Language Immersion in a Foreign Country: An Interview with Jessie Zúñiga Bustamante from the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica

By: Anna Nickerson | February 7, 2018
Topics: Life Skills, Interviews, Student Voices, Travel Skills
While in Costa Rica, Anna had the chance to brush up on her Spanish through an intensive Spanish course. During her time there she formed a deep connection with the language and her professors. Anna got the chance to interview her professor, Jessie. Check out what she had to say about education, learning a language, and living in Costa Rica below.

As one of our final skills in Costa Rica, our group had the opportunity to do 5-day “Independent Study Projects” of our choice. I chose an intensive Spanish course and absolutely loved it. I have taken Spanish in school for a total of six years, so I wanted to take advantage of this week because I want to become more fluent in the language. For five days, I met with two different professors, Evelyn and Jessie. We conversed entirely in Spanish for hours on end, focused on the verb tenses I struggle with, and even did cooking and dancing classes. I enjoyed my time with both my professors immensely and cannot express my gratitude for the two of them enough. Jessie kindly answered some of my questions about her position as a Spanish teacher and shared her take on education and language immersion.

How long have you been a Spanish teacher?

 Jessie: “I started teaching SSL (Spanish Second Language) in 2005 when I was a Spanish & Latin American Literature student in college, so I have 12 years of teaching now. Wow! I’m old, haha!”

Why are you a Spanish teacher? What inspired you to become a Spanish teacher?

Jessie: “[It’s] funny because I would not have thought about it, but one day, one of my professors at University of Costa Rica told me about a Spanish Academy that needed teachers during my college summer break, so I went there and got a job for that summer. I had a group of 4 students: Joe from the United States, Martina from Austria, and Damian and Anna from Germany. We were together for a month and it was awesome! We had so much fun and we learned so much [about] each other from cultures to languages, food, [and] personal space! At that moment, I learned that I love teaching. I love the chance of getting to know people from all over the world. So far, I have had students from the US, Canada, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, India, Israel, Jordan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, France, Italy, some African countries, Romania, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan…and so on. This is amazing because, through our conversations, I could learn a lot about their cultures…it’s like being in those countries somehow. These experiences made me a better person, more open and aware that differences are a good thing for humanity… So, I have been doing it since then! [I feel] so lucky!”

Winterline_Spanish_Immersion
Learning verb conjugations on day two! | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

How long have you been working at the Monteverde Institute?

Jessie: “I first came in January 2015 for a 4-month college course (I did the same in San José), then back to San José, and returned to Monteverde in December 2015 for a permanent position in the Spanish Department as a teacher and coordinator. Although I never thought I wanted to live outside San José, I decided to leave my comfort zone and try a different place and job position. It was a wise decision because I have learned a lot about my job, nature and conservation, grassroots projects, sustainability, etc. It is a pleasure to live and work in such a special and beautiful community like Monteverde.”

 What is your favorite part about working at the Monteverde Institute?

Jessie: “My favorite part is working with students in projects. I totally love the fact that MVI is a non-profit organization, so we do a lot for the community. Many courses have projects for building, interacting with elders or children, giving lectures on climate, conservation, etc., for the people here…It makes me feel proud to be part of an institution that cares so much and is involved with the people.”

What is something you find rewarding about your job?

Jessie: “I strongly believe in education. Education is the key for a better future. Not only for our country, but for our world. There are so much things we need to learn in this life, beginning with ourselves. So, being part of it somehow makes me feel happy and rewarded. If my work contributes to make someone connect with others through language or better culture understanding and respect, I’m more than happy. And since education is a two-way street, I also learn a lot from my students… this is where my satisfaction [in teaching] comes from.”

What advice do you have someone who is trying to learn a new language?

Jessie: “First, do not be afraid of an immersion program. This is the best way ever to learn anything…but also, it takes a lot of practice and studying. Like any other thing in life, if you want to learn a language, desire is a must. If you really want something, you must go for it. Be in a country that speaks the language, live with a family, and make friends. A language is [a part of] culture too.  The most important thing is to enjoy [learning] while doing it!

What advice do you have for our Winterline cohort going into the next two trimesters of traveling?

Jessie: “Attitude is everything. No matter if something bad happens, what matters the most is what you do with it…cheesy, I know, but true. Your attitude could make people open their hearts, or close them forever. Take advantage of every single thing you will find in this journey, and as we talked in class, be a beautiful bridge between your country and culture and the rest of the world. Do not let language or any other cultural issue be an obstacle for your learning. Be open minded. Be grateful for what you receive from people everywhere, and for    all the things you have back home. Give love. Smile. Offer your help. Communicate! Sometimes a smile says more and is better than words.”

Winterline_Anna Nickerson
Anna with the “Tarzan rope” at the suspended bridges tour. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson

Thank you so much for your time with my ISP and for teaching me so much. I had so much fun with you on the bridges and in the classroom. I hope we can stay in touch and I promise to practice my Spanish in the future!

Jessie: “Thanks to you too! I enjoy our time together a lot, and I really hope you learned many things for your life and future! You are good in Spanish, I hope you really continue with it! Have a wonderful trip around the world, chica. Learn as much as you can. You have a once in lifetime opportunity. Treasure it!”

 

To hear more from our Gap Year students be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).

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