Teacher Connections: Daily Life in Costa Rica

In this post from API’s “Teacher Connections” series, Casey W., a current teacher in Costa Rica, shares some details about a typical day abroad.

As my second month in Costa Rica is in full swing, I find it important to reflect upon my experience volunteering at Escuela D.A. As a recent graduate with my degree in Elementary Education, it is striking to me that while the educational system is very different, the atmosphere at Escuela D.A. is very similar to schools in the United States, and the interactions between colleagues are exactly the same. I felt at home right away at the school, with many of the school’s personnel making conversation with me regardless of my daily struggles while speaking Spanish.

There have been many moments that I feel welcomed as a member of the school community, but the most outstanding of those moments is Independence Day. The week leading up to Costa Rica’s Independence Day there were many assemblies during the school day that displayed typical dances, clothing, music, and food. The night before Independence Day there was an assembly at school that celebrated the country’s independence as well as high achieving students. The students also made lanterns that displayed icons that represented Costa Rica and Tico culture. The next day I marched in the Independence Day parade with the school staff, the school band, flag bearers, cheerleaders, and the high achieving students.

Dressed up to celebrate Independence Day!

Dressed up to celebrate Independence Day!

While these are some of my favorite memories of my time at Escuela D.A., my usual daily schedule does no include marching in parades! Here is a look at my usual schedule.

5:30 am: My alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning. When at home, waking up at this hour seems unbearable. I have no idea why I wake up much more easily in Costa Rica, but it is true. I wake up with about an hour to take a shower, pick out my clothes, check my bag to make sure I have everything, and eat breakfast.

6:00 am: My breakfast is always on the table at 6 am on the dot. It is prepared in the morning by my host mother. It always consists of coffee (an important part of Costa Rican culture) and a fruit salad. The main dish changes between oatmeal, corn flakes, scrambled eggs with gallo pinto (a traditional Costa Rican dish consisting of rice, black beans, and seasoning), or pancakes.

6:30 am: I leave my house and walk in the brisk morning air down to the bus stop. As I leave the house’s gated driveway the mountains rise in front of me. I turn onto the main road and I see others waiting at the bus stop. Right at the stop is a panadería which gives the morning air a delicious warm smell. The bus comes fairly quickly and I get on along with the other passengers. Sometimes the bus is empty and I can find a seat. Other times it is unbearably crowded and I’m squished against the other passengers, it all depends on the day.

6:45 am: I arrive at the school and sit on a bench in the courtyard with the other teachers. At around 7 am the students come rushing in, full of life and energy. The English teacher I work with also arrives at around 7 am. She always treats me warmly and then we go our separate ways. I tutor a fourth grade student who is going to a national English spelling bee in November. The words she must learn are very challenging even for native English speakers like myself. The student and I do various activities I have planned.

With my student, working on words for the spelling bee.

With my student, working on words for the spelling bee.

8:30 am: The students and the teachers all enjoy a ten-minute break. The students play in the courtyard with their friends and eat snacks while the teachers supervise.

8:40 am: I continue working one-on-one with the student who will be in the spelling bee. I enjoy my time with the student, as she is very dedicated and serious. She is also very friendly and I enjoy sharing pieces of North American culture with her while she shares aspects of her culture with me. For instance, she asked me the other day about how we celebrate Christmas in the United States. Today we had a discussion about time zones. While the student has come very far in her list of spelling words, we have also formed a great friendship that I believe we both benefit from because through conversation we both learn a lot.

10:00 am: There is another 10-minute break and I report to the teacher I work with on the student’s progress with her spelling words. We use these breaks to discuss the content of the student’s lessons and what we can do to make the material interesting.

10:10 am: I go with the teacher I work with to either a first, second, or sixth grade classroom depending on the day. My role in the lessons is usually to help the students with their pronunciation. I also take it upon myself to make sure all of the students stay on task because they can be a bit rowdy at times. Despite a language barrier, body language proves to be the best method of classroom management and the students often respond to simple looks of disapproval.

Some of the younger students hard at work in class.

Some of the younger students hard at work in class.

11:40 am: By the time 11:40 rolls around, I am usually extremely hungry. Lunch comes as a relief, and it is even more exciting because the lunch at school is exceptional. The lunch costs 600 colones which is just over 1 US dollar. There is always only one option for lunch but that doesn’t matter because it is always a healthy, fresh, and balanced meal. I sit with the other teachers at lunch and try to follow their Spanish conversation. Often the teacher I work with will talk about our lessons with me during lunch.

12:10 pm: At 12:10 lunch is over and the teacher I work with and I go to another classroom. Usually we teach the older students, the sixth graders, after lunch. I enjoy the time with the sixth grade students because they are quite funny, and the conversations I have with them are interesting. They have a better concept of the world than their younger counterparts, so they can ask more specific questions. They also fill me in on what their lives are like, which I enjoy a lot because it is part of understanding the culture. The sixth graders are harder to teach, however, because they are graduating from the school in two months and many have taken on a bit of a rebellious attitude against learning.

1:30 pm: When this bell rings it usually marks the end of the day for me, except on Tuesdays when my school day ends at 2:20. I say goodbye to the teacher and I go to catch the bus outside the school. If the rain is still holding off (it rains almost every afternoon), I usually opt to walk home as it is a very enjoyable walk and there is a lot to see. Occasionally on my walk home I will stop in a convenience store or a coffee shop and get myself a treat!

2:00 pm: I am generally home by 2 and plan the rest of my afternoon. I usually go for a walk either to the bank or to run errands and plan for upcoming trips. I also often walk to the University of Costa Rica sports complex to go for a run and get my exercise in. Other days, if the schedule works well, I will take the bus to San Pedro where I take yoga classes.

5:00 pm: After I have some time to clear my head, I get back to work. I plan the spelling lessons I will implement with the spelling bee student the next day. I also work on finding worksheets and developing whole class activities depending on what the teacher I work with requests of me.

7:00 pm: My host mom usually calls me for dinner around 7 pm. The dinner is always varied and she cooks with a lot of tasty sauces. The dinner always without fail includes white rice and a side salad. Sometimes there is dessert, but I like to wait until my host sister returns from work to eat it. We don’t speak each other’s languages well, but it is funny what girls the same age have in common across countries. We usually talk about boys and how she wants to move to Miami, Florida. After chatting with my host family for a while I usually return to my room to read, watch Netflix, or pack for an upcoming trip!

On a trip to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest in Monteverde.

On a trip to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest in Monteverde.


To learn more about the T.A. in Costa Rica program that Casey W. is a part of, click here: http://downloads.apistudyabroad.com/TA_CostaRica.pdf

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