Ever thought about teaching English abroad but was scared to leave home? Or felt like your English skills weren’t good enough? Well put your fears aside and read this awesome interview with our fearless friend Maggie from Poland who is teaching English near La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
We met Maggie as we were leaving the Panama Canal in Panama. We were waiting at the bus stop when I noticed this girl, she looked kind of lost.
As we were the only non locals there, I went up to her and asked where she was going and if she wanted to share a cab with us.
This decision to talk to this small red head led to a good friendship in just a few short hours.
What’s amazing about Maggie is that English is not her first language, she is from a country pretttty far away and she learned English just by traveling!
I had to interview her to know more about how she ended up in Costa Rica, how living abroad has been and all about her experiences teaching in the jungle.
So if you’re curious as to what teaching English in Costa Rica is like, read on for a first hand and very honest experience. To find out more, you can check out her blog here!
Teaching English in Costa Rica – Interview with Maggie
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, a little bit of your background and what you are doing in Costa Rica.
Magdalena, Magda, Madzia, Maggie. All these names describe me. I am from Poland, beautiful but usually cold country in the Central Europe. After studies I decided to explore the world and accidentally started to teach English in Georgia (country) and then in CR. I am in CR for 9 months already I am planning to stay 6 more (well, plans can change 😉
How did you start teaching English in CR? What made you choose Costa Rica over other countries?
This is my second time in Costa Rica. Last year I came here to visit my friends, discovered an English school in the heart of jungle, near the Arenal Volcano, and decided to come once again to take TESOL course and teach English. Why Costa Rica? It’s amazing that you can both work and live in a paradise!
English isn’t your first language so do you find it difficult to teach it? Do you recommend other people to do it?
Yes, I face some challenges in teaching English. Pronunciation, spelling, grammar is so different than in Polish (my mother tongue). Plus there are some differences in British and American English. Because of my own learning experience I can understand my students, how is it to learn English. Teaching English is a great opportunity to travel, meet wonderful people from exotic countries.
What advice do you have for future English teachers who want to teach in Costa Rica?
It’s a good idea to get to know the culture, don’t be offended when somebody is late (Tico time). People usually come to school with friends, family to learn and hang out. People like learning through fun activities like games, kinetic tasks (every age). It depends where you learn; in rural area people sometimes have problems with reading, writing….
What are you most memorable experiences teaching so far?
Two memories come to my mind. First when I had to teach beginners, they didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them. It took me a while to figure out how to communicate with them. Second memory: traveling lessons. People in CR usually don’t travel so I asked my friends around the world to talk with my students on skype.
We’ve already talked with Argentina, New Zealand, Korea, Brazil, Estonia, Australia. It’s a great fun. My friends are able to wake up in the middle of the night to talk with my students (the time difference is so huge…). When we called Korea it was Tuesday night in CR and Wednesday morning in Korea, the computer is our time machine!
Tell us about a tough situation you had while adjusting to life in Costa Rica. What was the hardest part of adapting to a new country?
The sounds of the jungle. Finally I got used to, but at the beginning I thought then something was going to attack me while I was sleeping! New country and new culture. Ticos are very sunny and open. I was surprised when my male students came to me and started to kiss, hug… Now I laugh 😀
The other thing is the fact I grew up in the city and now I live in the countryside. Even I don’t know people, people know me. Children come and say hello, because somehow they already know that I don’t speak Spanish very well and I teach English. I used to have more private life in Poland and honestly sometimes I miss it a lot!
What do you think about Costa Rica and the people coming from a perspective as a European? What did you think Costa Rica was like before you came and how has that changed?
Of course I thought that Costa Rica was an island. When I told my friends that I was going to CR they thought that I was going to Corsica (a French island in the Mediterranean Sea). I thought that everything was close: Argentina, Brazil, Peru. In Europe people travel a lot or at least they have this opportunity. Here it’s not so easy.
I had no doubts before coming here that people are very open and sunny. Ticos are very polite and they rarely complain. They don’t like confrontations. In general it’s good, but sometimes I have an impression that people are afraid to say what they actually want to say.
I remember I was going by bus to Panama it was super cold inside the bus, everybody was saying: “frio, muy frio” but nobody went to the driver to ask to rise the temperature in the AC. And the prices, I did not expect that here is so expensive. Now I know that CR is called the Switzerland of Central America. Bar of chocolate for 3 dollars, are you kidding me?! You grow cocoa in the garden! This is why I love shopping in Panama 😀
Describe a normal day for you – your routine, your schedule
My everyday life in Costa Rica! Well, now I try to get up early (compering to my schedule in Poland), around six-seven o’clock. Then COFFEE!!!! I love coffee, so it’s a paradise here.
If I have time before lessons I go with my awesome (or rather troublemaking) dog for a walk. Planning the lesson takes a lot of time. Different students, different levels, different lessons plan. Now I have classes five times a week. From beginners to upper intermediate students.
Sometimes I have classes in the morning, mostly in the evening, so I finish work at 9 p.m. In my free time I visit my friends who live nearby the beautiful river, the school where I teach (Centro Espiral Mana) is usually full of teachers who come to CR from different countries to learn how to teach English (or how to teach better).
I like to have “me time” as well, then I take my camera, take pics or I write my book/blog. I’m trying to be in touch with my friends and family from Poland, but it’s challenging because of the time difference. Still when I propose to talk when in Poland is evening people do not realize that this is noon in Costa Rica. Somebody asked me once to talk on skype at 10 am Polish time, so… 2 am in Costa Rica.
Pura Vida. Ahhh and every Wednesday I have salsa classes with my friend! Living in the countryside is a challenge for me. I used to live in the city, you know, shops right on the corner, cinemas, beer in pubs, coffee in favorite coffee shop. Here is different, but on the other hand the nature compensates for a lot of things!
How is it being a European girl in Costa Rica? I bet you attract quite a bit of attention!
Oh yes! Quite a lot 🙂 Girls with blue eyes are not usual here. I can hear: hola guapa in the street, honking cars etc. It’s nice. Once one guy was riding the bike, stopped, turned back just only to say that I am beautiful, other time when I went with my dog for a walk one guy stopped me to take a photo!
I know some people who decided to stay in Costa Rica, because they found their love 😉 I’ve heard that the best way to learn Spanish is find a Tico boyfriend 😀 Well, I don’t know what I could do with him on the first date without knowing Spanish and I would prefer to not know but still a lot of people here are bilingual 😉 I think I am too attached to my culture to set up the life here, but well, never say never.
What are your plans after your teaching job is up? Do you plan to stay in Costa Rica or move on to a new place?
The time in Costa Rica is to answer myself what I really want to do in my life. I truly love my students. They share with me their time, their life. I would like to continue teaching, improve my skills, but I don’t think I would like it to be a full-time job. I love writing.
I write a book about young people involved in Polish-Ukrainian history and I write a blog as well. I love traveling. Itchy feet!
One day I would like to explore South America, Australia, Russia. I love meeting new people.
So the time will show what I’m going to do, right now I am trying just to enjoy the moment. I kinda fell in love with Panama, so well who knows maybe I will move south!
Tell us about your dog!
CIAPI!!!! Once I found a little guy near the church. He was shaking, looking at me, awww!… I could not leave him!
So he is my friend now and troublemaker, I have never had a dog so now I learn how to handle him.
Once Ciapstick was feeling lonely, found a frog, probably thought it was a princess and kissed her.
Unfortunately the frog treated him with the poison and all day long he had hallucinations.
He loves eating everything, chewing on things (including important documents and books). My friend has a parrot, whenever we visit him, we observe my dog running away and chasing the parrot. Hilarious I wish I could travel with my dog! 🙂
Thanks Maggie for this awesome interview! This is one of the reasons why I love traveling, you never know who you will meet and some of these friendships you make on the road are ones you will always remember.