I sat at a picnic table overlooking the waves of Montezuma´s beaches and listened to a woman across the table from me describe Enrique Iglesias using some of the adjectives she just learned. She was older, but despite that she clearly thought now was as good a time as any to learn English. The group teacher, Jacqueline Empringham, asked her to now describe herself using some of the newly learn’t words. “I am smart. I am funny. I am beautiful”.

Proyecto Montezuma is one of two English schools on the Nicoya Peninsula, the other being Proyecto Santa Teresa. Both schools provide the opportunity for local adults, and children to learn English free of charge. With more than 1.1 million Costa Ricans living in poverty today, organizations like Proyecto Montezuma. Teachers like Jacqueline earned their TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification through a 2-month course that operates out of both Montezuma and Santa Teresa. It’s a great way to help improve the lives of those living in the Costa Rican communities, while also earning an internationally recognized degree.

Many of the students learning English at Proyecto Montezuma also work as teachers and offer Spanish classes to tourists who stay at the hostel. It was amazing to see these individuals take what they’d learned in their own classes and give it right back. TEFL teachers aren’t just teaching English, they’re showing students the importance of using foreign languages to connect people from different social, ethnic, or economic backgrounds.

Proyecto Montezuma also provides work opportunities for the locals such as guiding small group waterfall tours or taking surfing lessons. I hopped in the water with Michael, an instructor and advanced student who has lived in Montezuma Central all his life. He was an excellent teacher, with a way of explaining things that made it possible for someone with no previous experience like myself to learn. After a few hours I was getting the hang of it and I’m looking forward to trying again someday.

The beauty of an organization like Proyecto Montezuma is that you get to see exactly where the efforts of these selfless individuals are going. I can’t imagine there’s anything quite as rewarding as watching a former student become a teacher, or taking surf lessons and knowing exactly where your money’s going.