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There were many lessons I learned in Costa Rica during my one-week immersion into Tico culture but the one that surprised me most was learning to live simply. I had been living a high-speed life for some time, balancing a business, full-time school and work. Others may understand this feeling where focusing too much in one area weakens another area, you try to catch up in that other area, still another area weakens. I was turning into my dilapidated '84 Toyota Tercel when the radiator had a crack in the top the pressure kept boiling and only when overheated did it stop.

However, when all you are served is a plate of rice, beans, and a fruit drink for every meal in a day, life becomes very simple. No appetizers. No choices of low fat, low salt, low anything. Just rice and beans. I came to love the staple diet. It is these simple things that I love about Costa Rica.

Upon my arrival in Quepos to study at a local Spanish school, I was forced to shift about three gears in a matter of minutes. I was no longer in the high-octane society of Southern California but simply paradise something Costa Ricans call "Pura Vida".

Over spring break, I took some time to find out if studying a language in a foreign classroom made more sense than simply taking the class in a U.S. college or university. With four years of Spanish instruction in high school and college, I had conjugated enough "to bes" to make Calvin Klein jealous. What I found was that there is a big difference between learning Spanish and immersion in Spanish, and I was just a beginner as far as learning came.

The school I visited, La Escuela De Idiomas D'Amore is located in the sleepy beach side town of Quepos just north of Manual Antonio National Park. The school is tucked away along a busy, winding road. The two-story, stark-white building has an upstairs lounge area complete with television; down a narrow flight of stairs are two classrooms. The school is surrounded by trees and plants, peeking through to a pristine view of the Pacific Ocean. The main office is the local hangout, and director David D'Amore seems to have the most open-door policy of any boss, constantly talking with students about study/work opportunities, joking with fellow employees and dealing with technological maladies in a developing country like Costa Rica.

La Escuela de Idiomas D'Amore Spanish classes are taught completely in Spanish, with the strategy of "multilevel teaching for cooperative learning," as D'Amore put it. Classes are made up of no more than four students. The six levels of schooling range from beginning to advanced, and are taught by teachers who go through intensive training for three months, according to D'Amore.

La Escuela de Idiomas D'Amore began in 1993 as a dream-come true for D'Amore. He had obtained a graduate degree from Pepperdine University in education, lived in Spain and worked for the Peace Corps in Costa Rica for over two years before he began the school. After his time with the Peace Corps, D'Amore arrived back in Los Angeles for two days, decided it was not for him, and returned to Quepos to start the language school.

During my brief time with the school, I was amazed how fast I learned the language. I thought I had a solid background of Spanish, and answering a few preliminary questions to assess my proficiency seemed easy enough. In the beginning, my interviewer, Victor, asked questions about how I was and what I thought about Costa Rica. I carefully selected my words, delicately conjugated my "likes" and "no likes" like a good school boy. However, after five minutes, it got tiring. Then my bad habit of rushing into conversation without listening to the question came back to haunt me.

Victor asked me "How is your house?" I thought he said "Where is your house?"

The question sparked my five minute explanation of driving directions to Orange County. I did not know "county" in Spanish, so began telling him in Spanish that "I live in an orange place ... no in an orange territory in south of California." "My house is in the water ... No it is five miles off the water." By the time I finished I was exhausted and Victor, wide-eyed from what he had just heard, said that he did not know what I was talking about.

I was placed in a basic level class, a step above someone who only knows "guacamole." It was a humbling experience on my part.

I entered my first classroom experience. My teacher was Janaette, a middle aged Tico who said she teaches over 100 students a year. The other student was Deke Faile, a Colorado student finishing his education by studying at a variety of language schools throughout Costa Rica. The class moved at our pace and Janeatte patiently repeated structures and conjugations as necessary. At the same time, the class was a challenge. Never had I experienced such individual attention; answering every other question, explaining a new word to the two or trying to comprehend likewise, and just keeping from my bad habits of doodling in the margins. Just as D'Amore suggested, "these groups make students work." It was four hours a day of Spanish immersion, and we seemed to cover a week of instruction in my hometown university in one day. I was soon losing my guttural Spanish, and was able to apply Spanish in the classroom to the outside of the classroom.

What is your priority?
So you think a language school is expensive? Consider this. You will most likely spend an average 2.5 years studying another language in college, if you are a humanities major. At UC, three consecutive classes must be taken for two years to fulfill the requirement. These classes are an hour a day, four days a week. Two years of this instruction will cost you 600 hours and over $3,000 in the public system.

Now consider the alternative. Students can study abroad in a language school, which is usually intensive instruction and become proficient (depending on your motivation). The average cost for two months of instruction, 120 hours of classroom instruction, plus room and board and travel excursion. $1,500.You pay a bit more, but the times will be unforgettable.

In my Spanish classes in the U.S. I spoke Spanish to pass a class. In Costa Rica it turned into an opportunity to learn about a truly interesting culture and people. While in my homestay, an opportunity more and more language schools are offering, my hosts Christina, Arnoldo and I would speak Spanish about politics, travel, cars, Baywatch, and other random topics during dinner and out under a crystal clear night sky.

There were others in the country that I met, and with my Spanish, was able to learn about the people, history, ecosystem and nightlife in short, gutteral conversations.

On my last day, I hitched a ride with a San Jose local, Jario and three of his younger family members. The trip started at 6 a.m, and was sidetracked by visits to family members on a secluded ocean front house complete with coconut trees, and then later to visit another family at a favorite restaurant.

By the time we reached the San Jose airport, it was 3:30 p.m., and I had just spent nine hours traveling a cultural-immersion zig-zag that would would have taken only three hours back home. But I was fine with it. Time and language was finally on my side.

La Escuela de Idiomas D'Amore can be reached by calling 310-435-9897 or go to www.escueladamore.com. Classes are year-round.


Learning a language at a slow pace, Language school in Costa Rica
By: Eric Tiettmeyer (justin) 2012.01.06



LIA LIA: Languages in Action is an international organization of language schools providing opportunities to learn a language of your choice, at language schools around the world. We provides individual or group courses that can be tailored to your individual needs. Languages in Action

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