Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica

For the number of classes I’ve taken on the Spanish language, I should be much better than I am.

I like to blame it on the fact that my very first Spanish class was taught by a woman who was allergic to chalk, and left our class halfway through the year so she could “get better” in Mexico. Every class that followed was based on the basics which I barely grasped, and I constantly felt in over my head.

The reality is that foreign language just doesn’t come easily to me. I’m a mixture of poor skills and nerves.

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In 2012 my friend and I looked up places to work or volunteer abroad. We’d already taught English in Spain, and this time wanted to go somewhere warm to escape the oppressive Maryland winters.  We found a program in Costa Rica volunteering on a sea turtle rescue, with a required stay of at least two weeks at a language school first.

With no hesitation we signed up for 3 weeks of language courses, and 3 weeks of turtle camp.We booked through a company called Apple Languages. Booking through a third party is rarely a good idea. It certainly wasn’t in this case.

The school accommodations were either a hotel or homestay with a local family. We thought the homestay would be a good experience, and had the added bonus of being cheaper. All in all we would be paying $340 per week which included classes, lodging, and half board (breakfast & dinner). Not bad!

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Upon arrival in San Jose airport we started looking for our airport shuttle which was booked through the agency. We were scheduled to take the shuttle to a pre-booked hotel, and head west to Samara in the morning.

We sat outside the airport near the line of taxis. Other travelers greeted friends and strangers with signs holding their names. We waited. One hour. Two. Three. At that point we had to officially admit there wasn’t a shuttle on the way.

We decided our best option was to take a taxi to the town where the language school was, and to try to find a hostel once we got there. The distance from San Jose to Samara is short on a map, but is a bumpy 6 hour ride. For three of us, the taxi cost was $90. We hadn’t been planning on spending the money, but a 6 hour taxi for $30 each is unheard of in the states, especially as the driver would have to head all the way back to San Jose – 12 hours round trip.

 

During the drive to Samara I was starting to worry we’d been scammed. What if we got to the school and they didn’t have our classes booked? What would we do?

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Arriving in the quiet beach town of Samara was beautiful even in the dark. I started to feel less nervous, and when the second hostel we tried had availability we could finally unwind after a long, hot day.

 

The next morning we walked to the language school and were relieved when they did in fact have our names down. We did take the opportunity to send the agency heated emails for failing to provide the shuttle and first night of lodging we’d each paid $100 for.

The language school on Samara beach couldn’t be in a better location. The school is directly on the beach, and adjacent to small shops.

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The day before classes started the school held an orientation, and after this each student met with a teacher individually to be placed into their current level of Spanish. I was placed in mid-level beginner. My friend Lance was put in advanced beginner, and Troy was placed in entry level beginner.

 

Next we waited in the lobby to be picked up by our host family. Lance and I had the same family, and Troy (who booked after us) had another. The details about our host family were provided by the booking agency. The wrong details were provided to us. Again, we were nervous about where we would be staying.

 

Not all host families are created equal
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Our fellow students invited us to their host homes, and that’s when we found what we were missing. While they were a short walk from the school, with friendly hosts, and clean rooms, we were twice as far away down a dusty path in a room where the ants were likely to die from overcrowding.

 

To be fair, we were perfectly happy with our accommodations until we saw what we were missing. And  really it was a fine place to stay… minus the rampant swarms of ants.

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The immersion classes are by far the best Spanish classes I’ve taken.  Classes were four hours of immersion with a class size of around 4 – 6 people. The teachers were all locals, who did a great job of mixing local history, music, songs, and grammar. A few weeks of these classes were more helpful than semesters of Spanish I’d taken in the past.

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With only 4 hours of classes we had plenty of time to enjoy Samara. We spent time on the beach, went on horseback riding trails, and visited a local smoothie stand.

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The school offers clubs after lessons for jewelry making, dancing, cooking, and film. It’s a great way to get to know your classmates, especially if you’re a solo traveler.

 

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If you’re interested in taking immersion classes, the school in Samara is awesome! It’s a great mix of structured classes, with plenty of time to enjoy the town, and have fun with new friends from all over the world.

When it comes to booking, visit their site and book directly. You can check them out here!
Let us know if you have any questions about the Samara Language school – and if you go be sure to tell us about it!

 

Warning about booking agencies:

For this trip, the agency we used cost us money in several ways. The overall cost of the classes and lodging contained their booking fee. Worse was the money we lost on shuttles and hotels we had to book twice when the agency failed to deliver. We were also given the wrong host family contact and information. So really, the service they provided was completely useless. The agency replied to our complaints by saying we hadn’t booked these things, despite us sending them copies of our confirmations. I now use search engines and general search sites but only book directly through the company or service!

 

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