Tag Archives: Costa Rica

A Teacher’s Guide to Interning Abroad.

Bienvenidos! Hello everyone! My name is Elsa López, and I am an undergraduate from Las Vegas, studying Elementary Education and French. I was given the fantastic opportunity of interning in San Ramon, Costa Rica! I am representing my school as the first primary teacher from Las Vegas, and subsequently testing the waters for future international teachers to come.

Tourist Las Vegas
Local Vegas (me with my 4th graders)

My semester in Costa Rica will be experienced on my terms, which is pretty exhilarating! My facilitators do not have a syllabus for me to follow, and my international study advisor does not have information regarding teaching abroad. In the face of uncertainty, there is nothing that thrills me more than a good plan—which is why checklists are imperative! Here is a teeny glimpse of what was my preparation process.

As an intern, I needed to bring twice as much for this trip. I was in full teacher mode as I packed a second suitcase full of books, a pair of foam dice, multiple sticker sheets, and more. I also spent weeks filling my google drive with pre-written lesson plans. My wardrobe consisted of business-casual wear, as expected for a teacher, and memory-foam trainers for obvious reasons. Aside from planning for my teaching duties, I delegated some of my personal tasks to beloved family members who were willing to help. My parents tend to my houseplants, and my dogs are cared for by my partner. Speaking of, it was my first time sustaining a long-distance relationship. I googled “Long-Distance Relationships” for ideas, and I came across the craft pictured here. Whenever your partner misses you, they can read a note from the jar! Do I consider spending an afternoon writing love notes on heart-shaped post-its to be worthwhile? Without a doubt! Preparing my relationship for the challenges of long-distance was a major priority.

Jar of Hearts

I want to finish this post off with a bit of vulnerability and emphasize how the preparation process goes beyond a packing list. My road to interning abroad actually started with a failure. In my sophomore year of college, I intended to study abroad in France. I had been saving forever and could finally afford the tuition. During this time, I was struggling with severe anxiety that seemed to worsen as the study abroad date approached. Ultimately, I canceled my dream trip and struggled with the impending feelings of incompetence. This was a difficult period in my life, but I believe it was necessary because it led to a lot of positive changes. Staying home meant I was prioritizing my wellbeing. I spent the next couple of years investing heavily in my mental health. This time around, I received the opportunity to intern in Costa Rica, and you better believe I was ready! Remember that the most important part of interning abroad is your emotional wellbeing. Interning abroad is undoubtedly stressful, but you’ll know you’re ready when the feelings of excitement and curiosity are what prevail!

View outside my classroom, aka my second home.

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Costa Rica to College to Career

It has been two years since I was awarded the Gilman Scholarship to Costa Rica, and it has provided me the skills to be confident, flexible, and independent. So, I initially did not think that I would gain these skills when studying abroad- I thought that I could just get ahead by taking courses while having the opportunity to travel and become more advanced in my Spanish-speaking skills, but studying abroad allowed me to gain critical career skills by pushing me from my comfort zone.

Yes, I did expand my Spanish-speaking vocabulary, but more importantly I developed important cross-cultural communication skills. You see, I was in a home-stay program where I was able to live with a family and learn about the Costa Rican culture to truly adapt to the Pura Vida lifestyle. My communication skills developed immensely, and I am able to now interact with people with different backgrounds. Also, learning another language can make you a competitive applicant for a future career because you are able to connect with a greater range of people through communication.

Studying abroad will help you enhance your ability to adapt to a new environment. During my first days in Costa Rica I had no idea what to do, where to go, or how to have fun. I escaped the dim lighting of the library and was able to actually walk outside and study wildlife on campus (such as sloths) at the University of Costa Rica! Fortunately, I was able to make cheap affordable travel plans through contacting travel agencies. While traveling in Costa Rica, I was able to meet other college students while staying in hostels, which really opened my eyes as it was a completely different experience. However, that experience was a growing experience as I was able to meet and connect with others from all across the world. I was also able to develop new time management skills in order to balance my classes as well as traveling. Ultimately, studying abroad allowed me to gain the skills necessary such as time management and being flexible which are key skills in the workforce.

Being a Gilman Scholar means that you are not only given the opportunity to study abroad, but you are given a strong foundation to set up your future career through the experiences that you will gain.  Thank you Gilman for providing me with that foundation!

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Pura Vida, Costa Rica

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

Watching from the plane window as the sun began to sink below the rolling surface of the clouds was a surreal phenomenon.  I told myself the last time that I was on a plane – when I was on route to Costa Rica – that I was embarking on the grandest adventure of my life.  There are none compared to the stories I now possess, and I never imagined my experience would lead me in the directions that it did.  Unforeseen trials and adventures were had by all – close friendships were made, but most of all there was a sense of fulfillment amongst my fifteen classmates aboard the returning vessel.   Some cried of happiness, and some of sadness; some cried because the conclusion had registered, and others because the reintroduction to a reminisced life was like greeting an old friend.  I, however, sat and watched the flaps while the wheels steadily projected from the bottom of this flying ship.  Overwhelmed with the memories that I now possessed, I read the unfasten seatbelt sign above our heads, and unbuckled from the greatest ride of my life.

Some expected my group and I to have reverse culture shock upon our return to the United States, but I felt the adjustment to be a comfortable one. I was content to leave one adventure and resume the previous with new perspectives and experiences that would forever change my frame of mind.  In a matter of hours, I regressed to English, familiar faces, and the familiar atmosphere of my university.  At first, it seemed like another weekend adventure – like the ones that were so prevalent over the course of my past semester, but when I remained in this place I began to get restless.  Many new assignments passed through my mind and I was welcomed again into my old, over scheduled life.  The mechanization of life in the States compared to that of San Jose, and the paradises that I had visited, was the most challenging readjustment.  Also, I missed the natural food that had graced my plate frequently in my host country.  My body quickly felt the effects of the unnatural foods that are unavoidable in the States, and I have grown very health-conscious as a result.

By the time I became reacquainted with my schedule, and my upcoming tasks, I grew to greatly appreciate the communication that was always accessible to me.  In both the United States and Costa Rica, I had the communication necessary to remain content in each respective location.  Before departing for a new country for the first time, I was very scattered across my many passions.  I am involved in a number of organizations, and loved seeing multiple groups of friends throughout my day.  Costa Rica encouraged me to see another side of myself that is stronger than I previously believed.  I was abroad with about thirteen students from my university, and the majority of them were introverted.  This was one of the greatest blessings that this experience had to offer, because in addition to the friends that I made in Costa Rica – I decelerated to find a cohesive unit of students that truly supported each other throughout our four-month excursion.   They taught me how to love and listen to others and I am truly thankful for the characteristics and kindness that each of them added to the group’s dynamic.

In Costa Rica, a common expression is, “Pura Vida,” which is translated to mean pure life.  Altogether, I believe that is what I discovered while outside of the United States.  I went abroad in search of a new culture. I sought complete immersion into language and lifestyle that were unlike my own.  Costa Rica had plenty of differences, and surely enough to fulfill these desires.  However, there was something even greater that I discovered.  I found culture to look like a circle, in several facets of its existence there are cycles, rituals, and behaviors that make it rich. A circle is my chosen symbol because it is the essence of the whole.  While searching for contrast, I discovered comparison.  Culture, regardless of location can be whittled down to the same items that make us all inherently human.  We have the need for stability, for love, and for community, etc., and it is fascinating to see the ways in which a different country can accomplish the same feat.  When one becomes an ethnographer and sees an outwardly dissimilar world from within – it becomes visible that the individual is attempting to examine a similarity’s difference.  Pure life, or pura vida, is what lies at the heart of society’s inner-workings, and this is how we identify with one another.  Whether I am in Costa Rica, or in the United States, the hearts of people around me are not to be contrasted, but rather compared.

Immediately upon returning, my family and friends wanted to know what I had learned from the experience and the tales of my several adventures.  This is hard because I am continuing to grow as a result of this experience, and this process is just beginning.  With each new adventure comes an expansion of mind that will only continue to place into practice its newfound ideas.  I am grateful for the family I have made, and the memories I have shared with so many in such a short period of time.  So now I begin another adventure-


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100% Aventura: A Journal Excerpt

Here I sit at Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.  Two friends and I are resting with feet perched atop the white railing of our porch.  We are awaiting the moment when we can no longer see the sun behind the peaks of the westward mountains.  Jade Mar is the name of our jungle hotel that overlooks waters of the Pacific that are famous for whales and dolphins.  There are scarlet macaws perched in the branches above my head, and roosters roaming beneath the floorboards of our four-person cabin.  Currently, 8 weeks have elapsed since our arrival, and we have just passed our halfway point.

I have begun to write because I have not reflected upon any of my adventures thus far.  Each weekend has had new places and experiences that I never want to forget, so hopefully you find my tales entertaining.  I am going to take you through the waterfall gardens of La Paz; beaches of Manuel Antonio, and mountains of Monteverde.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Our first adventure began by meeting at the central park between our home-stay locations early in the morning with a friendly greeting from our weekend tour guide, Gustavo.  He truly made our first impression of this country an astounding one.  His charismatic stories, and charming humor won my group over in minutes.  We toured a coffee plantation, and learned of the several steps in its preparation as well as its waning economic influence.  We then traversed through a cloud forest toward a famous volcano that we thought would surely not be visible.  We waited at its peak encapsulated by a cloud.  Suddenly, the gaseous giant stepped aside for a matter seconds, and we could view the beautiful ridges and rainbow that was stretched across its interior.  The following hike led us into a center for several animals, such as jaguars, monkeys, snakes, and toucans – all of which had been removed from Costa Rican homes that had attempted to adopt these creatures as pets. My favorite section, however, was a magnificent butterfly emporium where the insects would flutter by in every direction. The several stages of metamorphosis that we observed were fascinating in that they completely change their figure.  I watched a Monarch emerge from its chrysalis, and then it was off to our next location – a delectable buffet.  We gorged ourselves to the point immobility, and then a cake was brought out.  It was the birthday of a girl in my group, and she became the victim of an element of Costa Rican culture.  Before she knew it, her face was flying forward, and then collided with the frosting.  On one’s birthday here, it is a custom to push the celebrated individual’s face into his/her cake.  Later, we climbed up a trail that ended with an elegant waterfall.  As legend has it, there was a woman who died here due to a broken heart.  Her tears formed a waterfall, and it is said that you can see her if you stare through the waterfall for 30 seconds and then glance away.  Naturally, we tried it, and were astonished at the sight of a woman who materialized on the mountainside.

Manuel Antonio

This location is the most honeymoon-worthy that we have ventured to thus far.  Manuel Antonio is the highest regarded beach on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, and my journey here begins with the Karahi Hotel.  I step in with luggage in hand, and glance around at the casual atmosphere.  The beds are made with our towels folded into the shape of swans, and through the sliding glass door at the back, I can see the hotel’s pool and restaurant sitting upon a beach that was more beautiful than any I had ever seen.

That night, my friends and I burned calories on an upward walk to a restaurant that was constructed from the shell of an airplane.  It was quite the sight.  At each meal this weekend, I ate the freshest of fish, and on this night I had Tres Leches cake as well.  We returned to the hotel shortly thereafter, and about eight of us decided to explore the beachfront.  The night was clear, and the stars were closer than ever before.  Sitting down in the sand, we spontaneously divulged several stories of our lives, and then returned to our beds.

Waking up the next day was no hard task.  We left to explore a rainforest that was down the street and along the beach.  The birds, sloths, and monkeys were magnificent, but the most entertaining creature was a fearless doe that greeted us, and allowed multiple people in my group to pet her. The trail that we hiked along brought us to three of the most radiant beaches.  The water was crystal clear, and the trees and rocks that cradled its edges contributed to the illustrious image.  My group began to laugh – this must surely have been a joke.  We never expected a sight this grand.  We spent the majority of the day swimming, taking pictures, and exploring every detail of this place.

Immediately after leaving, my friend and I caught sight of a man selling coconuts by slashing a hole across the top, and sticking a straw through for drinking purposes.  We had to try it.  Personally, the flavor was not the best, but I felt exotic walking around with a coconut.  After stopping for lunch, we continued to walk back across the beach in the direction of our hotel.  My friend and I relaxed in a hammock, and eventually fell asleep to the sounds of the ocean’s rolling waves.

We woke up, and there was still time left in the day to return to the water, so many of us swam for a while longer.  All day, we had witnessed horses running back and forth across the beach.  From the water, I watched a man ride with three horses in our direction, so I waded out to inquire about it.  He told me that he would meet me in thirty minutes if I wanted to ride one along the shoreline.  Shortly thereafter, the sun began its descent, and the man approached me with the horse.  He had to show me how to climb aboard because this was my first time riding.  I felt surprisingly comfortable initially, but I will admit that it was quite painful when he began to accelerate.  Nonetheless, the white horse and I cantered along the ocean’s edge at sunset until colors could no longer be seen.  That concluded the evening, but the next morning was an early one because several friends and I woke up to go jet skiing.

Around six o’clock, we got on a bus from our hotel that read, “100% Aventura.”  This heading seemed to be a common occurrence in our excursions across Costa Rica.  The bus escorted us to a close and contained shore, where we partnered up, and hopped atop our vehicles.  The only rule that our guide gave us was to operate in a formation that resembled a flock of geese – him at the front, and us trailing on either side.  We ripped across the surface of the water, and past the beaches that we had swam in the day before.  At our halfway point, we stopped to snorkel for a while with a fleet of tropical fish, and eat a lunch of pineapple.  I began to follow a separate group of fish, and the current began to increase.  The fish scattered from sight, and all I could see was white water.  I then yank my head upward and see that in the next instant I will be colliding through rocks. I crash into the first, prop myself up on it, and propel myself in the opposite direction.  I almost became a permanent resident of Costa Rica.  When it was time to leave, my group and I glided back to our starting point, and began our voyage back to San Jose.


Monteverde is a city in the mountains of Costa Rica that is famous for florae, zip lining, waterfalls, and crafts.  Upon arrival, I unpacked in a cabin of my own and prepared for the following days.  On the first morning, my group and I journeyed across a rickety bridge and through a cloud forest.  We discovered many exotic plant species, and the jungle here was truly a sight to behold.  On one vine, over thirty plant species could be observed.  On the route back, we stopped to watch hummingbirds, and one perched atop my hand.

That afternoon, we were picked up by another 100% Aventura bus and escorted to the longest zip lining center in all of Latin America.  I attached my camera to my equipment as we geared up at the entrance.  We encountered a group of middle-aged women from Peru who were adventuring around the world, and they took our picture.  It seems that many places in Costa Rica attract a global audience.  My group excitedly began this next experience by zip lining traditionally through the first section of the course.  We then hiked to the second section, and our harnesses were flipped in order to hang in the Superman style.  From there, we zipped between two mountainsides, and were stopped by a man waiting on the other side.  Our final trial was a “Tarzan Swing” that would require one hundred and fifty feet of free fall.

My group was not all together at this point, but a few of us were lined up and ready to walk across the bridge from which we would be falling.  I saw my friend drop first.  I heard the scream, but I could not see where she fell to because it was at a substantially lower altitude.  I began to inch forward across the narrow bridge to the last guide.  I asked for a count down, and he strapped me in – it was just one bungee that I was to hang from.  My toes were grazing the edge of the metal box, the man stepped behind me, he quickly counted to 3, his knees hurtled into mine, and I began the free fall that temporarily blurred my vision.  Once the swinging started, I could breathe again, so naturally I screamed.  I was descended to meet the ground, and looked back up to see my friend at the top.  We all jumped, and then made our return to the cabins, had dinner at a tree-house restaurant, and called it a night.

The following morning, after an early breakfast, consisted of another exhilarating experience.  Three of us boarded a similar bus that took us to rappel down seven waterfalls.  We arrived, received a bit of instruction, acquired our equipment and we were off.  The guide warned us of the frigid water that could only ever be conquered with Tequila, but we braved it without.  The first was a practice, but we followed the resulting river through seven additional waterfalls.  Each ended in some kind of freezing pool of water, but that did not take away from the escapade at all.  At one point, I was convinced to walk forward into a puddle that was actually a pit of deep water.  Our guide photographed all of our endeavors, but managed to video tape that clumsy misstep.  By the end we were exhausted, and so satisfied.

We stopped at a local shop before the bus ride home.  A few of us got ice cream, but I went next door to see an artist creating colorful blown-glass trinkets.  I asked him what he was finishing, as flippers were apparently coming into existence on his creature.  He told me it would be a turtle sculpture designed for a necklace.  I told him that I would buy it, and currently – it is hanging around my neck.  It has been ever since.

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An International Ambition

sunHistory has thrived upon an ability to dream.  I have never received the comprehensive road map, or tutorial for direction in my life.  What I have had is inspiration that grows from wisdom and stories by sometimes seemingly insignificant interactions.  My dreams are composed of ideas that I have built based upon these interactions.  A benefit of taking on the world without following any given example is that I have been able to explore several influences rather than rely on a select few.  Many aspirations have been absorbed from my experiences, and Costa Rica has allowed me to find pieces of my professional ambitions that I had not previously pondered.

While abroad, I studied the culture and climate of Costa Rica, the Spanish language, and the literature of Latin America.  I attend Elon University, which is a liberal arts university in North Carolina that requires one to take a variety of courses outside of one’s selected major.  This practice brings depth and breadth to an already extraordinary institution of learning.  By encouraging this type of study, students can look to fulfill several of the requirements abroad, which is essentially what I accomplished.

In addition to classes, however, I found inspiration in the adventures that were had within Costa Rica.  The biggest shock in the short time frame that I have been home in is the scheduled nature of society.  Expectations for an individual at nearly any age are abundant and unwritten.  In order to acquire the common concept of success, one must plan his or her life years in advance, and always be looking for something more.  Our schedules and lives are mechanized, and however important this far-sighted requirement is – a person can easily forget the benefit of adventure.  To not be retained by the circulation and commonality of routine is where true success lies.  Costa Rica has shown me that there is so much more to life than the brand of getting rich quickly that many seem it idolize.

gilmanWhen I think of the leaders that I would like to see in the future, they are individuals that have explored outside their comfort zone.   The greatest professional ambition that I have gained was a greater idea of the leader that I will be.  To settle in one area, and to base ideas from within the confines of one’s own four walls is constraining not only to the individual, but to those who admire that person as well.  Not traveling, but rather experiencing diversity is absolutely essential in order to gain creative and intellectual perspectives that would otherwise be absent.  The leaders of this upcoming generation will be culturally intelligent and able to talk across difference in order to innovatively engender success.  A global motivation is now hard-wired into my system, and it forever will be one of the several ideas that guide the direction of my dreams.

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