Gerhard Uys - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I've always wanted to travel and see the world, but fear of the unknown kept me back and I slowly began to settle into a stable but monotonous job. Near the end of 2015, I realised that if I did not take action I could very likely live my whole life without ever having traveled abroad. After reading many motivational books and considering the pros and cons of my big decision over and over again, I finally decided to take a leap of faith and signed up for the TEFL training course, with the plan to work abroad immediately after completing the course.

Why did you choose Maximo Nivel?

Máximo Nivel has been in the industry for years and everything about them is extremely professional.

Travelling to the mountains with my host family!

Mountain view in Costa Rica

What was your favorite part about Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has stolen my heart. The people are friendly and humble, and they do not seem to sweat the small stuff. I love their way of speaking Spanish, and the way they complain that everything in their beautiful country is muy caro (very expensive). The rain is also one of my favourites; it is a warm rain and it clears the air and always seems to fall at just the right time. It can be very humid at the coast, but then again the beauty of the ocean and the green mountains make up for any unpleasantness you might experience. San Jose is very busy, with narrow roads and many cars as well as quite a few buildings. It has a lively vibe, and a walk along the busy streets is always interesting and often inspirational. The public transport is very effective and not expensive at all.

What made your experience abroad unique?

Very few South Africans visit Central America. Therefore, all my friends back home want to know about the country and its people, and I love writing home and sharing interesting stories about life this side of the globe.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Máximo Nivel was so supportive throughout the course. It really shows that they have been in business for over ten years!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I packed lighter! Often we get so used to having so much “stuff”, that we end up thinking we need a lot of things to make us happy. That is not the case at all, and here I have realised that intangible things (friendship, interesting talks, learning a new language, seeing new things) are almost always more valuable than tangible things.

Man with a monkey at Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

Monkey business at Manuel Antonio Park!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

The course was intense and never boring. Class started at 9 a.m. and finished at 4 p.m., with a lunch break in between. The course was so interesting and the trainer (Audra) was so energetic that the hours flew by. We laughed a lot and learned a lot from each other. On weekends, we were free to enjoy Manuel Antonio's white beaches or try any of the many eating places around.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I swam as much as I could; the warm Pacific Ocean (shark-free, apparently!) was simply amazing. And, if I wasn't in the water then I would be running in the mountains next to the ocean or trying out another pizza place. I made a good local friend who showed me where to fish and also where to swim. We are still good friends and I'll definitely visit him soon.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

The family I stayed with was so interesting and typically (I think) Costa Rican. The mother (Blanca) made the most delicious, healthy meals, and her son (Ronald) ensured that there were enough jokes and pranks to keep everyone entertained. My Spanish improved a lot while living with them. On weekends, they took me to the mountains and hot water springs. They laughed a lot and said "Pura Vida" quite frequently!

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

The TEFL course with Máximo is more than worth the money spent; it is well organised from start to finish.

What surprised you most about Costa Rica?

The people really are peaceful. They don't seem to judge anyone and they are extremely accommodating when it comes to speaking broken Spanish. There is an interesting peace hanging over the country and its people. The markets also surprised me, so many fruits and vegetables I never knew existed!

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

The only Spanish I'd heard prior to taking off to Costa Rica was “Duolingo App Spanish”. I definitely became better at miming my requests or using broken Spanish phrases as the time went on. I found that respect is appreciated and a friendly smile will take one far!

What is one thing you wish you would have known before earning your TEFL certificate in Costa Rica?

I wish I knew how little English people in Costa Rica could speak. Also, I would have loved to know beforehand how expensive the food is, and how cheap the la ferias (farmer's markets) could be.

A view of the sea in Quepos, Costa Rica

Majestic views at Quepos!

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Costa Rica?

Pack light! Pack Light! Pack light! Take only one jacket (which you'll probably never use). Remember a hat and some formal clothes.

How has your program impacted your life?

My eyes have been opened to so many things. I realised that the world really is huge, yet people everywhere are basically the same and value similar things. I also discovered that my way is not the only way, or even the best way, of doing things; other people's opinions are just as important as my own. I also found that the world is not a scary place.

If you dream big, the world has a way of working with you, not against you.

Would you recommend Maximo Nivel to others? Why?

I would HIGHLY recommend the TEFL training program with Maximo Nivel to others. They will do everything on their behalf to make it worthwhile for you.