Over the past two years, more and more of our work and school has shifted online. From the workplace, to college, to elementary classrooms, people have embraced the opportunity to work and learn remotely from the comfort of their own home—or somewhere else. The in-person model of work and education has been deconstructed as the main model of operation. While this new method may seem scary to those used to the old ways of doing things, with it comes a world of possibilities when it comes to not only how we work, but where we do it. With the onset of remote work and schooling, working from a foreign country becomes something that is more accessible, and opens up the opportunity to study the language of that country while being immersed in the culture.
One side effect of the shift away from in-person work and education, is that there is now a large chunk of people who can effectively work remotely and/or educate their children online from anywhere in the world. I did just that this year and took advantage of a rich experience while working remotely—immersion Spanish classes. Taking immersion Spanish classes has largely been limited to a short period of time, or to people who can take large swaths of time off, such as those in gap year or those who are retired. Not anymore! With the onset of remote work, immersion language schools can be enjoyed by an entirely new market. Over the past three months, I have been working full time at my job at Language Magazine—designing the book, having meetings with the team, updating our website, writing stories, managing print deadlines—all while taking immersion language classes in Costa Rica. Schools that are privy to digital nomads such as myself, families that work remotely with children, and university and graduate students taking coursework online can be ahead of the curve in marketing themselves to this group who can now take immersion language classes long term. Imagine—instead of students taking three weeks, they can stay for three months—or even three years.
Our world is getting more and more accessible with the onset of remote work and school, and long-term language immersion programs are a new and exciting perk. We are entering a post-COVID world, and people are eager to learn which immersion schools survived the pandemic, and even more so which schools offer features that remote workers and students look for, such as long-term housing options and strong wifi. From my experience working remotely while taking classes, I was able to experience Costa Rica—a rich and diverse country, with very different regions and schools offering strengths that can be highlighted—such as the incredible surf in Nosara, the fun and diverse community in Sámara, and the nature activities on the Caribbean. There is also a rich wellness culture in Costa Rica, and many schools like the ones I attended offer extracurricular activities such as yoga, surfing, and zumba.
As creative director and assistant editor here at Language Magazine, I worked in a hybrid model for my first five years—half my time in our in-person office in Malibu, and the other half remote. When COVID hit, we moved our operation fully remote, which luckily was relatively seamless as our team was already accustomed to hybrid remote work. For two years, I worked remotely out of my home in Los Angeles, but as global restrictions lifted so arose the opportunity to work from a foreign country. I have studied Spanish in the past (see Language Magazine Oct 2017, “Spanish on High” https://www.languagemagazine.com/2017/10/06/spanish-on-high/) However, with two years of fully remote work under my belt, I felt prepared to study Spanish and work remotely for a longer period of time, and settled on just under three months in Costa Rica. From my experience, I have outlined some tips for successfully participating in an immersion classroom while working remotely:
- Internet Is Imperative—While it may seem obvious, it still must be stressed that having strong internet connection is paramount for successfully working remotely. Some countries, or regions of countries, have stronger internet connection than others. While in Costa Rica, I stayed at Nosara Spanish Institute in Nosara, Intercultura in Sámara, and Spanish at Locations in Puerto Viejo. Each of these three cities has strong internet connection as well as good phone service. I also recommend enabling the hotspot on your cellphone in order to have wifi connectivity from any location, although I do realize that this can sometimes be a pricey option.
Each of the schools offered strong wifi at their campus, as well as wifi in the lodging. If opting for a homestay, I suggest speaking to the director of the school to ensure that the family has wifi, although most schools do indeed offer it.
- Secure Housing—Almost every immersion school will offer some type of housing option through the school, and I highly suggest you take them up on that rather than trying to secure short or long term accommodations by oneself. At Nosara Spanish Institute, I stayed at their student housing Casa Mathias, which I highly recommend if available. Each room has a private bathroom and can be rented by the week through the school, not to mention that the house has strong wifi.
- Time Management—One key advantage of immersion schooling is the intensive environment it cultivates by offering the opportunity to speak the target language for hours in the classroom. However, if you are juggling both remote work and immersion classes, it is important to allot sufficient time to each. Most immersion schools will offer an intensive class of four hours per day, or a less intensive two hours per day. At Nosara Spanish Institute, I opted for four hours the first week and two hours the subsequent two weeks, while at Intercultura and Spanish at Locations I opted for the four-hour classes as well. Looking back, I would suggest taking the two-hour option if working remotely to allow enough time for work, school, activities, and homework.
- Communication is Key—Working remotely from a foreign country is an incredible experience, however it can be a delicate balancing act between school and work. Here at Language Magazine, we set times to have zoom check-ins, and if I was going on an excursion—for instance to Ostional to see the sea turtles hatching, a must do if in Nosara—I made sure to communicate with my team that I would be unavailable. One great thing about studying in Costa Rica, and Latin America in general, is that it is in a very similar time zone to Los Angeles, making work scheduling as seamless as if I were in the states.
- Settle In—Another great thing about working remotely is the opportunity to stay in one single place rather than bouncing around traveling. When studying abroad, I suggest staying at one location for a longer period of time to have the experience of living in the place rather than being a tourist. By staying put, you open yourself up to forming longer-lasting connections with your teachers, classmates, and the locals. One of my favorite things was forming an early morning routine, whether it was yoga in Nosara, or surfing in Sámara, or going on long bike rides in Puerto Viejo.
- Explore—Since most of my weekday time was spent either in class, working remotely, or doing homework, aside from my morning and evening routines I admittedly did not have much time to explore surrounding areas (although I did get to know each town very well). Each weekend I planned an adventure, and often I was able to make plans with friends I made from class or the student housing. Whether you’re going on a weekend trip with new friends or solo, I suggest getting out and visiting a nearby town or area to see more of the host country. One weekend, a friend and I traveled to Manuel Antonio, while another weekend I traveled to Corcovado National Park. These weekend trips infused my longer stay with the excitement of travel, and after the weekend was over, I was always ready to come back to my long-term accommodation. Many schools also offer daily or weekend trips with organized transportation to simplify planning.
- Find Your Style—Each immersion school I went to had markedly different teaching styles. Nosara Spanish Institute offers friendly, personable instructors who teach students about current events, and had the most engaging materials. Intercultura offers well-structured class environments, exchanges with local students, and has the most organized style and beautiful campus. Spanish at Locations, on the other hand, offers incredibly clear and comprehensive grammar instruction in a small, tutor-like setting. Each school has its strengths, and personally I like having the variety. I would suggest deciding on what kind of learning environment suits you best, and searching for the specific program that offers that, or alternatively staying in a variety of schools to get a more diverse experience.
Working remote and taking immersion classes for three months was an exciting and eye-opening experience that I would suggest to any person who is able to work or take classes remotely. Learning the language in an immersion setting is unmatched, and my accent, comprehension, and conversational skills improved immensely over the time I spent in Costa Rica. A new world is emerging where more and more people are becoming digital nomads, and with that the opportunity to study foreign languages in an immersion environment is becoming more accessible. I implore any remote worker who is currently abroad to sign up for immersion classes if they haven’t already, and suggest workers in the US to dream big and consider working abroad while studying a foreign language.
Leanna Robinson is creative director and assistant editor at Language Magazine when she’s not surfing, doing yoga, or learning Spanish.
What about the impact of gentrification from folks coming into countries, raising the prices with their US dollars, and not positively impacting the community with small exceptions? Short term is one thing, but I think about the proliferation of digital nomads in Mexico City, Panama, and other places.
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