Lindsay LaVelle - Student Advisor & Group Coordinator
After living in New York City for over a decade, Lindsay decided to uproot her life and move to a rural city in Costa Rica. With plans of staying for only a few years to improve her Spanish, Costa Rica captured her heart and eight years later she still hasn’t found a reason to return to the U.S. Lindsay’s experience living in Costa Rica combined with her travels around the world inspire her daily in her work for Intercultura Costa Rica.
You lived in NYC for a decade before moving to Costa Rica. What inspired you to make such a drastic change?
A number of things! Primarily, I was fed up with the New York City winters, waiting for the bus before the sun came up to commute an hour to the Bronx to work a challenging (yet rewarding) job teaching special education, working towards my master’s degree at night, and having very little time and resources to really enjoy what New York City has to offer. It became an unhealthy lifestyle and I envisioned something different for myself. I made a list of all my personal goals, large and small, and decided that solidifying my Spanish skills was most important to me.
Since moving to Costa Rica, I’ve managed to check other goals off the list, like learning to surf, getting dogs, having an outdoor shower and a hammock, getting more involved in yoga and music, and living at the beach.
What do you love most about living in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica and the “Pura Vida” mentality are so lovely. An example of this attitude is this: if you watch people waiting at a Costa Rican bus stop and the bus is late, you might observe them talking to each other, fanning themselves, smiling, playing with their kids, and waiting patiently knowing they have no control over the situation. Compare this to a NYC bus stop when the bus is late and everyone is huffing and puffing and checking the time, arms thrown in the air, pacing back and forth; the stress is almost tangible. Although not quite as laid back as many Ticos, I know, I have learned to let a lot go and generally live a healthier, happier life here. The scenery isn’t bad either.
Moving abroad wasn’t your first big international experience. How have your own travels shaped your goals and your career?
Looking back, I can really see how one trip inspired the next, and so on. I lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean for a semester abroad in college and it was extraordinary. That made me want to take a year to travel around the world. That global trip opened my eyes to so many new cultures and perspectives, so I decided that for my next adventure I’d live somewhere for a while, and that brought me to Costa Rica. The plan was to stay a year, maybe two; it has been over eight now and I’ve just never found a reason to go back.
Would you consider yourself a “travel advocate”?
I’ve never thought of it that way, but absolutely yes! In my opinion, there’s no better way to learn. Traveling has shaped me and has been one of the most valuable aspects of my life. I cannot recommend it enough!
How did you find out about the job opportunity with Intercultura Costa Rica?
Intercultura was the only company I contacted in Costa Rica before leaving the U.S. to move down here. They offered me an interview to teach English at the city campus and I turned it down, knowing that I wasn’t looking for city life at that time. I came to Sámara beach to interview for a different job and started taking Spanish classes at the school. I loved the classes so much and kept signing up for more. Bit by bit Intercultura starting hiring me for odd jobs (yoga classes, teen camp counselor, a weekly English class for kids) and about four years ago I was hired as the Group Coordinator and Student Advisor (a.k.a. customer service).
What do you think makes Intercultura Costa Rica unique?
The campuses are beautiful and the staff is top notch. The Historic Heredia campus has some colonial touches, traditional tile, indoor/outdoor gardens, etc. The Play aSámara campus cannot get more beachfront, the murals are vibrant, and the grounds are so inviting. The staff at both campuses are friendly, intelligent, and charismatic.
In what ways does Intercultura Costa Rica help prepare students for their time in Costa Rica?
We send a lot of helpful information in our confirmation packets for students to look through once they’ve signed up. On the first day, we also meet with them for an informative meeting when we explain in more detail how things work, like classes, homestays, our campus, and the town. We talk about cultural differences and how to adapt to them. We are also happy to answer students’ questions via email or phone before arrival so that they feel prepared.
How important is it for students to know Spanish before arrival?
Most of our students come to us at a beginner level with little to no prior Spanish experience, so it isn’t necessary at all. We give each student an oral placement exam on their first day of class with us and place them in levels appropriate to their conversation abilities. Beginners are grouped with other beginners, and more advanced students are grouped with other students of a similar level. We offer four beginner, four intermediate, and four advanced levels, as well as high advanced levels that focus on different topics of conversation rather than grammar.
What is your best advice for students interested in studying abroad in Costa Rica?
Do it! Acquiring a foreign language is a lengthy process, so the more time you have to dedicate to your studies, the more you will improve. Keep realistic expectations and stay patient with yourself. It’s a journey with peaks and plateaus, but if you stick with it, it will get easier and easier.
Be uninhibited! Don’t worry about making mistakes or having the speaking abilities of a child. It’s all part of the process. Focus on communication, not perfection. The nuances of language will come with time. Inform yourself about local habits and keep an open mind about the local customs. It’s as much a cultural immersion as it is a language one. Always let a staff member know if you have a question or a problem. Don’t let any discomfort or concern taint your experience; we can probably help you find a solution.
Why do you love working for Intercultura Costa Rica?
I love working in such a lovely location with a beach view from my desk, and I am so grateful to have such highly educated, competent co workers. It also feels good to work for a company that is so deeply involved in the betterment of the communities that host us and one that encourages personal growth and study. Really, it’s easy to fall in love with this place.