Make a difference as an ESL volunteer

Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.
~ Elizabeth Andrew

As a volunteer for not-for-profit group English Volunteers for Change [EVOLC], which places aspiring ESL teachers in Costan Rican schools, I have nothing but praise.

EVOLC’s Alexandra Johnson, showing me the ropes during a two-day in-office orientation!

EVOLC’s Alexandra Johnson, showing me the ropes during a two-day in-office orientation!

They placed me at Escuela Nueva Laboratorio in San Jose for five weeks. For one’s first assignment teaching you’d have to say I lucked out! I received an outstanding introduction to teaching ESL, and EVOLC organiser Alexandra Johnson put me with a great host family living less than five minutes from the school in the cute and handy enclave of San Pedro.

EVOLC organised my pick-up from the airport, my first night’s accommodation and then two-day orientation, including a city tour. I was taken to my host family, who the next day walked me to my school to meet and greet my co-teacher. It was that well organised, and really put me at ease given it was first overseas ESL teaching assignment.

My co-teacher Silvia Córdoba Gonzalez, who is the English maestra at Escuela Nueva Laboratorio, couldn’t have been more welcoming.

Escuela Nueva Laboratorio’s English maestra Silvia Córdoba Gonzalez, with grade 6 students and EVOLC’s Alexandra Johnson.

She’s a hard worker teaching up to 30 classes each week! And she had enough trust in my new ESL skills to allow me to share the teaching load. I was responsible for grades 4-6, an older group, with “good” English skills, and I assisted Silvia with grades 1-3.

The hours I volunteered were just over five a day and I spent another five hours a week creating lesson plans. I could spend so little time on this because Escuela Nueva Laboratorio supplies coursebooks, including student books and the accompanying workbooks.

So you can see why I lucked out on my first assignment abroad teaching English! And I’d recommend volunteering as a great introduction to ESL if you’ve never done it before. Should you choose to come to Costa Rica, get in touch with EVOLC. You can’t go wrong.

Volunteers are paid in six figures… S-M-I-L-E-S.  ~ Gayla LeMaire

Carmen (right), Raul senior (centre) with Jimena and Raul jnr celebrating Carmen’s 61st!

Carmen (right), Raul senior (centre) with Jimena and Raul jnr celebrating Carmen’s 61st!

As to my hosts – Carmen, Raúl senior and jnr, Jimena and visiting daughter Silvana – who allowed me into their beautiful home, how can one person be so lucky as to meet such a wonderful family. Carmen, an ever-so-young 60something who looks 40something thanks to her health retreat-style of cooking inspires you with her energy and approach to life. I keep insisting her fruit and vegetable juices, concocted on a daily basis, need to the subject of their own daily blog. I can only hope and pray she does one day.

We often joke about Carmen’s tours, where she takes you on a walk around the area, or via the local bus, and trust me put your joggers on because you’ll need them to keep up!


On the go with Carmen, rain or shine!

The family has travelled extensively and through their hospitality hosting volunteers they get to meet people from around the world, including me, their first Australian visitor, although an intreprid neighbouring Kiwi got here first!

I am so sad to be leaving not only the school, my hosts but also the capital. It took a little getting used to but now I understand the Tico way of life, I’m liking it, a lot. My Spanish has improved and had I have stayed longer I would have mastered more of those super verbs – hay, tengo, eso, esto and esta – in all their past, present and future forms.

Costa Rica costs a little more then other countries to volunteer but it is really well set up with resources such as the internet which helps in the classroom given you need to distract those cheeky chicas and chicos often with a uTUBE clip or two. [Students couldn’t get enough of NASA Johnson style which inspired great conversations about Life on Mars and whether Johnson would ever do a similar parody on the Moon, let’s hope so!]

So if you too are in a country where utilising the net is easier, resource up on these sites: and which I can’t recommend enough. And… if you aren’t, i-to-i’s English Teacher’s Toolkit for $100 also helped with those ever-so-important warm-ups, stirrers and calmers!

Now, I just need to get a paid teaching ESL job so I can stay in Central America. It’s been that much fun and that rewarding! My next stop: and

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer who wants to secure paid teaching jobs in Central and South America. As an introduction to teaching, she volunteered for her first post in San Pedro, a 15-minute bus ride from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose.

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