Ode to Costa Rica


Student teaching in a foreign country is a lot like taking a pop quiz every hour, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. No matter how hard you prepare or how many books you read, there will always be questions that stump you and you just can’t explain. Whether it’s learning the hard way that Costa Ricans don’t flush their toilet paper down the toilet or explaining to a small child in Spanish why he shouldn’t bite other students in his class, around every corner and in every bathroom a learning situation awaits.

Fortunately for me, after having been in school for nearly 21 years and selecting education as my future profession, these learning situations are what drive me forward each day. They are what motivate me each morning to awake and try once more to explain in Spanish to a six-year-old why the bounce pass is sometimes better than the chest pass in basketball. And why you can’t eat your boogers during class. Luckily, these personal “teachable moments” haven’t stopped since I walked through customs at the Juan Santamaria International Airport and won’t stop until I’m eating my peanuts on my way back to Charlotte. By then, I’ll already have had enough experience to say the word booger in Spanish, Korean, and Chinese.

Each day is an adventure and begins at 6am with a hot or cold shower, depending on how much I prayed the night before. Alright, it doesn’t really depend on how much I prayed, it just depends on how finicky the shower is being that morning. Either way, combined with rice and beans, mango, pineapple, bread, and some sort of jelly I haven’t been able to identify, it is one heck of a way to kick start your morning. After walking down to the corner and hitching a ride up the mountain with a fellow teacher, I’m pretty content if I’m still alive by 8am. See, what you don’t understand is that in Costa Rica, when it comes to driving, everyone is from Manhattan, everyone has somewhere to be, and no one has time to let you in their lane. As a result, if I make it to the school that morning, well, let’s just say that I pray extra hard that night.

While my day may start off with a bang, the students seem to drag their feet as they saunter into the gymnasium at 8:05am. But that’s where I enter the equation. Whether its basketball, handball, hockey, football, and baseball or learning how to skip, jump, or gallop, it’s my job to get them moving. Unless we are playing soccer of course, in which case any sort of prodding is unnecessary as Soccer is King. Whether it’s seniors in high school weeks away from college or kindergarteners still learning to control their bladder, the age of the students that I teach runs the gamut. While most other student teachers may focus solely on high school or elementary school, I am teaching children from all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. While some are the children of missionaries, others are the children of foreign ambassadors. As a result, each day and each student brings something new to the table.

While any student teacher may tell you that he or she feels comfortable in the teaching setting, few will tell you that they feel comfortable in an international school where a third of the students’ native language is Spanish, another third is English, and the last third is divided between Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. For this reason, it’s often daunting knowing that your students who are several years younger than yourself already speak three languages and are unbelievable soccer players. And when I say unbelievable, I mean that I lost to the third graders just yesterday.

After teaching between three and four classes a day and coaching at least one sport, either soccer, volleyball, or basketball, I’m ready to return home. While most student teachers return to the comfort of family and friends, my situation is a little bit different. While I too return to a fantastic family and many friends, it just so happens that they all speak Spanish. Lucky for me, the pop quizzes keep coming. Whether its explaining to your Costa Rican mother that if you eat one more plate of beans and rice you are going to explode or thoughtfully listening to her explain how her sister-in-law is in the hospital, sensitivity, humor and respect seem to get rolled into one. Thank gosh I know the Spanish word for booger.

Posted by Nolan Wildfire


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