Franny Brogan on the pura vida of Costa Rica
Because of the diversity of experiences it offers, Costa Rica is a sort of utopia for the outdoor enthusiast. Within the small country, travel from San José to any destination — prominent or secluded — is quick and easy. To the north, the cloud forest of Monteverde offers the classic Costa Rican activities of hiking, zip-lining, and bathing in natural hot springs with an unobstructed view of the nearby Arenal Volcano. On the Pacific coast, one encounters picturesque beaches and optimal swimming conditions. In the tiny town of Montezuma, you will hike to the water holes and waterfalls hidden in the posterior mountains or take a run along a beach path that extends for miles along the exquisite coast. A short bus ride away is Mal País, where surf is king and the juxtaposition of forest and expansive ocean is a sight to be reckoned with. The Caribbean coast offers a distinct experience, strongly defined by the town of Puerto Viejo — where Rasta culture reigns — and Tortuguero, the tiny island and key nesting home to various species of sea turtles. In the Caribbean, more than elsewhere, the pura vida mentality holds sway, and every other word seems to be tuanis, a term borrowed and adapted from the English phrase “too nice.” However, it is not just the perfect waves, water temperature, or breathtaking coastline that is ultimately unforgettable: each town has its own character and charm; each offers you a experience distinct from the one before or after.
Contrary to popular belief, English is not widely spoken in Costa Rica, especially in San José, Heredia, and other larger cities, making it an ideal site for Spanish-language immersion. While many locals in coastal towns speak limited English in order to cater to the tourist population, Spanish is always the initial and preferred method of communication. Students of all ages will find their cultural niches, from dance classes in traditional Costa Rican cumbia to the vibrant nightlife to the opportunity to join weekend running and cycling groups.
Here are some excellent options for study in Costa Rica
Nosara Spanish Institute
Nosara Spanish Institute (NSI) offers structured intensive Spanish and English language programs at the Playas of Nosara, a small, culturally rich and stunningly beautiful coastal surf town in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Home to the Nosara Yoga Institute, along with several other retreat centers, yoga studios, and restaurants offering raw and organic food, Nosara also draws an array of spiritual seekers and yoga enthusiasts. NSI offers Spanish programs for teenagers and adults in groups or individually. Local Ticos take English classes on the same campus. Classes are organized in small, efficient groups and are led by university-certified and experienced instructors in comfortable facilities. Lessons are always taught in the target language, providing a total immersion environment. NSI uses a communicative teaching methodology, where the main goal is the improvement of the student’s communication skills, encouraging spontaneous and creative use of the language, using real-life situations and activities that teach the language in the way that it is actually used in daily life. Depending on the intentions of the student, classes can also be customized around professional needs, such as business or medical terminology. The bilingual courses at NSI provide ample opportunities for intercultural exchange activities, which are consistently scheduled and frequently promoted at the school and around the area, providing students with unforgettable experiences and many new friends. Homestay programs and volunteer opportunities are also available through community, cultural, and environmental organizations of which NSI is a proud member.
Academia Columbus Costa Rica is located in the charming town of Santo Domingo de Heredia, situated between San José and Heredia in the heart of Central America. The town has a population of 60,000 inhabitants who are known for their friendliness and hospitality. With its park, beautiful churches, and quiet streets, Santo Domingo is a lovely little town where you will also find various bars, restaurants, and pubs to keep you entertained in the evenings. Santo Domingo is situated in the center of the Valle Central (Central Valley), but is a short bus ride away from the busy center of San José. The ideal location of the village of Santo Domingo makes it a great starting point for tours all around the country. The nearby university city of Heredia has a population of 180,000 inhabitants and a vibrant student community. There are plenty of bars, restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, cinemas, and shops all around this area. However, the city still manages to retain a small-town feel to it; it is not too bustling, and you can still find your way around with ease. Heredia is also famous for its many small, beautiful parks. The surrounding province has numerous coffee plantations and the Poas and Barva Volcanoes. Academia Columbus has a wide variety of Spanish courses that they offer students from all over the world, boasting over 28 different nationalities in a year at Academia Columbus. There is no maximum age limit. Every Monday, new courses start for all levels (except absolute beginners). Their general course is the Intensive Spanish course in mini groups (max. 5 students; average 3) of 20 lessons per week or their Super Intensive course of 30 lessons per week. They also provide individual classes for those students who want to learn at their own pace. The Intensive Plus course is a combination course of 20 lessons of general Spanish in mini-groups, plus ten lessons per week of individual lessons. Students can enroll for general Spanish or for specialized Spanish such as business, literature, law, or medicine. Academia Columbus also has Spanish and more, including Spanish and culture, Spanish and dance, and Spanish and cooking. The DELE (Diploma for Spanish as a Foreign Language) is an internationally recognized official qualification with permanent validity, and Academia Columbus offers prep courses. The DELE is very useful for any student who wants to have formal proof of their achieved Spanish level and especially for those who want to study at university or work in Spanish-speaking countries. Academia Columbus also affords the opportunity to book an internship or volunteering project with them. By doing this they can practice their Spanish in a work environment, and meanwhile they will gain a valuable item for their CV, which is ever more important in this competitive world.
IMAC Costa Rica
Costa Rica is becoming a growing location to study Spanish, and IMAC offers four exceptional schools located in San Jose, Alajuela, Jaco Beach, and Coronado. Every location has developed its own classroom methodology to develop the students’ communicative skills. These Spanish courses are customized for learners of all levels, from beginners to advanced, starting any Monday all year round. The students have the option of taking group lessons of 20 hours per week during the mornings in a classroom no larger than five students. Private lessons are also available and ideal for learners who have special learning needs. The courses can be arranged to follow general Spanish practice or can be customized to meet any particular area of interest for linguistic or professional development. Costa Rica, better know as the “Rich Coast” of Central America, is an adventure playground of tropical rainforests, active volcanoes, cascading rivers, deep blue lakes, millions of species of flora and fauna, and much more. Given this incredible natural diversity within such a small space, it is hard to see how any trip to Costa Rica can be anything less than a fantastic eco-adventure.
Centro Panamericano de Idiomas
Centro Panamericano de Idiomas (CPI) offers three fully equipped and staffed campuses in three select locations: the quaint traditional town of San Joaquin de Flores (CPI Heredia), the lush cloud forest (CPI Monteverde), and the spectacular Guanacaste coast (CPI Flamingo). Small classes organized according to linguistic level, accommodations including homestay and student residences, cultural activities, and touristic adventures provide for a complete educational travel experience. An additional available component is participation in CPI-organized volunteerships; since opening its doors 22 years ago, CPI has maintained a solid commitment to community involvement by directly organizing volunteer opportunities or working in collaboration with grassroot NGOs. Volunteerships are available at each CPI site for both individual students and student groups (primary, middle, high school, and university). Participants play a direct and active role in supporting local, marginalized populations by working on projects which benefit both communities and individuals; projects include but are not limited to beautification of community institutions, such as public schools and clinics, through painting, gardening and/or building playgrounds; literacy programs; home expansions for low-income families; trail maintenance of protected reserves; and free English tutoring.
Living Routes at the Monteverde Institute offers fully accredited and academically rigorous study abroad programs based in sustainable communities that also offer a service learning component as part of the program. The blend of hands-on academic learning and community work offers students a capstone project they can turn into a portfolio of their work, as well as employable skills from real-world experience. The Monteverde Institute is based in San Luis, Monteverde, in the bosque nuboso (cloud forest), a rare forest that occurs within tropical, mountainous environments where the atmospheric conditions allow for a consistent cover of clouds. It is also a sustainable community working towards becoming completely socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable. Their signature International Development and Social Justice program offers credits that are transferable from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. At Monteverde, students become immersed in Tico culture as they engage in the point of intersection between issues of economic, environmental, and community sustainability.
Teach English in Costa Rica
Via Lingua provides international TEFL certificate courses in many of the world’s most popular teaching destinations. With courses in 15 countries, Via Lingua is one of the world’s largest global TEFL course providers. Via Lingua professional training programs are designed to reflect and support the current knowledge base and effective best practices in education. Via Lingua educates students for global citizenship and responsible leadership as teachers of English as a foreign language, empowering graduates to pursue meaningful lives and productive careers by sharing language and culture. Via Lingua is located in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Once a quiet fishing hamlet, it has evolved to be the area’s most accessible town for visitors. Located on the central west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, Tamarindo offers travelers a chance to experience the region’s unspoiled beaches and incredible biodiversity in an environment that still retains the natural, relaxed vibe so characteristic of the region. Separated from Tamarindo by the Río Matapalo is Playa Grande, where surfing is ideal — regardless of skill level. The town hosts several international surf competitions, a testament to the quality of surf available. Visitors will not want to miss the pristine white-sand beaches near the Río San Francisco.
Franny Brogan is a graduate student in Spanish linguistics at the University of California, Los Angeles.