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Pura Vida! A Violinist’s Experience

“Teaching the violin to children in Costa Rica was very eye opening and made me more open to how important it is to have a new, fresh mind for each student because each student is different in so many ways. I am so grateful I had this experience and I hope I can do it again one day.” 

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Crista Guthrie was a music volunteer in Costa Rica is August 2015.  This post is part of a post from her personal blog which you can see here.

For the first two weeks, I attended four hours of schooling at the Costa Rican Language Academy and later in the day taught at a cultural center in Curridabat, a suburb of San Jose. The building was small and the room I taught in (along with two others teachers) did not have any walls, besides room dividers, so it was very loud to teach because there were three instrumental lessons happening in one room, basically. One day there was even a trumpet lesson right next to me . . . how convenient.  So, it was challenging to teach/somewhat yell in Spanish, especially since Spanish wasn’t exactly my “forte” (music pun totally intended). I loved the students I taught though. They were well disciplined and polite and focused during the lesson. Many of them even helped me with my “asi-asi” Spanish.

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The third week was an adventure. I taught in a very poor part of San Jose. The streets were made of dirt and were very narrow and all the buildings were either incomplete or were made of scraps. Families were cramped into small shack-like homes. It was a sad atmosphere. I taught lessons in a room next to this kindergarten/pre school. There were no windows and the door didn’t always stayed closed, and I had to climb up these ladder-like stairs to get up to the room since it was above the ground. I taught from 9:00 am to 3 in the afternoon everyday. Unfortunately I did not have a specific schedule, so I did not know who to expect or how many. Sometimes I had two students. Sometimes I had seven. It was extremely difficult to teach three or more students because they are not disciplined to stay patient and remain silent while one student is receiving my help. Usually while I was working with one student, the other students were constantly leaving the room or practicing or laughing or playing on their smart phones. (Yes, they were 10 years old and younger, had no breakfast or lunch, yet had smartphones) Sometimes I was able to get them to listen and to be patient, but not all the time. However, when I really had their focus and attention, they picked things up quickly and wanted to play whatever I just taught them all day every day, nonstop. I was also able to teach some girls proper concert etiquette, which was exactly what they needed. I did a mini concert for them, and I even let them pick their favorite Disney or pop songs for me to play. The first time I played, they were chatting and playing on their phones. I then informed them that it is not respectful to do such activities during a concert and asked them to please listen and enjoy the music without using their phones or talking to each other. This time, they listened and they politely applauded me, and seemed to really enjoy it. It felt very good to teach this concept to them, and they remembered it later!

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As far as the instruments there, I was not very impressed. The few violins available were missing strings and other very essential parts and many of them were not playable. I really wish I could have provided more quality instruments for them to play because it didn’t seem fair that they could only practice so much on what little they had. This did make me want to return one day with better instruments and perhaps some sort of game plan as to how to handle seven students in one class. Because of this experience, I am extremely grateful for the music resources I have back home in the states.

As far as weird culture shocks or whatever . . .
Cold showers were not always comforting, but that’s something I take for granted back home.  Also, people never completely close their windows at night. One time, at about one o’clock in the morning, this moth/butterfly thing about the size of my face flew into my bedroom and started flapping around everywhere in my bedroom, quite loudly. It took like ten minutes to get it to leave my bedroom. I was also woken up every morning around 5:30 AM by loud car honks right outside my house. The road laws in this country are definitely not enforced, so people just honk at each other all the time. I think I almost got run over while walking on the sidewalk a few times. You have to be extremely cautious of the drivers in San Jose . . .

I learned not only how to adjust linguistically, but also culturally. I was teaching violin lessons and learned quickly that most students don’t have their own instrument, so when I was teaching them, I needed to do many exercises with them repeatedly, so their fingers could remember it for the next lesson. It was very eye opening and made me more open to how important it is to have a new, fresh mind for each student because each student is different in so many ways. I am so grateful I had this experience and I hope I can do it again one day.


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