of returning, if only for a small period of time, to the life that I voluntarily left, not out of discontent for the past and present, but rather for the anticipation and excitement of experiencing the future, I find it opportunistic to reflect on my last 4 months and, more than anything, thank the people I've known and loved and also those I've just met, who have made me feel comfortable and confident leaving and welcome in a new country, in a new home, in a new life. So i suppose that's it. Thank you, and I look forward to returning, to continuing this experience, and to figuring out who and what will direct me to where I'm going next.

That being said, to all the readers out there, both new and returning, you can anticipate perhaps one or two entries over the next few weeks, but mostly expect this blog to pick back up in January. You should all know, however, that we are far more effective of a resource when you, our readers, write us, comment, and ask questions. Tell us what your concerns are, ask us your questions (as complicated, personal, or perhaps basic and general as you would like). It's readership and interaction on your part that keeps us motivated and the blog relevant.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Looking for English Professors!

Are you currently living in Costa Rica and looking for a job as an ESL teacher? The school that I'm currently working for, Butler Academy, is interviewing and hiring teachers who are already in Costa Rica and would like to teach starting January 8th. The school offers a highly competitive hourly pay-rate with the added bonus of not having to travel off-site to teach lessons (all classes are taught at the school in Heredia). All of the students here are highly motivated, have a high-intermediate or advanced level of English, and are studying the language to find work doing customer service and in Call Centers.

If you would like to apply, please send your resume and a brief introduction to .

Also, if you are planning to come down to Costa Rica in early January and are hoping to find a job teaching, it wouldn't hurt to send your resume to the same email address. Please make sure to write in the email when you are planning to arrive.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Shopping Q & A

Questions and Answers on Shopping: "Can you find what you need, or are some things tough to locate?" For the most part, if you are looking for general items you can find what you need. If you shop at grocery stores like Auto Mercado and superstores like Hiper-Mas, then you won't have any problems finding most grocery items from the states. There are some things that are difficult to locate, especially if you are picky about hygiene items, such as certain brands of body wash, shampoo, feminine products, etc. For example, I've made a list of things to buy in the states over Christmas, including contact solution (very expensive here), Febreeze, 'Shout' pre-treater, binder clips, and a refill for my Sonicare toothbrush. Everything else, I've been able to find and it has been decently priced. If you have questions about specific items, I can try to help you out with that, too.

"Anything you wish you'd brought with you, rather than try to buy in CR?" If you have a good umbrella, bring it. Rainy season is the worst without a solid umbrella, and they go for quite a pretty penny down here. Also, like noted above, bring extra contact solution. Besides that, the only things I can think of are electronics. Bring any televisions, small appliances, computers, cameras, printers, etc. that you'll want. They are MUCH more expensive down here. If you don't want to lug some of those bigger pieces down, then I would keep an eye on Craig's List CR and classifieds in the newspapers that might list some used items that are up for sale.

"Difficulties due to language differences? " No problem there as long as you have a bit of Spanish to work with. And I would suggest brushing up on learning numbers before coming down, because that makes shopping at the Saturday fresh food market much easier. For the other stores, as long as you enter the store and say 'Buenas,' (casual greeting) and say gracias when you're checking out, you're good to go. We've also found that in Costa Rica the store-workers like to follow you around the store while you're browsing, but they're just trying to help, so if you're patient and polite they will eventually leave you to your shopping.

"Do you tend to patronize small shops and street markets, or stick to the bigger, Wal-Mart-ish stores? " A little bit of both. We do our big grocery shopping trips usually at Hiper-Mas (CR's Wal-Mart), due to the convenience and price, but we do our weekly shopping for fruits and vegetables every Saturday morning at Heredia's fresh food market. Almost every town has one at least once a week, and the produce is so fresh at about a third of the price you'd pay in any store. Besides that, we haven't done much shopping at all, except for buying some office supplies at a local office shop. The small shops are great and they have a lot to offer, but if you're going for one big trip per week, I would recommend going to Hiper-Mas.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Lisa's 'day in the life'

Since my past days have been spent at the beach with Bruce's family, I'm going back a couple of weeks to when I was teaching 2 classes per day at a school in Heredia, one from 9am-11am and one from 7pm-9pm. These are both advanced English classes for Call Centers that meet 4 times per week (Monday-Thursday) for two hours each day. It's 6am on a Monday (-Thursday) morning. My alarm goes off. I think it's an alien intrusion ringing the doorbell, over and over. At 6:02 I discover the aliens have gone and noise they rudely left behind is my alarm. Damn. I stumble sleepily to the bathroom to a shower and get dressed for the day. At 6:40 I'm sitting at the dining room table/office desk preparing my 9am lesson. I type up a sales activity, review/prepare a grammar lesson, and decide on an in class role-play to do if we have extra time. I make some breakfast and coffee, leave enough for sleeping Bruce, of course, and I'm out the door by 8:20. After a 3 minute walk to the bus stop, a 5 minute wait for any bus going into Heredia, a 10 minute bus ride, and a 5 minute walk, I'm at the school. I make my copies, organize handouts for students who missed last class, chat with coworkers about their weekends and whether or not they are going to use the computer lab for their class that morning, staple, hole-punch, and class time. We begin class at 9 (with stragglers showing up until 9:30). We have class until 11am with no breaks. At 11, one or two students ask me questions on words they heard in a rap song (tricky) or read in a book (better). We chat until 11:15, and after we're all satisfied, we say our goodbyes. From 11:15-1 I organize my class binders with the materials I used for that class and that I will use for next day's class, and I prepare for my evening class. I plan the evening class (same level as my morning class, but started 3 weeks later) using a combination of the school's curriculum and my previous lessons. When I'm happy and organized (the two usually go hand in hand), I either head home or out to a restaurant with my coworkers for lunch. This particular day, Bruce came up to meet me at the school and we walked with a few of our coworkers to the 'Artisan's Fair' in Heredia's Las Angeles park for lunch and to search for Secret Santa gifts. After a lunch of fajitas, empanadas and a fried plantain, we went our separate ways. Bruce and I returned our rented movie "Lucky Number Slevin," hopped on a bus, made a quick stop at Hiper Mas (poor man's Wal-Mart) for pancake mix, apples, spinach, and hand soap, and I was back home by 3pm. At this point I think about going for a run, it starts pouring, I rethink the run and decide against it. I catch up on emails, check on the blog, and relax. At 6pm, I'm out the door and on my way to my evening class. Same routine as the morning. At 6:55 my coworkers decide that we're all going to 'Fiesta' (the local chain casino) after work that evening at 9pm, so I call Bruce, make the plans, and it's time for class. Class goes well, and we finish promptly at 9. Bruce meets me at school at 9pm, we put our bags in our friend's car, and make our way to Fiesta. We do a bit of gambling, chatting, and free drinking until 11:30, at which point we call it a night. We catch a $2.00 taxi home, have a late late dinner (rotisserie chicken Bruce had picked up at the store), and proceed to fall asleep on our bed, mid-crossword puzzle due to exhaustion. The alarm is set, and we rest up for the next day of teaching in Costa Rica.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A day in the life:

So here’s my situation. I live in Heredia at my friend’s grandfather’s house and I teach at a University across town. I have 4 classes spread throughout the week. Right now, I teach night classes Monday – Thursday and a Saturday class as well. My school is on “bimesters” so every 7 weeks the schedules and classes change. Classes meet for 3 hours, twice a week or a nice 6 hour hunk on Saturdays. We basically have to cover an 8-page unit every week. My students range from your classic university students to middle-aged people with fulltime jobs and families to the thirteen-year-old prodigy’s who are already at the highest level of university English. This is what I did last Thursday.

I woke up at 6am and staggered for a cup of coffee at my friend’s house next door. By this time in the morning the whole house is up, with one brother already at work, another on his way and my friend at the gym. I ate a piece of bread and had coffee before I went back to my house using three keys to get through two locked front doors and two locked gates. Here I showered and dressed and was out the door by 6:50. I walked 10 minutes to the bus stop in front of the massive grocery store and waited with a growing crowd to take the red bus across town. By 7:05 I was speeding through Heredia in a packed bus. I arrived at my school by 7:20 and went to get keys to open up my classroom.

My 7:30am class is a midlevel group and mostly all university students who look like they will be there taking other classes after mine. The class has about 12 students and is about half men and half women. That day we covered tag questions and discussed food and cooking. Class starts at 7:30, but we never have quorum until 7:40. Also I give them a 25 minute break around 9am, but without fail some people straggle in 45 minutes later. We do discussions, cover some grammar, do some listening, I cover the homework and answer questions. I am a new teacher so I basically just follow the book exercise by exercise. It may be boring, but it is easier on me. I usually let them out by 10:20 and head back to the street to wait for the red bus.

At about 10:40 I hopped off the bus near the football stadium and went to the gym. I pay 10.000 colones a month ($20) for the gym and it has pretty good facilities, all the weights, a lot of machines and some cardio bikes and treadmills. I am no gym rat, so it serves my purposes. After an hour I left the gym and walked the rest of the way back to my house. Once home, I showered again and went next door to my friend’s house to eat lunch and use the internet. His mom, a retired biology teacher, makes all our food and even does our laundry. I think I had rice and beans, oh wait, I definitely had rice and beans and probably some kind of meat or picadillo. I watched some TV and played with the dogs in the back yard. Then I went upstairs to use the internet and check on the Bruce’s fabulous blog (heh heh) and read the NYTimes and my emails. By around 2pm I went back next door to my house to practice my guitar and do some reading.

At 5pm I got ready to work again. I gathered my stuff into a backpack, turned on my CD player and headed back to the bus stop. Recently it has rained without fail at this time of the day, so I brought my umbrella. My 6pm class is the highest level and has more of a mix of students. Almost all work, many at call-centers or places like Intel or Wallmart. We covered some idiomatic expressions and the construction of the passive. With this group I do less teaching and just try to provide opportunities to practice talking. With this class we had agreed to skip the break and just leave early, so by 8:30 I was back outside. By then, the rain had stopped and it was essentially my Friday night. I returned home to change out of my work clothes and see if anyone was going out. Most of the people I know have to work on Fridays, but my friend’s brother was free, so we went out to the Boulevar, and drank Imperiales until 1am. I came home, ate some soda crackers and called it a day.

Friday, November 17, 2006


While Bruce and Lisa are out enjoying the sun and surf I would like to take a moment to address some technical issues. Fun, fun.

Power of Attorney
If you are planning to be in Costa Rica for at least a year, you may want to look into giving someone power of attorney. This basically means that you authorize someone to act on your behalf legally in the United States (I have no idea how this works in other countries…). Of course, this person should be someone near and dear to you, because they will have real power and can do things in your name. Personally, I am using my dad. Having a person with power of attorney in the States can be useful for signing any documents, like your tax returns, leases etc., or for obtaining birth certificates and police records (both of which you need to apply for a work visa).
I did not designate a power of attorney before I came to Costa Rica, so I was forced to take a trip to the US Embassy in San José. I had the power of attorney form all filled out and needed to have it officially notarized, and the embassy is the only place to do that down here. After checking all my electronics at security and waiting for the cashier to open at 8am, I spent another hour and $30 to sign the document in the presence of a notary. Needless to say, this was way more complicated and expensive than in the US. So if for any reason you think you may need someone to act on your behalf in the US, designate that person before you leave. The embassy is not fun.

Since routine healthcare in Costa Rica is cheap by US standards, it is not really necessary for healthy, relatively young individuals to have full coverage healthcare. Going to the dentist can cost about $100 and medicines are cheap. Of course you should always carry accident insurance, especially with the way people drive here. I looked into some private US carriers and tried to decipher what all their cryptic plans meant, but I did understand the prices and I decided against it. Instead, I am using the local, semi-private system here in Costa Rica, INS ( They offer insurance to foreigners, both tourists and visa holders, so if you’re making border runs it should be no problem. Thankfully, I have not had to test out my policy, but I am glad to say it cost only $175 for a year of accident coverage up to $17,000 (that’s a huge amount here).

Staying in touch with loved ones back home can get expensive if you prefer talking to email, but I’d like to plug a great free service (no they’re not paying me, but they should…). With a microphone and speakers, or if you like, a headset, you can get free international calling service. If you go to you can download a program that acts much like any messenger program (IM, AIM etc), except it’s VioP (that’s voice over IP). The quality is OK, sometimes the calls drop, sometimes repeatedly, but the price is right, FREE. This is really great if you have the luxury of home internet access, but it can also work at internet cafes. I have found it’s not much trouble to install programs at many cafes; they may not be there when you get back, but security can be very lax. Also if you have a preferred place, you can build a relationship with the people that work there, they will be glad to sell you internet time while you chat with people back home.

OK, that about does it for me. One day I swear I’ll write something pertaining to teaching English. I swear.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Keeping ya posted

I wanted to quickly let everyone know that my parents and little brother are arriving in Costa Rica this weekend, and Lisa and I will be traveling with them all of next week, so there may not be a post in that interval. Perhaps DJLera has some info he'd like to share, or maybe Lisa and/or I will use an internet Cafe at some point between scuba diving and lounging on the beach in Manuel Antonio.

In the meantime, I encourage you to check out my pictures from Costa Rica by clicking below, and let me know what you think, I always like to hear/read criticism of my photography.

Bruce and Lisa's Costa Rica Photo Album

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Scuba Diving Certification

In breaking from the recent trend of talking about our first border run, I'd like to talk about what has kept me so busy the last week or so. I understand that this isn't directly relevant to teaching in Costa Rica, and it may only interest a few readers, but it's a part of living here in CR. So my parents and little brother are coming to visit Lisa and me at the end of November and we have plans to stay most of the time in the Parador Hotel in Manuel Antonio (they've already seen Monteverde, Arenal, Guanacaste, etc.), and my dad has decided that he wants to try his hand at Scuba diving. So at home in the states, he and my brother are currently finishing their scuba certification, and if I wanted to dive with them in MA, I would need to get certified here in Costa Rica.

There are a couple places that I found to get the certification in the San Jose area: Aquatica in San Pedro and Diving Mania in Sabana Sur. I chose Diving Mania becuase it is much closer (although still over an hour commute by bus in rush hour) and because it seemed to offer more of what I wanted at a better deal. So lets get down to prices. At Diving Mania the classroom and pool dives are all done at their dive shop in SJ. There are three 3 hour classes that include pool dives that cost $200. After that, you are required to do 4 open water dives, and Diving Mania directs at least one trip a month to Playas del Coco in Guanacaste to de these dives for only $150 extra. This completes your certification, and it is an INCREDIBLE deal. Believe me. The $150 includes 4 dives (which would otherwise be about $70 each), 2 nights in the Flor de Itabo hotel (which is decent - no more, no less), and 5 good meals at the hotel. To give you some kind of comparison number, to do the 4 open water dives to complete my certification with Manuel Antonio Divers, the company my family will be using to dive, it would cost me $250 and that DOES NOT include hotel and meals. I know I sound like I'm advertising for the company, and I guess I am, but they have not asked me to - I'm just doing it because I was very happy with the prices, facilities, and especially the people I worked with (Francesco is the owner and my instructor was Hector - both people were very nice and very good to work with).

So yeah, last weekend Lisa and I went with Diving Mania to Playas del Coco to complete my certification, and it was an absolutely fantastic weekend (two weekends at the beach in a row, hell yeah). Lisa has no interest in Scuba, so she paid $85 and that covered everything except the diving for the whole weekend (another good deal if your spouse and/or childred would like to come along). We actually dove through the Ocotal Resort which offers an array of diving excursions and is a beautiful resort with a nice pool and a private black-sand beach - that's where Lisa hung out during the day while I was diving.

I want to keep this somewhat short, so all in all the whole certification and diving experience was fantastic and I highly recommend contacting Francesco at Diving Mania if you would be interested in getting your certification. His number is 291-2963 and he can be emailed at

Also, if anyone has been diving here in Costa Rica and would like to share their experiences, I'd love to hear about them. Just leave a comment on this post.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Border Jump, part 2

"Lisa, I believe, is going to write next about the actual town of SJdelS (which was a really great place), finding a hotel, where to eat, what to do "... "hopefully Lisa can write about the remainder of our Border Run trip in the next day or so"... Thank you for the intro Bruce, I would be happy to write about the remainder of our trip! It's my pleasure.

So here's the scene- 6 20-some year olds pile out of a half-working, half-clunking Land Rover/Taxi in the beautiful and hot afternoon in San Juan del Sur. It's Friday afternoon. We have been traveling for almost 12 hours. We're tired, but thrilled to finally be on our feet for a while. 2 people from our group (friends we made on the bus) headed to a family friend's place, 2 more headed to the local hostel (Casa de Oro, quite nice for those travelers on a budget), and the last two, the lone Bruce and Lisa, wander the streets in search of a place to stay. We decided somewhere a little nicer than the hostel (at $10 per night), and a little cheaper than the gorgeous Pelican Eyes (a GORGEOUS hotel over looking the town, at a whopping $100 per night). After checking out a few hotels, there are at least 15-20 in the town, we decided on "Landmark Inn On the Playa." Yes, that is the correct name. A little Spanish, a little English, todo bien. The owner, a Virginia native, gave us a seemingly good deal at $25 per night, if we paid to stay all three nights right away. Our 'comfortable' room came with 'cable TV, a private bathroom, and an amazing breakfast.' Interestingly enough, the cable TV was literally a cable (perhaps for a TV, if you happened to bring one) sitting on a table in a corner of the room. The private bathroom, coincidentally right next to the bar (see picture), was also the private bathroom to half the hotel, nice. And the amazing breakfast consisted of 2 pieces of toast, coffee, and OJ. But the room was clean, sans bugs, and with air conditioning. Tricky thing though, the power is turned of several times a day in San Juan del Sur, and when it's at night, it's not too comfortable without AC. Also, walking to my 'private bathroom' at 4am with the light of my iPod's back light to guide me is less than desirable and quite scary. But, an adventure is an adventure. All in all, the hotel was fine. Free bike and snorkel rental, wonderful hammocks on the porch, 20 feet away from the beach (no joke, actually on the playa - the picture on the left is the view from the lobby), and tons of harmless townies and travelers to keep you entertained for hours. Bruce and I befriended a local by the name of Rafael, who I lovingly refer to as 'the pirate'. He speaks 14 languages, does magic tricks, acupuncture, and can chug a beer faster than anyone I've ever seen, at 9am, no less. So our hotel, though somewhat misleading, was a great place to meet a lot of great people with great stories. And it was clean(ish). Enough for me.

Our days were spent on the beach, drinking beers with Nicaraguan karate expert Jonathon, and fun-loving-stoned-out-of-his-mind-family man, who Jonathon said was not welcome with us. Fine by me. So we got rid of him, only to find him doing splits in our hotel's lobby several hours later (after spotting him playing in the sand with his daughter, and by playing, I mean, staring blankly at the sea while she laughs and giggle, not the happiest sight.) We also ventured down the beach a bit where the waves were bigger and the beaches were quieter. Also, there's plenty of snorkeling right around the cove, for those who are interested. We were more into the wave jumping. A word to the wise- though the beaches might be safe, we never left our stuff unattended. However, it's easy to find trustworthy gringos lining the beach who will watch your stuff, no problem, but don't leave it alone, bad idea. During the day, we also explored the town, the whole 6 blocks of it, took pictures, rode bikes around the streets, snuck up to Pelican Eyes for a drink (in the picture you see the Macuas we ordered; the Macua is the newly elected "national drink of Nicaragua"), refused to pay $5 to use their pool but drank there and enjoyed the view anyway (see picture below), and met some great people. The town has so much personality and it attracts people with personality, too, I can't wait to go back.

As for dining/going out, there are plenty of restaurants and bars. The ones off of the beach are about 40% cheaper, and just as delicious and fun. We got a great meal at Jerry's, we each had 1/4 roast chicken, curly fries, and two beers for $7 (that's combined). I hear their lasagna is to die for, but we weren't quite in the mood for lasagna in the hot hot sun. The other restaurants were good, great deal at Soda Margarita (casados for about $3), but nothing too special. Oh, do check out Gato Negro for their Banana Chocolate Pancakes. Neat little bookstore attached, too. Definitely go for some seafood from any beach front restaurant, try the dorado or wahoo, you won't be disappointed. As for places to go out at night, there's a disco at the end of the beach, plenty of bars along the beach, and a nice little gringo hangout known as 'Big Wave Daves.' 50 cent rum and cokes on Saturdays- gotta love it! Bottom line, buy a bottle of Flor de Cana from any local store, have some drinks in your room, then follow the hoards of people towards the most happening spot of the night. Quite reminiscent of freshman year, heading to the frat party. Sad but true. If that's not your scene, there are plenty of quieter bars with nice atmospheres to enjoy a drink or two with friends.

This post is long, and this is my last point. Unfortunately, Bruce and I ran into some money problems while we were in San Juan del Sur. Basically, we brought about $100 in cash between the two of us, two credit cards, and my ATM card for Banco Nacional (a CR bank). Unfortunately, between the departure taxes, cab rides, a meal or two, and some groceries, bruce and I were close to running on empty, with a full day and a half to go. Not many places took credit cards (only the expensive restaurants on the beach and hotels), and out of the two ATMs in the town, neither accepted my bank card, even with its MasterCard logo. So, I suggest two things 1) Take cash, 2) Take a US debit card. If you do get in a bind like us, try this, 3) Pay for lunch/dinner with your credit card and ask them to over charge you by however much cash you would like, and then get them to give the cash to you. Bruce and I did this our last day there, and they only charged us 4% on the extra money- most definitely less than the ATM would charge you for a foreign debit card! Needless to say, it turned out ok, but we definitely steered clear of pricey activities due to lack of cash. We had a great time, nonetheless.

Bottom line about San Juan del Sur- Lots of personality, cute town, but only stay for 4-5 days max, any more than that and you might get a little cabin fever. Next adventure to Nicaragua... Grenada! Hopefully this spring!

Check out more photos from our trip by clicking below

Border Run: Questions & Answers

Thanks for all the comments on my first Border Run post. Yes, I guess in some ways Lisa and are are Pioneers of the Frontera, but really, I'm happy to be a pioneer so long as I'm going to the beach (pura vida, right?).

To answer some of the questions, Lisa and I actually went from Friday morning till Monday morning to fulfull the 3 day requirement. The exit fee from CR is (I believe) $8, but I'll double check with Lisa. Going back into CR is much the same as going out, except you probably won't have much money to exchange to Colones. The border process is long, inefficient, but necessary for many of us Ex-Pats. Also the fee to get back into CR is somewhere between $3 and $11 dollars. Lisa and I both paid $3, but then later they asked for $8 more from the non-Central Americans, but the guy didn't ask the two of us for more money... go figure, I'm blonde and pale and definitely not Central-American.

Most employers understand completely that you need to take these border runs and have very little problem with you taking off work. Lisa doesn't have class on Fridays (lucky her), and one of my employers just asked me to make up the missed class if possible.

Finally, Joanne, I wouldn't worry too much about having to do the run on your own. First of all, its not that difficult, second, you'll meet a lot of foreigners through work that will have to do the same thing, and third, there will likely be other Americans/expats on your bus to Nicaragua that are going to the same place - we definitely used them to ask questions about the money changers, where to get off, etc etc.

Alright, well, Lisa and I have been very busy lately - hence the sporatic posts - but hopefully Lisa can write about the remainder of our Border Run trip in the next day or so.

Thanks again for all the questions, and keep them coming!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Border Run: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua - Part 1

By: Bruce

Well, Lisa and I are officially back from our first border run. We went to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua - which is just north of the Costa Rican border. Anyway, I've decided to split this up into two separate posts: the first post (this post) will be more informational - talking about what the border crossing was like, recommendations, what to look out for, and also how we actually got from San Jose to the tiny surfing town of San Juan del Sur. The second post (which should be up in the next couple of days) will be all about our time in the town, where we stayed, what we liked, didn't like, where to eat, etc etc. Oh and I'll be including pics as I go.

So to begin at the beginning, Lisa and I used the company Tica Bus to take us from San Jose to Rivas, Nicaragua. Really, what you would do is buy a ticket to Managua and get off the bus in Rivas. We got tickets for the 6am bus on Friday morning (I recommend taking as early of a bus as possible) with hopes of arriving in San Juan del Sur sometime that afternoon because we hadn't reserved a hotel room or anything (and had heard that because it is the low season, we wouldn't have to worry about reservations). So yeah, aside from the bus being extremely cold that morning (which is a great trade-off considering the alternative is no A/C), the 4 hours or so that it takes to get to the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border was quite nice and comfortable, and we both slept most of the way. Tica Bus has quality busses. Unfortunately it is the time outside the bus (at the border and upon arriving in Rivas) that can be frustrating, time-consuming, and very very confusing. But hey, that's why this blog is here, and that's why you read it, right?

The Border Crossing:
Just to get this out of the way, the border crossings (both into and out of Nicaragua) take time, a lot of time, like 1.5-2 hours. Expect that, and expect the process to involve far more waiting than efficiency. Just keep in mind that border jumps are part of living in Costa Rica, and remember that your destination is THE BEACH. Our friends back home may not have to endure "la frontera" but they also don't get to have weekends at the beach in November or whenever.

Unfortunately there is no "border manuel" that is passed out before you arrive, so you wind up following the herd mentality - and that's okay. Before you get off the bus, the bus driver or an employee of Tica Bus will collect everyone's passports and their customs/declaration forms and he will put them, indescriminantly, in a plain plastic bag. This is very strange to see if you are American. We all want to protect our passports at all cost. That is a ticket home (or out) if necessary, and it is very strange to just hand it over to someone who sticks it in a plastic bag and takes it off the bus. My first thought after handing it over was "gee, I wonder how much he's gonna get off the street for my passport." Either way, its okay, its just how the expedite (and I use that term very loosely) the border crossing process.

So you've given up your passport, and now you're told get off the bus. Why are you getting off? What do you do after you get off? We didn't know, and I doubt more than 10% of the passengers knew - but you do it because everyone else is. Find comfort in the herd. Once we got off the bus, we were disoriented and unsure of where to go or what to do, but we saw a line that had formed from the bus' passengers entering a building, so we decided to join. It's not that easy though, because it's not just you, the passengers, and the border. There's also a mob of men and women all carrying MASSIVE wads of money (see picture) screaming and yelling at you, trying to bargain with you, and take note of this, TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU.

Exchanging Money: Again, like the passport thing, this is going to feel very strange, but you need to do it. The best place/way to exchange your money (I recommend taking dollars becuase you'll get a better rate) is to do so with these renegade money changers while you wait in line. Now you're probably saying, "now Bruce, didn't you just say they are trying to take advantage of you?" Yes I did, but this is where a little bit of pre-trip prep is MANDATORY. Before you leave for Nicaragua, research the Dollar(or Colon) to Cordoba (Nicaragua's currency) exchange rate, and have bench marks for about what you should get for like $20, $50, or whatever amount. This way, when you decide to pay attention to one of the many money changers (all look about as un-official as the other) you will know if they are trying to cheat you and you can move on to someone more honest.

Story: So Lisa and I did NOT do our research, we only vaguely remembered a friend saying that it was like 19 Cordobas to the dollar. When we stepped off the bus we were unexpectedly bombarded with these screeming money changers. We decided to talk to one once we were in the line and we told him that we wanted to exchange $50 (just to see how this process worked). Then the man whips out his little 30cent calculator and "shows us how he's converting" - I guess to "prove" that the math is right. So he put in 50 and proceeded to divide by 19 while pressing a few buttons very fast, and he came up with 2.61. At that point he says, "okay, I'll give you 261 Cordobas for your 50 dollars." Anyway, long story shorter, I said "let me get this straight, its about 19 Cords to the dollar, we have 50 dollars and you're telling me that that is 261 Cords." He says yes, shows me the calculation again (which, again, involved dividing 50 by 19) and finally I said, sir, that makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. I took the calculator and multiplied 50 by 19 (as it should be done) and before I could press enter, he took the calculator back and said "no, no that's not how it's done - I am an official money changer (and he had a makeshift badge to prove it) and that's not how you calculate." At this point, maybe 5 minutes after the convo began, I told him, you know what, I don't think so, no thanks.

Ultimately, Lisa went up and asked an american that we had met who had lived in Nicaragua and he told us we could reasonably expect to get about 350 Cords for $20. So basically that first guy was trying to give us about $18-19 worth of Cords for $50. Thanks but no thanks. We ended up exchanging our money with other people for a rate close to 350cords/$20. Moral of the story? Do your research so that you aren't that ignorant tourist that gets taken advantage of.

Crossing the Border (continued): So with the money changing out of the way, we finished waiting in line, get our passports back, stamped, etc and got back on the bus about 45min-1hr after we got off. Well gee, I was thinking, that wasn't so bad, now we're on our way. Not so fast. After you get back on the bus, you drive about 5 min through the border to the Nicaragua side, stop, and get off the bus again - only this time everyone needs to get ALL their luggage out from under the bus. My recommendation - pack light, it will make life a lot easier, and everyone wheres shorts and t-shirts anyway. After you get your bags, you stand in yet another line (see picture), this time to pass through customs. There are "random" bag checks at the end of the line, but I put that in quotes because I didn't see a single American/non-central american get searched. They pretty much just wave you through (apparently it's mostly a formality). After that you get back on the bus and about 1.5-2 hours from the time you reached the border, you are finally continuing to Rivas.

From Rivas to San Juan del Sur: Like I said earlier, you get a ticket to Managua, but stay alert because you need to get off at the town of Rivas which is only 30-40 min after the border crossing. When you get off the bus, go straight to the Tica Bus office and schedule your return bus (which you've already paid for if you bought round trip tickets - and you SHOULD buy roundtrip if you're planning on coming right back to CR). But stop in the Tica Bus office to make sure you RESERVE SEATS for the ride back. After that, the only thing separating you from both San Juan del Sur and the beach is a taxi ride on quite possibly the most poorly maintained "paved" road I've ever seen (and that's coming from someone living in Costa Rica - the pot-hole paradise).

Lisa and I had met some fellow gringos on the bus who were also going to SJdelS so we decided to try and split a cab 6 ways. One driver claimed to
have a Land Cruiser that would fit all 6 of us and he would charge only $3 per person. You can expect to pay a total of about $15 to get a taxi to SJdelS, so if you split that between a few people it's pretty cheap. Anyway, this experience got sketchy when the driver asked me (the spanish speaker) to go with him to get the Land Cruiser. I gave Lisa my backpack, passport, and anything worth any money, said a prayer, and went with the driver to the mechanic. Yes, the cab that was to take us to San Juan was at the mechanic. The driver told me it was only getting paint touch ups, but when we arrived the mechanic was underneath the SUV WELDING IT. Hardly a touch up... but anyway, que sera sera I suppose. I got in the SUV, met up with the rest of the group and we were on our way.... sort of. About 10 min into the drive we heard a some-what alarming noise and the driver calmly turned to us and said "oh shoot, I forget to put water in the engine" (in other words, it was severly overheated). So he got out, put up the hood (see picture), disappeared, and reemerged with two 2-liters of water that he poured in the engine. After that, all was good (except for the back door bouncing open occasionally - luckily there was no lost luggage) and we arrive in San Juan del Sur with enough time to find a hotel, get some sun-time on the beach, and see a gorgeous sunset (see picture at the end of the post).

Okay, WHEW that was a lot. Lisa, I beleive, is going to write next about the actual town of SJdelS (which was a really great place), finding a hotel, where to eat, what to do, etc etc. So look out for that early next week (this weekend we're going to the beach again - Playa de Coco - so I can get my scuba certification). Thanks for putting up with my writing, and as bad as it may sound, the trip up there (and back) really wasn't bad at all, and the more prepared you are for what to expect, the better it will be.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dispatches from Nicaragua

So I don´t have a whole lot of time to write, because I´m sitting in an overheated internet cafe in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, but I wanted to say that despite the week or so without an entry, Lisa and I are still going strong down here, and we are currently in the middle (or near the end I suppose) of our border-jump. Briefly, if you didn´t already know, in order to renew your tourist visa, you need to leave CR every three months for 72hrs and then reenter. Lisa and I are doing that now in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. We´ll be back tomorrow night, so expect a more detailed (complete with pictures) entry tomorrow or tuesday. Just checking in. Pura Vida.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Football in Costa Rica: Heredia vs. La Liga de Alajuela

By: DJLera

In every corner of America except the United States, football is life. Brazil, Mexico and Argentina have produced some of the best players and teams in the world and tiny Costa Rica is on the rise. In the 2006 World Cup held in Germany, this country of 4 million fielded a team that made it to the final 32. On that day I’m told the entire country was wearing red. For anyone living here for an extended period of time, I highly recommend attending some matches or partidos. The excitement and atmosphere are unlike anything I have experienced in the United States. Plus you will learn some very interesting and colorful words. Costa Rica has twelve football clubs that are divided into two groups. Matches are generally played on Sundays, but weeknight games are not uncommon. Without doubt the two best teams are Saprissa (San José) in purple and La Liga (Alajuela) in red and black. These teams have the most money, the most fans and the biggest stadiums. On Sunday I went to see La Liga play Heredia in Heredia. Tickets can be bought at the gates up to one day before. You have options, usually including, sun or shade and numbered or unnumbered seats. I was in the sunny numbered seats which cost about 4.000 colones, a price my Tico friends found quite stiff. Like any sporting event you can buy food and drinks from wandering vendors. They even sell ponchos should you be caught in a downpour. Football is not a sport that stops for weather, as demonstrated on Sunday. After 15 minutes of heavy rain the field looked more like a lake, but the fans were not phased. All in all it was a great experience even though Heredia lost 2-1. For more info you can check out the Costa Rican Football Federation’s website or read the back pages of any local newspaper.
Click to view Lisa and Bruce's entire photo album from the football game:

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Video Entry: Introduction & Teatro Nacional

We are about to try something brand new for this blog, and something that I hope will work well and receive a good response. Lisa and I have recently recorded a short video introducing ourselves and would like to make these "video entries" a part of Costa Rica Classroom. Please view the video, read about our night at the Teatro Nacional, and leave comments telling us whether or not you'd like us to continue posting video entries.

So as we explained on the video, Lisa and I decided to treat ourselves to a night on the town last night. We got dressed up and went to downtown San Jose to the Teatro Nacional to see a flamenco ballet titled "Tiempos Flamencos". I had seen a flamenco show when I was abroad in Spain, loved it, and encouraged Lisa to go with me to the show here in Costa Rica. We both wanted to see what the Teatro Nacional was all about, so this was a perfect excuse. I wish I had pictures to share of the theater, but it has been raining for about 2 days straight, and I didn't care to get my camera wet, but the theater is absolutely magnificent. It is certainly reminicent of old, elegant, ornate theaters that I have seen in movie or on TV. As for the show itself, it certainly matched the venue in terms of beauty. Again, I wish I could have taken pictures or video of the show itself, but that, as you would expect, is prohibited.

Anyway, I guess this entry serves multiple purposes: to test out the option of posting video entries, to introduce ourselves via video, and to mention the little cultural activity we afforded ourselves here in Costa Rica.

Again, I'd love to read any comments you have about the video entry, or any other part of this post.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Who are the students?

By: Bruce
I don't intend this to be a very long post, which is probably a relief to many of the readers, but it is a topic that confuses a lot of people. So here it is: who are you going to be teaching if you decide to teach ESL down here in Costa Rica? The answer: maybe not who you'd expect.

You will generally not be teaching highschoolers or elementary school students in a normal classroom setting. In stead, you will most likely be teaching in a private language institute where students go after/before work or school. For the most part, I'd say the students are between 20 and 35 years old and they are most likely taking the English classes in order to improve their salary at a current job or to find a new, higher paying job.

The reality down here in Costa Rica, is that because of the burgeoning tourism industry as well as the vast number of American companies (everything from Hewlitt-Packard to online gambling sportsbooks) that have decided to move some opporations to Costa Rica, there is a huge demand for English speaking Costa Ricans. This is because the workforce here is generally less expensive to employ (compared to the US) yet still quite educated. These jobs are highly covetted by Costa Ricans because they pay, on average, much much higher than other jobs. In fact, I've heard that even some call-center jobs (jobs most Americans really wouldn't want) pay better salaries than doctors receive down here (or so I've heard).

In order to get these jobs, however, the workers must speak a rather high level of English (almost perfect grammar, large vocabulary, and some accent reduction). So these are the people are most likely going to be your students - young business professionals (or aspiring business professionals) who are really going after the higher paying jobs that require a high level of English. Now keep in mind that this is a generalization. Some students are studying the language because they want to travel or just have a desire to learn. Either way, the good thing is that most of these students (regardless of why they are taking English classes) are doing it because they truly want to, and this often translates into high motivation and a lot of enthusiasm.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Why Costa Rica & why teach ESL?

By: Bruce It seems to me that there are a number of people out there that definitely want to live abroad and teach English, but they aren't exactly sure where they'd like to live. Maybe they have narrowed it down to Latin America, maybe to Central America. Either way, I'm not here to persuade or dissuade you, but I would like to tell you why I have chosen to live in Costa Rica and teach English.

The easiest answer, I suppose, is, why NOT Costa Rica? It's beautiful, tropical, (relatively) safe and stable, it has beaches, and rainforests, and volcanoes, and the quality of life is very good compared to other Latin American countries, etc etc. I really could go on and on, but really, those were only a few of the MANY variables that contributed to my decision to make the move to Costa Rica. So, let me start by giving you my background. I first came to Costa Rica just like the millions of others who have come - as a tourist. I came 2 and a half years ago with my family, and we did the basic tourist trip: fly into Liberia, drive to Arenal Volcano (go to Tabicon Hot Springs), drive to Monteverde (do a canopy tour, hike around with a guide, see wildlife, etc), then head to the beach to round out the trip. This vacation, needless to say, was absolutely amazing; so much so that it truly piqued my interest in the country of Costa Rica.

Feeding off the interest that my vacation generated, I began to study and write about Costa Rica in school. My major at Wake Forest was Political Science and I minored in Spanish and Latin American Studies. Clearly the region, and specifically Costa Rica interested me. Within those concentrations, I focused on the development of Latin America. Specifically, I wrote my senior honors thesis on Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America, and Costa Rica is perhaps one of the most dynamic countries in Latin America in that respect. I wrote about Costa Rica many times, and the more I researched, read, and wrote about Costa Rica, the more I thought I would (or HAD) to spend a real amount of time here - not as a tourist, but as a tenant. Only then, I figured, would I really be able to understand the culture around all the things that I had read and written about.

So that's my background - how and why I became interested in Costa Rica, and where that interest took me. Now I'd like to talk a little bit about where I hope this experience will take me. Like I mentioned before, I was a Poly Sci major in college with a specific concentration on Latin America. Furthermore, as my thesis paper would suggest, I am very much interested in development, and more specifically, how private foreign direct investment can aid (if not fuel) such development. That said, I would very much like to eventually enter the private sector working for a multinational corporation or consulting firm that deals with or in Latin America. Perhaps I'll wind up in sales, maybe business development, or possibly developmental consulting. At this point I don't really know for sure, but what I do know is that I cherish this opportunity that I have given myself to truly experience the region that I want to eventually do business with.

So essentially, by coming to Costa Rica to teach English, I have afforded myself the opportunity to immerse myself in a culture that I would very much like to know inside and out for the future. Do I plan to teach (English or any other subject) as my long term career? No. I am loving it, and depending on how I like the work a number of months from now, perhaps I'll use teaching ESL as way to take me to other countries inside Latin America and around the world. But really what I want everyone to understand is that teaching ESL is a ticket to living in and experiencing just about any culture in any country throughout the world.

Hopefully now you understand not only why I'm teaching ESL, but also why I have chosen Costa Rica. I don't know, perhaps the short answer to why I have decided to move to CR to teach English is "because I can - because I'm young, I have few responsibilities, and I want to see the world" but the reality is that there are so many variables that contribute to why one makes a decision like this. So, to anyone reading this blog and perhaps toying with the idea of moving to Costa Rica or anywhere else in the world, consider the value of the EXPERIENCE. I know that personally, for better or for worse, this experience is something that I will be able to use and talk about the rest of my life.

Oh, and I apologize for this long, perhaps non-cohesive post. I think I may have done it more for me than anything.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Some more email Q & A: TEFL certification

Is the entire [TEFL] course done via internet? How did you pay them? How long did it take you to do? Do you get a certificate in the mail? Who are these people? Are they recognized widely? Like in other Latino countries?

--Yes, the entire course is done over the internet.You are given 6 months to complete the course, and I did it in about 2 1/2. You can do as many as 2 units (out of 20) per day. The units are supposed to be about 5 hours of work each, but I found that most were shorter than that. I took the course over the summer, when I did a lot of traveling, so I would work hard on the course for a few weeks, than take a few off. You can completely work at your own pace. I think the average rate to finish the course is about 3 months, which is not difficult, at all, even for a very busy person. Also, I paid by credit card over the internet, but it was a safe transaction, and I felt very good about the company.

You do get a certificate in the mail, though no one has ever asked to see it. Regarding their recognition, I can only relay what I read on their website, but again, no one has ever asked where I got my training. To them, TEFL is TEFL. The website is

Hopefully this clears up some more questions about the ever elusive TEFL topic. If you'd like to know more, please feel free to ask!

If you have questions that you would like to email to me or any of the other contributors, please feel free. Post a comment, or click on our names in the top right to send us an email. Also, if you wouldn't mind having your email and answers included on this Blog, please give us permission to post it anonymously.

This is a random photo from our trip to Manuel Antonio (I figured random photos might spice up the blog). Anyway, as you can see, you can make bus stops out of just about anything - including a boogie board, house paint, and a little barbed-wire.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

E-Mail Q&A: Budgeting, Visas, San Jose, Travel


I found your post on Dave's and checked out your blog. It looks like a good start, great idea! I completed a celta course not long ago and now I'm on the job hunt. Costa Rica is one of the countries that I'm looking at. Could you help answer a few questions about working in Costa Rica?

My biggest concern is budget. From what I've read, teachers generally make about $700 per month. Is that enough to live comfortably and leave room for a little saving? I'm planning on going to grad school next fall, so it'd be nice to come back not entirely broke!

Also, do you know if jobs can be arranged before arriving, or is it best to arrive and start knocking on doors? I read something about visas taking a long time and being quite expensive. Do most teachers work illegally? How have you found San Jose? It looks like you were able to enjoy traveling around right away.

Thanks and good luck with the blog.

Hello T.M.,

First of all, thank you so much for checking out our blog, and I hope it remains a useful resource for you. I'm going to tackle your questions below:

1. Budget - Regarding the $700, that seems like it would be at the high end of what teachers would make. Some schools pay asmuch as $6-7/hr and if you can build up a full working schedule (maybe 30 hrs/week) then you'd be making more than $700/month. Unfortunately its not really easy (at least right away), to build up a full schedule. You'll probably start by teaching 1 or 2 classes (at maybe 4-8 hrs per class per week) and then build up your hours as more classes open. That being said, you can actually very easily live off of $700/month. A reasonable rent for a small furnished apartment is about $250-350/month, food is relatively inexpensive, and you can travel the country on the cheap as well (as long as you don't have extremely high standards). But again, it will take a little while to build up hours, so you'll want to bring some start up cash to keep you going for the first few weeks.

2. Finding Jobs - From my experience and from the research I did before arriving, it is very very difficult to secure a job before coming down to CR (unless you want to pay a company to find a job for you, which is NOT worth it). It's best to have about 10-20 resumes printed off before you come, and once you get settled in, check online to see where schools are, and go knocking on doors. Some schools will be anxious to hire, others have a short "training" programs, and others are just going to take a week or so to get back to you. But rest assured, there is a huge demand down here for English teachers, and with the CELTA training, you will have very very little difficulty finding a job.

3. Visas - I wouldn't expect to get a work visa here. They are very strict about it, and like DJlera said in his post, you need to get sponsered by a company and even then it's expensive. That's okay though. Just about every gringo I know down here is illegal and we all make (or plan to make) border runs to renue our visas every 3 months. It's just a part of life I suppose, but it allows you to see Panama, or Nicaragua, or some other nearby country.

4. San Jose - Before actually coming down here, Lisa and I fully expected to live in some neighborhood of San Jose (maybe San Pedro near the University), but we wound up lucking out and getting a condo in Heredia (a nice suburb of SJ) through a contact in the states, and we've loved living a little bit outside the city. Plus, Heredia actually has a decent number of language schools, so we don't have to travel into San Jose everyday. I'd say that SJ is neither a nice city nor a really bad one. There are areas that are quite nice - Sabana Park is a great place to go Saturday and Sunday mornings, but there are other areas you'll want to avoid (especially at night). This is why we like living a little outside of the city; we can choose when to actually go down there (actually we will probably be going to the Teatro Nacional next week to see a Flamenco performance - which we're excited about).

5. Traveling - From our experience, traveling can be quite easy and quite cheep. We took a bus from SJ to Manuel Antonio for a weekend and paid about $5 each way for the tickets. Now, we haven't been here too long, so don't have a lot of travel experience, but our philosophy is that, yeah we're here to teach, but more than anything we're here for the experience, and traveling throughout Costa Rica is integral to that experience.

Alright, well, I hope that sufficiently answered your questions; please keep checking the blog as those same questions and more will probably be adressed in more detail in the future.

Thanks again,

If you have questions that you would like to email to me or any of the other contributors, please feel free. Post a comment, or click on our names in the top right to send us an email. Also, if you wouldn't mind having your email and answers included on this Blog, please give us permission to post it anonymously.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Teaching, part 2

By: Lisa

A note on finding schools to work at: Look everywhere and send everyone your resumes. And then call them two to three days later. Look in the classifieds of the Tico Times, AM Costa Rica, and Costa Rica Look on Craig's List. Walk into schools that you see, resume in hand, and be ready for an on-the-spot interview. These all work, and Bruce and I can attest to them. Most of all- be persistent and patient! It's Costa Rica, and you really have to make the first couple of moves if you'd like to see a job materialize.

In the first two weeks that we were here, I went on a few job interviews, and in each one, they asked about the TEFL training they saw on my resume. Everyone knew what it was, and they even seemed semi-impressed by it. So at the very least it shows you are serious about teaching English in a foreign country. Maybe it's that little something extra that gives you a 'one-up' on others, but again, it's not a guarantee for a job.

I secured my first job at Butler Academy (in downtown Heredia) after an interview, some class observation, a mock teaching session, and some tandem teaching. That may seem like a lot to put a potential teacher through, and it may seem like a lot to go through to get a job, but it was very worth it. Their process and attention to detail when selecting a professor really reflects the quality of their school. Again, like I said, I am not a seasoned veteran in the teaching realm, far from it, but along with my resume (perhaps even the TEFL training) they saw potential in me, tested me out for a few weeks, and then began giving me classes. This school is by far the best run, most focused and organized school I have looked at, and it shows in their careful teacher selection. I am incredibly happy there, both with my colleagues, the caliber of the students, and the classes in general. I'm sure I'll write more about them in the future.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Teaching, my story Part 1

By: Lisa

Hi all,

So, my introductory post is a bit overdue, especially due to the fact that you've all seen my face a number of times. Well two, to be exact...I'm that girl standing on Bruce's right at Arenal and Manuel Antonio. Both were amazing places, and Bruce and I look forward to going back to each at some point.

Anyway, even though Bruce and I have only been here for 7 weeks, we've both had very different job search experiences, so hopefully the combination of our experiences, compounded with the experiences of those of you reading (and hopefully contributing to) the blog will be relevant to a wide group of people.

Before I go on, I'd like to offer you a brief disclaimer: I'm sure that during the term of this blog, we will name schools, and other people will name schools that they have had experiences with, be them good or bad. However, we are not here to 'promote' certain schools for any personal purposes. We have noticed on other websites that many people write posts or messages promoting a certain school, and it is discovered later on that this person was earning a commission for everyone that contacted the school from the blog. However, and I hate to be all 'school-teachery,' that will not be tolerated here. The information and experiences on this blog will be kept completely objective and free of posts used for ulterior motives. So please do not use this sight for personal gain from commissions on recruiting students. Find another venue for that. Other than that, we welcome your ideas, advice, experiences and stories! Enough of that, let's talk about Costa Rica!

So, basically, my journey into the Costa Rican job market began early this past summer. I made the decision, after much deliberation, to get my TEFL certificate. After hearing conflicting reports on whether or not it is needed, I decided to bite the bullet and do it. I had little to no teaching experience, a college degree in English, and I spoke no Spanish... so I thought the TEFL would at least be one thing I had going for me. And hey, even if my interview at a school was in Spanish (unlikely at an English school, I know), but I'd at least be able to communicate the letters TEFL and hopefully get somewhere that way. Basically it was my safety net going into the unknown. I signed up with ITTT, an online affiliate of TITC. The course was $295 ( a bit pricey for a safety net, but it was the best one I came across), and it included 20 units (roughly 100 hours) of both teaching skills and language awareness. The course itself had some positives and negatives, which I'd be happy to write about if people are curious, but on the whole, I'm very glad I completed the course. Did it make me an incredible teacher? No, but it did help me to better plan and organize lessons, control my class, and review many English intricacies that I have had to teach my students. To answer the magic question about whether a certificate is needed to obtain a job in Costa Rica, no, it is not necessary; however, in my case, it was the safety net that I needed.

That is all I will write for now, but Bruce and I look forward to being in an online conversation with all of you!

Insight on Work Visas & General School Info

By: DJlera

Work Visas

The majority of institutions and schools will not help you with a work visa and confusion abounds. It is impossible to get a work visa without the sponsorship of a company. If you do get sponsorship the process can take anywhere from 8 to 16 months. If for some reason your visa application is rejected you will be ¨invited¨ to leave the country within 10 days. Now like many things in Costa Rica, these laws are not carefully enforced. Many places openly encourage foreigners to make ¨visa runs¨ to the border every 90 days. Some even pay up to $50 to help out renewing your tourist visa. This basically means leaving Costa Rica for 72 hours or 3 days. Note that the border police do not stamp time. While border runs appear to be almost commonplace, do be warned that at the very worst, I mean in your nightmares, you could be subject to 30 days imprisonment awaiting deportation should something go totally wrong. I have no idea if this has actually ever happened, but it is apparently part of the immigration law here. Double standards clearly exist in Costa Rica. Because getting a work visa is a lengthy and expensive process (schools can spend up to $800 making you a legal worker) they will usually ask for at least a year commitment from their teachers.


There are hundreds of places to teach English in Costa Rica ranging from universities to cultural institutes to mom-and-pop schools. Some have excellent reputations and some have terrible reputations. This is a good resource to start with: Transitions Abroad - Teaching English In Costa Rica.

Some of the better higher education institutions are the North American Cultural Institute, the British Institute, Univerisidad Interamericana and Universidad Latina. Some other decent organizations are Intensa and Conversa. At places like these you can expect to make at least $500 per month working around 24 hours per week. (That´s 24 hours in the class). For those seeking more money, look for work at the elementary and high school level. Because there are more students at this level, pay is higher. Also for some reason it is apparently easier to obtain a work visa. Some good places to work that I´ve heard of are: Blue Valley, Lincon, Country Day, American International, European School and for those who are down with praying at work, International Christian School. These are all international schools and you should expect to earn no less than $750 per month.

Well that´s all I´ve got for now. Everything mentioned above is heresy, so any updates or corrections are greatly welcomed. Pura vida!

Please feel free to comment on or make any additions to what DJlera as just said. Simply click "comments" below and speak your mind.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Weekend Away: Manuel Antonio National Park

By: Bruce

You know, one of these days I'll actually post something specifically relevant to teaching ESL in Costa Rica, but as far as I'm concerned, traveling and enjoying yourself while living here is equally as important as the teaching itself. So with that said, let me tell you about the trip to Manuel Antonio National Park that Lisa and I took this past weekend.

First of all, getting there in the first place was interesting. Lisa teaches classes at night, so we couldn't realistically leave on Friday afternoon, so we decided to get up as early as possible on Saturday morning and return Monday morning. Perhaps the most useful resources I've found thus far regarding traveling in Costa Rica are 1. A bus specific map of San Jose which shows where to catchbuses to various places in the country - because there isn't a central bus station and 2. a PDF file listing the complete bus schedule for all of Costa Rica (arrival and departure times and locations, travel duration, etc.) The Bus Map of San Jose can be found by clicking HERE and the Bus Schedule can be found HERE (Click on "Itenerario de Buses" on the left hand side). Those are both VERY helpful resources - especially if you don't plan to buy a car down here and want to do some traveling.

Anyway, based on the information we got from the Bus Schedule, we decided it would be best to catch the 6:00am Direct bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio/Quepos. That would get us to the beach by about 11am for less than $5 each way! Granted we had to get up at 4am to get a 5am bus from Heredia to San Jose... Regardless, what's important is that we were checked in to our hotel (Hotel Karahe) in time to spend a few hours on the beach before the inevitable afternoon rain (its rainy season down here).

So Saturday was spent on the beautiful beach in front of our mostly decent hotel (we aren't staying in luxury, but it's certainly a step above most hostels - our own villa, free breakfast, etc). Unfortunately, however, because we had to get up so early and were further fatigued by swimming in some great waves and sunbathing, we decided to take a "nap" at 4pm and didn't wake up until midnight! (at which point we brushed our teeth and went back to bed). The positive thing, though, is that to truly enjoy the area, it's necessary to get up earlybecause without daylight savings time and with the afternoon storms, sunlight is a premium enjoyed in the mornings. Needless to say it wasn't too difficult to get up early Sunday morning.

So on Sunday, we got up, ate breakfast, and headed for Manuel Antonio National Park, where, as a foreigner, you can enter for $7 and hire a guide (if you choose to) for about $20 per person. If you really want to see all the wildlife that the park has to offer, I would recommend hiring a guide; however, if you prefer to be a little more independent and have good eyes, a guide really isn't necessary. Once inside the park we hiked around a little on the network of trails (specifically we hikedSendero de Punto Catedral which took us up to a cliff overlooking the ocean - it was breathtaking) and spent the restof the morning on the pristine beaches of the national park. Oh and as an added bonus, (as you can see in the picture) on the way out we saw some spider monkeys playing around in some trees near the trail.

Sunday night we thought it would be fun to go into town for a later dinner and stay out at the bars for a few hours - the town is full of young surfers so we figured the bars would behoppin'. Unfortunately, and to our surprise, there was hardly anyone out when we got to town at 9:30. In fact, we only found one place to serve us food at that hour, so we got some nachos, a couple beers, and headed back to the hotel. So here's a recommendation: eat early, and if you want to go out and party, consider either going out Friday and Saturday nights or going into nearby Quepos.

Anyway, that's about it. We got up Monday morning, took the 9:30am direct bus back to San Jose, and we were back home in Heredia by about 2pm. Overall it was a fantastic weekend away and a successful first journey away from the Central Valley.

To see the rest of my photos from Manuel Antonio click HERE to go to my web-albums.

Monday, September 18, 2006


So the first thing I'd like to do is give everyone a brief description of who I am and what this blog will cover. So first things first, my name is Bruce and I moved to Costa Rica nearly a month ago with my girlfriend, Lisa, with hopes to find work as English teachers. Aside from teaching, we are hoping to travel as much as possible through this amazing country - see volcanoes, hike rainforest, tan and surf on the beaches, etc etc. But all the while, I wanted to share that experience with you, the reader; so, I'll be discussing not only Lisa and my experiences in and around Costa Rica, but also what it is like to live and teach here. So as i said, we've been here nearly a month and we're currently living in a nice condominium in San Francisco de Heredia - which is a suburb of San Jose. It is both our understanding and experience that a large majority of jobs available to Americans (or any foreigners for that matter) are to be found in the central valley of Costa Rica in and around the capital, San Jose. In the time that we've been here, we have found jobs that occupy some of our time and we are hoping to eventually be working a full schedule before too long (need to pay the bills). Currently both Lisa and I are working at and with the Pura Vida Language Institute in San Joaquin de Flores (which is just down the street from the city of Heredia and where we live). I personally recommend checking out their webpage and considering them you if have any interest in learning Spanish and traveling in Costa Rica. They offer great immersion programs with travel and homestays, and all of that. Anyway, that's my introduction, and I hope that you will continue to frequent the blog as I hope to update it a few times a week. Perhaps it will get you interested in this magnificent country, and maybe it can give you some ideas for a future vacation, or as it is for me and Lisa, a longer chapter in your life. Pura Vida! In the image above, you see Lisa and me in front of Arenal Volcano, which is in the north western part of the country.