GoAbroad Interview

Holli Barrett - Groups & Student Advisor

Holli Barrett - Groups & Student Advisor

Originally from Nebraska, Holli earned her degree in Spanish and international studies at the University of Nebraska. Inspired by her fascination with new cultures and traveling, she joined exchange programs in both Venezuela and Costa Rica, and she has also spent time teaching English abroad. Holli has been living in Costa Rica for almost a decade and is happily fluent in both Spanish and English.

Hailing from a small town in Nebraska, what inspired you to work for Intercultura Costa Rica?

While I was a highschool student in Nebraska, I had a wonderful experience of studying abroad in Venezuela for a year.  Ever since that life shaping experience ended many years ago, I’ve been working to return to this industry, in order to help others experience the amazing opportunity of studying, traveling, and living abroad. Intercultura is a perfect place for me to fulfill my career goals and use ALL of my educational and life experiences in a productive and challenging work environment.

Holli Barrett at the Intercultura Costa Rica office

At the office

How does your own international experience studying, working, and teaching abroad help you in your current role?

Having studied, worked, and lived in different countries under very distinct circumstances, I feel like I’m uniquely qualified for my current role at Intercultura as the Groups Coordinator and as a Student Services Advisor. Having lived with host families in the past, I’m familiar with the unique challenges of the relationship between student and host family for both parties. Visiting with students regarding their challenges in adapting to the new environment, difficulties with language learning, and struggles with cultural “quirks”of the host country not only comes easily and naturally for me, I also enjoy it greatly.

My ultimate goal is that every student has an AMAZING experience while studying Spanish at Intercultura Costa Rica Spanish Schools.

What is the most frequently asked question you receive from prospective participants?

As part of my work, I communicate a lot with prospective group leaders. A common question or concern is often regarding safety. The leaders want assurance that our homestay families are well screened and that tours arranged off campus are with reputable travel professionals. They also ask about the city of Heredia; they want to know if the city is a safe place for students to walk around, explore, etc. I’m always pleased to be able to assure them that Heredia and our homestays are very safe places for students of all ages.

Mother with kids at a waterfall in Costa Rica


Based on your own experience studying in Costa Rica, what makes it a great place for international learning?

Costa Rica is a wonderful place for students of all ages to study for so many reasons. As for studying the Spanish language specifically, Costa Rica, unlike many other countries in Latin America, has a very neutral accent that is easy to pick up on and understand for the untrained ear.

For students who also want to travel and explore, Costa Rica is ideal. Bus service to all of the more common tourist locations as well as more remote areas throughout the country is easy and cheap. Not only that, students can easily take long weekend trips to neighboring countries, like Panama and Nicaragua.

The most important reason for studying in Costa Rica is that it is safe for students of all ages, nationalities, genders, who are alone or in a group.

What is your best piece of advice for incoming students?

The least amount of expectations a student has the more rewarding the experience will be. If a student travels abroad with a pretty clear idea of what things are going to be like, what activities they will do, the “type” of homestay or friends they will have, how much Spanish they will or won’t learn, then they are likely to leave with disappointments. An open, easy-going attitude is always best!

How important are Spanish language skills for students upon arrival?

Costa Rica is a popular destination for tourists from around the world. The local population is, in general, highly educated and most have at the very least a basic understanding of English or another language in addition to Spanish. Students should not find it difficult to navigate the international airport, exchange or withdraw cash, settle in with a host family, take a taxi, or enjoy a walk around town, even if they have a very minimum knowledge of Spanish.

Regardless, locals really appreciate and are very helpful to foreigners who make an honest effort to speak as much or as little Spanish as they are capable of. It is never a bad idea to learn common greetings and useful question before your arrival.

Intercultura staff and students talking

Visiting with students at Intercultura

You’ve been living in Costa Rica for almost 10 years now. Why do you love living in Costa Rica?

Why I love living in Costa Rica has evolved over the years. I initially loved the ability to travel and explore this small beautiful country with ease and on a shoestring budget. Exploring beaches, rainforests, and all of the small towns and villages throughout the country was thrilling and always quenched my sense adventure.

Through the years, I’ve learned to appreciate and incorporate into my life more of the nuanced differences between my “home” culture and Costa Rica’s. Much of the food I initially passed as boring or uninspired are now soul soothing and are part of my regular meal time planning. The higher cost for imported goods that once infuriated me is now appreciated, as it keeps my family's natural instincts for consumerism at check. Most appreciated, now that I am raising young children, is the closeness and willingness of my in-laws to participate fully in the child rearing aspect of my family’s life.

In short,  I love living in Costa Rica because Costa Rica is home in every sense of the word.

What do you enjoy most about working for Intercultura Costa RIca?

My favorite aspect of working at Intercultura is being in a multi-language, multi-cultural ambiance on a daily basis. I love switching back and forth from Spanish to English on a dime as the circumstance I’m currently dealing with requires. I get to “travel” the world on a daily basis, regularly meeting people from Europe, North America, South America, the Caribbean, and even Asia on occasion. I often feel like my job was actually “made” for me.