The study abroad program I participated in was the “Studying and Teaching Abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica” which counted towards the World Literature class I’m required to take as an English Education major. Part of the two-week plan included teaching in a private English immersion school and at a public school. This experience gave me the chance to analyze the differences there are between schools in the United States and in Costa Rica. As with any country, culture rules school policies; therefore, Costa Rica’s free-spirited schools I noticed are a direct result of the country’s free-spirited culture.
Now, Costa Rica is a country known for its deeply-rooted history with nature and its lack of a military. Even more prominent is the “pura vida” (or pure life) lifestyle that surrounds the Costa Rican culture. These traits were all highlighted in each of schools I visited and taught at. Both the public and private schools had murals that portrayed the country’s connection to nature using images like monkeys, colorful birds, and mountains galore. However, the walls were just a physical alteration that showcased the school’s love for the country. The atmosphere of the classrooms was entirely different than what you would feel in an American classroom.
The most notable feature I noticed in the schools was the absence of air conditioning. With what many Americans call “the perfect weather” Costa Rican students do not have to suffer through the stuffy feeling that classrooms in America can tend to have. This alone gave students the freedom to roam around the classroom and even to sit or lay on the floor. Although the classrooms are considerably smaller than the typical American classroom, the open windows allow students to feel like they’re at home. This is something that most teachers have learned about school, that the classroom environment can entirely transform a classroom atmosphere. Thus the open air gives students the freedom to share their opinions and talk comfortably with the teacher and each other.
Another aspect in Costa Rican schools was the trust that parents, students, and teachers all had with one another. In the states, it is very common for parents to not even know who their child’s teachers are. True to the Latin culture, the schools are a prominent figure in the neighborhood which results in the parents personally knowing the teachers and trusting them more so than what you would see in a typical American school. For example, if a male teacher gives a female student a hug, it is (generally) not seen as more than a hug because there is a defined -and rather imaginary- boundary between the teacher and student. Another example was seen when I was in the public school. Students ran up to a gate and bought snacks from a street vendor without teacher supervision. This is a result of the trusting culture that the Ticos have. Although this type of education and atmosphere is common in Costa Rica, I cannot imagine it being a reality in the United States because of the culture difference.
As a future teacher, I think it’s important to note the differences between education in our own country and other countries because we can learn so much from them. We can use these differences to re-think our way of teaching and to continue to enhance the education we are giving our students.