That is a fair enough question considering the wide variety of schools and courses available out there. Since I have in past blogs already made a case for Costa Rica and Liberia both, I would very much like to focus on Estelar specifically.
In any Spanish program, I would be concerned with how superficial the experience would be and if I would even know if it were. I researched several programs here in Costa Rica, and a couple of big names focus on the extracurricular activities and classes mainly in the company of fellow students. A great opportunity any language school should be proud to offer, but too much focused on the typical school experience for me. I would not want to go abroad to then attend a school like many others.
One thing I instantly liked about Estelar, is that while you are learning Spanish, locals are learning English in the same school. You will encounter them in conversation. Perhaps become friends with them. Learn about their life here in Liberia and learn where the best places to visit are from their perspective. What do the locals value in their town? In their country? What do they think is lacking? How do they view us? Most go back home without knowing the answer to these questions. I for one want better stories than “that zip line was awesome. So was that one volcano.” I want to talk about who I met and what they taught me.
There are several types of courses you can take. I did a one-week immersion class. You can go beyond one week, of course, and shoot right from beginner to intermediate within a month. The classes are interactive and entertaining as well as educational but you must not forget to take some responsibility as well. Join some activities that are offered to you by Estelar like a Spanish cooking class, dancing lesson or city tour. Speak with locals and don’t be afraid to look foolish. You will notice they appreciate the effort alone and will help. In fact, some local bus drivers or Soda owners know me so well now that whenever they see me, they smile and speak very slowly and clearly so I can learn to understand them better. (Sodas are home-style restaurants)
What you should definitely do is volunteer for the school and work with the kids. Other programs sometimes offer this chance as well but mainly with external organizations that have been carefully selected. I have written before about certain volunteer programs working more like a recruiting agency for tourists. Here you will definitely avoid that trap since the program is tied to the school itself and the community it tries to improve. And don’t underestimate what kids can teach you!
I would tell anyone who wants to experience a community to come here. Anyone who wants to visit and see cool places, but also be open to seeing real life. In short, anyone who wants to go home knowing more than just a new language.
This blog was contributed by Mieke, a Spanish student and Intern from Belgium at Instituto Estelar Bilingüe.