One of the key aspects of WorldTeach is the weeklong orientation that is mandatory of all volunteers. This orientation plays the vital role of preparing the volunteers to fulfill their role as a teacher to the best of their abilities. During this week the volunteers spend upwards of nine hours a day learning a multitude of things, ranging from effective teaching techniques to realistic expectations regarding the assimilation into Costa Rican society. Looking back upon my experience, I can truly say that the information instilled in me in these orientation sessions was invaluable. The curriculum seems to be meticulously planned out and gives just the right mix of knowledge needed for one to be a successful teacher in the new, foreign community and culture in which you are about to be immersed.
The orientation may be split into two sections, the cultural adjustment part and the teaching part, and both play a vital role in the program. The teaching portion of orientation is clearly essential to the program’s effectiveness, seeing that many of the volunteers have limited teaching experience. The material covered in the orientation, however, more than makes up for this inexperience, by providing the volunteers with innovative, captivating ways of presenting the material to the children. Since each volunteer is expected to teach more or less the same material, the orientation places a strong emphasis on group brain storming and the sharing of ideas for presenting the material. This highly focused, group oriented atmosphere for learning how to teach is more effective than I ever could have imagined; leaving the orientation I had a binder (previously empty) literally filled with teaching methods and innovative ways of presenting material (ranging from songs, games, and group activities to handouts on learning styles and essays on the way in which the brain assimilates new information). Coming into orientation with next to no teaching experience, I left feeling quite prepared to tackle whatever obstacles I could possibly encounter in the classroom.
The portion of orientation on cultural adjustment was no less important, and likewise no less effective. Although one may easily overlook the struggle that a foreigner must make to fit into a new culture, the staff at WorldTeach clearly does not. We spent ample time analyzing the ‘Cultural Adjustment Curve’ in which we were warned of the initial euphoria of experiencing this new culture, and of the inevitable shock that was to follow it. Being warned of the fact that we were almost inevitably going to feel frustration with this new culture at times, the shock was in fact much less dramatic than it could have been. I found that at times I was irritated by quite small differences in lifestyle, but that I was quickly able to identify the true source of my frustration and to handle it accordingly. The awareness of various parts of Costa Rican culture also helped me fit into the community much more smoothly right from the start. Knowing certain expectations and certain aspects of life within the community beforehand, I was much better able to build relationships with the members of the community and to adapt to the style/pace of life in my new surroundings.
Once I arrived in my site placement, a rural (population: 45 people) town called Pacuare in the central, mountainous region of Costa Rica, I began teaching immediately. As required of all WorldTeach volunteers, I worked full time (7 am – 1 pm; Monday -Friday) at the local elementary school. The students in the school had not received any English instruction prior to my arrival, thus I started with the most basic parts of the language and progressed slowly to more advanced subjects as time went on. Upon arrival in my school I noticed that the style of learning is much different in Costa Rica than it is in the United States; the students are accustomed to more or less copying the teacher’s lesson verbatim into their notebooks, with little theoretical/abstract thinking to speak of. This, together with my lack of a chalkboard (as I taught in the spare room of the school which did not have one), provided me with a fairly prevalent obstacle at first, but as time went on I was able to adjust quite easily. The students seemed rather eager to learn in general, and were especially excited to have the opportunity to have an English teacher. In fact, I feel that it is quite important to note that the kids here in Costa Rica have a genuine desire to go to school (I even witnessed one of my host brothers fighting with my host mom because he wanted to go to school, even though it was raining too hard to see your own hand in front of your face). This fact alone made up for all of the obstacles which I encountered throughout my time teaching in Costa Rica, for having genuinely interested students is something which many teachers can only dream of.
On the whole, I feel confident in saying that I, with the continual support of the WorldTeach program and staff, made a genuine impact on the community in which I was placed. If nothing else, I was able to invoke a genuine interest in the students in the local school, and to provide them with the encouragement needed for them to fully appreciate the pursuit of an acquisition of the English language. I feel that I was able to build a genuine relationship with my students, and to spark a true interest in their pursuit of education. My presence in the school alone gave the students the opportunity to hear a native speaker of the English language, an opportunity that the majority of students in Costa Rica do not have. As a part of my community project, I was also able to secure a telephone line to the school that I hope will serve the community well into the future.
Overall, I feel that WorldTeach is undoubtedly successful in its attempt to reach the youth of Costa Rica and provide them with quality English language instruction. While there are still many rural schools without English teachers, WorldTeach is clearly a great step in the right direction. The children in the communities provided with a volunteer through the program are more than effectively reached, and the impact on the community as a whole can be just as great. Through the excellent organization and meticulous planning of the WorldTeach staff, I feel that the program’s mission and objectives are met with indisputable success.
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